Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Giancarlo Lombardi


Bettina Lerner

Committee Members

Elizabeth Klosty Beaujour

Richard Kaye

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | European History | European Languages and Societies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, British Isles | Russian Literature


modernism, women writers, corporeality, androgyny, Woolf, Gippius


The Confounding Body: Female Corporeality, Androgyny, and Disgust in the Work of Virginia Woolf and Zinaida Gippius examines how the discourses of degeneration, eugenics, and sexology shaped representations of women’s bodies in British and Russian modernist literature. Focusing on the writing of Zinaida Gippius (1869-1945) and Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), I challenge the longstanding argument that both authors attempted to escape the material body by resorting to androgynous tropes. I argue that the material female body takes center stage in both Gippius’s and Woolf’s work and functions as a powerfully paradoxical entity: one that generates disgust and enables oppression while housing the possibility of escaping heteropatriarchal gender binaries through an androgynous framework. Despite inhabiting very different geopolitical realities, Gippius and Woolf were engaged in redefining the experience of inhabiting a woman’s body. This reveals a key feature of the global modernist project. The manuscript contributes to modernist studies by placing two contemporary women writers in conversation with one another, rather than examining the influence of 19th century male Russian novelists on British modernist writers.

The Confounding Body: Female Corporeality, Androgyny, and Disgust in the Work of Virginia Woolf and Zinaida Gippius centers the position that women’s bodies and the androgynous body occupied in discourses of degeneration, eugenics, and sexology. While androgyny has become an outdated frame of inquiry in feminist studies since the 1990s, I contend that feminist studies must re-examine the concept due to its intimate historical connection to degeneration, eugenics, and sexology. The urgency of doing so is amplified by current political campaigns against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Russian Federation.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Monday, September 30, 2024

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.