How do Women Writers challenge Male-centred Language?

Mary Peake

This dissertation addresses the importance of the horror genre in literature, focusing on the use of childhood in particular. It uses theories by Stephen King, Gina Wisker and Adam Hochschild to investigate the genre of horror. Moreover, psychological theories from Julian Hanich and Sigmund Freud aid the study’s approach to childhood and psychological horror.


In her text Man Made Language, Dale Spender writes:

We must still deal with a symbolic system constructed by men […] Today’s women writers [...] are retrieving women’s experience, bringing it to the surface, looking at it [...] with a new perceptual framework.[i]

Spender’s work calls for women to form their own expression of femininity and to question language that dispossesses women. This has been an occupation of feminist thinkers who seek to oppose male-centred logic, including Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. To different extents they use psycholinguistic work to propose a new form of female articulation. Most distinct in Cixous’s theorising is her returning of female 'speaking' to the libinal drive of the body:

Listen to a woman speak […] She doesn’t 'speak', she throws her trembling body forward; [...] she flies; all of her passes into her voice, and it’s with her body that she vitally supports the 'logic' of her speech. Her flesh speaks true. [ii]

For Cixous, a woman's body is a direct source of female speaking; the immediacy with which the body is experienced 'promises a clarity of perception' against phallic delusion.[iii] In developing this into a theory about writing itself, Cixous instigates writing in 'white ink': 'There is always within her at least a little of that good mother's milk. She writes in white ink'.[iv] Irigaray, like Cixous, asserts women's bodily experience in writing and implicates women to have a specificity that distinguishes them from men.[v] Her critiquing of Jacques Lacan’s ‘Logic of Sameness’ questions his emphasis on the Symbolic order, the language of power and masculinity.[vi] Arguing that this structure operates in all dominant forms of representation, she states that speech persistently collapses man and woman into one and the same, where ‘man is made the measure of all things’.[vii]

Although Kristeva does not advocate the creation of a feminine language, she still connects language with woman's body.[viii] Kristeva’s writing on the Semiotic and the Symbolic allows us to consider our sense of identity prior to separation and initiation into the Symbolic. Her work argues that the Semiotic erupts into the Symbolic, stating that the two modalities are inseparable within the signifying process.[ix] Crucially, Kristeva acknowledges essentialist notions that problematise éctritureféminine. By recognising how men also 'make use of Semiotic pulsations against the rules of the Symbolic', she doesn't define the Symbolic and Semiotic as male and female binarisms.[x] However, French femininism's focus on female interiority still risks a desocialising of women.[xi] Diana Fuss considers whether Irigaray for example blurs the distinction between the social and the biological in her focus on women's bodily experience.[xii]

Women writers like Margaret Atwood and Eimear McBride echo notions of écriture féminine in questioning masculinist language, whilst also attempting to address this risk of 'essence'. Through their form and female protagonists, both authors start to construct their own mode of writing women’s experiences. Examining their texts also addresses to what extent women writers open up and experiment with the constructs of language, and to what extent they close down the relationship between narrator and language.

Through her unnamed narrator in Surfacing, Atwood creates a sense that women are 'outsiders' or 'borrowers' of a language constructed by men.[xiii] The presumption of Symbolic language as adequate for women's expression is disrupted by her inability to connect with the speech of others:

I was [...] translating badly, a dialect problem, I should have used my own […] the voices of the others [...] reach me through the closed door. Canned laughter, they carry it with them, the midget reels of tape and the On switch concealed somewhere in their chests, instant play-back.[xiv]

