Josephine Butler's serial auto/biography: writing the changing self through the lives of others

Styler, Rebecca (2017) Josephine Butler's serial auto/biography: writing the changing self through the lives of others. Life Writing, 14 (2). pp. 171-184. ISSN 1448-4528

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Item Type:Article
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Abstract

Josephine Butler, controversial and pioneering feminist reformer of the late nineteenth-century, never wrote an autobiography, but she articulated self-understandings indirectly through writing deeply self-reflexive constructions of others’ lives. While this strategy has been recognised in isolated biographies, I show Butler’s auto/biography as a serial process, comparing John Grey of Dilston (1869) with Catharine of Siena (1878) to show how Butler’s conceptions of herself changed significantly in the early part of her career. She moves from modelling herself on the gender-transcendent liberal reformer, to modelling herself on the radical female prophet, whose sex was a vital qualification for spiritual and political power. Finding she could no longer position her feminist campaign within the broad cause of Victorian liberal reform, Butler turned from her paternal examplar to a medieval female saint-prophet, whose authority was located in her outsider status and in her intrinsically womanly nature. This comparative discussion, enlightened by reference to Butler’s unpublished letters, shows Butler’s change from positioning her public work within the reform tradition of liberalism to that of apocalyptic feminism. It also sheds a new light on Victorian women’s coded strategies of self-representation, and more generically into the use of sequential biographies as vehicles for articulating changing self-conceptions.

Keywords:Victorian Feminism, Life Writing, Spiritual Autobiography, John Grey of Dilston, Catharine of Siena
Subjects:L Social studies > L216 Feminism
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V144 Modern History 1800-1899
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V600 Theology and Religious studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V100 History by period
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
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ID Code:26581
Deposited On:02 Mar 2017 10:10

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