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Pushing back the limits: the fantastic as transgression in contemporary women's fiction

By Lucie Armitt


Moving on from Jackson's belief in fantasy as the\ud literature of subversion, this thesis argues that by\ud filtering Todorov's concept of the fantastic through a\ud contemporary theoretical understanding of transgression, the\ud stasis which has resulted from the obsessive desire to pin\ud down a single definition of literary fantasy can be\ud transformed into a dynamic and interactive narrative\ud process. This dynamism then provides a particularly useful\ud strategy for the fictional exploration of the problematic\ud positionality of women within patriarchal society.\ud The Introduction sets out and contextualises this\ud theoretical framework, the particular significance of\ud transgression to socio-political marginalisation being\ud illustrated by reference to the work of post-Bakhtinian\ud theorists such as Stallybrass and White. The importance of\ud the precarious threshold positionality offered by the\ud adoption of fantastic hesitancy on the part of the woman\ud writer is also introduced.\ud The three main textual sections each focuses upon four\ud novels by contemporary women writers, taking as their themes\ud women and the domestic, women and nightmare and women who\ud are "larger than life" respectively. In each case the\ud intervention of the fantastic is seen to be inseparable from\ud the problematic relationship between prohibition and\ud transgression, a relationship largely set up and explored\ud through a preoccupation with enclosure.\ud Throughout there is a presiding concern with the\ud importance of paradox and ambivalence as a radical literary\ud and political strategy. To this end the concluding section\ud sets this thesis within a feminist fantasy framework,\ud arguing that the problematic dynamism of the fantastic\ud offers far more transformative possibilities than the\ud "closed-system" of the feminist utopia.\ud The originality of this thesis resides in the fact that\ud it adds two further dimensions to existing perspectives on\ud the fantastic. By fully integrating the concept of\ud transgression as a narrative positionality as well as a\ud category of content, it aims to extricate fantasy criticism\ud from the bounds of genre theory. In addition, by combining\ud this with a variety of feminist theoretical perspectives and\ud by taking as its focus contemporary women's fiction, this\ud thesis provides something still not otherwise available: a\ud full-length feminist reading of the application of the\ud fantastic to contemporary women's fiction

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