|Institution:||University of Newcastle|
|Keywords:||literature; literary naturalism; naturalistic novels; Gaudium et Spes; spirituality; Marxist-Feminist criticism; Female victimhood; determinism; patriarchy|
|Full text PDF:||http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/1059825|
Research Doctorate - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) This literary study explores the female condition in four naturalistic novels, namely, Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Street, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The purpose is to reconsider the context of “woman” in this genre by extending from dialectical views with positive and negative connotations towards a reimagining of the “female” with some degree of agency despite claims of “determined conditions” in naturalism. The study’s examination of the heroine’s interplay with “forces” in society illustrates that as exemplified in my chosen novels, these “forces” do not demonstrate total control of an individual’s fate. In exploring the female condition in the novels, the study goes through three steps: namely, examining the condition of the female protagonist in society, analysing the relation between suicide and the role of free will, and investigating the role of the spiritual dimension within the frame of Gaudium et Spes for issues raised in the novels. In relation to the female condition, the study incorporates important issues on female disempowerment and displacement namely, commodification, conspicuous consumption, consumerism, and rugged individualism culled from Marxist-Feminist criticism, Foucault’s and Beauvoir’s concepts on power or free will, and discourses on spirituality within the frame of Gaudium et Spes to clarify issues on marriage, family, human dignity, and self-preservation raised in the novels. It is found that the female protagonist’s non-conformism and defiance of societal “forces” are expressions of willpower that compromises self-preservation and continuity. Despite the socio-cultural disadvantages experienced by the female protagonist, her tragic fate is the result of her choice that suggests a clamour for spiritual regeneration. Her misdirected passions and quest for individuality and self-fulfilment imply a need for something more, which links to the spiritual dimension of her nature. Spirituality within the tradition of Gaudium et Spes highlights the good of the human person with the acknowledgment of divine will, the same aspiration (with emphasis on social awareness) that naturalism conveys for humanity, with its lens however on individual will. Hence, the criticism on naturalism’s reductionist treatment of the non-physical and intense focus on the physical social realities actually point to the same aspiration that Gaudium et Spes projects – the betterment of the human condition and humanity as a whole.