Questioning the Father

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1999-12-01
  • Publisher: Stanford Univ Pr
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Building on the intellectual and historical context of Darwin's theory of evolution and its concomitant questioning of a divine father, this book analyzes dramatic and narrative representations of crises in the nineteenth-century patriarchal family and the gradual rise of the independent or New Woman in works by Zola, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Hardy. The introduction establishes the book's critical foundation, which is based on the thought of Darwinian scholars, family and psychoanalytic theorists, and a variety of feminist critics. This is followed by a brief overview of Darwin's challenge to Creationist beliefs, suggesting how evolutionary theory served as a focal point for European literary depictions of patriarchal families in turmoil. The author then discusses works by Auguste Comte, Hippolyte Taine, and Emile Zola, whoseTherese Raquinfeatures a strong and sexual woman paired with a weak man. The book's middle chapters focus on the changing world of men and women in Scandinavia, with emphasis on the writings of Georg Brandes and J. P. Jacobsen, precursors of Ibsen and Strindberg. Analysis of four Ibsen plays--Pillars of Society,A Doll House,Ghosts, andHedda Gabler--reveals a Darwinian universe in which women struggle to break free of patriarchal restrictions, typified by Nora's forgery of her father's name inA Doll House. A subsequent discussion highlights Strindberg's prose and drama--fromSon of a ServanttoThe Fathers,Creditors,The Dance of Death, andThe Pelican--which reflect the nineteenth-century bourgeois male's resistance to the loss of the privileged role of the father and the weakening of the nuclear family. The final chapter demonstrates how Hardy'sTess of the d'UrbervillesandJude the Obscurelay bare the destructive heritage of the father's name and the fatal effects of patriarchal traditions; the author shows how Hardy builds his narratives on the inevitably conflictual relationships between men and women restricted by outdated gender roles defined by social and religious institutions.

Author Biography

Ross Shideler is Professor of Comparative Literature and Scandinavian Languages at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author, most recently, of Per Olov Enquist: A Critical Study and the editor (with Kathleen L. Komar) of Lyrical Symbols and Narrative Transformations.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Patriarchal Humpty Dumpty 3(16)
Darwin: Displacing the Father
How Zola Began to Write About the Human Animal
Scandinavia: The Modern Breakthrough
Ibsen: Do Fathers Know Best?
Strindberg's Struggle
Hardy: Marriage and the Darkening Darwinian World
Notes 173(30)
Works Cited 203(12)
Index 215

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