Narrative constructions of female identity after suicide

Okan, Olgaokan (2017). Narrative constructions of female identity after suicide. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis weaves together two central themes in the analysis of literary suicide: writing and gender. In particular, it looks at different interpretations of the suicides of Eleanor Marx, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Sarah Kane. Apart from being writers who committed suicide, these women share a common interest in suicide as a subject matter in their writings. Especially in the cases of Woolf and Plath, their iconic status as literary suicides has often blurred the distinction between fact and fiction in the studies of their life and work. Furthermore, they have become case studies in the fields of psychology/psychiatry which discuss creativity in relation to mental illness. In this thesis, I take into account the connotations of literary suicide in different fields of study and synthesize an interdisciplinary approach with a focus on gender. Drawing on Judith Butler’s theory of performativity and Katrina Jaworski’s adaptation of it to suicide, I explore suicide as a social and historical construct. The thesis traces the subject formation of suicide through textual analysis of primary sources (including fiction, biographies and print media) and considers suicide notes, newspaper reports, obituaries and letters as the first narrative constructions of suicidal identity. Initial reactions to these suicides show a highly gendered understanding. However, the multiple narratives that follow reflect changes in the discourse of suicide. The thesis analyses the narratives of suicide written by the authors in relation to dominant discourses of suicide, the self and gender. The examination of the writers’ own work demonstrates that Marx, Woolf, Plath and Kane were in most cases writing against the dominant discourses of suicide.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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