Elizabeth Foley, Fordham University
Elizabeth Foley is a doctoral candidate at Fordham University specializing in British and Irish modernism. Her dissertation will focus on commodity culture and female agency in works by Katherine Mansfield, James Joyce, Kate O'Brien, and Jean Rhys.
The Flâneuse Set Free: Women and Scopic Power in Woolf, Joyce and Rhys
Clarissa in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Gerty in James Joyce's Ulysses, and Sasha in Jean Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight share a deep sense of alienation in the city while also deriving a sense of freedom and empowerment from venturing out alone in crowded streets. This sense of empowerment and liberation has many similarities to the mindset of that distinctively modern figure, the flâneuse. Rather than staying safely within the narrow confines of the domestic sphere, these women sally forth into the heady madness of the crowded metropolis. In their forays they join a growing number of women who due in part to the increasing industrialization, urbanization, and the rising power of the middle class stepped out of the traditional domestic sphere of the home and became a recognizable part of the landscape of the modern city. Ruth Iskin notes that beginning in the 1890s this detached urban female stroller or flâneuse emerged in art and advertisements and could be seen as a counterpart to the earlier masculine equivalent, the flâneur. While early prototypes of the flâneuse first appeared in the New Woman novels of the fin de siècle, the full liberating potential of female flânerie is only seen in the 1920s and 30s. From this perspective, Clarissa, Gerty, and Sasha participate in a long tradition of flânerie that stretches back into the nineteenth century. Moreover, it is through flânerie, once seen as an exclusively male practice, that these women glimpse a type of critical agency that had previously been beyond their grasp.