Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Nash, Katherine Saunders. Feminist Narrative Ethics

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Nash, Katherine Saunders. Feminist Narrative Ethics

Article excerpt

NASH, KATHERINE SAUNDERS. Feminist Narrative Ethics. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2014. 178 pp. $59.95 cloth; $14.95 CD.

Readers often feel that reading has made them better people and the recent ethical turn in literary criticism has renewed interest in the ethical possibilities of reading. Feminist Narrative Ethics takes up this question from another angle: what makes a narrative feminist? A central concern of this book is "how one may persuade without coercion" (93), a question Katherine Saunders Nash pursues through analysis of four writers: E. M. Forster, Dorothy Sayers, Virginia Woolf, and John Cowper Powys. Of these, as Nash notes, only Woolf has a reputation as a feminist. And yet, in texts by each, Nash discovers a narrative method designed to encourage readers toward sympathy with feminism.

Nash's key terms are promising: distance, fair play, persuasion, and attention. These words suggest new possibilities for feminist readings. Feminist theory has not, for example, been particularly interested in distance, but Nash shows how Forster's ironic narrators consistently raise questions in a manner that recommends readers see a feminist perspective. She explores fair play through a discussion of Dorothy Sayers's extension of the Lord Peter Wimsey series to include the love-interest Harriet Vane. The chapter on persuasion emphasizes Woolf's transformation of the novel-essay of The Pargiters into the more conventional and less explicitly feminist The Years (1937). This is well-worn ground in Woolf studies, but Nash's emphasis on silence adds a new dimension. Finally, she shows how even the anti-feminist A Glastonbuty Romance (1932) can be understood as feminist in its construction of an implied reader who is a feminine receptor, attending to the text rather than penetrating it.

As the plain key terms signal, this book relies heavily on Wayne Booth's work. While Booth was a rhetorical theorist of the very first rank, some of the fine points under dispute here (e.g., is Phelan's redefinition of the implied author useful?) detract from the book's larger questions. Nash is at her best when she emphasizes how her novels express "a shifting, challenging, yet reliable perspective" (36). Engagement with more recent work in affect theory, such as Molly Hite's article on the flatness of the unsympathetic characters in Mrs. …

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