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Bedlam and broomsticks: representations of the witch in nineteenth- and twentieth-century women's writing.

Bruton, Sarah. 2006. Bedlam and broomsticks: representations of the witch in nineteenth- and twentieth-century women's writing. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.

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Abstract

This thesis is about representations of witches in texts by women writers, and how they develop over time. It begins with texts produced in the second half of the nineteenth century, when witchcraft was re-defined as hysteria, to the present, demonstrating the continuing and shifting significance of the witch in women's writing. Women writers of every era and political stance, in texts of almost every genre, replicate, revise and repeat images of the witch, suggesting a unique bond between the two. The issues that witches interpellate and this thesis interrogate - maternity, marriage, lesbianism, matriarchy and madness - belong primarily to female experience, as does the threat of sexual subversion implicit in the witch's crimes and the punishments imposed on her historically. This thesis begins by investigating witches as marginal figures in the texts of Mary Coleridge, Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Gaskell, produced at a time when women were similarly subjugated. The witch's connection to political emancipation forms the basis of discussion of interwar writing; Margaret Murray, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sylvia Townsend Warner focus on the witch as socially and sexually deviant. This is continued in my analysis of Dorothy B. Hughes, Enid Blyton and Sylvia Plath, all of whom appropriate motifs of witch-trials and associated violence against women. Second wave feminism sought to overturn such images, but they remain central, however, in the work of poets such as Plath, Olga Broumas and Anne Sexton, and popular novelists such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, who re-figure fairy-tale witches to form part of a feminist dialectic. My final chapter discusses popular cultural images of the witch; Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch limit the multiplicitious potential of the witch to conventional stereotypes of femininity. However, when women write the witch, something subversive always leaks out. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels and the character of Professor Umbridge initiate a grotesque fantasy that, whilst only Utopian, provides radical potential for female rebellion and release.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
ISBN: 9781303174735
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2018 22:09
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/54301

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