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'Female', 'feminine' and 'feminist' in the work of twentieth-century women novelists

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Abstract

A range of critical approaches, popular, feminist and structuralist, to women's writing is examined and the
strengths and weaknesses of each evaluated. On the basis of this discussion, an attempt is made to develop a critical method more appropriate to the area of women's fiction.
This method is eclectic, combining elements of each of the forms of criticism previously discussed with an analytic framework comprising three major categories of women's experience.
These are defined as the 'female', or biological elements; the 'feminine', or socially ascribed nature and role of women; and the 'feminist', a response to the 'feminine which offers some form of challenge to its assumptions.
This methodology is employed in studies of selected twentieth-century women novelists whose works encompass a variety of fictional modes and styles and a range of different perspectives on women's biological and social experience.
Works of Virginia Woolf, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Elizabeth Bowen are taken to represent women's writing in the first half of the century. Novels by Radclyffe Hall, Djuna Barnes and Michele Roberts are considered together in order to trace certain stylistic and thematic changes in women's fiction between this period and the 1960s and '70s. The genre of domestic realism in these later decades is examined through the work of Margaret Drabble, Fay Weldon and Penelope Mortimer, whilst Doris Lessing, Joanna Russ and Ursula Le Guin illustrate alternatives to literary realism in modern women's writing.
The findings of this approach are summarised, and its effectiveness as a critical tool evaluated.

Citation

(1981). 'Female', 'feminine' and 'feminist' in the work of twentieth-century women novelists

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