Colleen Martell, Lehigh University
Colleen is a graduate student in English Literature at Lehigh University specializing in late nineteenth and early twentieth century American literature and feminist theory. She teaches composition and literature courses in contemporary American literature as well as Women's Studies courses at Lehigh University and is currently studying to take her doctoral exams in May.
Tongues on Fire: Alternative Ways of Voicing Resistance to Normative Femininity in Nineteenth Century Victorian Literature
An important aspect of the role womanhood in the nineteenth century is voicelessness: speaking out against or communicating dissatisfaction with the patriarchal ideology which dominated women's cultural reality was simply not permitted. With a history of tongue torture not too long past, women in the Victorian period were encouraged to hold their tongues for the sake of their livelihoods. Literature by women in this era seems to respond to oppressive norms of gender by creating female characters who redirect their suppressed voices in creative and often grating but subversive ways. Jane Austen's Persuasion and Charlotte Bronte's Villette characterize the unappealing woman as Mary Musgrove, the whining and weak sister, and Lucy Snowe, the judgmental and standoffish school teacher. What these women characters share is a reaction to patriarchal constraints that is subversive even while it seems perverse (or, perhaps, not feminist). In fact, it is the perversity of these women's methods of resisting norms of femininity which speaks most greatly to their marginal space and their feminist impulses.