Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores the prevalent theme of marriage and madness in sixteen "domestic" novels published between 1958 and 1985 by writers such as Anderson, Atwood, Ballantyne, Engel, Kaufman, Laurence, Lessing, Mortimer and Plath. The representation of the restrictiveness of traditional domestic roles figures centrally in the work of many women writers during this period; almost as common is the conjunction between this sense of restriction and the need to escape these "ties that bind." Departure and divorce present themselves as possibilities, but for women who are economically and emotionally dependent on the traditional structure of marriage in Western society, various forms of mental illness more often constitute the only means of "escape." The prevalence of this connection between marriage and "madness" in contemporary women's fiction has led to the recent recognition of the "mad housewife" novel as a unique literary genre.;The very concept of "madness" itself, which has been extensively explored in the recent work of feminist theorists and cultural historians, is interrogated in significant ways in this literature. By moving beyond a dualistic medical model of sickness and health, contemporary women writers are able to view "madness" as a label imposed to control and categorize those who deviate from cultural norms. In the case of the protagonists of the "mad housewife" novel, this "deviation" can be seen as a refusal to accept the inequality of gendered roles in traditional marriage, a refusal which finds expression in depression or rage.;Restricted and silenced by patriarchal cultural institutions, the protagonists of these novels ultimately attempt to escape the marital and medical ties that confine them within traditional female roles and stereotypes. Their outward escapes from husbands and male psychiatrists most often take the form of physical journeys or extra-marital relationships, while inward escapes range from drug and alcohol abuse to dreams, journals, and self-expression through art. In the end, however, the temporary nature of these escapes constitutes a compelling comment on the enormous power of the cultural pressures that keep women in their "place" within the institutions of marriage and "madness."



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