Date of Award

Spring 5-2021

Document Type

Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Program

English

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Thesis Advisor

Siobhan Brownson

Committee Member

Amanda Hiner

Committee Member

Casey Cothran

Abstract

Simone de Beauvoir argues in The Second Sex, “The normal sexual act [of intercourse] effectively makes woman dependent on the male and the species. It is he–as for most animals– who has the aggressive role and she who submits to his embrace. . . coitus cannot take place without male consent, and male satisfaction is its natural end result” (385). Essentially, de Beauvoir argues that the act of sex cannot exist without the presence of man, but particularly for heterosexual women, the act of sex is dependent on the presence of, responsibility of, and response of men. However, despite the fact that the construction of masculinity and patriarchy dominates the culture of sex, women have often had powerful sexual identities and expressions of their own that they have been forced to repress. Themes of sexual empowerment, sexual development, and women characters taking control of their own sexual identity are weaved through Victorian literature; yet, existing scholarship on Victorian literature favors analyses of women characters as victims of their own sex rather than complex characters. I postulate that the female characters in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, J. Sheridan LeFanu’s novella Carmilla, and Charlotte Brontë’s novel Villette demonstrate significant strides towards identifying the power in their own sexuality despite the challenges of gendered violence they encounter throughout their role in their respective novels. The women characters in these novels demonstrate the ways in which sexual behavior and identity is enticing and freeing amidst gender, class, and sociocultural tension. A feminist analysis reveals, through careful examination of each text, that the sexual aesthetic and performance are used as catalysts for the female protagonist’s sexual development. These catalysts are consistent not just in the Victorian era, but onwards into contemporary sex positive rhetoric.

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