Category Archives: Uncategorized

Call for Steering Group Members

We are looking for a new member to join our team!

If you are interested in joining then please send an email with a cover letter outlining why you would like to join the steering group and what you think you can bring to the network, as well as a current academic CV, to info@pgcwwn.org by 11th September 2015.

Please distribute widely. You can download the full call below:

PG-CWWN-Call-for-Steering-Group-Members

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Ruth Rendell: CFP for a Special Issue of Contemporary Women’s Writing on Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine. Edited by Ruth Heholt, Fiona Peters and Gina Wisker.

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Ruth Rendell, who has recently died, was one of the most prolific and important female authors of the C20th/21st centuries, achieving many literary awards and honours, plus a Labour peerage. Her literary output, both as Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine, transcended generic boundaries and conventional assumptions about character, the police procedural novel, class and gender, amongst many of her other concerns.

Rendell’s output can be divided into three categories, bearing in mind that these overlap, shift and change over time: The Wexford series (beginning with From Doon With Death in 1964 up until No Man’s Nightingale in 2013), the stand-alone Rendells, and the arguably more psychologically driven Barbara Vines. Running through all her work, certain themes emerge, including gender, sexuality, crime, poverty, origins, pathology and deviance (especially in the domestic, often suburban sphere), fate and inescapable hereditary, both psychological and physical, and human relationships. Val McDermid notes: ‘Never content with mere description, she illuminated the human condition in all its obsessive complexity in a style that was invariably clear and compelling.’

This special edition aims to mark Rendell’s death with a selection of essays which celebrate her achievements and unique talent – as a writer who never shied away from complex or difficult issues, but who instead shifted the entire focus of the crime fiction genre into a complex study of human beings and their interaction with social and psychological forces.

We invite proposals for articles on any aspect of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s work. CWW seeks to publish essays that reach beyond a reading of a single text in order to challenge existing thinking or extend debates about an author, genre, topic, or theoretical perspective and relate literary analysis to wider cultural and intellectual contexts.

With this in mind topics may include (but are not limited to):

Gender, Class, Age, Family, Marriage, Violence, Death, Authority, The Police, Detection, The Psychological, Race, Homosexuality, Obsession, Poverty, Deviance, The Domestic, The City, The Suburbs.

The deadline for abstracts is 1st September and completed essays of 8000 words will be due on 1st Feb 2016. All essays are subject to peer review and as such publication is not guaranteed.

Please send 300 word abstracts and a short bio to: ruth.heholt@falmouth.ac.uk, f.peters@bathspa.ac.uk and g.wisker@brighton.ac.uk by 1st September 2015.

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival returns for 2015

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Press release: Bristol Women’s Literature Festival

 

14th – 15th March 2015, Watershed

After its dazzling success in 2013, the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival is delighted to announce it is returning to Watershed on the 14th and 15th March 2015.

Some of the literary scene’s brightest stars will be arriving in Bristol to join a unique festival that celebrates women’s writing.

 

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to celebrate the work of women writers working today and throughout history. It brings together the diverse and exciting talent of women writers, academics and activists to showcase our fantastic literary heritage.

The fascinating and varied programme features award-winning novelist and short story writer, Michele Roberts, winner of Faber Young Poet of the Year Helen Mort, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo, poet and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, activists and writers Beatrix Campbell and Caroline Criado-Perez, and leading academic Professor Helen Hackett. These women are, without doubt, some of the most influential and vibrant writers working today.

The festival takes place across the weekend of 16th and 17th March at famous Bristol arts venue, Watershed. Organised by feminist writer Siân Norris, the event aims to celebrate the work of women writers in a literary scene that is all too often dominated by male voices.

A stage full of brilliant, brainy, articulate and witty women discussing literature, women, history, activism and the future. An audience full of literature-lovers and woman-likers of all ages, races and walks of life. If anything restores a woman’s faith that we are not just roaring but writing and reading, it’s the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival.’

Bidisha

 

The programme

Paris was a Woman film screening

The festival opens on Saturday 14th March with a screening of the award-winning documentary film Paris was a Woman. Greta Schiller’s 1996 film explores the lives of the extraordinary women who made their home on Paris’ Left Bank in the 1920s, including Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Colette and Sylvia Beach. The film will be followed by a brief audience discussion, chaired by Siân Norris.

