Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation

5-2017

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department

Humanities

Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Allen, Annette

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Willey, Ann

Committee Member

Willey, Ann

Committee Member

Hall, Ann

Committee Member

Griffin, Jo Ann

Author's Keywords

Anya Seton; women's literature; historical fiction; gender; sex; gender norms

Abstract

This dissertation examines the feminist significance of Anya Seton’s historical novels, My Theodosia (1941), Katherine (1954), and The Winthrop Woman (1958). The two main goals of this project are to 1.) identify and explain the reasons why Seton’s historical novels have not received the scholarly attention they are due, and 2.) to call attention to the ways in which My Theodosia, Katherine, and The Winthrop Woman offer important feminist interventions to patriarchal social order. Ultimately, I argue that My Theodosia, Katherine, and The Winthrop Woman deserve more scholarly attention because they are significant contributions to women’s literature and to women’s history. In the introduction, I provide a brief biography of Anya Seton and provide an outline of what will be addressed in the subsequent four chapters. In Chapter One, I call attention to the dissonance between Seton’s sustained popularity with readers and her relative absence in scholarship. Then, I provide short summaries of each historical novel to prepare my reader for the analyses I perform and the conclusions I come to in the succeeding chapters. Finally, I put forth the argument that a complex set of socio-cultural factors have contributed to the scholarly dismissal of Seton’s work. In Chapter Two, I perform an analysis of the historical events and literary trends that were occurring prior to and during the time Seton was writing My Theodosia, Katherine, and The Winthrop Woman in the 1940s and 1950s. Throughout my analysis, I articulate how dominant ideologies about history, literature, genre, and gender have collectively rendered Seton’s historical novels unworthy of serious scholarly attention. In Chapter Three, I identify the ways in which My Theodosia, Katherine, and The Winthrop Woman effectively interrupt the master narrative of the invulnerable male hero that has traditionally dominated the pages of most mainstream historical texts. In Chapter Four, I argue that Seton disrupts the widespread and disproportionate absence of women in mainstream historical texts by placing at the center of her novels three real-life historical female figures who are rarely given any attention in accounts of the past. I also argue that Seton’s novels challenge the masculinist ideology of mainstream historical texts by portraying ways that the female protagonists in My Theodosia, Katherine, and The Winthrop Woman either resist or reject traditional codes of feminine behavior. Finally, in the conclusion, I reiterate the main points of my chapters and emphasize the importance of breaking the cycle of silencing women’s voices throughout history.