Faint of Feint?: Literary Portrayals of Female Swooning in the Eighteenth Century

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Kim, BoRam
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서울대학교 인문대학 영어영문학과
영학논집 29(2009): 148-166
feminine identitysexualitysensibilityswooningtheatricalityvirtue
This paper examines the social and political implications behind the prevalence of female swooning in Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela (Volume
11, Henry Fielding's parody of this novel Shamela, Eliza Haywood's Fantomina, and Aphra Behn's poem "The Disappointment." While swooning has today become a caricature of a particular brand of hyper-feminine manipulation, each of the three works mentioned above show that it was used by women of different socioeconomic backgrounds and personal desires to both project and protect aspects of their feminine identity. This identity was a combination of a desexualized, chaste ideal imposed upon women by a patriarchal society that was becoming increasingly conservative in response to a brief wave of feminism in the seventeenth century; and a more realistic character of a woman with sexual awareness and desires who sought to live out her true identity to whatever degree was possible within the tight realm of virtue that was ascribed to her by father, husband, or brother. The virtuous Pamela, for example, swoons in order to fend off potential rape, and consequently ruin, but her actions also have the effect of ultimately gaining her the respect of her would-be assailant, Mr. B. On the other hand, the sexually precocious Fantomina mimics a fainting fit in order to play the role of a demure young widow while continuing to fulfill her sexual desires. As such distinct heroines reveal, swooning was used by women as a clever instrument to subvert the constricting virginal ideal of a model lady.
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College of Humanities (인문대학)English Language and Literature (영어영문학과)영학논집(English Studies)영학논집(English Studies) No.29 (2009)
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