Date of Award

Fall 12-7-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Mary Hocks

Abstract

This dissertation project, which recovers the feminist invention of 19th-century actress and author Adah Menken, proves the efficacy of conducting historigraphic recoveries of heretofore forgotten and elided female rhetors. I situate Adah’s visual and written performances within the materiality of Victorian social codes, positioning her as a feminist commentator worthy of inclusion in our remembrances of feminist discourses. I use archival sources including carte de visites (CDVs) and Adah’s letters and poetry as heuristics for gendered critique, to analyze how she resisted the master narrative of Victorian society and its accompanying codes governing public and private feminine behavior. My objectives are three-fold: to use archival recovery as a method to unearth and evaluate what feminist inquiry can accomplish; to argue for the feminist intentions of a previously unknown female writer; and to offer an opportunity to discover cross-disciplinary connections for rhetorical recoveries. Feminist inquiry is itself an exemplar of rhetorical invention, the idea of making a path. In my dissertation project, I illustrate how Adah Menken blazed a path in her personal and public rhetorics. For my principal goal of asserting Adah’s importance as a feminist rhetor, I use primary sources to demonstrate that her invention and resistance provide fertile ground for vital feminist inquiry. As a secondary means of asserting the significance of archival feminist research, I also offer my Adah Menken recovery as a case study for examining ideas of resistance and subversion to dominant master narratives. For this application, I use Judith Butler’s theory of performativity and Michel Foucault’s ideas surrounding the topic of resistance. Ultimately, the convergence of theoretical and practical applications for rhetorical recoveries, both of which I describe in-depth in my dissertation, serve to re-connect fields of inquiry and make them relevant to scholars across the Academe.

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