Graduation Year

2007

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Elizabeth A. Hirsh, Ph.D.

Keywords

British literature, Culture industry, Fay Weldon, Feminism, Mass culture

Abstract

Contemporary British novelist Fay Weldon negotiates the postmodern "culture industry" as the self-conscious heir to a traditon of women writers dating back to the Middle Ages. Like her predecessors, Weldon defensively and offensively negotiates ideological constructions of womanhood, including injunctions to chastity, modesty, and silence; prohibitions against formal education for women; disdain for the literary production and commercial success of women writers; and the application of double standards in the critical reception of their works. Modernizing the strategies traditionally deployed by women writers, Weldon engages with the advertising industry and the mass-oriented literature of radio and television, using them to construct a career and a public identity for herself while advancing an alternative history of women in the twentieth and early twenty-first century. She exploits the distinctions between high culture, popular culture and mass culture in order to provoke critical reflection; partly for this reason, her work deliberately resists academic criticism. The novels Praxis, Puffball, The Cloning of Joanna May, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, and The Bulgari Connection explore the phenomenon Walter Benjamin described as the nullification of "aura" in the age of mechanical reproduction; they interrogate the connections between several kinds of reproduction associated with human gestation, women's bodies and social identities, and language and literature. Weldon's interrogative fictions experiment with the novel form, and their reception has been mixed, often splitting along gender lines. Feminists have not always embraced Weldon because she questions everything. Because her prolific output is ongoing, Weldon's achievement as Woman of Letters cannot yet be fully assessed.

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