Imagery of enclosure [...] constantly threatens to stifle the heroines of women’s fiction.
This thesis seeks to develop recent research into Russian literature, which has applied semiotic theory to a feminist critique, to explore how spaces may be gendered as feminine or masculine. This thesis will adopt a similar feminist and semiotic approach, but will focus not upon gendered spaces, but barriers, the ‘imagery of enclosure’. I will argue that barriers are both ‘engendered’, and ‘gendered’, in the sense that they often relate to female characters. These barriers are sub-divided into three distinct types, which will be termed ‘textual’, ‘actual’ and ‘perceived’ barriers. This revisionist semiotic approach will be used to explore the Woman Question within a comparative framework, in a discussion of midto late-nineteenth-century English, German and Russian literatures.
Drawing upon the work of literary theorists Mikhail Bakhtin and Yuri Lotman, alongside key concepts in feminist criticism (such as Simone de Beauvoir’s notion of woman as ‘other’), this thesis will consider textual, actual and perceived barriers in selected works of Charlotte and Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Theodor Storm, Theodor Fontane, Ivan Turgenev and Lev Tolstoy. In doing so, it will trace the development of the ‘superfluous woman’, a new character type, who is the superfluous man’s counterpart.
The fundamental aim of this study is to make an original and innovative contribution to the field of comparative European literary studies. Furthermore, and what is perhaps most exciting about this research, is that it offers a new methodological framework within which any literary text may be considered.