Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

"Born of ourselves" : gendered doubling and the femme fatale in Vernon Lee's ghost stories

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  • This thesis examines the characterization of the femme fatale and the implications of this trope for late-Victorian gender and sexuality in the ghost stories of female aesthete Vernon Lee. In her treatment of the femme fatale figure, Lee both reinforces and complicates the image of the sexualized, often bestialized woman as an object for the male gaze by blurring the boundaries of gender, sex roles, and forms of empowerment. In closely examining these figures in Lee's work, I clarify the complexity and dynamism of Lee’s project as a woman on the threshold of a new century. Through close reading and analysis of the primary texts, as well as incorporation of secondary critical work and literary theory, I explore issues of doubling, androgyny, religion, and decadence in three fin de siècle stories. This thesis challenges the notion of Decadents and New Women as discrete categorizations, as well as recent critical attempts to claim Lee as a contemporary feminist. Acknowledging the liminality and ambivalence of Lee's writing and life, my project complicates and expands on our understanding of gender politics and literature at the end of the nineteenth century.
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