Women, Feminism and Journalism

In the afternoon, writers and activists, Beatrix Campbell and Caroline Criado-Perez, activist Nimko Ali, and Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman, will be talking about their work and the relationship between feminism and journalism.

Poetry, Prose and Palestine

On Saturday evening award-winning film director and poet Annemarie Jacir and novelist Selma Dabbagh will read and discuss their own work, and the poems of other well-known Palestinian writers. This event is organised in collaboration with the Bristol Palestinian Film Festival, as part of Conversations about Cinema: Impact of Conflict.

Women Writing in Shakespeare’s Time

Sunday opens with a talk from Professor Helen Hackett on the women of Shakespeare’s time. Professor Hackett will introduce us to the women writers of the Renaissance who have been written out of history, and the process of bringing them back into the canon where they belong.

Women Writing Today

 

The final event of the festival brings together some of the most exciting and innovative women working in the UK today. Novelist and short story writer Michele Roberts, first time novelist Amy C Mason, poet Helen Mort, playwright and memoirist Samantha Ellis, and writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo will join Sarah LeFanu to discuss their work.

Why do we need a women’s literature festival?

 

Although women have always written and always read, the UK literature scene continues to be very male dominated. A 2012 survey by For Books’ Sake revealed that at Manchester Literature festival, only 20 out of 74 speakers were women, whilst at the Latitude Literary Area, women made up 15 of 53 performers. Meanwhile, the VIDA Count shows the gross gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews.

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to:

  • To celebrate the diversity and creativity of women writers
  • To counter the male dominance of literature and cultural festival line-ups
  • To promote women’s writing and history

Founder and director Siân Norris explains:

I decided it wasn’t enough to be frustrated at the continued marginalisation of women writers in our cultural scene. I needed to do something about it. The success of the 2013 festival was phenomenal. Everyone wants to be part of this event. It is a real and vital opportunity to talk about women’s writing and women’s role in shaping and influencing our culture – both historically and in the present. I am so proud to be part of it and delighted that Watershed will be hosting it again this year.’

The festival is supported by Watershed, Foyles, The Bristol Palestinian Film Festival and The Bristol Festival of Ideas.

Vital info

When? Saturday 14th – Sunday 15th March 2015

Where? Watershed, Bristol

How much? Individual events are priced at £8 (£6 concession) with a weekend ticket available for £30 (£25 concession. Please note there are a limited number of weekend tickets). Tickets are on sale at the Watershed Box Office and website.

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival returns for 2015

final logo TEXT

 

14th – 15th March 2015, Watershed

After its dazzling success in 2013, the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival is delighted to announce it is returning to Watershed on the 14th and 15th March 2015.

Some of the literary scene’s brightest stars will be arriving in Bristol to join a unique festival that celebrates women’s writing.

 The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to celebrate the work of women writers working today and throughout history. It brings together the diverse and exciting talent of women writers, academics and activists to showcase our fantastic literary heritage.

The fascinating and varied programme features award-winning novelist and short story writer, Michele Roberts, winner of Faber Young Poet of the Year Helen Mort, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo, poet and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, activists and writers Beatrix Campbell and Caroline Criado-Perez, and leading academic Professor Helen Hackett. These women are, without doubt, some of the most influential and vibrant writers working today.

The festival takes place across the weekend of 16th and 17th March at famous Bristol arts venue, Watershed. Organised by feminist writer Siân Norris, the event aims to celebrate the work of women writers in a literary scene that is all too often dominated by male voices.

A stage full of brilliant, brainy, articulate and witty women discussing literature, women, history, activism and the future. An audience full of literature-lovers and woman-likers of all ages, races and walks of life. If anything restores a woman’s faith that we are not just roaring but writing and reading, it’s the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival.’

Bidisha

 

The programme

Paris was a Woman film screening

The festival opens on Saturday 14th March with a screening of the award-winning documentary film Paris was a Woman. Greta Schiller’s 1996 film explores the lives of the extraordinary women who made their home on Paris’ Left Bank in the 1920s, including Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Colette and Sylvia Beach. The film will be followed by a brief audience discussion, chaired by Siân Norris.

