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 if women's disclosures to male confessors time and again depict wrongdoing devoted opposed to them, they themselves are seen 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
Yet neither theorist explicitly considers the cultural components of this domination. Given that historically men have filled the shoes of confessors and that too often women are disempowered even before entering the scene of confession, one might well ask how the genders of confessor and confessant amplify or diminish the process of power that the confessional act unfolds. In what ways do these master theories of confession overlook, dismiss, or ignore such cultural configurations of power? Another correspondence between Foucault and Freud is that both identify sex, particularly whatever is considered pathological, perverse, or illicit, as the privileged subject of confession.
Susan Friedman's support and ready counsel were matched by the wealth of her invaluable remarks, especially on Chapter 1. Sarah Zimmerman warrants my warm appreciation for her assistance in my most recent revisions of the manuscript; Sarah managed to read through chapter after chapter in fairly short order as she offered judicious comments that have aided me in bringing into full relief the connections between and across the specific instances of confessional subjects this book explores. I also thank Barbara Hanrahan, my editor at the University of North Carolina Press, for her extraordinary efficiency and integrity.
George Eliot's novel is uncertain about whether the egotistical Gwendolen deserves the marital torture she endures under the dominion of her wretched husband, whether she deserves the plot's death-in-life sentence for her attempt to retaliate physically against Grandcourt's brutality. And what do we think about Susan Smith? 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?