Books do change lives. This book is about the role of literature in social movements, about fiction that has designs upon its readers, about writing that changed the lives of individual women by giving them a sense of collectivity, of movement, and a vision of social change. Books like Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, Marge Piercy’s Small Changes and Alice Walker’s Meridian helped to bring about the profound social changes effected by the Women’s Movement. They also made sense of my personal and educational history in ways which could not have been anticipated by their creators, whose cultural context is so different from my own; Liberating Literature is then, in its turn, the result of reading books which changed my life and my mind.
Marge Piercy told me once that writing does not come solely out of other writing, it comes out of life, and I believe this to be true of academic writing as well as fiction. This book would not have been written were it not for my living as a woman and an émigrée in Britain, for my past and present of work in lowly and highly jobs, and for my efforts to try and understand my own experience through that of others—fictional and historical, political and personal. This dynamic relation between literature and life, in which each transforms the other, became the subject matter of Liberating Literature and inspired its argument regarding a feminist, counter-hegemonic aesthetic.
Personal motivations aside, however, the question arises whether the world needs another study of feminist fiction. It seemed to me, when I started researching eight years ago, that it did, because there were hardly any such studies and I still believe so, although there are now quite a few. Literary criticism does not take place in a vacuum, a space of pure reason or absolute judgement, but in a cultural-political environment where, at a certain time, certain problems need to be addressed in new ways. I was very aware, whilst writing this book, of the evanescence of such ‘newness’ in an intellectual culture which is also a marketplace. As new studies of feminist fiction were being published, I had continually to shift my perspective in order to benefit from and speak to the most recent scholarship on a (still very recent) body of fictional texts. Even so, I found that the new