The feminine phantom: Property, possession, and the female body in the eighteenth century English novel
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This dissertation examines the function of the female body that either facilitates or undercuts woman's economic agency by asking the question "is possessive individual available to women?" I argue that the possessive individual is not available to women without taking into account the female body or bodily remnants as the threshold and foundation both to the narrative and the representation of gender. Figured either as "a momentary presence" or as "the representation of absence" which disturbs the narrative, the female body inhabits a liminal but crucial position that either contributes to or undermines the female possessive individual. I call this ephemeral status of the female body "the feminine phantom," whose invisibility and unimportance in the economic script produce an unsettling presence but whose "materiality" per se could only be made visible as "dead matter." Defoe's Roxana (1724) witnesses the devastation of the heroine's financial self-fashioning as a model of modern subject through the overwhelming presence of Roxana's material traces embodied in the daughter's relentless pursuit, a pursuit that results in Roxana as a destitute possessive subject. Richardson's Pamela (1741) explores the narrative's material foundation through the obscure presence of the Sally Godfrey story as a symptom of the novel's denial of the female body. Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) deploys two kinds of transient bodies, the sentimentalized male body and the female body who own properties, to figure out a unique extended present gesturing toward a future capable of the rise of women's possessive individual. Burney's The Wanderer (1814) can be viewed as a feminine supplement to the notion of the possessive individual through a sublime body generated out of disembodied bodily parts.