Unpacking ‘Madness as Rebellion': Mental Illness, Agency, and Death in Women’s Literature

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Student Presentation

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Reshmi Mukherjee


Madness as rebellion has become a popular feminist framework in scholarship about canonical women’s literature. While it remains a worthwhile line of inquiry, the madness as rebellion mode of reading is problematic because it can romanticize mental illness and death and it often asks the reader to feel satisfied with the death of the ‘madwoman.’ Additionally, it creates the appearance of absolute free will and agency, making invisible the forces that construct madness and can force mentally ill women into a position of difference and ‘deviance.’ Using feminist theory and necropolitics, my paper will complicate this popular framework by answering the following questions: in western women’s literature about madness, is subjectivity made or unmade through death? To what extent do women writers and their women characters have agency? Why is the narrative of a woman becoming mad and approaching death such a popular, profitable and consumable one?

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