Archive for January, 2014

Women and the Novel: by Camille Vinson Group A




This blog refers to an Essay by Carol Anne Douglas entitled “Are Women Writing ‘Women’s Writing’?” Jstor link above

To look at women in relation to the novel incites exploration into a broad and varied landscape. We can look at a million different things; great women novelists, how women are perceived in novels and if women do in fact read in a subjective way, influenced by gender. The article I have chosen by Carol Anne Douglas looks at how women’s writing is being reviewed and presented to the public, consequently affecting what we do and don’t decide to read. She asks why certain books aren’t being reviewed at all, and if the concept of reviewing itself is becoming outdated and irrelevant in the face of blogs and new forms of media. Douglas asks why, when women do t just write for women but delve into a wide range of serious, important subjects, the same subjects that men write about, should their novels still be labelled as ‘women’s writing.’


The ostracisation of a lot of women’s literature from being reviewed replicates the empty gaps in the canon throughout history where Jane Austen is the main contributor of the women’s novel. Douglas then discusses different female novelists that she would recommend to a reader, although these novels of course advocate feminism Douglas makes the point that it’s not the reason she has chosen them, disregarding political purpose and gender they are simply books she finds well written and interesting, and that should be a good enough reason for them to be reviewed and talked about, by doing this Douglas gives these authors an additional platform for their work and creating her own canon of women’s literature.

Douglas first discusses Virginia Woolf, ‘an exemplar’ of women writing women’s writing, but making it widely relevant. She recommends ‘night and day’ and writes about how the novel has insights into love, relationships and the unwillingness to lose identity that anybody could relate to. I think the points Douglas makes in this article are very interesting and more than simply making these points she also offers mix of intelligent, female authors that demonstrate women’s writing isn’t just for women and should not be treated as such.


Iris Murdoch and Women’s Writing: by Lilly Schofield, Group B

Iris Murdoch


Rachel Cusk begins her essay on Iris Murdoch by stating that ‘Iris Murdoch, though a woman, was not a women’s writer.’1 This assertion, which forms the underlying argument of Cusk’s essay, raises many of the questions that have been central to this module and allows a discourse on Iris Murdoch specifically from the standpoint of women’s writing and feminist critical theory. Cusk bases her main argument on what she sees as the distinctive feature of women’s writing, its ‘inalienably personal connection to lived life’ and specifically its engagement with the ordinariness of life.2 Dame Iris Murdoch, moral philosopher and Oxford fellow, certainly was not an ordinary woman. In her novels, it was such concepts as good, evil and the morality of decisions within an ordinary life which interested her rather than the minutiae of the ordinary itself. Drawing on DH Lawrence, Cusk states that ‘the more stringently personal the artist, the greater the sphere of his creation’.3 This assertion, which redefines the role of the artist as subject, also invites a reevaluation of the popular classification of subject matter in ‘high’ art (philosophy, morality) and ‘low’ art (the female ‘ordinary’). Following Cusk’s argument, by allying herself with the patriarchal world of culture, intellect and history Murdoch ‘loses her connection to her womanhood and hence to personal truth’.4 As such, it is the immasculation of Murdoch’s life and work which alienates her from ‘ordinary female experience’.5


To base a woman’s connection to her womanhood specifically on that which is ordinary in female experience is an uncomfortable thought for many. Cusk herself mentions that ‘[t]he idea that a woman artist is not free to create without acknowledging the fact of her womanhood is abhorrent to many people’.6 And yet it is a fundamentally important debate in which Cusk engages, namely the responsibility of gender for a woman writer. Iris Murdoch chose to live her life apart from gender restrictions and her achievements as a woman in the androcentric world of academia can also be seen not as immasculation but as disrupting the authority of that very androcentrism. And yet, it would have been enriching to have such an extraordinarily intelligent, eloquent and insightful woman and writer as Iris Murdoch engage with the powerlessness and historical silence of the woman reader.


1Cusk, p. 1




3Cusk, p. 2


4Cusk, p. 1




6Cusk, p. 2

My Name is Darkness: Confessional Poetry by Ellie Monk Group A




In her essay ‘”My Name Is Darkness”: The Poetry of Self-Definition’, Gilbert explores how confessional poets seek for self-definition. Female confessional poets contrast with male poets because they cannot easily classify herself and her problems. The ultimate goal of those poets is to achieve self-definition, or self-knowledge, as Plath wrote ‘I Have a self to recover’[1]. Gilbert said that the female poet must accept that she is female, which is mythologised, and that she is the ‘other’, using DeBeauvior’s terminology.  The search of self requires self-examination within and against the dominant male definition of women. Also, the female poet’s goal to achieve self-definition includes her pursue for a name. The woman poet struggles to find connection between the name that was set for her by the world and the secret name which she has given herself. Gilbert suggests that perhaps the woman poet has two or more selves, and that makes self-definition much more complex. The self is constituted of two selves; the first self is public defined (wife, mother, Mrs, Miss) and the second self is the secret self. The secret self of the women poet involves her secret name, rebellious desires, creative passions, anxieties and her art. Sylvia Plath said the way out of this awful experience of interior imprisonment is to reject the public identity, ‘frantically clearing away the debris of alternative selves like “old whore petticoats”’[2] and engage with the supernatural self.

