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‘Tired Inside’: Illness as Social Resistance in George MacDonald’s Adela Cathcart

Jessica Lewis

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Published Date:

January 2020


Adela Cathcart, Gender, Illness, Femininity, Resistance


Academic discussion has long limited the works of George MacDonald to their function as fairy tales and didactic narratives. This article explores the notion of illness as a form of resistance against the confines of upper-class femininity in MacDonald’s Adela Cathcart (1864). The article suggests that Adela’s mysterious illness, diagnosed as 'moral atrophy', is symptomatic of limits enforced by contemporary expectations for women, and that this incapacitating illness prevents Adela from fulfilling these expectations. Whether conscious or unconscious, the article explores both, Adela’s resistance against the duties of performative femininity necessitate her management by an all-male storytelling club who are tasked with restoring Adela to her role as dutiful daughter and suitable marriage-prospect. I argue that MacDonald uses illness to query contemporary gender ideals through Adela’s corporeal legibility, read through the lens of patriarchal medical theory.

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95 - 113

Date of Publication:

January 2020

About the author

Jessica Lewis

Jessica Lewis graduated from the University of South Wales in 2010 with a First Class Honours degree in English literature before continuing on to gaining a Masters from Cardiff University, specialising in Victorian literature. In February 2019 she received her PhD from the University of South Wales after successfully defending her thesis, titled Exposed Flesh: Metaphors of Cannibalism in English Literature 1840-1900.

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