Poetics of Dislocation: Comparative Cosmopolitanism in Charlotte Brontë, Flora Tristan, and Toru Dutt
This thesis explores three women writers from nineteenth-century, who used the genre of autofiction to transcribe their familial trauma and dislocation to reconstitute themselves with the help of their empathic readers. Charlotte Brontë's novels, Jane Eyre and Villette, Flora Tristan's memoir from her travels to Peru, Pérégrinations d'une paria, and Toru Dutt's novella, Le journal de Mlle d'Arvers are the focus of this study. Brontë's heroines, Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe, Tristan's champion of the oppressed, "the pariah," and Dutt's heroine, Marguerite, are auto-portraits of the women writers themselves. The protagonists articulate their trauma through an aesthetic of wounding, which effectively transfers the burden of testimony onto the readers. Their narrative strategies rely on narration and transference for what Freud calls an, "abreaction," or working through. This transference conscripts and coopts the reader into becoming a collaborator of their autofiction. Reading these three writers together offers the reader a unique opportunity to read particular moments in nineteenth-century Europe as experienced by both the metropolitan and the colonized. They were deracinated from their own communities, which made them cosmopolitan by default. Their travels to distant places mark them as exiles, but at the same time the new geographic spaces reorder their interior worlds and helped them comprehend the disenfranchised other. It is evident when reading their letters that their traumas led them to become agents of change, particularly regarding the status of women in society. I study how their individual trauma led them o engage with the collective trauma of gender, which they effectively transfer to the empathic readers through their texts. I suggest that through their masked, textual selves, they transformed their intensely traumatic, idiosyncratic experiences into public battles about women's status in patriarchal societies.