Exclusionary politics: Mourning and modernism in the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Amy Levy, and Charlotte Mew

Donna Decker Schuster, Marquette University

Abstract

This study evaluates the nationalist and elegiac texts of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Amy Levy, and Charlotte Mew. In their work, we can locate a transformation toward more experimental, modernist texts as these women writers responded to nationalism as an historical and cultural phenomenon by writing gendered, elegiac poems. The present analysis provides a connection between modernism and nationalism through the texts of these three women poets. Rather than contribute to an aestheticization of politics, this study examines the politics of aesthetics as it relates to literary modernism. In all three cases, women poets were subject to criticism of them as women which affected critical reception of their works as innovative and modern. In the case of Amy Levy and Charlotte Mew, this project recovers their texts as important to the modernist canon. The formal poetic and narrative strategies these three writers use in their poetry reveal their participation in and contribution to the movement known as literary modernism. Feminist theory, as it applies to theories of nationalism, elegy, and modernism, is also employed to elucidate both the position of the writer, her critical reception, and the ways in which their characters (male or female) are constructed and positioned. Specifically, these women poets explore the cultural categories within nationalism to expose its negative power and effects through the characteristics often seen as elegiac: mourning and melancholy were considered to have been traditionally gendered responses to death, but these women authors blur the lines between these conventional responses evoking a more modern elegiac mode. By transforming their responses to mourning from emotional and sorrowful to angry, self-deprecating, and eventually impersonal and abstract, these women poets exemplify the transition between Victorian and Modernist literature.

Recommended Citation

Schuster, Donna Decker, "Exclusionary politics: Mourning and modernism in the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Amy Levy, and Charlotte Mew" (2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3153487.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3153487

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