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Riddles and Revelations: Forms of Incest Telling in 20th Century America

Fiche mise à jour le 7 février 2020

En bref

Date de présentation : 2008
Etendue : 188 p.


Titre du diplôme :

Doctor of Philosophy - English Languages and Literature

Organismes :

University of Michigan, États-Unis

Résumé d'auteur :

This inquiry into contemporary forms of the incest narrative focuses on three women writers who subvert and reinvent the standard incest model for their own ends. Since the beginnings of Western literature, incest telling has been tricked out in riddles. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a question—why is there a plague on Thebes?—takes the title character on a quest which eventually leads to the dread answer: because its king is sleeping with his mother. Incest hides in this narrative, its secret waiting to be recognized and decoded. Oedipus remains the archetypal incest story; the riddle form is the standard incest model. But the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, Willa Cather and Kathryn Harrison has done much to change the way that incest is usually told. The standard incest model confirms our belief in incest as a shocking transgression. When the discovery of incest is delayed through riddling, the assumption is that telling this transgression is so fraught it can derail the narrative; it is so horrific that we have to approach it obliquely. In that it defers the announcement of incest through the scattering of clues—the narrative equivalent of clearing one’s throat—the riddle form affirms the view that speaking of incest is as vexed and potentially traumatic as the act itself. By subverting the riddle form, Kingston, Cather, and Harrison not only challenge the way that incest is traditionally told, they also redefine what is and what is not sayable. In “No Name Woman,” Kingston uses incest as a stepping stone to arrive at another, more forbidden revelation. In Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Cather provides what seems to be a textbook incest riddle, but elides the revelation; she uses the unanswered incest riddle to indict the system of slavery and the way it blinkers those who participate in it. In The Kiss, Harrison eschews riddling altogether, casually referring to her sexual relationship with her father on the first page of the text; she thus comments on incest itself—how common it is, how undramatic and unrevelatory to its traumatized victims.

Sommaire :

  1. A stepping stone to voice: the shifting answers to the forbidden story riddle in “no name woman
  2. The revelation of no revelation: the unanswered incest riddle in Sapphira and the slave girl
  3. The new face of incest?: race, class, and the controversy over Kathryn Harrison’s the kiss
  4. The domestication of incest: Kathryn Harrison’s thicker than water vs. The kiss

Mots clés libres :

Littérature, Philosophie

Mots-clés libres (EN) :

Incest, Incest and riddles, Incest and miscegenation, Willa Cather, Maxine Hong Kingston, Kathryn Harrison


Genre : Thèse
Langue : anglais
Format : bibliographie
Numéro de fiche : 31
Type de fiche : Mémoire ou thèse
Création : 07/03/2019
Dernière modification : 07/02/2020
Statut : Publié