‘Creatures Born of the Wasteland’: Modernity and Female Masculinity from 1880 to 1930
My project explores representations of alternate masculinities in women’s writing from 1880-1930, including the works of Vernon Lee, Michael Field and Vita Sackville-West. In particular, it questions whether the masculinity of the New Woman, which is often used to vilify her and the political reform she stands for, can – or should – be reconciled with the desire of queer authors to depict non-normative forms of gendered embodiment in their fiction.
To achieve this aim, it places literature produced by gender non-conforming writers in dialogue with a variety of interdisciplinary sources about female masculinity from the same period, suggesting that their work can be used to create a ‘counter-discourse’ that complicates their conventional configuration in the mainstream imagination. Ultimately, it posits that, when viewed through this lens, their work has the unrealised potential to act as a radical ‘prehistory’ to our contemporary notion of gender identity as an act of self-determination.