Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Women's and Gender Studies


Matt Brim

Subject Categories

American Literature | Women's Studies


The Twentieth-Century American Novel, Autobiography and Memoir, Women's Literature of the South, Women in Higher Education


Sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual harassment in higher education have been conceptualized as separate phenomena. Most of prior research on sexual harassment have been conducted in either one of the two categories (Paludi and Paludi Jr. 2003). However, this classification oversimplifies the distinction between the sites of sexual harassment. The existing dichotomy is too organization-oriented and runs the risk of overlooking variants that might be relevant among profession. Such an ossified definition needs a modification so as to capture the subtler reality of sexual harassment. Especially for professional people, sexual harassment can occur in many places including workplaces and campuses.

This study is an attempt to delineate the sexual harassment of professional women. Using the multiple methodologies of literary analysis and archival research with sociopsychological consideration on sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and mentorship, I examine two twentieth-century American writers, namely William Faulkner and Joan Williams. Known as Faulkner’s beloved disciple, Joan Williams published her memories of him as an autobiographical novel. Although their personal relationship has earned a reputation as an unusual romance beyond differences, I conclude that it was much more like that between a perpetrator and victim of sexual harassment. Williams’s experience with Faulkner reflects intellectual injury and psychosexual abuse by him, and as such, constitutes a case of a professionals’ susceptibility to sexual harassment.

Argument is structured as follows. Firstly, it clarifies the gender dynamics between William Faulkner and Joan Williams by showing that Williams’s characters’ relationships were closely modeled after them, and that their close ties and multiple roles they assumed in their relationship were the product of a professional boundary violation. Secondly, my study situates training for artists and writers in the broader category of professional training, in which mentorship is of great importance for a trainee’s success. By that means, I suggest that the mentor-protégée relationship in the world of arts and letters be counted as a variant of the faculty-student relationship, for which a modified framework of sexual harassment in higher education is applicable when it involves a violation of professional boundaries.

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