Women’s Literary Tradition in France and the United Kingdom?

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Author: Eglė Kačkutė
Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,685 words

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[(essay date 2006) In the following essay, Kačkutė discusses how NDiaye’s Autoportrait en vert (2005; Self-Portrait in Green) and works by other contemporary women authors are in dialog with the tradition of women’s literature that came before them.]

In the last sixty years the creative output by women has become so diverse that the question arises as to whether the category of women’s writing or literature is still applicable and/or indeed operative. Shirley Jordan states, “Writers and critics alike are now operating in a context which is marked by a strong heritage of … women’s writing and it is important to situate the new writers, in part, by teasing out the relationships they bear to their predecessors.”1 Among the possible relationships are literary influences between women writers of different generations. This paper traces down one of those “influences” to the work of contemporary women authors in both France and the United Kingdom in order to see to what end it is being used in the latest fiction by women and in what capacity, if at all, one can speak about a continuous tradition of women’s writing. I will argue that the effectiveness of women’s literary tradition among other things lies in identifying ways in which the artistic heritage of women authors of previous generations is reinterpreted by contemporary writers.

The authors of a so far scarce body of publications on the latest British and French women’s writing agree on the effectiveness of women’s literary tradition and on it being sustained through a constant dialogue with previous women’s writing.2 Thus, the main point of contention and scholarly interest in the field of literary women’s studies at the moment is to see exactly how the same motives, narrative and other artistic strategies function in the work of contemporary women authors. As such, currently scholars are divided into two main groups. The first prefer to consider contemporary women’s writing in relation to feminism and gender issues (Jordan; Rye; Clare Hanson and Imelde Whelehan in Parker (ed.), 2004). The second, on the contrary, try to distance themselves from ideological stand points and apply all theoretical approaches to women’s literature (Morello, Rodgers). I believe that at the turn of the century, when women’s literature and criticism are undergoing a major transformation, at the time when feminism has lost its direct appeal, but has not lost its value (in terms of what is has already achieved and in terms of what there remains for it to tackle), a literary critic has to be able to keep both views in mind. Women’s literature cannot and should no longer be directly related to feminism. Conversely, women continue to raise solely feminine issues in their writing, which must not be undermined. The main challenge of the criticism of women’s literature now is to account for the literary quality and particularity of each author, thus putting them on the map of the universal literary process as well as to retain the necessary attention to the specificity of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100125375