University of Tasmania
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Space and Sexuality in the Post-Victorian Fiction of Sarah Waters

posted on 2023-05-26, 09:14 authored by Hall, DM
This thesis analyses the work of British writer Sarah Waters, focussing on the inseparability of spatiality and the expression of sexuality in her novels. Since 1998, Waters has published three books set in the mid-to-late Victorian era, featuring lesbian protagonists: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith. All three novels are examples of lesbian fiction, but they are also arguably works of historiographic metafiction and post-Victorian novels. They have been critically and popularly acclaimed, added to university reading lists and adapted for television. There has thus far been a small amount of scholarship in response to Waters' novels, primarily concerned with generic classification and lesbian identity. The entwined discourses of space and sexuality form the theoretical basis of this discussion. There is a large body of academic work on this subject, by cultural theorists such as Michel Foucault, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Mark Wigley as well as geographers such as Tim Creswell. Previous studies of Waters' work have made little use of theories of space and sexuality, despite their relevance to her novels. I draw upon these theories in my analyses of Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith, exploring the way in which the historically transgressive sexualities of Waters'heroines are constructed spatially, via the characters' movement (or lack thereof) through confining interiors. Chapter One looks at the ways in which theatrical and performative transgressions affect sexual expression in Waters' first novel, Tipping the Velvet. Sites of performance, or stages, are not only located in theatres in this text, but are present everywhere: on the streets and in the homes of both the rich and poor. Upon these numerous and diverse stages Nancy Astley, the protagonist of the novel, reveals the inherent performativity of gender and sexuality through cross-dressing and impersonation. The second chapter shows the way sexual identities are confined within both the private sphere and the prison in Affinity. The desires of the protagonists can be articulated only through spiritual or ghostly transgressions, which are simultaneously arousing and frightening. The third chapter focuses on domestic spaces and madness in Fingersmith. Waters draws on Victorian notions of hysteria and female sexuality in this novel, re-appropriating them for her own purposes. This thesis concludes that Waters re-presents Victorian sexuality through the spaces in which it was enclosed.


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