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Queer subjectivities, closeting and non-normative desire in nineteenth-century women’s poetry and life writing

Baylis-Green, Caroline (2015) Queer subjectivities, closeting and non-normative desire in nineteenth-century women’s poetry and life writing. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis aims to elucidate previously obscured aspects of nineteenth-century women’s writing, through the development of original approaches to the reading of gender ambiguity, queer subjectivities and non-normative desire. It challenges the removal of the closet from feminist, historicist scholarship and constructions of female sexuality based on an adherence to romantic friendship and lesbian continuum models. This research proposes original work, which breaks the links between Michel Foucault’s dating of the disciplinary coding of homosexuality and the assumed relationship with the closet. New readings are proposed which acknowledge, define and foreground multi-functional closets, inside and outside of texts. In refusing this removal this study also aims to open up a space for the consideration of closets as protective and supportive spaces as well as symptoms of oppression. Underexplored links between literary form, the repelling of social restriction and the relationship between literary conventions and non-binary positions are also highlighted to emphasise the radical potential of performative subjects in women’s writing. This project proposes the recovery of queer selves and subjective forms of identification in the work of seven/eight women writers Anne Lister, Emily Brontë, Anne Brontë, Christina Rossetti, Adelaide Anne Procter, Michael Field and Amy Levy, spanning the long nineteenth century. It also offers new approaches by combining cross-genre analysis of poetry and life writing. Using activist language largely in advance of academic discourse, it asks questions about the changing significance of queerness as language and metaphor. This thesis uses diverse social, religious and literary bodies to illustrate the strength of same-sex communities and their role in providing safe spaces for queer, desiring interactions in the nineteenth century.

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