Beyond sexual satisfaction : pleasure and autonomy in women’s inter-war novels in England and Ireland

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Bacon, Catherine M.

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My dissertation offers a new look at how women authors used popular genres to negotiate their economic, artistic, and sexual autonomy, as well as their national and imperial identities, in the context of the changes brought by modernity. As medical science and popular media attempted to delineate women’s sexual natures, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Winifred Holtby, Kate O’Brien, and Molly Keane created narratives which challenged not only psychoanalytic proscriptions about the need for sexual satisfaction, but traditional ideas about women’s inherent modesty. They absorbed, revised, and occasionally rejected outright the discourses of sexology in order to advocate a more diffuse sensuality; for these writers, adventure, travel, independence, creativity, and love between women provided satisfactions as rich as those ascribed to normative heterosexuality. I identify a history of queer sexuality in both Irish and English contexts, one which does not conform to emergent lesbian identity while still exceeding the limits of heteronormativity.




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