[1] Sandra M. Gilbert, ‘”My Name Is Darkness”: The Poetry of Self-Definition’, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 18, No. 4 (University of Wisconsin, 1977), pp. 443-457<; p.443

[2] Gilbert, p.452

Confessional Poetry as Personal Vindication: by Sophie Mitchell Group B


This blog considers the ideas contained in the following essay (available via the link above)

Charles Molesworth, “With Your Own Face On”: The Origins and Consequences of Confessional Poetry, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol 2, (1976). pp. 163-178

“Confessional poetry offers a personal vindication barely more sustaining than the social structure it implicitly scorns.”

 Confessional poetry in the 20th century was seen as a style of poetry that is described as poetry “of the personal.” The content of confessional poems is autobiographical and usually explores subject matters that were considered taboo at the time such as mental illness, sexuality and suicide. Charles Molesworth observes several authors in order to distinguish the features that make up confessional poetry and how these poems are conveyed to society, particularly focusing on the work of Sylvia Plath. Molesworth suggests that confessional poetry can be seen as a division of Romanticism as it places the sensitivity of the poet at the centre of concern and mockingly upsets the nineteenth-century ideals of “conversion” and “self-improvement.” There is said to be one common denominator found in confessional poetry; a split between revealing intimate details in an unvarnished context and obscuring the occult curve of their own dissociated, self-concealing emotional lives. This split produces the particular ironic texture that is associated with confessional poetry.


One of the critical clichés that was associated with confessional poets was that the language itself provided their ‘salvation.’ This false representation, which was generally accepted, left room for poets to develop personal styles and remain recognizably confessional. Confessional poetry often ended by being simultaneously ‘god-haunted’ and ‘narcotized’, suggesting that narcosis and transcendence are mirror-images of each other. A somnambulistic strain drifts through the tones of a confessional poet and this is evident in the work of Sylvia Plath as her expression exhibits the voice of narcotic numbness mixed with slow-motion hallucination in poems such as “Tulips”, in which she demonstrates how the mind may generate hyperboles to torture itself. Those few poets who became known as “confessional” drew on a deep source of disaffection and also relied on a contradictory aesthetic with neither the energy to accept the terms of its descent nor the determination to reject them in favour of a newer, more truly public discourse.


1. Charles Molesworth, “With Your Own Face On”: The Origins and Consequences of Confessional Poetry, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol 2, (1976). pp. 163-178









Writing Women and Confessions – by Jade Najjar Group B

plath's grave


Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell have between them tested the limits and possibilities of the kind of contemporary poem’.[1]

In his essay, Plath’s and Lowell’s last words, Steven Gould Axelrod explores both Plath’s and Lowell’s refusal to conform.  Axelrod argues that their combined controversial poetry can be deemed both ‘confessional’ yet extremist’.[2] In order to effectively demonstrate how both Plath and Lowell test the limits and possibilities of contemporary poetry, Axelrod draws comparisons between Plath’s poem, Words and Lowell’s poem Skunk Hour which he claims are in ‘genius parallel’.[3] According to Axelrod, Confessional poetry is the ‘autobiography of a crisis’.[4] Crisis are two dimensional, on one hand it can be a psychological crisis yet on the other it can be a social crisis however, in the case of confessional poems Words and Skunk hour , both ‘have been written in the depths of a suicidal crisis. Artistically, they show both Plath and Lowell at their most extreme, their most confessional’.[5] The intimate detail, exchanged through confessional poetry, between reader and poet blurs the lines between public and personal modes of expression.  Confessional poets ‘internalize the moral and political disturbances of our time, and undergo them personally’. [6]This is evident in Plath’s confessional poem Lady Lazarus. Every year Plath escapes her own death. For Plath ‘Dying is [considered to be] an art’ form.[7] She herself is a victim; Plath identifies herself with Jews because she feels that she is also being persecuted by society. Her life has become nothing, but a performance. She is an attraction. The confessional poet ‘assumes that psychological and historical experience, the individual and the general, are related, and even at some deep level synonymous’. [8]


[1] Steven Gould Axelrod, ‘Plath and Lowell’s Last words’, Pacific coast philosophy, 11 (1976), pp. 5-14, p. 5.

[2] Ibid.,p.5

[3] Ibid., p.5

[4] Ibid.,

[5] Ibid.,

[6] Ibid., p.6

[7] Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazurus.

[8] Steven Gould Alexrod, p.6.