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Anonymous LifeRomanticism and Dispossession$
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Jacques Khalip

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780804758406

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804758406.001.0001

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The Art of Knowing Nothing

The Art of Knowing Nothing

Feminine Melancholy and Skeptical Dispossession

(p.133) Chapter Four The Art of Knowing Nothing
Anonymous Life
Stanford University Press

This chapter examines how the figure of the female melancholic, as she appears in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Mary Shelley's Matilda, and Jane Austen's Persuasion, dramatizes multiple concerns about the problems of skepticism in relation to selfhood, agency, and knowledge. For Wollstonecraft, Shelley, and Austen, the female melancholic is perceived as ambivalently participating in and challenging what Wollstonecraft will call “making an appearance in the world,” or the project of developing the social terms under which one makes oneself known and available to others. It is argued that the female melancholic rethinks this incentive to declare oneself, to make oneself known as a properly civic subject, and finds in loss a state of being which lends itself to an ethics of dispossession, one that fundamentally disarticulates personal fulfillment from self-presentation and self-assertion.

Keywords:   female melancholic, selfhood, agency, knowledge, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen

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