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Willful Parts: Problem Character or the Problem of Characters

By Sara Ahmed


This paper addresses the question of character by thinking through how willfulness becomes a moral attribute, a way of making certain characters into problems. Reflecting on how an education in virtue became an education of the will, the paper explores how some characters become “willful parts” when they do not align their wills with the moral and general will. Drawing on readings of willfulness in novels by George Eliot, including Daniel Deronda, Mill on the Floss and Romola, the paper explores how feminist histories might involve the willful claiming of the attribite of willfulness. The paper suggests that when willfulness is reclaimed, it exceeds the very system of characterization, even when it appears to fulfill a set of expectations of what is behind an action

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Year: 2011
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