Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in English

First Advisor

Leigh Anne Duck

Second Advisor

Caroline Wiggington

Third Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Relational Format



This project explores Southern women writers during the latter half of the nineteenth-century who asserted and crafted a modernized identity by turning to various modes of transgressive performance and performance spaces. For women of the nineteenth-century, this meant extricating themselves from a domestic, sentimental identity and apprehending a more fluid, dynamic type of being. The modes of performance, such as spectatorship, orality, and gesture, allowed these women to express and articulate an alternative feminine identity while also engaging with an embodied epistemology. This thesis looks at three Southern women writers: Sherwood Bonner’s novel Like Unto Like and her travel letters which engages with the Roman Carnival and French theatre, Ida B. Wells’s travel letters from her anti-lynching campaign in England showing her on the public stage, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s short story “Sister Josepha” representing the upending New Orlean Carnival. As these women are often read under the rubric of regionalism or sentimental fiction, a performance lens allows these Southern writers to transcend the genres that confine them. What these three writers specifically show in their performance representation is that mobility and movement, especially in a transnational route, is important to their type of alternative self-fashioning. Through movement, they were in search of modern counter-cultural spaces that brought them out of the context of the South to provide a new space for an alternate model of being. Additionally, these women experience the pleasure that comes from spectatorship and movement itself, guided to a transformation by the other female bodies they observed and the movement they directly participated in. What this thesis importantly shows is that Nineteenth-century women writers, specifically Southern women writers, are dismissed from any form of modern self-fashioning, and their works serve as a precursor to a female modern identity.



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