Date of Award

Summer 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Emily B. Stanback

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Nicolle Jordan

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Leah Pope Parker

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Alexandra Valint

Committee Member 4 School



The last decades of the eighteenth century witnessed the emergence of new methods of medical perception that privileged doctors’ findings over patients’ testimonies or illness narratives in ways that had far-reaching socio-cultural consequences, especially for women. By the second decade of the nineteenth century, anatomists, physiologists, and man-midwives had convincingly presented the female body as pathological to such a degree as to necessitate the formation of a new branch of medicine devoted to women’s health care: gynecology. Thus advances in scientific and medical knowledge contributed to social views that excluded women from professional endeavors. Simultaneous with the relegation of women to the domestic sphere, social authority consolidated in the hands of regulatory boards populated with medical men, which exempted women from public engagement in medical discourse that perpetuated their exclusion. Engaging with feminist, disability studies, and health humanities methodologies, this dissertation explores how nineteenth-century British women writers used bodies, especially those defined as pathological, deformed, disabled, or otherwise non-normative, as loci of resistance against patriarchal bodily control. It further considers when this type of control became encoded as medical and why this resistance emerged in the second generation of Romanticism. I have coined the term “resistive embodiment,” to identify strategies in British women’s writing, at turns corporeal, rhetorical, formal, imaginative, or discursive that frequently occur in the author’s or character’s descriptions of bodies, especially female bodies, when those bodies are depicted as agential, empowered to resist empirical discovery through methods of visual scrutiny, tactile investigation, or aural surveillance. These moments of resistive embodiment are pivotal to the texts in which they appear: by rejecting patriarchal surveillance, they create new possibilities. This study analyzes resistive embodiment in various forms of women’s writing, including short stories, poetry (lyric and epic), and novels, and it considers the foundational role that forms less often recognized as literary, such as letters and diaries, play in the development of resistive embodiment.

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