Power, Control and Empowerment in Frances Burney's ”A Mastectomy”

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Frances Burney started feeling pain in her breast in 1810, and in September 1811 a mastectomy was performed to her. In her letter ”A Mastectomy” she describes the illness and the operation, her feelings and fears, to her sister Esther Burney. The letter tells a story of a battle of control and against the feeling of powerlessness. It also speaks of empowerment; writing is Burney's way of regaining control over her operation and making it part of her own history. In this paper I attempt to find and analyse the reasons for Burney's feeling of powerlessness, its describtion in the letter, and the ways she tries to fight it. Although the moment when Fraces Burney as a character of the text is most vulnerable is certainly during the…show more content…
Kaye also speaks of control: ”Burney's hesitanse about beeing seen can be better understood as a desire to maintain control over her inner and outer self” (Kaye 1997, 46). It seems that being examined by a doctor was not an everyday matter for a 19th centure woman, and Burney feels strongly about her chastity. But on this, as in the scene where she resist of taking her robe de chambre off before the surgery, Burney has to submit to the wishes of her husband and friends, and the orders of her doctors. In addition to being physically revealed to the gaze of the doctors, Burney also is being defined by her diagnosis. It makes her a sick person, who has less authority of her own life and body, and who has to consult doctors and obey their advice and orders. Her illness determinates the course of the rest of her life, the operation leaving her body disformed. She begins to seek for moments when she can feel like she is in control, deciding about her own life. I see in the text two moments that clearly represent her wish for independence, for the chance to make her own decisions. First, the moment when she resists of taking off her dressing gown before the surgery; ”I was compelled, however, to submit to

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