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Desire, Death, and Women in the Master-Slave Dialectic: A Comparative Reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and Henry James's The Golden Bowl

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 35, Number 2, October 2011
pp. 233-250 | 10.1353/phl.2011.0015

Abstract

Abstract:

What happens if we imagine that Hegel's master-slave dialectic occurs between two women? Henry James's The Golden Bowl provides some answers to this question. James's novel portrays an exclusively female master-slave confrontation that is driven by a feminine appropriation of male desire. This appropriation actually mirrors the process in the Phenomenology in which the male domain tries to appropriate the feminine task of alleviating the terror of mortality. However, because this latter process ultimately fails, there is a limit to how much fluidity we can bring to Hegel's gender boundaries. Consequently, The Golden Bowl ends with a reaffirmation of gender divisions.