Dissertation Defense: Forrest Finch
Candidate Name: Forrest Finch
Advisor: Mary Helen Dupree, Ph.D.
Title: The Tableau Effect in German Prose around 1800
This dissertation investigates the performativity of gendered notions of selfhood in novels as well as short stories, ranging from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809), Heinrich von Kleist’s Der Findling (1811), Joseph von Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild (1819), and Sophie Mereau-Brentano’s Die Flucht nach der Hauptstadt (1806). The first chapter analyzes the literary representation of performances of tableaux vivants by the female figures Luciane and Ottilie in Goethe’s novel, as it argues that these performances induce divergent notions of feminine selfhood, namely ones that either fall into tendencies of askesis or asceticism. More precisely, the female figures are analyzed in terms of self-indulgence and self-expansion or self-denial and self-sacrifice. This twofold model is condensed into the representation of one female figure, Elvire, in the second chapter, insofar as this woman oscillates between techniques of selfhood that either result in her maintenance of her own internal world of desires or the total renunciation of all desire, particularly when she becomes ensnared as an observer in the performance of a tableau vivant by her stepson, Nicolo. Moving on from Kleist’s novella, the third chapter extends the critical apparatus of the tableau effect to examine the gendered subject formation of a heterosexual male protagonist in Eichendorff’s novella in terms of his standardization as a subject that conforms to more conservative gender paradigms. This chapter considers moments in which the protagonist encounters tableaux vivants, particularly of women, as formative in his construction as a heterosexual subject. The fourth and final chapter examines Mereau-Brentano’s novella through the lens of the tableau effect, too; however, through the course of this novella, I argue that the female protagonist empowers herself through the dynamics of self-performance that the tableau effect inculcates as a gendered subject. Ultimately, this dissertation provides insights into the linking of gender performativity, visual media, and subjectivity around 1800 that creates a new space for analyzing the resonances between contemporary notions of self-performance and self-marketing on social media and earlier modes of self-performance in literary representations of mimoplastics.