Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Reading Rape in Livy's History of Rome, Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece and J.M. Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country

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posted on 2021-11-10, 09:53 authored by Scudder, Erin

Mieke Bal argues that rape "takes place inside. In this sense, rape is by definition imagined; it can exist only as experience and as memory, as image translated into signs, never adequately 'objectifiable'" (100). In this thesis, by critically examining some ways in which rape has been made to seem objectifiable in literature, I argue that rape cannot simply be 'seen' from a "point-of-viewless" (Rooney 89) perspective. My argument supports Catharine A. MacKinnon's call for a rethinking of rape-related "legal process as one involving a choice between incommensurate meanings rather than one of uncovering a (temporarily hidden) fact, the Truth" (Rooney 90). I argue that, in Livy's History of Rome and Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece, rape is portrayed as an objectifiably visible spectacle; the rape victim's description of rape functions in a capacity analogous to testimony, supporting "rape law's assumption that a single, objective state of affairs existed" (MacKinnon 654); and the rape victim's post-rape, self-inflicted violence functions as a form of self-punishment which references historically specific correlations between female unchastity and socio-political calamity. In contrast, I argue that, in J.M. Coetzee's novel In the Heart of the Country, the narration discourages readers from accepting the objectifiability of the rape which it relates; the narrator's "meditations" (Gallagher 82) deviate from the conventions of testimony, expressing instead the "incommensurate meanings" (Rooney 90) that rape holds for the victim herself; and the descriptions of violence, abuse, and victim response present the chance for readers to interpret the aftermath of rape in a manner other than that which "conveys the idea that the victim is responsible for her own destruction" (Bal 100).


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Opie, Brian; Williams, Mark