Project Summary

This project aims to explore the issue of women’s resistance to patriarchal authority and the concomitant feminist endeavour to redefine woman’s position in society as they are articulated in contemporary British short fiction by women in the period 1974, the date of publication of Angela Carter’s Fireworks, to 2013. Women’s contribution to the development of the modern short story is unquestionable in that it is evidenced by the list of great practitioners of the genre like Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, or Muriel Spark. That British woman writers stand out as great contributors to the genre of the short story during the period 1974–2013, with prominent figures such as Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt, Jeanette Winterson, Michèle Roberts, Helen Simpson, Janice Galloway, A. L. Kennedy, or Nicola Barker, is a fact that cannot and should not be explained only in terms of continuity with a pre-existing female short story tradition, or in economic terms –for they are less costly, in the widest sense of the term, to produce—but also and most importantly, for the genre’s inherent potential as a vehicle for the expression of a feminine experience that is critical with reality.

The short story, in ways analogous to women’s status as social subjects in the modern world, has not attained the degree of literary recognition that the novel has in spite of the large amount of works and short story collections that are published every year by commercial and, in many cases, reputable publishing firms. Evidence shows that the short story in English struggles for its unambiguous recognition as a genuine literary genre in ways similar to the feminist struggle for women’s recognition as full human subjects that dominant ideology permanently thwarts. As some of the most recent theoreticians of the short story, like A. Hunter or Paul March-Russell, propose, this genre is a modality of what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari dubbed ‘minor literature’ or littérature mineure –those texts a minority constructs within a major language. What makes the short story come close to this idea of ‘minor literature’ is the fact that the anti-totalising character of its distinctive formal elements –directly related to its brevity– is intrinsically adverse to definitions, categorical closure, finished conceptualisations, explicit meanings, received ideas, established values and assumed hierarchies that power expects and enforces. In the great minor literature of the short story, resistance to formal closure goes hand in hand with political resistance to reproduce and reaffirm dominant ideology. If the short story is alive and well, it is because, as Frank O’Connor wrote in 1962, it gives a voice to a submerged population group, because it is an aesthetically peculiar vehicle for the expression of women’s concerns –views and aspirations which is our aim to explore. In summary, the projects originality derives from connecting genre and gender, a vehicle of artistic-aesthetic expression and an ethico-political dimension where an attempt is made at reformulating crucial questions such as sexual identity/difference, subjectivity, the private/public dialectic, or woman’s body and the problematic of its representations.