Title page for ETD etd-04172009-084505

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Beard, Elizabeth M.
Author's Email Address ebeard@lsua.edu, ebeard2@lsu.edu
URN etd-04172009-084505
Title The Virgin’s Daughters: Catholic Traditions and the Post-colonial South in Contemporary Women’s Writing
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Katherine R. Henninger Committee Chair
Brannon Costello Committee Member
John R. May Committee Member
Solimar Otero Committee Member
Gail H. Sutherland Dean's Representative
  • Catholicism
  • US South
  • Louisiana
  • Caribbean
  • hybridity
  • Valerie Martin
  • Rebecca Wells
  • spirituality
  • Erna Brodber
  • Brenda Marie Osbey
  • feminist theology
  • women and religion
Date of Defense 2009-03-27
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation analyzes the texts of contemporary women writers who consciously engage dominant Catholic, American, and southern ideologies in their narratives and who posit Louisiana as a liminal, hybrid space. Building upon postcolonial concepts of hybridity and performance of cultural memory, I trace a “pathway” to feminist recovery and reclamation of ancestral memory and spirituality in Valerie Martin’s A Recent Martyr, Rebecca Wells’ Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Brenda Marie Osbey’s All Saints, and Erna Brodber’s Louisiana. The authors enact spiritual and cultural reclamation through the written expression of key components of postcolonial reconstruction of history, including ancestral memory, hybridization of cultural narratives, and performance of folk ritual and beliefs. The texts’ engagement of Louisiana as a place which blurs national and ethnic boundaries posits this liminal zone as both a site of historic trauma and oppression and also a position of possibility for cultural reconstruction.

The urgent call to reclaim and revalue the subverted “other” within dominant myths is essential to both feminist Catholic theology and postcolonial theory. Writing through the paradox of female deity as virgin and mother, these texts reconnect women to strong, sensual female deity in hybrid, creole traditions – values of femininity which have been hidden and whitewashed in a de-sexualized, sterile image of the Catholic Virgin Mary. A common theme in these writings involves a particularly feminine perspective on the paradox of sacrifice required for belonging and redemption – a search for mothers in religion and tradition and for the “mother” within oneself. This search involves coming to terms with the central conflict of establishing one’s individuality versus the sacrifice of individuality required to be a mother and to belong to religious and cultural communities. Akin to this central theme is a feminist desire to revalue and reshape the paradigms that have traditionally subverted the female body and reinforced racial oppression.

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