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Type: Theses
Title: 'Passionately subjective': challenges to identity in the works of Amy Levy
Author: Lake, Carolyn Louise
Issue Date: 2016
School/Discipline: School of Humanities
Abstract: This thesis is a study of the work of Amy Levy, poet, novelist and essay writer who came to prominence in the 1880s and whose life was cut short by suicide in 1889. As a Jewish woman with literary and professional aspirations and with no apparent desire to marry, Levy’s life challenged contemporary notions of gender, religion, race, and sexuality. She produced three novels, three collections of poetry, and numerous short stories and essays. I analyse Levy’s works as literary products, literary criticisms, and as genealogies of late-Victorian identities. Levy’s scholarly and creative writings reflect a keen awareness of literary and cultural movements, often prefiguring discussions regarding feminism and modernism which would not take place until after her death. I argue that her textual productions analyse the power relations at play in 1880s Britain: what actions and, indeed, subjects, are made possible and impossible by the contemporary field of representation. Levy’s apparent interests in literary traditions and debates, genre, poetic convention and the representation of marginal lives and experiences all concern the intersections between discourse, power, and knowledge. I begin with an examination of gender, class, and space, particularly public or semi-public space, in Levy’s work. Her first novel, The Romance of a Shop, critiques conventional femininity through its inverse relationship between class and spatial mobility for its female characters. This is read alongside the 1888 article, ‘Women and Club Life’. I then consider, with reference also to George Gissing’s The Odd Women, how shifts in class and spatial mobility influence the trajectory of the romance plot. Finally, this chapter considers a range of Levy’s lyric poetry, predominately from A London-Plane Tree and Other Verse, showing how the modern city and street are celebrated spaces, where the boundaries of identity can, if temporarily, be transcended. Next, I go back to Levy’s childhood and adolescence, reading a series of letters written by Levy to her sister Katie Levy and others. I read these letters queerly, resisting the imposition of assumed heterosexuality. Together with a selection of what I call Levy’s “queer poetry”, I argue that these are representations of same-sex desire. Building upon the models of identity formulated in Chapter One, I argue that Levy’s representations of subjectivity are markedly queer: they refuse stability, escape recognition, and find fullest articulation in transience. The final chapter considers Levy’s most complex novel, Reuben Sachs: A Sketch. I examine its representations of Jewishness and gender and, importantly, its techniques of representation, revealing the novel’s self-reflexivity. I show, together with Levy’s writings in The Jewish Chronicle and elsewhere, that Levy actively writes back to a history of Jewish literary representation. Finally, reading the short story ‘Cohen of Trinity’, I observe Levy’s most tragic representation of marginal identity and how representation and associated mis/recognition shape subjectivity. Amy Levy’s work critically engages with the creation of identities and subjectivities, anticipating the disruptive cultural politics more commonly associated with the 1890s.
Advisor: Treagus, Mandy
Tonkin, Maggie
Dissertation Note: Thesis (M.Phil.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2016.
Keywords: Amy Levy
Victorian literature
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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