Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Vivian Pollak


This project examines the appropriation of children's literature, particularly Grimm's and Andersen's fairy tales and Lewis Carroll's Alice books, by Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Anne Sexton. Influenced by the cultural fixation on the child and the increasing popularity of Freudian discourse in American culture, the rise of confessional poetry, and second-wave feminist interest in female socialization, Bishop, Plath, Rich, and Sexton pursued in their poetry and prose an investigation of self and social formation that was simultaneously rooted in the public exhumation of the personal past and the personalized exploration of the dominant narratives of girlhood purveyed in the public sphere. Preceded in the American canon by such authors as Louisa May Alcott, Henry James, and Edith Wharton, each of whom wrote fictions about the American girl that characterized her as a figure representative of her society's problems and promise, Bishop, Plath, Rich, and Sexton helped to transform the way women in particular write about coming of age, using their own past experiences, intertwined with the public ideology of "the Girl," to transform their past selves into revisionary loci of poetic and political investigation. Using scholarship devoted to children's literature, childhood and girls' culture studies, and women's appropriation of the fairy tale and fantasy story, I explore how these authors employ children's literature and examine girls' reading practices and authorship in order to come to terms with questions of identity, femininity, sexuality, psychological trauma, and both literary and familial inheritance.


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