Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Kathleen Ryan

Committee Co-Chair

Dennis Allen

Committee Member

Ryan Claycomb

Committee Member

Juliana Spahr

Committee Member

Lisa Weihman


In Word Play: Modernist Women and Performative Writing I read modernist literary texts informed by theories about theatre, performance, and art. Exploring lesser-known works of Djuna Barnes, Gwendolyn Bennett, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Mina Loy, I combine literary analysis and performance studies to discover how modernist texts "talk back" to performance theories.;Performance studies, of course, is an inter-discipline that includes anthropology, sociology, performing arts, and literary theory. Modernist authors, influenced as they often are by art, performance, and ritual, incorporate these interdisciplinary interests into a writing practice, specifically performative writing. Performative writing is not so much a matter of style and form as a discursive, rhetorical practice. It presents textual moments that invoke performance and is grounded in the corporality of the body, calling attention to physical bodies in relation and movement. Because performative writing contains a rhetoric of potential action, it can have real social and political consequences. It stages a particular type of encounter between textuality and social realities, a relationship that appears in each of the primary texts I explore in this project. The work of these women is an active response to and reworking of social and political issues, and it acknowledges the complex relationship between history/politics and art/aesthetic form. I understand this labor as a modernist performance.;I do not attempt to define or demonstrate the most illustrative examples of performative writing; nor do I aim to lay out a conclusive and complete definition. Rather, I am interested in discovering how performative writing acts in the world and what effects it has. I lead with the writers themselves and map several trajectories of performative writing through these writers and their work. I chose these writers because they employ similar rhetorical strategies and have shared stylistic practices. I set the stage with Barnes to show the relation between physical violence and rhetorical violence; Bennett's performativity involves breaking enforced invisibility and silence and uniting a community; Millay offers a metatheatrical performance that positions human agency against cycles of violence throughout history; and Loy gives a subjective account of the trauma of gender performance. Each chapter explores a different kind of violence and intervenes in that violence, offering commentary and critique in "highbrow" as well as "lowbrow" genres. My project demonstrates the ways in which the practice of performative writing can inform and expand our study of modernisms, genre, and gender.