Women, Feminism and Journalism

In the afternoon, writers and activists, Beatrix Campbell and Caroline Criado-Perez, activist Nimko Ali, and Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman, will be talking about their work and the relationship between feminism and journalism.

Poetry, Prose and Palestine

On Saturday evening award-winning film director and poet Annemarie Jacir and novelist Selma Dabbagh will read and discuss their own work, and the poems of other well-known Palestinian writers. This event is organised in collaboration with the Bristol Palestinian Film Festival, as part of Conversations about Cinema: Impact of Conflict.

Women Writing in Shakespeare’s Time

Sunday opens with a talk from Professor Helen Hackett on the women of Shakespeare’s time. Professor Hackett will introduce us to the women writers of the Renaissance who have been written out of history, and the process of bringing them back into the canon where they belong.

Women Writing Today

 

The final event of the festival brings together some of the most exciting and innovative women working in the UK today. Novelist and short story writer Michele Roberts, first time novelist Amy C Mason, poet Helen Mort, playwright and memoirist Samantha Ellis, and writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo will join Sarah LeFanu to discuss their work.

Why do we need a women’s literature festival?

 

Although women have always written and always read, the UK literature scene continues to be very male dominated. A 2012 survey by For Books’ Sake revealed that at Manchester Literature festival, only 20 out of 74 speakers were women, whilst at the Latitude Literary Area, women made up 15 of 53 performers. Meanwhile, the VIDA Count shows the gross gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews.

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to:

  • To celebrate the diversity and creativity of women writers
  • To counter the male dominance of literature and cultural festival line-ups
  • To promote women’s writing and history

Founder and director Siân Norris explains:

I decided it wasn’t enough to be frustrated at the continued marginalisation of women writers in our cultural scene. I needed to do something about it. The success of the 2013 festival was phenomenal. Everyone wants to be part of this event. It is a real and vital opportunity to talk about women’s writing and women’s role in shaping and influencing our culture – both historically and in the present. I am so proud to be part of it and delighted that Watershed will be hosting it again this year.’

The festival is supported by Watershed, Foyles, The Bristol Palestinian Film Festival and The Bristol Festival of Ideas.

Vital info

When? Saturday 14th – Sunday 15th March 2015

Where? Watershed, Bristol

How much? Individual events are priced at £8 (£6 concession) with a weekend ticket available for £30 (£25 concession. Please note there are a limited number of weekend tickets). Tickets are on sale at the Watershed Box Office and website.

Body Thesaurus Poems by Jennifer Militello

BT cover

Inspired at an early age by the lyric’s ability to express life’s grand, inexpressible mysteries and to unite humankind in a shared emotional reality so that each of us might feel less forsaken, I strive to construct poems of this nature myself. An early student of Dickinson, and Lorca, I learned that inventive language can resonate to uncover essential truths of depth and complexity. Language can name our common struggles. Can make them song.

My poems are sparked by landscapes and buildings and names, people, habits, and other subtle elements, the way light falls, the way the air feels, by sounds and smells and weathers. Images of pines, fields, rivers, wild blackberries, mountains, dandelions, geese flying south for the winter, and snow recur in my work, much of the time through comparison since my poems often do not happen in a narrative setting. And yet the actual places come through strongly to me, in the shape a poem takes and in the way that it feels.

And yet I have found that the poems I write manifest themselves most completely as poems of identity. I am obsessed with the varying shades of character: the restriction of gender, the exploration of family and love and betrayal and loss, the endless complexities of the self.

In my latest book, Body Thesaurus, I investigate the tensions of identity as a source of illness and health. The poems in this book present the human physique as a flawed conduit and, through sections highlighting symptoms, antidotes, and diagnostic tests, seek alternate renderings for the self even as the endangered psyche supplies a filter.

A Camouflage of Specimens and Garments, a new manuscript in progress, is constructed around the quest for identity among a camouflage of selves. The book’s speaker, searching, sickly, unsure, intermittently sketches brief letters in her “real” voice, but adopts the voices and ventriloquisms of mythological heroes and long-dead composers, ancient goddesses and murdered girls, in order to sort through what she is and what she feels, and thus attempt to assemble a more forgiving reality. The poems take the form of a series of dictionaries which define and rename, describe and express, reshape and explain, the set rules and curiosities of such standard brutalities as love and death, as the “camouflage” of these selves and their definitions are methodically built to offer the speaker refuge from a world she cannot control. In this way, the collection highlights the struggle of humankind to conquer the futility of our very being, to declare out into the darkness and in this way be heard, and to at least find solace in the expression itself, while our various identities shift and slip away as facets of the disguises we all wear.

