John Austen’s Ophelia: A New Autonomy
This article explores how Austen’s drawings re-envisage the typically sentimental Victorian perception of Ophelia as tenderly pathetic and lacking in agency, a view rooted in the patriarchal reduction of the feminine which produces a ‘flattened’ reading of Ophelia’s textual complexity. This re-envisaging partly reflects nineteenth- and early twentieth-century onstage practices but often exceeds them in the degree to which they portray her with psychological autonomy.
Depictions of Ophelia as insane and isolated are the central focus. How her madness is performed strongly influences our perception of her dependence or autonomy and reveals an interiority that is obscured in her interactions with others by social, familial and patriarchal conventions. As this article will show, traditional depictions of a mad Ophelia are fairly restrained when compared with Austen’s versions.