Femininity as a Signifier of Lack and Desire in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White

By Il-Yeong Kim and Jungyoun Kim.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: August 31, 2015 $US5.00

The Victorian angel in the house is an ideological icon that constitutes the patriarchal society. Sensation novels, which primarily deal with femininity, foreground the representation of the ideal woman. As an archetypal sensation novel, Wilkie Collins’s "The Woman in White," conspicuously reveals the usurpation of female identity, and the fictionality of the ideal femininity constructed by patriarchal society. The Lacanian concept of desire is instrumental in understanding the creation of the myth, and the dynamic relationship between femininity and masculinity in the novel. Desire, which constitutes the subject, arises from lack, and this lack is the crucial factor that constitutes femininity or masculinity. Lacan especially stresses that femininity is something which strives to “be” the signifier of lack, the phallus, while masculinity is to “have” it. This sexual difference is due to the male and female’s different ways of approaching the object of desire. Laura is presented as a being of lack, and is emphasized through the text in various ways as a figure of phallus that Walter desires. Laura’s femininity as signifier of desire, is the prerequisite for an ideal woman, and this empty signifier is what structures Walter’s masculinity.

Keywords: Femininity, Masculinity, Lack, Signifier of Desire, Lacan, Phallus

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 13, Issue 4, December 2015, pp.39-47. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: August 31, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 462.291KB)).

Prof Il-Yeong Kim

Professor, English Literature, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, South Korea

Jungyoun Kim

Ph.D Candidate, English Literature, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, South Korea