Female Bodies, Male Desires: Fighting (fe)male Conventions in the Writings of J.C. Mangan, J.S. Le Fanu and Bram Stoker

Richard Jorge
Journal article International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation • November 2019 Ireland

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(English, 12 pages)


Female figures in nineteenth-century writings are a controversial issue; used both as symbols for the nation and as epitomes of weakness and frailty, they tend to occupy a secondary role in the fictions of the major (male) writings. This figure, however, has not proven to be consistent, being used in some cases to strengthen the idea of a dominant, powerful nation, as in the case of the British notion of ‘Rule Britannia,’ while in others it has been used to demasculinize and disempower the other, as is the case with nineteenth-century British misrepresentations of Ireland. Such a view has been challenged by new interpretations and scholarship, as well as by literary theory, and it can be asserted that the dichotomy female/weak vs. male/dominant is not as clear-cut as it could at first seem. Postcolonial readings of nineteenth-century texts can, therefore, shed a new light in the role female characters play in interpreting those texts. The literature written in Ireland during the ‘long’ nineteenth century is no exception; the short stories of J. C. Mangan, J. S. Le Fanu and Bram Stoker present readers with a new sort of female: a decisive and powerful force, ready to bring about national change. Both J. C. Mangan and J.S. Le Fanu deploy the female figure to abrogate and subvert a symbol which had been used by the British colonisers to ease their rule over Ireland, thus ushering not only a new, modern concept of the Irish nation but also a new perception of the Irish female, empowering the notion of the female as nation, and subverting British misrepresentations of Ireland as a female in need of a chivalrous (British) knight in shining armour which had justified British colonial interventions in Ireland. This trend is continued in the writings of Bram Stoker, which anticipate later deployments of the female during the Irish Renaissance to empower the Irish nation and fight off attached connotations of feebleness and frailty which British texts had assigned the Emerald Isle.





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