My goal is to write ambitious, surprising poems which challenge the boundaries of poetry, to crack open the common mysteries of existence, to hook the reader by the collar in a way that won’t let her go. To take her, to change her life.

Jennifer Militello

You can buy Jennifer’s poetry collection, Body Thesaurus here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Body-Thesaurus-Jennifer-Militello/dp/1936797283

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/body-thesaurus,militello-jennifer-9781936797288

Biomedical Sciences and the Maternal Body

We are delighted to announce yet another PG CWWN event!

A one day free symposium on “Biomedical Sciences and the Maternal Body” with kind support from The British Society for Literature and Science, on 21st February 2015, at the University of Southampton.


FINAL PG CWWN Symposium Biomedical Sciences and the Maternal Body

When engaging new audiences in contemporary women’s writing, an increasing awareness of the importance of interdisciplinary methods has served to draw attention to the ways in which literary expertise can be used to engage with science and the field of medicine. Women writers in particular exploit the use of literature as a vehicle for promoting social responsibility and awareness, especially when it comes to concerns surrounding recent developments in the fields of science and technology.

The symposium seeks to examine the relationship between biomedical science and the maternal body as represented in the works of contemporary women writers. The pregnant body has always been a site for much debate, particularly when placed in dialogue with feminist issues of autonomy and subjectivity. When considered alongside biomedical science, these debates are further complicated by women’s ambivalent attitudes towards both the freedoms and the constrictions that modern scientific developments bring. In exploring the relationship between women and nature, biology, science and technology, contemporary women writers go some way towards addressing the questions raised by such discussions.

In considering these and other questions, we welcome papers that address this fascinating area of development within contemporary women’s writing. Topics may include (but are by no means limited to):

• Pregnancy, subjectivity and autonomy

• Contemporary conceptions of motherhood

• Women’s relationship with their own biology

• Choice, control and power

• Binarisms regarding ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’

• Maternal embracing or rejection of scientific interventions

• Reproductive technologies and roles within reproduction

Additionally, we are delighted to confirm Professor Clare Hanson as the keynote speaker for the event. Her research interests lie in the relationship between medicine and culture, with a particular emphasis on theoretical and fictional responses to new reproductive technologies and the cultural implications of modern genetic science.

Please submit a 200 word abstract for 15 minute papers, along with a brief biographical note to info@pgcwwn.org by 15th January 2015.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us via the email address above, or through our Facebook and Twitter.

We are delighted to be able to offer one £50 bursary to cover the travel costs for attending the event. In order to qualify for this bursary, the speaker must produce a review of the event (by 7th March) for publication on the PG CWWN Blog. Please state in your email if you are interested in applying for this opportunity, and why you think you should be selected.

Fifty Shades: The Issue of Consent

Sean O’Brien discusses why he thinks Fifty Shades of Grey warrants academic attention.

With the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James, a phenomenon was born. Women of various ages were not only reading and consuming erotic literature publically but were also publically discussing aspects of their own sexual experiences. Women were openly exchanging and exploring their sexual preferences in a way unlike ever before. A close comparison would be the reaction to the successful TV series Sex in the City which aired from 1998 to 2004, and showed female characters openly discussing their sexual preferences.

satcBoth Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey fall into popular culture; and within academia, popular culture is not popular. The elitist nature of academia usually ignores or discredits popular culture from actual critique. However, I believe this to be dangerous, as it ignores the fact that so many people are consuming the content of this media. The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy overtook the Harry Potter books to be the highest selling series of all time in Britain, and over 70 million copies sold in the first eight months in the US. This sheer volume of readers alone makes the series worthy of academic consideration.

