Living Picture, Living Voice

dc.contributorBenfey, Christopheren_US
dc.contributorFlachs, Charlesen_US
dc.contributorMillington, Richarden_US
dc.contributor.advisorWeber, Donalden_US
dc.contributor.authorJohnson, Karaen_US 11:22:37en_US
dc.description.abstractThis project discusses Henry James s public women in The Bostonians. I explore the novel s portrayals of the theatrical expectations of women in public, the social masquerade of gender, and the political and moral implications of the female voice. Despite women s evident autonomy in venturing out of the domestic sphere, they are still objects for acquisition, observation, physical manipulation, and sexualized objectification by their male audience. The public presence of the female body inscribes the political, social, and sexual turbulence of post-Civil War America. James s public women take center stage as they evoke sexual fascination, admiration, and curiosity from their spectators. In the novel, the charismatic Verena Tarrant depicts how a woman s existence in the public sphere is a scripted, choreographed, and rehearsed theatrical spectacle. James exposes the evolving, controversial place of women in society. The Bostonians, in effect, reveals the collapse of various national ideals, including political and domestic virility and morality, which accompany the public presence of women. James s representations of women reflect the pleasing figure of the nineteenth-century woman the picturesque, domestic, and silent tableau vivant as well as a feminist archetype that challenges the very roots of America s sexual identities: the speaking woman. The novel s male protagonist, Basil Ransom, attempts to reclaim the public platform, a symbol of political authority and voice. An embodiment of male anxiety toward the wayward behavior of vociferous women, Basil converts Verena into a silent domestic by forcing her violently into marriage. He enchants her with the natural impressions of heterosexual romance within the naturalized atmosphere of New York s Central Park. Therefore, Basil biologizes Verena, reminding her of a woman s natural obligations to serve as the nation s behind the scenes caretaker through marriage, maternity, and silence in the domestic sphere. Through Verena s thwarted public career, James illustrates the grim reality that the fight against the natural is often doomed to fail. Women are present in society through their absence; their paradoxical assignment is to speak through silence, to execute a seamless non-performance of life.en_US
dc.subjectHenry Jamesen_US
dc.titleLiving Picture, Living Voiceen_US
mhc.institutionMount Holyoke Collegeen_US