The Eternal Rehearsal: Judith Butler's Gender Performativity in Wilkie Collins, Sarah Waters, and Tana French
Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Judith Butler, Gender Performance, Wilkie Collins, Sarah Waters, Tana French
Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble proposed the groundbreaking theory of gender as a constant performance: a series of cues observed, internalized, and repeated over time. Her argument benefits society’s desire to deconstruct gender, and her ideas apply to a vast array of texts and periods. In fact, whereas Butler’s text was published in 1990, over a hundred years earlier Wilkie Collins already toyed with gender performance in his formative novel, The Woman in White (1860). In this thesis, I examine The Woman in White through a Butlerian lens, illuminating how Collins began critiquing the concept of performative gender, especially with regard to women’s fashion. I compare Collins’s experimentation with gender to that of Sarah Waters, a modern Welsh novelist writing Victorian-era historical fictions. In comparing the two authors, I demonstrate how Waters, in the post-Butler era, more overtly and controversially illustrates gender performance, critiquing the hierarchy it presents with a heavier hand in her novels Fingersmith (2002) and Tipping the Velvet (1998). To finish my examination of different instances of gender performance, I analyze two Tana French mysteries, In the Woods (2007) and The Likeness (2008). French sets her novels in the present, and as a result, the Buterlian manifestations prove more subtle, yet just as prevalent. In The Likeness, French presents characters who are aware of their performances, yet these instances of consciousness within performance still prove detrimental, as characters end up falling apart when attempting to separate themselves from their performances. Ultimately, this thesis moves across chronological periods: Collins defines gender norms in somewhat reactionary terms, ascribing to Marian her own awareness of social limitations specific to gender and sex. Waters, by proxy, emphasizes the way in which performances of gender reveal its fluidity. Finally, French demonstrates the lack of gender identity or “true self” at all without performative attributes. All of the authors and texts reveal the inherent and dangerous power of gender regulations within performance.
Slezek, Jillian, "The Eternal Rehearsal: Judith Butler's Gender Performativity in Wilkie Collins, Sarah Waters, and Tana French" (2018). Honors Theses. 1697.