gaze, subjectivity, gender, art, vision, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Edith Johnstone, Virginia Woolf
Since the publication of Laura Mulvey's influential article 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,' in which she identifies the pervasive presence of the male gaze in Hollywood cinema, scholars have sought to account for the female spectator in her paradigm of gendered vision. This thesis suggests that women writers have long debated the problem of the female spectator through literary depictions of the female artist. Women writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries'including Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Edith Johnstone, and Virginia Woolf'recognized the power of the woman artist to undermine the trope of the male gazing subject and a passive female object. Examining Phelps's The Story of Avis (1877), Johnstone's A Sunless Heart (1894), and Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927) illustrates how the woman artist's active vision disrupts Mulvey's 'active/male and passive/female' binary of vision. Phelps's painter-heroine Avis destabilizes the power of the male gaze not only by exerting her own vision, but also by acting as an active object to manipulate the way she is seen. Johnstone uses artist Gasparine to demonstrate the dangers of vision shaped by either aesthetic or political conventions, suggesting that even feminist idealism can promote the objectification of its heroines. Finally, Woolf redefines the terms of objectification through painter Lily Briscoe, whose vision imbues material objects with subjectivity, thereby going beyond the boundaries between male and female to blur the distinction between subject and object. Through their novels, Phelps, Johnstone, and Woolf suggest that depictions of human experience need to be radically re-thought in order to adequately represent the complexity of subjectivity.
Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Wayne, Heather, "But This Is What I See; This Is What I See: Re-imagining Gendered Subjectivity Through The Woman Artist In Phelps, Johnstone, And Woolf" (2010). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 4358.