Improper Subjects: Confession, Shame, and Femininity

DEPT/SUBJECT AREA - English Literature

SUPERVISOR(S) - Prof. Julian Preece and Dr Mel Kohkle 


THESIS TITLE - Improper Subjects: Confession, Shame, and Femininity in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century English- and German-Language Literature 


My research considers ‘confession’ as a narrative trope in semi-autobiographical fictions by twentieth- and twenty-first-century women writers. The authors included in my study are: Virginia Woolf, Emmy Hennings, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Plath, Ingeborg Bachmann, Elfriede Jelinek, Chris Kraus, and Charlotte Roche. Adopting a pluralistic approach, and combining genre, trauma, psychoanalytic, feminist, and post-structural theory, I argue that scenes of confession symbolise women’s entry into the Symbolic structure, rendering the objectification of the feminine and her subordination to language explicit through father confessor figures. In the more recent works considered, confession also mimics and exposes the gendered interpretative framework applied to women’s art. As a generic hybrid, semi-autobiographical fiction serves as a means to explore the fictional or constructed nature of selfhood, while also resisting the implied fixity of the subject of autobiography ‘proper’. Focusing on works by women writers raises feminist debates around speech and silence, visibility, and shame, and one of the questions this research asks is whether the semi-autobiographical mode constitutes an aesthetic of shame or resistance to the patriarchal gaze.


‘Sensational Pain’, CRASSH Erotic Literature in Translation and Adaptation, Cambridge 2015

‘Romantic Tropes in Haneke’s La Pianiste’, Romantic Studies Conference, Swansea 2015

‘Changing the Subject: Confession in Works by Plath and Bachmann’, Swansea University Postgraduate Conference, Swansea 2016

‘Emmy Hennings and Jean Rhys: Apart from and A Part of Dada and (Post) Modernism’, Swansea University PG Conference, Swansea 2017


Jones, Katie (2016). ‘Bluebeardean Futures in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina’, gender forum. 58 (summer)

Jones, Katie (2018). ‘Sensational Pain: Filming the Eroticised Trauma Narrative’, Erotic Literature in Adaptation and Translation. Johannes Kaminski (ed.). Cambridge: Legenda Press.


Pantyfedwen Trust Bursary

Anglo-Austrian Society Travel Bursary