Introduction: The Paradox of Subjectivity and the Naturalization of Theory

  • Melissa Schaub


This chapter establishes both the intellectual history of Judith Butler’s theory of performativity and the main conflict in how that concept has been applied to Elizabeth Gaskell’s fiction, using J. Hillis Miller’s formulation of the “cheerful hypothesis” versus the “gloomy hypothesis.” The chapter provides a history of the concept of performativity beginning with J.L. Austin, and a detailed analysis of Butler’s Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter. The central paradox of Butler’s theory is the way that it depicts people as being wholly constructed and compelled to “perform” their roles by discourses, and yet also able to “resignify” those discourses through failed performances. When critics apply Butler, they generally choose to emphasize only the cheerful side of this paradox. The chapter illustrates this tendency by a survey of criticism applying Butler to nineteenth-century literature in general and to Gaskell in particular.


Elizabeth Gaskell Judith Butler Performativity Gender Trouble Bodies That Matter 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Schaub
    • 1
  1. 1.University of North Carolina at PembrokePembrokeUSA

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