The Woman in White as Narrative Asylum: Wilkie Collins's Uncanny Construction of Female Subjectivity
Date of Thesis
Rejecting the Gothic's use of the supernatural and exotic settings, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White demonstrates how the everyday and domestic have the power to induce the uncanny, particularly through the ways individuals¿their power, identity, class, gender, and sanity¿can be manipulated by others. In my thesis, I will focus specifically on how the text refuses to depict women's identities as tangible things that can be gained or lost; instead, various masculine methods attempt to contain them, creating a narrative space resembling an asylum. I will argue that The Woman in White allows us, as readers, to glimpse inside its narrative asylum in order to expose the patriarchal mechanisms of fiction that allow such stereotypical constructions of female subjectivity. The Woman in White also depicts a Victorian world that is slippery and ambiguous, where identity, narrative agency, historical truth, gender, and even sanity prove to be unstable, uncanny concepts. I will explore the novel¿s use of gothic and psychoanalytic themes, specifically in regards to female identity and narrative, to reveal the text's establishment of women's subjectivity as uncanny and unable to be controlled or defined by men—precisely the "mystery of femininity" that preoccupies masculine discourse. All of the women in the text are hysterics, therefore, and despite the fact that they cannot escape beyond Collins's generic asylum, they permeate the text—the very spreading of hysteria that filled the Victorian era with such anxiety. This novel therefore embodies a manifestation of the period's underlying preoccupation and tension surrounding the feminine disease; just as a contagious hysteria infects the characters, pages, and even readers of this text, the psychological illness literally passes through the Victorian body politic.
Victorian Literature, Feminism, Uncanny, Sigmund Freud, Wilkie Collins, Hysteria, Sensation Novel, Sensation Genre, Psychoanalysis
Masters Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)
Master of Arts
Clymer, Allison, "The Woman in White as Narrative Asylum: Wilkie Collins's Uncanny Construction of Female Subjectivity" (2013). Master’s Theses. 154.