McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Linda A. Kinnahan
autobiography, performance, Victorian women writers, Modernist women writers, transatlantic literature, celebrity
This dissertation examines select Victorian and Modernist women writers' autobiographical narratives with attention to how the presence of transatlantic travel' bodily and textual, between Europe and America' links private processes of self-narration to public critiques of nation-specific systems, customs, and traditions. Exploring how these writers' audience-aware narratives reflect a kind of dual (body/text) performance at home and/or abroad, this project complicates traditional notions of women's autobiography as private and apolitical. I argue that autobiographical texts by Harriet Martineau, Fanny Kemble, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Townsend Warner manipulate their authors' celebrity status and relish the presence of their transatlantic public, shrewdly engaging hybrid, genre-specific narrative strategies aimed at British and/or American audiences, both literary and popular. Specifically, Martineau's Retrospect of Western Travel (1838) conflates masculine and feminine voices, drawing from genres of memoir, travelogue, fiction, and folklore alike in audience-aware ways that subversively challenge narratives of New World history in-the-making. Kemble's Journal of a Residence on a Plantation in 1838-1839 (1863), by contrast, adopts an intimate epistolary form and relies on a framework of performance to revise the reigning narrative of antebellum American slavery, depicting it as a scripted system in which she must negotiate her role as white slave mistress with her desire to validate slave women's stories. Stein's Everybody's Autobiography (1937) combines autobiographical subgenres of the travel narrative, memoir, and diary in ways that enact a revaluing of readerly perspective and complicate boundaries between past and present, American and European. Lastly, Warner's Scenes of Childhood (1936-73) engages genres of journalism and the short story, imaginatively filtering self-experience through domestic objects to critique nation-specific, daily customs. Together, these narratives bridge the gap between 'high' and 'low' culture in ways that encourage their wide-ranging transatlantic readership not only to think critically about the workings of native and foreign sociopolitical systems, but also to consider how these systems complicate the self-narration of nation-specific histories and identities.
Vaccaro, K. (2008). Transatlantic Acts: Nation, Self-Narration, and Celebrity in Victorian and Modernist Women's Autobiography (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1301