Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Those precious bonds: A psychoanalytic study of sister relationships in twentieth-century literature and film

Eva Rueschmann, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the narrative and psychological significance of sister relationships in works from late Victorian fiction through literary modernism and contemporary cinema, including Olive Schreiner's From Man to Man, May Sinclair's The Three Sisters, Jessie Fauset's Plum Bun, Dorothy West's The Living Is Easy, Colette's "The Toutounier," Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers, and the films of Diane Kurys, Allison Anders, Jane Campion, and Margarethe von Trotta.^ The study uses various classic and revisionist psychoanalytic approaches to frame the comparative analysis of fictional representations of sisters in selected texts from different historical and cultural traditions. An overview of psychoanalytic responses to the sibling bond yields no single explanatory model. However, contemporary discussions of intersubjectivity and female bonding by Winnicott, Chodorow, Gilligan, Baker, Kristeva and others suggest useful ways of appraising the representation of internal and external bonds between female siblings. From a critique of the Victorian legacy of sisterhood in Schreiner's novel to the role of sisters in "passing" novels to the political and personal conflicts between sisters in von Trotta's cinema, twentieth-century authors and directors have imagined sisterhood in a variety of ways to suggest its enduring influence. Splitting and doubling are recurrent themes in these narratives about sisters whose "transference" relationship with each other exposes their competition and identification, rivalry and attachment.^ Increased attention to the representation of sibling bonds in literary and cinematic texts allows for new avenues of interpretation of works that have been neglected by feminist and psychoanalytic theory and literary history. The representation of sisters is a missing link in analyses of the "family drama" which have focused exclusively on oedipal and preoedipal conflicts between parent and child. In modern and contemporary fiction and film, traditional patterns of sisterly opposition and competition (the good sister/bad sister model) are retold in the context of the complex role of intersubjective identification and female bonding in women's identity formation. In the works under study, the sister relationship expresses a crucial dimension of women's psychosexual development, which expands our understanding of the meaning of sisterhood beyond that of an idealizing metaphor. ^

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Romance literature|Women's studies|American literature|English literature|Psychology|Film studies

Recommended Citation

Rueschmann, Eva, "Those precious bonds: A psychoanalytic study of sister relationships in twentieth-century literature and film" (1994). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9434527.