Legge, Valerie (1990) The fugitive feminine in early Canadian writing : vision, performance and masquerade. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
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Reading backward from the twentieth-century fictions of Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Sheila Watson and Ethel Wilson to nineteenth-century writers like Rosanna Leprohon, Anna Jameson, and Lily Dougall, it becomes evident that from the beginning of letters in Canada to the present time, our literature is densely populated with a host of oracles, diviners, magicians, and seers. Although they often occupy auxiliary roles, at least in early nineteenth-century texts, they perform, in these works, significant functions - they are ancestral shades, cartographers, mediators, healers, harbingers, guides, hysterics, magicians, and holy women. Disrupting the dominant discourse of the narratives, they mutter and malign, gesture and prophesize. When their voices are suppressed or ignored, chaos and loss abound. -- As this study will show, the oracle that appears so frequently in our literature respects no boundaries. Appearing in works written by men and women, the figure can be either male or female. She is minor and major character, central and peripheral. She is young and old, innocent and experienced. Most importantly, she is powerful. She voices her warnings, utters her prophecies in a number of ways: orally (through verbal articulation); through signs (i.e. natural phenonema); through dreams, fantasies, memories, epiphanies; and through ancestral shades, ghosts or apparitions. -- Curious as to where this visionary figure originated in Canadian literature, I decided to start at the beginning - in the journals and diaries of the early explorers and fur-traders, and in the letters and sketches of women pioneers. Restricted to the years prior to 1900, this survey focuses on the movement of these sibylline figures who are so closely linked with their ancient foremothers. They are active, though often subversive agents; their messages, covert and palimpsest, are revealed in strange dreams and through mystical experiences - messages that are presented in enigmatic forms that require deciphering, divining. These figures are capable of strangeness and transformation; they are associated with naming as a means of knowing; they are visionaries who possess a mysterious second sense. Invariably they are connected to the cyclical world of nature, to a pastoral world as well as to an unruly world of darkness and despair. Just as often, they are found within settlements where they are perceived by the populace as models of virtue and morality. By examining the textual positions of these figures, and the context and the nature of their [m]utterances, it is possible to see how prophecy, heeded or ignored, contributes to the shaping of a Canadian literary tradition. Going back to the seventeenth century, to the beginning of letters in Canada, I discovered what a few critics have tentatively observed - that what has evolved in Canada is a distinctly feminine tradition of writing, a tradition which, I suggest, is intimately linked to this pervasive prophetic presence. -- Most of the characters examined in this study are feminine. I have deliberately decided to treat them as active agents who possess "middle voices" - that is, as characters in which subject and object positions are often the same. Occupying shifting spaces, these characters disrupt the harmony of conventional binary systems; they act as destabilizing as well as stabilizing agents; they challenge fundamental assumptions, undermine established authorities, often while under the explicit threat of silencing or exclusion. Others, through private ceremonies or rituals, create the illusion of conformity and stability. Assuming postures and positions which suggest openings rather than closure, these conservative/radical figures create fissures, ruptures and raptures, and magnificent transformations. Moving erratically and elusively between confinement and freedom, they cross borders, violate cultural codes, transmit treasonous messages, instigate revolution, create spectacles, and institute change. -- This analysis of what I call the "fugitive feminine" in early Canadian writing will demonstrate that the actions of these unruly figures belie the notion that Canadian literature is essentially conservative. It will also negate the myth of the Canadian as either strictly law-abiding or victimized by a profound fear of chaos or wilderness. Janus-like, these figures rebel while pretending to uphold the law. Often perceived by the status quo as models of morality, they secretly transgress, defy, and revolt. Their covert actions necessarily require some form of subterfuge or masquerade. Like spies, moles, voyeurs, they perform their duplicitous acts from within shadowy spheres as well as in open spaces. When their performances are censured by a restrictive and regulating social order, they willfully become ex-centric, alien, and anomalous.
|Item Type:||Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))|
|Additional Information:||Bibliography: leaves 415-485.|
|Department(s):||Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature|
|Library of Congress Subject Heading:||Women in literature; Canadian literature--History and criticism|
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