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Title: The kiss of death : a demystification of the late-nineteenth century 'femme fatale' in the works of Bram Stoker, Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad and Thomas Hardy
Author: Stott, Rebecca Kathleen
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 1989
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The thesis takes its beginnings from the work of Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony and from Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. Praz has argued that the construction of the 'femme fatale' as a recognizable type is a phenomenon of the late nineteenth century. Foucault proposes that the nineteenth century is characterised not by a repression of sexual discourses but by a multiplication of centres from which such discourses are produced. The thesis places the 'femme fatale' in the socio-historical context of the 90s and searches both for the plurality of discourses mobilised to define her, and for her presence in other non-literary discourses of the period such as those of evolutionary theory, craniology, criminology and imperialist discourses. It locates this figure in a wide range of contexts: late nineteenth-century debates about female sexuality, biological determinism, theories of decadence and degeneration, invasion anxieties and the censorship debate. It juxtaposes two 'popular' novelists (Stoker and Haggard) with two 'major' novelists (Conrad and Hardy) to demonstrate that the particular discourses mobilised to describe the 'femme fatale' are to be found in works of differing literary 'quality' and in different literary genres. Chapter One examines the representation of the female vampires in Bram Stoker's Dracula in the context of Foucauldian theory about the production of sexual discourses in medicine and science in this period. These 'sexualised' women are contagious and must be annihilated. Chapter No explores the conflation of sexual and imperialist discourses in Rider Haggard's adventure fiction, particularly in She and King Solomon's Mines. Ayesha is an invading sexual being and FET- 'death in the flames can be seen as a 'devolution' into a 'monkey woman': an unveiling. This chapter also examines the other female 'missing links' of Haggard's fiction. Chapter Three continues the exploration of sexual and imperialist discourses, here in the early novels of Conrad: Almayer's Folly and An Outcast of the Islands, in particular. It explores the way in which Conrad's native women merge into jungle landscapes and into twilight; they signify the threatening 'otherness' of the jungle and of language. This chapter concludes with an examination of Winnie Verloc of the Secret Agent as female murderess and as 'free woman'. Chapter Four focuses on Hardy's Tess as victim and as murderess. It proposes a reading of Tess of the d'Urbervilles as a response to the enforced censorship of the text (Tess) expressed via the moral censure and execution of Tess. A short theoretical Afterword draws on feminist theory and Derridean analysis of phallocentrism to propose that the 'femme fatale' of this period is a sign signifying a multiple or conflated 'otherness': a multiplicity of cultural anxieties.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature ; Mass media ; Performing arts