Research and Teaching

Research + Teaching : PhD

Monograph ^top

The Pleasure of the Feminist Text: Reading Michèle Roberts and Angela Carter

Amsterdam and New York, NY: Rodopi, 2009 [GENUS: Gender in Modern Culture, vol. 11]

book: The Pleasure of the Feminist Text. "I would regard myself as a feminist writer, because I'm a feminist in everything else and one can't compartmentalise these things in one's life." (Angela Carter)
"When I became a feminist in 1968, I felt that I'd come home: the first home I ever had that was feminine. And it was very wild and theatrical and erotic, the early feminism." (Michèle Roberts)

Angela Carter and Michèle Roberts share a keen interest in gender and sexual identity, but many of their topics seem to mark them as opposites: Roberts's fascination with the impact of religion, motherhood and autobiography on female identity covers areas that Carter shuns in her writings. In reading these two authors parallel and in contrast to each other, this monograph follows a triple objective: it provides a comprehensive critical introduction to the works of Roberts, explores aspects of Carter's work that have not yet been analyzed sufficiently (religion, motherhood, and masculinity), and uses both authors to explore motifs and strategies of feminist writing. The analyses of both authors' works are supplemented by close readings of a wide range of theoretical perspectives (especially French feminism and psychoanalysis) and concise theoretical outlines of the topics covered (radical feminism, religion, motherhood and fatherhood, masculinity, fairy tales, romances and chick lit, and history and auto/biography).

Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations
(1) Introduction: The Pleasure of the Feminist Text
(2) Exploring/Challenging Radical Feminism(s)
(3) Feminism and Faith – Feminist Faith?
(4) Mothers, Fathers, Couples – Negotiating Intimate Relationships
(5) Writing Masculinities
(6) Popular Genres: Sexy Fairy Tales, Feminist Romances, Chick Lit
(7) History and Auto/Biography
(8) Conclusion

PhD-thesis (abstract) ^top

The Pleasure of the Feminist Text: The (De)Construction of Gender in the Works of Michèle Roberts and Angela Carter

Discourses of femininity and the deconstruction of feminine myths are topics that are (still) widely discussed in gender studies. Angela Carter and Michèle Roberts are among those contemporary authors whose writings question cultural images of women and gender in general and undermine the discourses and myths that helped establish them. Both aim at a deconstruction of clichés and challenge traditional depictions of women such as the Mother Goddess and the ecstatic nun or traditionally 'patriarchal' texts such as fairy tales or the Bible while at the same time (re)establishing their own visions of femininity. However, their approaches seem to be complementary rather than similar. Carter explores fairy tales, criticizes traditional images of femininity like the Great Goddess as too limited, focuses on concepts such as the abject and the grotesque and tries to explore new possibilities of equal male-female relationships, consciously omitting decidedly 'female' experiences such as motherhood or mother-daughter relationships. Roberts on the other hand seems to work with what Carter ignores. She includes (auto)biographic writing, explores the impact religious iconography has on femininity, re-writes or invents the biographies of female saints, scrutinizes clichés such as the visionary or the hysteric medium and in much of her work focuses largely on mothers, daughters, and their relationship, consciously using psychoanalytic theory and ideas of French feminism to evaluate and re-invent myths.

By working with two authors who seem to employ oppositional approaches to reach similar goals, and who are as similar in some aspects as they are opposed to each other in others, my thesis aims at a broad representation of themes and strategies in feminist writing, including a wide range of theoretical writings (from radical feminism to French feminism and psychoanalysis) and more recent developments in gender studies (e.g. masculinity studies). In addition to the critical readings of both authors' major works, each chapter is preceded by a concise theoretical subchapter that charts the critical discussion and development of the topic covered (radical feminism, religion, fairy tales and romances, motherhood, masculinity, history and auto/biography).

In contrast to the literal landslide of academic literature on Angela Carter (especially since her death), Michèle Roberts's work has as yet been almost completely ignored by the academia (apart from a few articles and book chapters). In reading these two authors with and against each other, this PhD-thesis follows a triple objective: (1) a detailed critical introduction to the works of Michèle Roberts; (2) an exploration of aspects of Carter's work that have not been sufficiently analysed (e.g. religion, motherhood and masculinity); (3) a broader survey of the development, motifs, content and techniques of feminist writing(s) than the treatment of one single author could possibly allow.