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Title: 'The skull beneath the skin' : elite women and self-starvation in early modern English culture
Author: Garwood, S. H.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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Anthropologist Carole M. Counihan states ‘the predominant role of women in feeding is a cultural universal, a major component of female identity, and an important source of female connections to and influence over others’. In early modern English ideology, a gendered concept of virtue hinged on self-denial and sexual continence, the connection between sex and food was a common cultural trope, and femininity was primarily associated with nature and the body rather than a (masculine) intellectual. Thus women’s ingestion of food became ideologically fraught: an acceptance and perpetuation of individual circumstance and subordinate status. Refusing it, therefore, is an act of disruption. This thesis selects case studies of elite women, whose symbolic function and position at the apex of household structure rendered them uniquely able to refuse readily available nutrition. Often royal, the state of their bodies possessed great practical and political significance. After focusing specifically on the motivations, effects and uses of food refusal for women including Catherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I, Katherine Grey, and Arbella Stuart, this thesis then analyses male playwrights' attempts to reappropriate the specifically feminine behaviours of self-starvation and reintegrate them into the dominant cultural paradigm, with special attention to works inspired or influenced by its case studies. Examining ideological manipulations (for instance, inedia as self-inflicted punishment for sexual transgression rather than a defiant assertion of the right to sexuality, or an acceptable means of suicide in response to oppression or violation), it aims to explore ways in which physicality and femininity can be deconstructed and reconstructed to serve particular ideological needs and moments, and concludes by discussing elite women's behaviour in relation to modern-day anorexia and eating disorders, reflecting on similarities, differences and the cultural and psychological insights offered by the comparison.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available