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Confessional Subjects: Revelations of Gender and Power in Victorian Literature and Culture

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Susan Bernstein examines the gendered power relationships embedded in confessional literature of the Victorian period. Exploring this dynamic in Charlotte Bronta's Villette, Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, she argues that although women's disclosures to male confessors repeatedly depict wrongdoing committed against them, they themselves are viewed as the transgressors. Bernstein emphasizes the secularization of confession,...

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Overview

Susan Bernstein examines the gendered power relationships embedded in confessional literature of the Victorian period. Exploring this dynamic in Charlotte Bronta's Villette, Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, she argues that although women's disclosures to male confessors repeatedly depict wrongdoing committed against them, they themselves are viewed as the transgressors. Bernstein emphasizes the secularization of confession, but she also places these narratives within the context of the anti-Catholic tract literature of the time. Based on cultural criticism, poststructuralism, and feminist theory, Bernstein's analysis constitutes a reassessment of Freud's and Foucault's theories of confession. In addition, her study of the anti-Catholic propaganda of the mid-nineteenth century and its portrayal of confession provides historical background to the meaning of domestic confessions in the literature of the second half of the century.

Originally published in 1997.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition — UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A richly interdisciplinary work on an important topic, a text from which scholars interested in gender, power, and Victorian domesticity will surely profit."—Victorian Studies

"This original and pertinent book brings insights of Foucault, Lacan, historical research, deconstruction, and feminist theory to bear on important questions about women and confession. . . . Framed by a carefully articulated set of theoretical assumptions, Bernstein's subtle readings of canonical (Villette, Daniel Deronda, and Tess) and noncanonical (Lady Audley's Secret) novels offer answers, albeit complex and contingent ones, to these questions. Her analyses will change the way we read these texts, not to mention the way we understand contemporary instances of confessing women, from Susan Smith and Tonya Harding to the feminist critics whose self-disclosures become the objects as well as the subjects of their own writing."—Robyn R. Warhol, University of Vermont

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807823132
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Lexile: 1640L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Susan David Bernstein is associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: Confession and Gender: A Process of Power 1
Ch. 1 Theorizing Confession, Gendering Confession 15
Ch. 2 Histories and Fictions of Victorian Confession: Anti-Catholic Rhetoric and Villette 41
Ch. 3 That Narrow Boundary Line: Figures of Female Degeneracy and Lady Audley's Secret 73
Ch. 4 The Bonds and Bondage of Gender and Race: Paternal Metaphors of Confession in Daniel Deronda 105
Ch. 5 The Un-Intact State: Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Confessions of Sexual and Textual Violence 143
Notes 165
Bibliography 191
Index 199
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