Writing on The Poverty Line. Working-Class Fiction by British Women Writers, 1974-2008

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Titel: Writing on The Poverty Line. Working-Class Fiction by British Women Writers, 1974-2008
Autor(en): Behrends, Maike
Erstgutachter: Prof. Dr. Kathleen Starck
Zweitgutachter: Prof. Dr. Thomas Kullmann
Zusammenfassung: In the course of my degree studies it became apparent that there was little historical evidence of British working-class women writers. This led me to the question whether such women actually wrote or whether it was the case that their writing was not deemed good enough for publication. (Merelyn Cherry 75) In her essay entitled Towards a Recognition of Working-Class Women Writers, Cherry discusses the omission of these writers in literary studies. She concludes that their (supposed) underrepresentation is not a matter of publication, but is due to the fact that these authors are largely ignored by Western academics (cf. 115-118). In fact, there is sufficient evidence of women writing about the working classes. Relevant examinations of the British working-class novel that include female authors are Mary Ashraf’s Introduction To Working-Class Literature in Great Britain (1978), Gustav Klaus’ The Socialist Novel in Britain (1982), Pamela Fox’s Class Fictions (1994), Merylyn Cherry’s Towards a Recognition of Working-Class Women Writers (1994) and some excerpts from Ian Haywood’s From Chartism to Trainspotting (1998). Merylyn Cherry lists some of the writers whose works will be discussed in my thesis; however, she does not specify what is to be understood by “British working-class women writers”. Various questions arise at this point. What are the distinctive features of a contemporary working-class novel written by a woman author? Which narrative strategies are employed to create the literary working-class world of female characters? What type of work is performed by such characters? The difficulty in finding answers to these questions lies in the attempt to determine a typology of such novels. The text corpus of working-class fiction is clearly male-dominated, both in terms of male authorship and the depiction of working-men characters and their living environments in the novels. Women authors, who frequently produce(d) female counterparts to the working-men characters, have fallen into oblivion even within working-class studies. Ian Haywood, for instance, ignores three significant Welsh women writers of this category, even though his anthology entitled Working-Class Fiction, From Chartism to Trainspotting (1998) focuses on British writers. Uncovering these female writers and demonstrating the development of their fiction will be part of this thesis. Each traceable narrative of the kind shall be mentioned in chronological order. This is the first step to grasp the essence of these texts. It will become clear that a contemporary woman’s working-class novel emerged out of a “patchwork” of various writing traditions; and that the typology which I endeavor to establish does not cover the matter of common characterisations in this text corpus. None of the characters in my anthology can be labelled a “prototype”, since the characterisations vary greatly across the novels. In a second step, I will analyse twelve novels written between 1974 and 2008, which I will approach thematically. This way, I can converge a typology more closely. The three main topics which frequently appear across the novels are women’s class-consciousness, the mother-daughter relationship, and trauma caused by battering and sexual abuse. Hereby, I raise no claim to completeness. I have chosen twelve texts which I consider to be representative; and I will precede like the literary critic Gustav Klaus, who argued in his anthology entitled The Socialist Novel in Britain: “I have chosen to introduce many writers, limiting myself, however, to the discussion of one work each. This approach can best disclose the breadth and variety of fictional devices” (Klaus 1). I have chosen 1974 as a starting point of my analyses, since this is the publication year of Buchi Emecheta’s vanguard novel Second-Class Citizen. Being the first post-colonial woman author to write a novel about domestic violence against a Black and female working-class character, she may be considered a pioneer writer. Particularly against the background that the text was written during the years of second-wave feminism, which was “spearheaded by white middle-class women” (Louis Weis 246), the novel is a groundbreaking piece of working-class aesthetics. With this introduction of post-colonial women’s writings to the British literary scene in the early 1970s, representations of women’s lower-class life became enriched by a different writing tradition. New narrative forms and voices and various culturally determined characterisations were introduced to the literary scene. Out of this body of writing emerged a considerable phenomenon. In addition to the fact that they are also (like the “White” British texts) written from a “perspective of poverty”, a principle of postcolonial theory manifests itself in these texts: Frantz Fanon’s concept of the “schizophrenia of identity”. This “schizophrenia”, enacted via the powerful imposition of the dominant culture’s values onto the colonised subject, can also be detected as an underlying theme in the British working-class novels under discussion. The three main common topics which appear across the twelve novels to be analysed illustrate that this “schizophrenia” –a form of division– is a central textual element in most narratives under discussion. The female working-class character becomes a split subject at various levels. This division is, for instance, also caused by the male gaze and the violation of the female body, the character’s upward mobility and the consequent clash of working-class background and the “newly acquired” middle-class identity. It shall also be illustrated how this mechanism of splitting apart influences not only the themes, but also the stylistic devices employed in this body of writing. The idea of a division within female working-class characters has –tentatively– been raised by the literary critic Pamela Fox. In her book entitled Class Fictions she demonstrates how the white women characters are torn between the shame about their working-class background and the resistance to adjust to the cultural codes of the middle and upper classes. I will elucidate the concept of “division” and illustrate why it functions as an effective reading strategy to analyse the fictional texts. By deepening the idea of the split female subject against the background of gender, class and ethnicity, I endeavour to develop a contemporary approach to understanding these texts and to hereby draw closest to a typology of the novels. With the assistance of postcolonial critics and feminists such as Gayatri Spivak, bell hooks, Homi Bhabha and Frantz Fanon, I will repeatedly demonstrate how “class” intersects with the concepts of gender and ethnicity. Also, it shall be discussed if and how the idea of schizophrenia can perhaps be understood as a continuation of the most essential division in the context of working-class life: the division of labour. Works Cited Cherry, Merylyn. “Towards a Recognition of Working-Class Women Writers.” Writing on The Line. 20th Century Working-Class Writers. Eds. Sarah Richardson et al. London: Working Press, 1996. 75-119. Klaus, Gustav. The Socialist Novel in Britain: Towards the Recovery of a Tradition. Brighton: Harvester Press; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Weis, Lois et al. “I’ve Slept in Clothes Long Enough. Excavating the Sounds of Domestic Violence among Women in the White Working-Class.” Domestic Violence at the Margins. Readings on Gender, Class and Culture. Eds. Sokoloff, Natalie & Christina Pratt. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005. 227-248.
URL: https://repositorium.ub.uni-osnabrueck.de/handle/urn:nbn:de:gbv:700-2012121710551
Schlagworte: Working-Class Fiction; Arbeiterliteratur von Frauen
Erscheinungsdatum: 17-Dez-2012
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