Strict Performativity and the Limits of Resignification in Stories and Novels

  • Melissa Schaub


This chapter provides close reading of a number of Elizabeth Gaskell’s short stories, which illustrate the gloomy side of Judith Butler’s theory of performativity. In these stories, which are rarely examined by literary critics, characters are compelled by discourses rather than able to manipulate or resignify them. The analysis then moves to the opposite type of text, novels that contain characters who are capable of resignifying the compulsory discourses that surround them. The focus of this section of the chapter is on Wives and Daughters, with some attention also to North and South. Mary Barton is discussed as a bridging text between Gaskell’s early short fiction and later novels. The strongest argument for the cheerful hypothesis of performativity is to be found in Gaskell’s novels, but it is not clear from them which factors make it possible for discourse to be resignified.


Elizabeth Gaskell Judith Butler Performativity “Lizzie Leigh” “The Old Nurse’s Story” Wives and Daughters Mary Barton 


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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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