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Narrative Settlements

Narrative Settlements: Geographies of British Women's Fiction between the Wars

Jennifer Poulos Nesbitt
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 190
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    Narrative Settlements
    Book Description:

    During the interwar period, shifting attitudes toward empire dovetailed with women's achievement of citizenship, placing women at the centre of debates about what England would be. Responding to these cultural conditions, women writers used novels of place to analyze relationships among space, self, and nation in England, thereby establishing new ways for the country to view itself.

    Jennifer Poulos Nesbitt'sNarrative Settlementsresituates British women's writing between the wars in light of postcolonial theories of the novel and feminist geography. Reading works by Winifred Holtby, Vita Sackville-West, Angela Thirkell, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Rebecca West, and Virginia Woolf, Nesbitt argues that renewed attention to setting provides a methodological base for a more nuanced understanding of the aesthetic preoccupations of women writers between the wars. She provides not only attentive readings of literature during this contentious time, but a convincing argument for looking beyond modernism to locate the significance of interwar literary production.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7754-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Virginia Woolf
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction Narrative Settlements
    (pp. 3-26)

    ‘Laura had spent the afternoon in a field, a field of unusual form, for it was triangular’ (LW141). To set the stage: the date is August 1922, near the fictional village of Great Mop in Buckinghamshire, and Laura is Laura Erminia Willowes, protagonist of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1926 novelLolly Willowes.¹ Laura tramps around the field, ‘turning savagely when she came to the edge’ (LW141), because her escape from imperialist patriarchy, embodied in her brother’s family, has been foiled. Laura’s assuming nephew Titus has arrived in Great Mop, the idyllic country village in which Laura sought independence. Dogging...

  6. Chapter 1 The Act of Passing By: Walking, the City Novel, and Its Subjects
    (pp. 27-45)

    London is one of literature’s most storied cities, and of the two novels discussed here one, Virginia Woolf’sMrs Dalloway(1925), is perhaps the most well known modernist celebration of the British capital.¹ Rebecca West’sHarriet Hume(1929), on the other hand, is a comparatively unknown elaboration of London’s landmarks and neighborhoods. In the analysis conducted below, the act of passing by as a political concept is developed in three areas to illuminate the relationship of these two novels to their historical and literary contexts. First, each novel is an act of passing by the city novel as a set...

  7. Chapter 2 The Production of Sexuality in the Country House Novel
    (pp. 46-62)

    Virginia Woolf’sOrlando(1928) and Vita Sackville-West’sThe Edwardians(1930) each meditate on the the future of the country house as an exemplar of the spatial arrangements that govern England. Both novels present fictionalized portraits of Knole,¹ the ancestral estate of Sackville-West’s family, and both novels reopen questions about the relationship between gender, sexuality, and the spatialization of Englishness that – as far as the law is concerned – are closed with respect to Knole. Thus barred from legal claims, Woolf and Sackville-West attempt to settle the matter narratively. The authors’ negotiations are belated, for by the time the novels were published,...

  8. Chapter 3 Subjunctive Spaces and Subjects: Male Bodies and the Plots of Imperialism
    (pp. 63-79)

    If the body politics of the country house novel vitiate claims to a naturalized body politic, then the colonizable spaces of the world promise absolute difference, an arena in which a man can be remade. Sylvia Townsend Warner’sMr Fortune’s Maggot(1926) and Winifred Holtby’sMandoa, Mandoa!(1933) chronicle the efforts of two men, the Reverend Timothy Fortune and Bill Durrant respectively, simultaneously to escape from and accommodate themselves to normative English masculinity. Seeking open spaces in which they become new men, they find that the imperial rhetoric that enables their appearance in these spaces eventually traps them in domestic/metropolitan...

  9. Chapter 4 Settling for Less or Bargaining for More? Regional Novels and the Body Politics of Englishness
    (pp. 80-104)

    At first glance, the hard-working, tragic North England of Winifred Holtby’sSouth Ridinghas little in common with Angela Thirkell’s depiction of leisured, comical Barsetshire in the south of England. The connection between the two writers lies in their deployment of spatial affect as a political force that yokes together ideas about land, gender, and social change. Nostalgia for a quasi-feudal, agrarian England operates conservatively in the work of both novelists: where Thirkell acquiesces, however, Holtby resists. In her serial fiction, Thirkell reinvests in the countryside as a space organized to represent the best future for England, resettling Anthony Trollope’s...

  10. Epilogue End Papers
    (pp. 105-110)

    Lolly Willowesbegan with a map. As Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote of her heroine’s escape from the painful spatial logic of the imperial metropolis, she encoded much of her own experience in coming into being as a writer, a political leftist, and a lesbian. In 1939, Warner laid her tracks very clearly in an article forThe Countrymanthat implicitly locates her first successful novel within the larger arc of her politics. The title itself, ‘The Way By Which I Have Come,’ joins her literary career and location as a ‘rhetoric of walking’ associating her route with her political identity....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 111-126)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 127-138)
  13. Index
    (pp. 139-146)