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Title: Representations of older women in contemporary literature
Author: Brennan, Zoe.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3478 7970
Awarding Body: University of the West of England
Current Institution: University of the West of England, Bristol
Date of Award: 2003
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This study argues that novels by contemporary women writers, such as Doris Lessing, May Sarton, Barbara Pym and Jenny Diski, through their representation of older female protagonists, create alternative discourses of ageing to those that dominate Western society. By placing these figures at the centre of their narratives, the texts counteract the silence and pejorative stereotyping that routinely surrounds the lives of the aged. The technique of studying literary representations of women is not new; in fact, it is a trusted part of feminist methodology. However, one of the assertions of this dissertation is that it is rarely used to investigate texts about the senescent, reflecting feminism's failure to include the older women in their theories. Part one of the dissertation examines such issues in depth, setting out the theoretical orientation of the study. It considers popular representations and paradigms of ageing, as well as considering the power of normalising discourse and dynamics of representation. Part two uses this material to analyse the strategies that British and North American authors have employed, since the 1960's, to challenge common stereotypes of older women. The first three chapters focus on novels that portray protagonists who display emotions, not usually associated with the old, which are revealed in relation to different aspects of ageing: anger and frustration (dependency); passion and desire (sexuality); and contentment (daily life). Chapter 7, 'The Wise and Archetypal Older Woman', shifts its attention away from more realist texts to study characters who emerge from the covers of ratiocinative fiction. It argues that conventional critiques of the genre often negate its more polemical elements, which is a result of their failure to use an age- and gender-aware approach and a problem that generally greets intelligent novels about female senescence. This thesis sees itself as part of a movement that aims to create a space in which older female characters' voices can be heard and recognised. It contends that the authors treated here produce visions of ageing that are not solely concerned with stagnation and decline. They represent a varied and compelling group of protagonists and, in doing so, illustrate that older women are worthy of literary, social and feminist interest.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Feminist literary criticism