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The crone: emerging voice in a feminine symbolic discourse Masland, Lynne S.


This dissertation explores portrayals of old women in samples drawn predominantly from French and American literature, using myth, folklore, psychological and feminist theories to examine, compare and contrast depictions of this figure through close textual analysis. I have examined treatments of old women in literary texts by Boethius, Jean de Meung, and Perrault as well as those in texts by women writers, including Sand, Colette, de Beauvoir, Jewett, Gather, Porter, Wharton, Flagg, Meigs and Silko. By analyzing the portrayal of old women's roles in a variety of works written in different periods in these two cultures, I hope to illuminate, to some small degree, ways in which the Old Woman figure is emerging as a powerful dimension of woman's voice at a time when the growing number of elderly people coincides with women's increasing access to "voice." An examination of images of the Old Woman/Crone may reveal the articulation of an alternative symbolic discourse that permits women's voices to be "heard." The typical mythological and literary roles for old women may be loosely categorized as: deity, hag, elder, matriarch, grandmother or (abject) old woman. The texts selected provide good examples of the various "crone" roles, from deity to abject old woman, as well as the opportunity to consider this figure's treatment in both patriarchal and women-centered literary works at various periods of time. Theory, whether psychological or feminist, is treated textually and considered to have a "point of view" which must be determined when applying theory to texts. My discussion of old women in contemporary French literature revolves around the disagreement between Kristeva, Cixous or Irigaray, who deploy Freudian or Lacanian concepts in the search for an understanding of the feminine, and de Beauvoir. Michel Foucault and the American psychologist, Carol Gilligan, provide alternative theories. Analysis of the folktale, "Little Red Riding Hood," runs as a leitmotiv throughout — from its early French folk origins to a "new Age" version circulated recently on an Internet bulletin board -- since this cautionary tale of the girl, the wolf, and the grandmother has lent itself to creative interpretation from Freudian, Jungian, Lacanian, feminist, and other perspectives. I conclude that demographic factors and multiculturalism are contributing to a contemporary "emergence," in Foucault's sense, of the voices and images of older women. This current "emergence" may contribute to an alternative view of conventional literature and history, one which values women's experience and demonstrates a feminine discourse that is different from that of the patriarchal symbolic order

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