As the reader moves through the text, the disconnection between narrator and language becomes more visible. Atwood creates an image here of language as pre-made and rehearsed. The words are replicated; laughter is 'canned', almost as if commercially packaged and reproduced without any connection to the individual speaker. To the narrator, the words of others are ready to be relayed at the push of an 'On-switch'. In discussing language as a product of male effort, Irigaray comments that 'contradictory words seem inaudible for him who listens with ready-made grids, a code prepared in advance'.[xv] This image of ready made grids and codes is present in the narrator's interpretation of those speaking around her. Unable to fit into the symbolic order, she does not feel that her own words belong to her and thus displays no command over language outside of this retrospective ordering of the story. This is particularly evident when the disempowerment of her body and her forced abortion are justified by her ex-husband: ‘”I know it’s tough,” he said, “but it’s better this way.” Quote, unquote’.[xvi] Atwood's use of 'quote, unquote' creates a distance between the narrator and language. Unable to represent herself through male ideology and its language, she resorts to responding with 'mottos' and clichés: ‘’I’m not good enough for you, I said, motto, the words printed on a scroll like a fortune cookie’.[xvii] The narrator consciously relays aspects of the dominant language using phrases that are already ‘printed’. It is at these crisis points that the narrator most clearly separates herself from language by creating these distances. Initially then the relationship between narrator and language is shut down or split off; rather than experimenting with its constructs, the narrator is rejecting language that she does not hold the 'rights' to.[xviii]

McBride forges a similar relationship between the speaker and language in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. The text reveals a distinct absence of appropriated grammar and syntax; all dialogue is woven into the narration. On the surface this seems to disrupt the distance between speaker and language; without the separation of speech marks all words seems to belong to the narrator. However, looking closer at this technique, McBride demonstrates how the narrator’s language is intercepted. Early on in the novel, her grandfather visits and demonises her behaviour as a young girl. Interestingly, McBride chooses only to write the grandfather’s speech, leaving the reader to interpret the narrator's dialogue through his words:

You are .You do look like her. Don’t you be cheeky. You’re the image of her. That snout you have on you. Now see. I’ve got it. Say please and you can have it back. Don’t you hit your grandfather. There. Have it so. Bold brat.[xix]

His words are inserted into the speaker's voice and later overwrite the mother’s speech too. The dialogue literally realises Kristeva's assertion that women are 'overwritten' by traces of a masculine dominant culture.[xx] McBride creates a form of writing here where the male, hierarchical voice governs the voice of the narrator and her mother; the absence of clearly defined speech produces a silenced female voice.[xxi] As the narrator grows, this inability to access language or form a voice as a young woman is reiterated through her interaction with others: ‘Those herd. Such bovine singing heifers [...] All your walkmans fizz in tune, in time with conversations’.[xxii] Here the narrator is separated from dominant representation; all the other girls ‘fizz in tune’, their conversations ‘in time’. Like Atwood, McBride implicates language as socially learned through Symbolic patterns, repeated and rehearsed; the other girls know what to say to one another to fit into the order. Momentarily, McBride inserts commas into the syntax so that the narration temporarily conforms to a recognisable form. This conforming mirrors the continual 'fizz' of dominant language that represses women's individual specificity. Further, McBride plays on the word ‘herd’; coupled with 'bovine singing', 'herd' suggests a herd-like mentality as the others follow and conform to the totalising economy of language. However, ‘those herd’ also reinstates the distance between narrator and language; the others 'hear' and communicate with each other whilst the narrator cannot 'hear' or access their words. Not only is she distanced from language, but here she is excluded from it. Similarly to Atwood, McBride initially seems to be closing down the relationship between narrator and language by disrupting her ability reproduce and relate to it.[xxiii]

The narrator's problematic relationship with conventional and accepted language in both texts call for the forming of a new female articulation. As mentioned, écriture féminine considers writing from the female body a powerful way of opposing symbolic patterns embedded in language.[xxiv] Ann Rosalind Jones describes this fragmented, unstructured speech when she comments that women's 'semiotic style is likely to involve repetitive, spasmodic separations from the dominating discourse.[xxv] Taking McBride’s opening, the reader can see how the writing ‘pulses’ and connects with the body:

In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. […] Smell from Dettol through her skin [...] Her heart going pat. Going dum dum dum. […] In your arteries Eyeballs. Spine hands legs. Puke up cells all day long.[xxvi]

