The wrist, the neck, and the waist : articulations of female sexuality in mid-nineteenth century culture

Bazell, Beatrice Alexandra (2016) The wrist, the neck, and the waist : articulations of female sexuality in mid-nineteenth century culture. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis explores how mid-Victorian representations of the wrist, neck, and waist can be read as expressive of female sexuality. I read the appearance of these pieces of the body for their potential to contradict, challenge, or elude ideologies of nineteenth-century sexual regulation and control of women. In studying how desire could be displaced to portions of the body whose display was sanctioned, I draw together two key mid-Victorian preoccupations: the visibility of female sexuality and the subjectivity of artistic consumption. Successive chapters focus on different art forms between the 1850s and the 1870s, including some of the most popular works of the period, alongside critical and social perspectives on the era. I examine how concepts of agency of expression and interpretation negotiate with the strictures, social and physical, that shaped and curated the display of the female body. In doing so, I perform readings of poetry, painting, illustration, photography, art criticism, fashion journalism, and novels. The first chapter examines the representation of the neck in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Other Poems, both in the titular poem and illustrations by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I interpret the neck as a spatially and sensually disruptive element of these works, which can facilitate a subjective physical experience of art by the consumer. In the second chapter I scrutinise the appearance of the waist in the photographs of Lady Clementina Hawarden, and in fashion criticism written by women. I analyse how women exercised creative agency by shaping representations of themselves, through the use of the corset and the camera. The final chapter looks at representations of the wrist and its coverings in George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. I read the wrist’s erotic significance in these novels, not as a space of subjugation or repression, but as one of sensual agency.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 18 May 2017 16:26
Last Modified: 18 May 2017 16:26
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/228

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