Endangered bodies : woman and nature in the contemporary British novel by women writers
Criticism that involves the linkage of the terms ‘environment’ and ‘literature’, or ‘ecocriticism’, has focused largely on texts such as nature writing or on fiction that is set in rural or wilderness settings. This project attempts to widen the scope of ecocriticism by analysing the contemporary British novel, in which nature conceived in such stereotypical ways is largely absent. However, in my analysis of the fifteen texts selected here, I demonstrate that British women writers employ new discursive constructions of nature in order to contest deterministic formulations that subjugate both women and nature. My focus on female textual bodies enables me to explore representations of the fluid interfaces of nature and culture. In my analysis of novels from an environmental standpoint, `environment' is reconceived to refer to `where we live, work, and play' and may include not only the countryside and urban nature, but also the female body itself. Thus, the nature of my title is an inclusive term that includes contemporary discourses of nature employed by the sciences of biomedicine, genetics and technology. This project examines the ecofeminist premise that discourses of mastery not only affect subjugated others such as women, animals and others, but also influence the treatment of the natural environment. Analysing novels that employ forms of embodiment that foreground extreme bodily conditions such as pregnancy, monstrosity and death, I employ the theoretical constructs of Mikhail Bakhtin (the grotesque body, carnivalisation and dialogism) and Julia Kristeva's notion of abjection as tools of analysis to provide a new conception of ecological bodies. Novelists such as Jeanette Winterson, Fay Weldon, Penelope Lively, Zadie Smith, Margaret Drabble, Kathy Lette and Eva Figes provide a wide range of viewpoints from which to gather evidence of the insistence of the recurring trope of the endangered body within the troubled landscape of contemporary Britain.