Swoon: the art of sinking

Booth, Naomi (2014) Swoon: the art of sinking. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis is a diachronic exploration of literary representations of swooning, which theorises the swoon’s relation to concepts of gender, to narratives of radical transformation and to the rhetorical figure of bathos. In my first chapter, I focus on swooning in late medieval literature, when knights and ladies swoon with equal regularity. I consider the early etymologies of “swoon” and posit a relationship between swooning and dying, whereby recovering from the swoon is the symbolic possibility of waking into new life. I read hagiographies alongside Chaucer’s historical romance, Troilus and Criseyde, to demonstrate the swoon’s power as a strongly suggestive symbol of transformation. In my second chapter, I focus on sentimental accounts of swooning in the eighteenth century, when the swoon undergoes a process of gender acquisition, becoming symbolically feminine. By the early nineteenth century, swooning is often stigmatised as a spectacular display of morbidly excessive feminine sensibility, which leads writers such as Jane Austen to take an anti-swoon position. In my third chapter, I consider writers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who incorporate the sickly, feminine symbolism of the swoon into their work in order to challenge masculinist narratives of health and power. I consider the work of Keats, Poe and Joyce and propose the notion of “swoon-aesthetics”, whereby the artist is depicted as emerging into a radically transformed world following a swooning epiphany. In my fourth chapter, I focus on the swoon in vampire literature, positing its threatened terror and erotic excitement as a symbolically feminine immobility. I theorise this queer swooning in relation to “dark ecology”, a recent deconstructive denaturing of concepts of nature. My fifth chapter focuses on bathos as the rhetorical figure of sinking, suggesting that the female-only faints in contemporary erotic fiction might be seen as the bathos of certain radical hopes for the transformation of gender relations. The final part of this thesis is a novella, which imagines the desire to swoon in a contemporary female character, and speculates on what might be at stake in abandoning a fixation on passing out in favour of new models of engagement with the world.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0045 Theory. Philosophy. Esthetics > PN0045.5 Relation to and treatment of special elements, problems, and subjects
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 07 Oct 2014 14:17
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:49
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/50125

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