Living in a World of Make-Believe:
Fantasy, Female Identity, and Modern Short Stories
by Women in the British Tradition
In Elizabeth Taylor's short story [I Live in a World of Make-Believe] (1954), the central character, Mrs. Miller, lives part of her life in what her husband thinks is a fantasy world: [T live in a world of make-believe,' she would laugh, boastfully, as one laughs when confessing to well-loved weaknesses] (97). This infusion of [fantasy] life into [real] life reflects a pattern common in short stories by women. Frequently in women's short stories the female protagonist is presented as having a fantasy life or a fantastic experience that is integral to her sense of female identity or to her attempt to find that identity.
This chapter is interested in the interstices of fantasy, female identity, and the short story in the work of modern women writers in the British tradition—]tradition] in that Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, and Jean Rhys, whose origins are not British, are included because they have undeniably both influenced and been influenced by British writing. The British tradition of women's short stories includes texts like Leonora Carrington's surrealist stories and Angela Carter's revisionings of fairy tales, both of which are overtly fantastic, but this chapter focuses on stories that infuse elements of fantasy into ostensibly realist narratives. Examination of this [infused] fantasy in Katherine Mansfield's [Bliss] (1918), Elizabeth Bowen's [The Dancing-Mistress] (1929), Radclyffe Hall's [Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself] (1934), Elizabeth Taylor's [I Live in a World of Make-Believe] (1954), and Jean Rhys's [Sleep it Off Lady] (1974) shows that female characters seek, usually unsuccessfully, to mesh their fantasy life, which contains or offers true identity, with the [real world] which disallows that identity and discredits fantasy. For female characters—and implicitly writers—the [true self] is inextricably linked with fantasy.