Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers


Carefully melding theory with close readings of texts, the contributors to Ambiguous Discourse explore the role of gender in the struggle for narrative control of specific works by British writers Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Anita Brookner, Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, and Mina Loy. This collection of twelve essays is the first book devoted to feminist narratology the combination of feminist theory with the study of the structures that underpin all narratives.

Until recently, narratology has resisted the advances of feminism in part, as some contributors argue, because theory has replicated past assumptions of male authority and point of view in narrative. Feminist narratology, however, contextualizes the cultural constructions of gender within its study of narrative strategies.

Nine of these essays are original, and three have been revised for publication in this volume.

The contributors are Melba Cuddy-Keane, Denise Delorey, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Susan Stanford Friedman, Janet Giltrow, Linda Hutcheon, Susan S. Lanser, Alison Lee, Patricia Matson, Kathy Mezei, Christine Roulston, and Robyn Warhol.


Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has in their hands. I will not allow books to prove any thing.

--Austen, Persuasion

Anne Elliot's retort to Captain Harville as they debated the differences between men's and women's "nature" pinpoints the essence of feminist narratology--the context of how stories are told, by whom, and for whom.

This collection is the first to gather together essays that combine feminist and narratological readings of women's texts. In their selection of British women writers from Jane Austen to Jeanette Winterson, the contributors focus on writers who are conspicuously self-conscious and iconoclastic in their deployment of narrative techniques. While seeking to decode subversive, evasive, or perplexing narrative strategies in Austen or Woolf or Mina Loy, the contributors recognized the value of a feminist narratology in interpreting these strategies, in proving, as Anne Elliot might say, some thing. In 1986 Susan Lanser described the contingent relation between feminism and narratology, which she named "feminist narratology": "My . . . task [is] to ask whether feminist criticism, and particularly the study of narratives by women, might benefit from the methods . . . of narratology and whether narratology, in turn, might be altered by the understandings of feminist criticism and the experience of women's texts" (342). Taking up the "task" in turn, these essays explore and expose "gender's effect on the level of discourse" (Warhol, Gendered Interventions, 6). At the same time, the diversity of the contributors' responses reflects both the edgy alliance of feminism and narratology and the evolving, contested histories of feminist literary theory and narratology.

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