The dissertation examines the representation of hysteria in a range of creative texts by women, mostly literary fiction but also including some drama, film and music performance. Hysteria occupies a place, or rather places, of particular significance in Western culture. Its multiple meanings are shaped and lent authority by those discourses in which hysteria is spoken or spoken about. The definitions and boundaries of hysteria are notoriously unclear, amorphous, and subject to debate. The dissertation contends that hysteria can be understood as an aesthetic site that articulates a complex relation within discourses of power. For feminists, hysteria is difficult or sensitive terrain, primarily because it is often taken to be an index of femininity and secondly because its dynamic nature locates it on the border, in an osmotic relation between subject and object. As a dramatic and psychosomatic phenomenon, hysteria affects readers acutely; attitudes to
hysteria as a psychological curiosity inevitably inform our interpretations of hysteria when enacted in a cultural context. Hysteria draws powerfully upon the unconscious processes of its readers. My argument is not directed toward defining hysteria as such, but in providing an analysis of the way in which hysteria functions as an altered and altering state in a variety of cultural and political contexts.
In its analysis of hysteria in cultural representation, this dissertation attempts to address both social and aesthetic concerns. My critical analysis therefore oscillates between a focus on the image (and meanings) of the hysteric and a consideration of hysteria as a vehicle for an aesthetics of excess. Hysteria's representation in dramatic or literary form owes much to traditional associations among psychoanalysis, the hysteric, and drama, which provide the historical bridge between nature and culture. As a symptomatic and multivalent category, hysteria
assumes a number of modalities, for example, suffering or anxiety, celebration, catharsis, or protest. The dissertation explores this diversity, and endeavours to articulate hysteria's role in narrative development. The focus of discussion is on Freud's role in the genesis of hysteria and feminist commentary since Freud, the hysterical role of the Woman as Artist, and the intimate link between hysteria and violence, and hysteria and traumatic narrative respectively. These issues are discussed in relation to the following texts: Charlotte Perkins Oilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, Chamber Made Opera's Recital, Christina Stead's I'm Dying Laughing.,Toni Morrison's Jazz, Michelle Forster's Daughters of Heaven, Ana Kokkinos's Only the Brave, Diamanda Galas's Masque of the Red Death, Liza Lim's Oresteia, Margaret Atwood's
Alias Grace, and Janet Frame's State of Siege. The dissertation examines the ways in which hysteria, as manifest trauma, is represented, and develops an appropriate reading framework. The style and organisation of the readings which follow foreground the performative aspects of hysteria, and focus on some of the more illuminating processes of psychoanalysis