Illegible women : feminine fakes, façades, and counterfeits in nineteenth-century literature and culture
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Examining periodicals and novels from 1847 to 1886, I analyze the feminine fake to argue that individuals were beginning during this period to grapple with the discomforting idea that identity, especially gender, might be a social construct. Previously, scholars have contended that this ideological shift did not occur until the 1890s. I apply the term "feminine fake" to the tools that women use to falsify their identities and to the women who counterfeit their identities. Equally, I consider the fake as a theatrical moment of falsifying one's identity. In my first chapter, I set up my theoretical framework, which draws from Laqueur's writings on the cultural history of sex and gender, Poovey's work on the "uneven development" of gender ideology, and Baudrillard and Eco's respective concepts of the simulacra and the hyperreal. Chapter II examines issues of The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine and La Mode illustrée to analyze the feminine fake during the period surrounding the Franco-Prussian War. Using Fraser, Green, and Johnston's writing on the periodical alongside Hiner's theories of the ideological work of the accessory, I argue that the women's magazine, particularly via the "rhetoric of the fake" therein, fashion, and the accessory were crucial sites for the construction of gender at the time. Chapter III looks at performance and the feminine fake in Vanity Fair and La Curée. I re-evaluate Voskuil's theories of "acting naturally" to analyze the charades and tableaux vivants within the novels and illustrate how these performances metaphorically function as society's failed efforts to render feminine identities legible. In Chapter IV, I analyze Lady Audley's Secret and L'Eve future, situating Lady Audley and the android as hyperfeminine, or marked by an identificatory excess rendering them more feminine than any real woman. The threat they pose to legible feminine and human identity drives the need to control their unmanageable identities: at the ends of the novels, the women, along with what I characterize as their inhuman fakery, are irreversibly contained.