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Esther's Sartorial Selves: Fashioning a Feminine Identity in The Bell Jar
Plath Profiles, Vol. 8 (2015)
In this article, I propose that Sylvia Plath, a writer well versed in the verbal and visual rhetoric of mid-twentieth-century American fashion magazines, critiques the discourses of fashion featured in these publications by presenting a protagonist who tries but ultimately fails to resolve her anxieties about class, gender, and sexuality through clothing. In so doing, I contend that Esther is unable to fashion a viable personal and professional self that encompasses elements of the multiple “feminine”identities available to white, middle-class, heterosexual women, not because of her mental illness, but rather because these identities and their various wardrobes ‘clash’ with one another. Furthermore, I demonstrate how Plath uses Esther’s dogged, often misguided determination to ‘do’ fashion correctly to highlight the performative nature of femininity—a fact that Esther is unable to grasp prior to her breakdown, but that proves fundamental to the treatment she receives. Plath further emphasizes the importance of costume in performing femininity by showing how women who willfully engage in socially unacceptable or unorthodox sartorial practices are labeled as “deviant” and/or “mentally ill.” Finally, I suggest that reading The Bell Jar through the lens of fashion not only provides insight into Esther’s identity crisis, breakdown, and rehabilitation, but also invites readers to reflect critically upon contemporary sartorial practices.
“Weary of our own legacies”: Rethinking Jane Eyre's Inheritance through Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother
ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 41.3-4 (2010)
In this article, I examine how Jamaica Kincaid employs the theme of inheritance in The Autobiography of My Mother in order to problematize issues of inheritance in Jane Eyre. While Brontë’s and Kincaid’s protagonists both raise moral issues about the transmission of property from one generation to the next, only Xuela seems concerned with the origins of said property. Moreover, while Brontë uses “inheritance” in its most literal sense—that is, the passing of material wealth and biological traits from parents to their children—Kincaid broadens the scope of “inheritance” to include the violent historical and cultural forces that helped shape Xuela’s ancestors and her island. In doing so, Kincaid calls attention to the ways in which Jane’s and Xuela’s “legacies” are inextricably intertwined: the same economic and legal systems that made it possible for Bertha Mason’s family to amass a fortune—a fortune passed on, in part, to Jane Eyre’s descendants—also led to the forced migration and enslavement of Africans, the near extinction of the indigenous Caribs, and the formation of a colonial administrative system that rewarded corruption and fostered mistrust among the island’s poor inhabitants. Therefore, when Xuela declares, “In a place like this, brutality is the only real inheritance," she points to the fact that in the West Indies, no inheritance, whether financial, cultural, historical, or even biological, is untouched by the legacies of slavery and colonialism.
Advertising Agency: Print Culture and Female Sexuality in" Nausicaa"
James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 48.1 (2010)
Did Gerty MacDowell have an abortion? “Advertising Agency: Print Culture and Female Sexuality in ‘Nausicaa’” uncovers historical material long overlooked by Joyce scholars to indicate that she very well may have: Widow Welch’s Female Pills, a patent medication to which Gerty explicitly refers, was widely believed to have abortifacient properties during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. This essay draws upon Joyce’s familiarity with the discourses of birth-control movements and turn-of-the-century advertising to argue that critics have too easily dismissed Gerty as an unthinking and passive consumer of the fashion, fiction, and fantasy offered by ladies’ magazines. Instead, this essay contends, Gerty, like her creator, employs the deliberately ambiguous rhetoric of advertising, seizing control of her body and reproductive health from a legal system that seeks to circumscribe her.