Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Beattie, Blake

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Chandler, Karen

Committee Member

Chandler, Karen

Committee Member

Williams, Michael

Committee Member

Hardin, Carmen

Author's Keywords

women; autobiography; spirituality; orthopraxy; orthodoxy


This creative and critical hybrid dissertation explores the spiritual connections between three women in distinctly different time periods: contemporary America, nineteenth century America and early fifteenth century France. The overall dissertation explores the autogenealogobiography, what the author defines as the self-writings of women composed within a specific time period in relation to the current moment and generations of ancestral women. The objective of the creative texts is to record the spiritual journeys of life for the women who will come after for the purpose of encouraging careful observation of history so that women will be able to note and internalize how identification of one’s own identity impacts the shift from subjugated passive observer to authoritative active participant. The critical chapters situate the women in the creative chapters in their respective time periods in relation to relevant historical figures. The creative chapters focus on the spiritual, emotional, cultural and psychological issues associated with the position of women in society in relation to religion, family, trauma and career. The creative chapters also focus specifically on the resultant choices and associated negative consequences. The critical chapters provide the framework, including the theoretical implications of the time period in relation to the women of the creative texts. The first chapter provides the critical framework that sets up the paired creative text of the second chapter. The critical chapter, chapter one, focuses on eighteenth century female Quaker public friend Elizabeth Ashbridge and the creative chapter, chapter two, focuses on twenty-first century Justy Engle (1986-present). Chapter one includes a reading of Daniel Shea’s critical edition of Ashbridge’s text and looks at it in relation to Christine Levenduski’s portrayal of the figure in Peculiar Power while also navigating the emotional and spiritual ramifications of the poor choices Ashbridge made in allowing herself to be passive rather than active in her life. The second chapter focuses on Justy and, through a series of vignettes, records pivotal emotions, events and prayers that demonstrate how the author created her own life. The italicized portions of the text indicate a glossing of the original text at a point later in life for the character. Both the glossing and the original text touch on the resonances of cultural trauma as present in the life of the individual. Chapter three, also a critical chapter, treats cultural trauma and considers nineteenth century American women’s life writings in order to make way for the character of Laura Ellen Hunt Short (1860-1951) in the creative Chapter four. Chapter three focuses on the differences between belief and action in women’s autobiographical texts, focusing on the paratext of nineteenth century Lucy Larcom’s A New England Girlhood as typical of a spiritually mature writer in a secular text; Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s autobiographical text serves as a non-example. Chapter three utilizes Sidonie Smith’s A Poetics of Women’s Autobiography as well as Paul John Eakin’s American Autobiography, How Our Lives Become Stories, Touching the World and Fictions in Autobiography to examine the applications of the criticism on women’s autobiographical texts. Chapter four focuses on the lack of fulfillment in the life of Laura and how the dissonance between the character’s orthodoxy and orthopraxy result in a disintegration of self and a lack of true fulfillment and purpose in life. Through a series of chronologically organized vignettes and accompanying later glossings, Laura demonstrates the essence of what it means to be subtly and substantively influenced by the broader cultural trauma and what it means to stand in the liminal space in a liminal state in a post-Civil War community. While Laura ultimately comes to the conclusion about who she is in relation to God, she does not become the fully realized person she hopes to be in her nearly ninety years of life. Chapters five and six focus on Christine de Pizan (1364-ca. 1430), with her life as the first professional female writer in the critical chapter and the underlying emotional implications as evidenced through her self-writings in the creative chapter. The critical chapter seeks to ground her in regard to her predecessors such as St. Augustine and in regard to her contemporaries such as Eustache Deschamps. The intersections of the work of scholars such as Charity Cannon Willard, Earl Jeffrey Richards and Liliane Dulac are present. Chapter six seeks to illumine the parts of Christine’s life that were not recorded in her extant texts and to demonstrate how the cognitive dissonance between her orthodoxy and orthopraxy demonstrate her true beliefs. The reading of Christine’s overall works includes a brief exploration of her theology, focusing on The Book of the City of Ladies, The Treasury of the City of Ladies and, arguably her most autobiographical text, The Vision. The dissertation concludes with a thorough explanation of autogenealogobiography and its resonances throughout the text.