Words incarnate : contemporary women’s fiction as religious revision
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This thesis investigates the prevalence of religious themes in the work of several prominent contemporary women writers—Margaret Atwood, Michèle Roberts, Alice Walker and A.L. Kennedy. Relying on Luce Irigaray’s recent theorisations of the religious and its relationship to feminine subjectivity, this research considers the subversive potential of engaging with religious discourse through literature, and contributes to burgeoning criticism of feminist revisionary writing. The novels analysed in this thesis show, often in violent detail, that the way the religious dimension has been conceptualised and articulated enforces negative views of female sexuality, justifies violence against the body, alienates women from autonomous creative expression and paralyses the development of a subjectivity in the feminine. Rather than looking at women’s religious revision primarily as a means of asserting female authority, as previous studies have done, I argue that these writers, in addition to critiquing patriarchal religion, articulate ways of being and knowing that subvert the binary logic that dominates Western religious discourse. Chapter I contextualises this research in Luce Irigaray’s theories and outlines existing work on feminist revisionist literature. The remaining chapters offer close readings of key novels in light of these theories: Chapter II examines Atwood’s interrogation of oppositional logic in religious discourse through her novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Chapter III explores two novels by Roberts that expose the violence inherent in religious discourse and deconstruct the subjection of the (female) body to the (masculine) Word. Chapters IV and V analyse the fiction of Kennedy and Walker respectively, revealing how their novels confront the religious denigration of feminine sexuality and refigure the connection between eroticism and divinity. Evident in each of these fictional accounts is a forceful critique of religious discourse, as well as an attempt to more closely reconcile foundational religious oppositions between divinity and humanity, flesh and spirit, and body and Word.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: Electronic version restricted until 24th January 2021
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations