By Susan David Bernstein
Susan Bernstein examines the gendered strength relationships embedded in confessional literature of the Victorian interval. Exploring this dynamic in Charlotte Bront?'s "Villette" Mary Elizabeth Braddon's "Lady Audley's mystery" George Eliot's "Daniel Deronda" and Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" she argues that even supposing women's disclosures to male confessors again and again depict wrongdoing devoted opposed to them, they themselves are considered because the transgressors. Bernstein emphasizes the secularization of confession, yet she additionally locations those narratives in the context of the anti-Catholic tract literature of the time.
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Additional info for Confessional Subjects: Revelations of Gender and Power in Victorian Literature and Culture
Mirroring Tess's agency in her rape, Tess's confession is negated, foreclosed from textual representation, yet its rhetorical and narrative effects are prodigious. I also consider how Hardy's treatment of Tess's rape bolsters a relationship between the corrupt text, marred by editorial demands, and the fallen Tess, a correspondence Hardy's prefaces to the different editions of the novel encourage. Tess's account of her rape, registered through a textual void, conveys the cultural prohibition against a woman narrating sexual transgressions, regardless of whether she is the agent or the object.
How has the media construed her as both unredeemable villain, the premeditated murderer of her young children in order to snare the son of a wealthy man, and a much abused woman, the victim of incest and the casualty of a social services system that proved inept at helping her deal with such blatant travesties? Within these confessions of transgressions, therefore, are testimonies of wrongdoing directed against women often by virtue of the ways in which their gender is held hostage to privileges of masculine authority.
To confess means to be Page 3 folded into a network of surveillance and control in which the truth of the confession merely replicates the truth of domination. In order to understand this "truth," one must take into account social constructions of identity that bestow and curtail privilege. While I focus on gender and its social and symbolic meanings in my exploration of Victorian confession, additional facets of identityclass, nationality, race, sexuality, religionfigure into my readings. An abiding question of my study is how particular social categories of selfhood frame each act of confession, given Foucault's attention to power.
Confessional Subjects: Revelations of Gender and Power in Victorian Literature and Culture by Susan David Bernstein