One of the key elements of the Fifty Shades phenomenon is the cultural reaction to the text’s key themes and ideas. Although this provides an interesting take on the popularity of the series, I believe it is the dangerous misconceptions within the BDSM community, and the problematic issues of consent the series exhibits, that deserves the focus. James’ position as a female author could have allowed herself to highlight the BDSM community in a safe way for women, as previously stated, due to women discussing their sexuality being considered a cultural taboo. However, James’ inaccuracy about BDSM and the BDSM community, as presented in Fifty Shades of Grey, have exposed millions of women to an abusive and toxic relationship, which she has used as the pinnacle of her own inaccurate interpretation of what BDSM represents. Whilst the series has contributed somewhat to a breakdown of women discussing their own sexuality, the book itself exhibits major issues with women being in control of their own sexuality. A common critique of Fifty Shades of Grey is the nature in which BDSM is explored, with many sourcing the BDSM Wikipedia page to the author E.L James as a means to criticise her, as even Wikipedia contradicts many of the novels statements on BDSM.

However it is not just the sexualised aspects of the series which are problematic; most of Ana and Christian’s relationship is formed on Ana’s inability to freely give consent, which extends further than the bedroom. Christian stalks Ana, hacks her phone, refuses her pleas to see her friends and family, controls her diet and makes ridiculous demands on her general lifestyle, all the while holding her to a contract which he admits would not stand up under a court of law. A lot of this behaviour stems from power play, be it the male/female dichotomy or the difference in class and fiscal responsibility, in every instance Christian has power over Ana, so her ability to freely give consent is questionable. In my opinion, this behaviour is not typical of the BDSM community; this behaviour is typical of an abusive relationship. Fifty Shades of Grey originated as a ‘fan-fiction’ of Stephanie Meyer’s series Twilight, titled Master of the Universe. With many noting similarities between the couples, in that a close reading of the Twilight series can highlight similar abusive techniques that both Edward and Christian share, such as the stalking, trespassing and emotional manipulation.

TTHE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN-PART 1he reading of Bella and Edward’s relationship as abusive can be seen in the way James has constructed the relationships in her own story, with the added threat of sexual abuse. This is the real danger of Fifty Shades of Grey, that young women consuming this information and identifying aspects of Christian’s behaviour in their partners and believing it to be acceptable and thus normalised. Fifty Shades of Grey attempts to normalise abuse.

Which leads us to question why some academics are not acknowledging this? I am not the first to make these points and I have not had to ‘read between the lines’.  Ana’s best friend in the novel (Kate), even comments on the behaviour of Christian, sourcing most of the examples I referenced prior, showing that James is aware of the dangerous aspects of the toxic relationship she is presenting, by highlighting Kate reacting to the warning signs of her friend potentially being abused. But we as the audience are expected to take Ana’s perspective because we know the intimate details of the relationship and are supposed to believe it is not abusive because Ana ‘consents’ to it. However saying ‘yes’ does not equate to informed consent. It is here where the critical debate becomes complex; was consent freely given or was Ana’s agreement manipulated by Christian? To ignore these questions and critiques is to allow Fifty Shades of Grey to continue to normalise abuse. Many authors have imitated the aesthetic of Fifty Shades of Grey with their own work echoing the abusive relationship of James’ ‘Christian and Ana’ and marketing it as a sort of ‘new age romance’. It appears that with each manifestation of this relationship from Meyer’s ‘Bella and Edward’ in Twilight, to James’ ‘Ana and Christian’, to whoever decides to replicate this pattern of toxic relationships and abusive boyfriends again. With the financial success of the series and its adaptation soon to be released for film audiences, academics cannot ignore the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey and purely debunk it into ‘popular culture’. As the issues that Fifty Shades of Grey raises are popular, real and could potentially lead some women into believing that an abusive relationships is normal.

Review of Fifty Shades Event

Anyone who wandered in to Liverpool’s Waterstones’ café on a sunny Tuesday lunchtime last week may have been surprised to find the phrases ‘sadomasochism’, ‘erotica’ and ‘BDSM’ audible above the coffee grinder and general murmur of other oblivious, or confused, shoppers. However, the ‘Lunchtime Classics’ events organised by Glyn Morgan at the Liverpool One Store are not shut away or cornered off like many public lectures, but set right in the middle of the shop floor; and even the more controversial than usual book choice of Fifty Shades of Grey was treated the same. However, the event itself was very different to any that had been held at the store before, both in subject matter and delivery.

