Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




M. O'Connor




This thesis examines the hostess figure in Modernist literature from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century as she assembles her environment and, furthermore, her evolving sense of self and "womanhood." The party scene will be examined in three texts to illuminate the concerted work of the hostess to compose her public and private realms and selves. A close reading of these scenes yields a similar observation: each author employs the party scene to dramatize the awakening of their heroine to the fraught duality of her role as a woman subjected to societal demands and private, disquieted stirrings within. In this way, these texts uniquely stage the development of the New Woman of the fin-de-siecle. In conjunction with a historical examination, a consideration of hospitality theory enriches these readings. Jacques Derrida's discussion of the guest-host wager works as a point of leverage in reading the common moment in each party scene when the protagonist's constructed sense of self-as-host reaches an inevitable breaking point and causes the host to reframe his or her sense of self. In each of the three scenes the hostess is left markedly divided with a deeper understanding of her position as a modem woman straddling public and private obligations. This thesis chronologically traces the hostess' increasing development: Kate Chopin frames the earliest fracturing of Edna Pontellier who is left to drift away in The Awakening, in Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf depicts Clarissa Dalloway's jarring evening but allows her to return to her life a quietly changed woman, and ultimately, F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays the hard won social and mental emancipation of Nicole Warren Diver in Tender is the Night. This thesis aims to highlight the party scene and hostess figure as important literary tools that demonstrate the fraught awakening of the New Woman in modernity.

McMaster University Library

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."