Mitchell: “Femininity, Narrative and Psychoanalysis”

In her essay “Femininity, Narrative and Psychoanalysis” Juliet Mitchell offers her views on the history of the development of the novel as well as the role of women writers within the literary world.

Mitchell begins her essay by explaining the workings of psychoanalysis and arguing that, as psychoanalysis is the process of telling and retelling stories, the novel is inherently related to the workings of psychoanalysis. Mitchell then goes on to write of women writers of novels, questioning whether or not women writers have a “voice” in writing, as language is inevitable phallocentric. She goes on to assert that the woman writer must either write using masculine language or write as “the hysteric,” which is “…simultaneously what a woman can do both to be feminine and to refuse femininity, within patriarchal discourse” (389). Mitchell argues that through this discrepancy, a kind of bisexuality emerges for the woman writer. Mitchell goes on to illustrate her arguments by utilizing several examples from Emily Bronte’s classic novel Wuthering Heights.

While I found Mitchell’s essay on the combining factors of feminism, psychoanalysis and the novel to be interesting, I’m not sure that I entirely understand and agree with her point. She states that “The woman novelist must be an hysteric,” and she defines hysteria as  “…simultaneously what a woman can do both to be feminine and to refuse femininity, within patriarchal discourse” (389). She then goes on to question the existence of a woman’s voice in narrative, as she is condemned to work within a phallocentric language. It is from this notion of hysteria that a sort of “bisexuality,” as Mitchell calls it, occurs. A woman must write either as a man, or as a combination of both. I found this point to be rather confusing, however, and I’m not quite sure that I agree that language is inevitably masculine. I have found many authors to have very distinct and different voices in their novels, however I have not found this difference to exist primarily on the basis of gender. Furthermore, the English language is, I feel, relatively gender neutral. In many foreign languages, like French, gender is an integral part of the language, however the English language seems to be relatively neutral.

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