The lecture, by Edge Hill University’s Reader in English Literature, Dr Mari Hughes-Edwards, objectively and unashamedly examined both the criticism and praise of the novel. She stressed that although cultural opinions of the novel are largely condemnatory, ‘it is important to examine the novel because current popular culture is important – it tells us so much about the lives, hopes and dreams of millions of men and women alive now’.  This argument is one that was also made by several of the attendees of the lecture, many of whom echoed the importance of exploring not just literary but widely read texts, with the million selling Fifty Shades trilogy being a perfect example. Despite this, the idea of discussing Fifty Shades of Grey in an academic context, or even in the public context of Waterstones, still prompts some outrage. The text itself widely divides opinion, and Dr Hughes-Edwards discussed this, stating: ‘I guess this is because it features a woman who (to some extent) enjoys being brutalised.  Some may be outraged because it focuses (for the first two of the three books anyway) on pre-marital sexuality. It also suggests that sadomasochism is the result of psychological dysfunctionality (which it is not). And add in, for good measure, the fact that it suggests that a woman (Christian’s mother) is to blame for his sadomasochistic tendencies, and you have genders, sexuality, motherhood and morality, all being offended in some eyes’.

It is the gender dimension of the trilogy that has proved particularly inflammatory for female and feminist critics of the novels, who find the gender politics of Ana as a female character, and her relationship with the patriarchal figure of Christian Grey problematic. This is highlighted as an especially worrying issue by the combination of it being a female authored text, alongside the masses of female readers consuming the novel. Although within the genre of erotic literature, Ana is set up as a more complex character than your average romantic heroine; her original claims of independence both economically and intellectually are swiftly eroded once she begins her relationship with the wealthy and controlling Christian. By the second and third novels of the trilogy, all claims Ana has maintained over her own free will are subsumed into a heterosexist marital framework, according to Dr Hughes-Edwards, which condemns her to the traditionally stereotypical female roles of wife and mother.

What is perhaps most bleak about the trilogy is that, as Dr Hughes-Edwards argued, it ‘does nothing new in gendered terms – and perhaps that has been its mass appeal’. She also suggested that on some level the appeal of Ana as a protagonist lies in her extraordinary ordinariness; ‘She’s everywoman – and yet she’s the one (the billionaire has chosen her).  It’s kind of like Bridget Jones but with a dungeon as well as a diamond ring’. Although it is not often that a mainstream romantic comedy is compared with a BDSM relationship, the ‘happily ever after’ notions traditionally associated with romance are all played out within Ana and Christian’s relationship. Despite her ‘ordinariness’ she is able to attract the rich and attractive man, and then through her love ‘cures’ him of his sexual ‘deviance’ and secures a traditional future of marriage and children / happily ever after. But does the evident popularity of this framework signal a real, or socially conditioned, desire, or does it emphasise how removed the notions of sexuality and love are from the wider social position of women? In essence, asked Dr Hughes-Edwards, should politics be left at the bedroom door?

Although some would argue that the sexual practices of BDSM relationships naturally involve a submissive party which, unlike in Ana’s case, is not always the female. However, E. L. James’ representation of sadomasochism has attracted wide criticism from within the BDSM community for its inaccurate and potentially harmful depictions. Christian and Ana’s relationship is somewhat misrepresentative of consensual sadomasochism, and it lacks a sadomasochistic partnership desired by both parties. The ‘contract’ between the two is also problematic as it extends beyond the expected remit of a sexual relationship, as Christian controls Ana’s eating, drinking, socialising and exercising. Therefore the argument that the political element of female submission is irrelevant when analysing the sexual relationship of the two characters is not valid as the dominance of Christian over Ana extends outside of the bedroom. Dr Hughes-Edwards suggested that we need to develop, ‘new feminist approaches’ in order to investigate the appeal of this dynamic to female readers, as ‘something is obviously still wrong if women like to buy books about their own abuse in such numbers’.  This, she argued, could be one important legacy of the trilogy. 

Picture1

Dr Mari Hughes-Edwards and the actors after the event.

