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Title: 'A man needs meat' : food and gender in the fiction of Barbara Pym
Author: Shields, C. M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2004
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This thesis examines Barbara Pym’s treatment of a critically-documented theme, food, as it intersects with gender within her oeuvre. By mapping the subjective quality that her fiction achieves through the ironic exposition of cultural myths relating to food and their gender implications, it offers an alternative critical perspective on Pym, formulated in opposition to the traditionalist hegemony that seeks to ‘protect’ her from feminists. The study begins by exploring the historical and material conditions of Pym’s rejection and ‘re-discovery’, and the invention of her reputation by her literary guardians, in order to identify the subtleties of Pym’s political sensibility and to provide a feminist-cultural theoretical reading of it. As Pym’s life had an immediate and constitutive effect on the form and content of her work, Chapter 2 examines archival material which forms the basis of a psycho-sexual reading of her personal relationship to food, particularly as it symbolises or substitutes for desire. Chapter 3 is developed through a feminist socio-anthropological filter, offering an overview of foodway rules as they subtend with gender conventions and their supporting mythologies. This leads to an analysis of Pym’s fiction as it chronicles English middle-class ‘tribal customs’ contemporary with her fifty years of writing, based on the evidence of Pym’s familiarity with anthropological theory and technique. Finally, Chapters 4 and 5 provide close readings of her novels, comparing the relationship of Pym’s women and men to food, showing how the dialogue between women and food manifests itself as sexual metaphor, and is often the source of abjection, while for men food acts as a metonymic site of power. The inquiry into the thematic importance of food in Pym’s fiction reveals how she ironises the cultural myths which mark gender difference and support a gender hierarchy. Since it engages with contemporary critical debate about feminist literary theory and gender studies, it offers both a much-needed re-evaluation of Pym’s texts and a critical revision of what does and should comprise a feminist canon.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available