"A Creature for Whom Art Can Do Nothing": Femininity, Performance, and Gender Subversion in The Wild Irish Girl and Mansfield Park
Title"A Creature for Whom Art Can Do Nothing": Femininity, Performance, and Gender Subversion in The Wild Irish Girl and Mansfield Park
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AbstractBoth Owenson's The Wild Irish Girl and Austen's Mansfield Park feature female protagonists whose performances — musical, theatrical, and social — help construct their performances of a particular kind of gender identity, that of the natural woman. The natural woman is a gender ideal that is supposedly artless, truthful, and opposed to performance. However, in performing, often sincerely, the role of the natural woman, through explicit forms of performance like music and theatre and through gender performance, the women of these texts achieve the subversion of otherwise strictly mandated gender roles. By playing their sanctioned part to a hyperbolic extreme, The Wild Irish Girl's Glorvina and Mansfield Park's Fanny redirect the fundamental qualities of the character they play — truthfulness, purity, naturalness —in a way that allows them to gain the agency to make political and personal choices that would otherwise be disallowed.