 The Waterstones lecture also included a dramatization of the text by Edge Hill graduates Louise Grist and John Smethurst. This was the first time that the Lunchtime Classics series had featured a dramatic reading, and it worked well as an engaging technique, allowing the prose under discussion to come to life. The two actors also said afterwards that recreating the scenes had given them a new insight into the characters, and the novel. John Smethurst, who played Christian Grey, observed how one reason for the negative reactions to the novel may be that ‘Christian’s notion of setting Ana free through sexual activity also invites the suggestion that freedom is enacted by bondage’. Louise Grist, who played Ana Steele, also stated: ‘I think the book is written by someone actually very guarded and at first I wasn’t sure of the author’s technique. I thought there was a lack of description when detailing the erotic parts of the book, showing the author’s inexperience, but in hindsight, this is representative of Ana’s character’. Perhaps what this emphasises most clearly is that by dismissing E.L. James’ novel as popular, or non-literary, we can miss features of the narrative that would be analysed and praised within a different context. The event as a whole was an important step in fostering a frank discussion about a text that is often dismissed and diminished in literary terms. Although it may not be a ‘literary classic’ in the traditional sense of the phrase, the Fifty Shades novels have flown off the shelves,  thereby both creating and encouraging new readers, book-clubs, generating online debate and inspiring wider spin-off Fifty Shades phenomena.  There is no doubt that, for better or worse, it will impact upon the literary and cultural world of the twenty-first century for years to come.

Fifty Shades of Grey: A Grey Area of Literature?

fifty-shades-of-greySince its mainstream release in June 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey has become one of the most popular novels to ever hit British shelves, physical and virtual. Millions of female readers embraced E.L. James’ turbulent love story, although the rest of the trilogy (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, both released in 2012) did not prove quite as popular. The series has also become a cultural phenomenon; dramatically boosting sales in stores such as Ann Summers, creating a plethora of other ‘mummy porn’ novels repackaged to resemble the trilogy, and becoming the typecast of female sexual desire. However, the novel has also attracted a variety of criticism for its literary validity, its representation of sadomasochistic relationships, and the characterisation of the female protagonist as submissive both in and out of the bedroom. For these reasons, the books have polarised opinion, and become ‘popular’ literature that is in some fields widely unpopular.

In terms of contemporary women’s writing, there are potential positives to take from the popularity of the Fifty Shades Trilogy; the mainstream representation of female sexual desire, the increase in female readership and the promotion of female authors all represent the ideals of networks such as this one. The way in which E.L. James as a female author chooses to construct the women in her novels, and how they relate to their own social environment could provide a variety of interesting and fruitful analysis from a literary feminist perspective. Although the novel has recently been the subject of a special issue of the Sexualities Journal, and even a Fifty Shades Conference, the text is still not widely researched, and certainly does not feature on the recommended reading lists of many literary courses. However, at Edge Hill University, the novel is a key text in third year English module ‘Sexuality and Subversion’, and Reader in English Dr Mari Hughes-Edwards, who runs the module, believes the novel more than warrants its place in amongst more well-known authors such as Sarah Waters and Jackie Kay.

Over the next few weeks the PG CWWN blog will be looking into E.L. James’ novel as a piece of contemporary women’s writing, and whether as a piece of popular literature it is appropriate to study within an academic environment. The blog will first be covering an event that is being held at the Waterstones store in Liverpool One, which is one of a series of ‘Lunchtime Classics’ events that are held at the store, focused on Fifty Shades of Grey, which includes a lecture by Dr Mari Hughes-Edwards. The blog will then publish essays by Edge Hill University graduates, Sean O’Brien and Suzanna Murray, who studied the novel during their undergraduate degrees. They will discuss their own experiences of studying the novel, and suggest why they think Fifty Shades of Grey is in need of further analysis.

As always, if any of our members are interested in writing anything on this or any other area of contemporary women’s writing, for the PG CWWN blog then please feel free to email blog@pgcwwn.org with your ideas. We are especially keen on anyone who would like to continue this theme by discussing the upcoming adaptation of the Fifty Shades novel which is due to be released in cinemas on Valentine’s Day in 2015.

Goodbye to Emma Young

The PG CWWN steering group are saddened to bid a farewell to Emma Young, who is stepping down in order to focus on the final stages of her PhD. Since joining the steering group in November 2011, Emma has been a passionate and dedicated member of the team and her contributions will be greatly missed. On behalf of our members, we would like to wish Emma the best of luck for the completion of her research and every success for the future.