"Posture of reclining weakness": Disability and the Courtship Narratives of Jane Austen's Novels
Skipsey, Katherine Mary
For years critics have noticed how Jane Austen uses “a cold, a sore throat, a sprained ankle, or some other minor affliction” (Watson 336) to further the plots of her novels. Although the recurring motif of illness appears to be nothing more than the recording of everyday trivialities, the frequent appearance of illness during the courtship narratives is intriguing. The bodily production of modesty requires the conscious display of delicacy; however, delicacy requires disability in order to be visible to society. Similarly, sensibility also requires the display of delicacy and, by extension, disability. Applying Judith Butler’s performance theory to disability, it is possible to analyze the performance of delicacy used in both the production of modesty and sensibility, and thereby understand the degree to which delicacy is a learned performance rather than an innate feminine trait. Austen’s heroines display varying degrees of affectation of both modesty and sensibility through their performances of delicacy. These performances serve to highlight each heroine’s degree of modesty and sensibility, as well as to pique the interest – ideally, although not always successfully – of potential lovers. The performance of disability through delicacy is an essential feature of the temporary invalidism experienced by the heroines during the courtship narratives of Austen’s novels.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeStephanson, Raymond A.; Smith, Lisa; Flynn, Kevin; Vargo, Lisa
Copyright DateApril 2007