The Macksey Journal


In this paper, I explore the concept of “hysteria” as it is reclaimed by the feminist thinkers/authors Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Elena Ferrante. I begin with a brief overview of the historical connotations of hysteria, showing how the metaphor of hysteria mythologized a patriarchal notion of femininity before being re-mythologized for feminism. I then investigate how Gilman and Ferrante have situated themselves within this myth, using The Newly Born Woman by Cixous and Clément to contextualize Gilman’s "The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Ferrante's first two novels, Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment. I identify a similar process used by both Gilman and Ferrante in which the female protagonist reinvents herself as a “newly born woman,” which I outline in three parts. First, the subject somatizes patriarchy, encoding it in her experience of space and thus engaging with it on her own terms. Second, she encodes a hallucination of oppressed femininity within the patriarchal space, exploring her oppression and potential liberation through a progressively more real “alter ego.” This culminates in the protagonist blending her physical self with her hallucinated “alter ego,” which entails her claiming a new agency just as she appears to be claimed by hysteria. My analysis shows how hysteria has been repurposed by these feminist authors/thinkers as a foil for patriarchal, rational, and phallogocentric structures of thought.