Open Access Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
Politics and International Relations
2019 Elizabeth (Katy) Lewis
With Christine Elliot and Linda Brent, we have two types of the supposed ungendering of women: in Christine, public lecturing and the self-propulsion of one young woman into the public, male sphere, and the ungendering through objectification and dehumanization of Linda Brent in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861. We’ll see both young women reject the accusations that they are being de-femininized by engaging in the work or survival modes that they are utilizing. We’ll see both characters assert that femininity can encompass their transgressions, that femininity is more resilient, and that women’s rightful place is in reality, in both spheres of the public and the private, both the virgin and the mother. In pairing two different narratives that revolutionize different aspects of femininity, in a way they never have before, we can see common threads of sisterhood and emphasis on the bonds between women. While Christine deals with the social and ethical difficulties that are placed upon her for moving between the public and private sphere in an urban and rural setting, Linda deals more with internalized anguish based on the notions of purity as virginity that have been instilled in her. This is a place of divergence for the two texts –enslavement, othering, virginity, and motherhood are at the center of Jacobs’ text, whereas Christine uses virginity as a legitimizing authority for its protagonist and focuses more on how publicity is thought to threaten ideal femininity. Christine, by succeeding as a women’s rights lecturer and actually ending up in a heavenly marriage after years of strife, proves that a woman can enter the public sphere and affect the lives of her fellow citizen, while maintain a sense of virtue, even outside the public sphere. Linda, by choosing the loss of her virginity as a safeguard against her licentious master, shows women that one can find virtue and essential goodness in being a mother, and that the valorization as virginity as the highest standard for femininity is not sustainable, and therefore should be replaced with a respect for mothers. Both of these inversions of the previous feminine ideal rework the entire realm of possibility for women’s potential by reimagining who fits under the title good woman.
Lewis, Elizabeth (Katy), "The New Horizons of Ideal Womanhood in Antebellum America: Christine Elliot and Linda Brent" (2019). Scripps Senior Theses. 1355.