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Seeing Double: The Victorian Virtual and Projections of Female Subjectivity

  • Author(s): Gover, Maggie
  • Advisor(s): Childers, Joseph;
  • Miller, Toby
  • et al.

This work interrogates nineteenth-century subjectivities and visual cultures which were necessary precursors of what is now called the virtual. In the project I utilize a variety of nineteenth-century optical science texts in order to question how understandings of vision and the illusory nature of the virtual focus contributed to explanations of subject formation in female characters. The title, "Seeing Double," references theories of stereoscopy and binocular vision. The knowledge that human three-dimensional vision is composed of two distinct views from two individual eyes within one seeing body, and that impressions of a three-dimensional physical world could be artificially produced, was a powerful idea for Victorian texts. Authors draw on the idea of composite vision in their narrative structure, allowing readers to glimpse multiple views of the world which may or may not be "actual." Authors such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Lewis Carroll use visual technologies as metaphors for the woman's body in order to highlight the interpretive female gaze. In the burgeoning British cinema British filmmakers, such as Cecil B. Hepworth, James Williamson, and George Albert Smith, reproduced the literary technique of at once crediting and discrediting sight. Their works all depict women as translucent, changeable bodies who must be scrutinized but can never be wholly understood. Both literary and cinematic narratives allow for the possibility of a virtual world of experience where an individual female character's interpretation is juxtaposed against a network of experience which constitutes the "actual." Analyzed within the context of nineteenth-century optics texts, all of these visual experiences are understood as valid interpretations of the external world. "Seeing Double" adds to current discourses about the virtual by forwarding the Victorian woman's visual experience as a site of such virtuality.

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