The text perpetuates a pulsating rhythm of blood and the language is brought close to the ‘bodily materiality of emotion’.[xxvii] McBride refuses rational order, forming a language that ruptures and beats in time with the body. Situated internally, the reader can hear the thudding of the heart and see language ‘stitched’ into the mother’s skin. By writing from woman's body, McBride forms a kind of feminine specificity that brings to the surface the repression of women's experience. In a similar way to Atwood's indications of her narrator's crisis points, McBride focuses on the body at points when all faith in language is lost: 'My head. My head in hands in my feet in my jaws roaring blood. I can't. [...] The Lord. Shut the fuck with that. Langu. Stop it'.[xxviii] The narrator merges body and head here close to her brother's death, she is speaking from all parts of her body; language is in her 'hands, feet, jaws, blood'. The cutting off of 'language' to 'Langu' further reveals its incompleteness; reproduced, ready-made words are not sufficient to convey painful emotions. Thus the narrator turns to her body for a different form of expression. By combining both 'head' and body as one, the narrator closes the gap between body and language.[xxix]

This merging of language and body is a notion that Atwood makes explicit in Surfacing. As the textprogresses, she inserts images of language, body and nature as synonymous: ‘Why talk when you are a word? […] I lean against a tree, I am a leaning tree’.[xxx]The idea of combining the body with words is explained at the start of chapter nine: ‘I’m not against the body or the head either: only the neck, which creates the illusion they are separate. The language is wrong, it shouldn’t have different words for them’.[xxxi]The narrator combines 'culture' and 'nature' and prophetically hints at how she will later completely reject language and the body as distinct categories. Whereas before McBride and Atwood seemed to close down the relationship between narrator and language, through combining language and bodily experience, both authors begin to open up a space to experiment with language. Words are no longer completely closed, but hold potential to break up the inertia of conventional forms of representation.

This process of deconstructing language has not been instantaneous, rather a gradual journeying. Atwood uses a retrospective narrative which allows the narrator to pinpoint when her distrust in dominant language occurred: 'Part of it arrived as swift as flags, as mushrooms, unfurling and sudden growth, but it was there in me [...] only needing to be deciphered'.[xxxii] The narrator becomes aware of what was always 'there' in her; a language that speaks from the body prior to initiation into the Symbolic. Atwood further deconstructs language by acknowledging a pre-Symbolic articulation. The reader too is able to watch this gradual unfurling of language in which the Semiotic erupts into the Symbolic as language merges with body. This pre-Symbolic state becomes a focus in the novel as the narrator considers how language is formed without initiation into Symbolic patterns:

In the experiments they did with children, shutting them up with deaf and dumb nurses [...] depriving them of words, they found [...] the mind is incapable of absorbing any language; but how could they tell the child hadn't invented one, unrecognizable to everyone but itself? [xxxiii]

The narrator speculates on a kind of 'semiotic liberation’. This notion is further indicated through the use of amniotic and maternal images. The narrator returns to the Semiotic through these experiences and in doing so considers her sense of identity prior to mother-child separation. At one point for example she watches her brother whilst still in her mother's womb; 'a frog in a jar'.[xxxiv] On one level, the narrator's return to water and to the womb indicates this ability to transgress language boundaries. For example, central to Kristeva’s arguments on how meaning is formed through language is the word chora: as a word it refuses a fixed definition, although one of its possible connections is to the 'chorion' of the mother's womb.[xxxv] Therefore, these maternal images that see the narrator returning to a pre-Symbolic state seem to suggest her deconstructing of Symbolic language as she returns to the unfixable ‘chorion’ or chora through her experiences:

The forest leaps upwards [...] the way it was before they cut it [...] the boulders float, melt, everything is made of water, even the rocks. In one of the languages there are no nouns, only verbs held for a moment longer [...] I have to get up [...] Through the ground, breaking surface, I'm standing now; separate again.[xxxvii]

In this amniotic image there is a sense of pre-separation and linguistic heteroglossia; 'one of the languages' indicates that language contains traces of multiple voices and is developing rather than fixed and inherent.[xxxviii] Through this imagery, the narrator disrupts stable forms of writing; there are no 'nouns' to define or name things, 'only verbs held for a moment longer'. There is a sense that the narrator imagines herself before birth; 'before they cut it' almost resonates with before they 'cut' the umbilical cord. Everything is made of water as in the womb as the narrator imagines herself returning to the unfixable chora where language is fluid. However, within these images there is always an ominous sense that the narrator must become initiated into the Symbolic order; crucially, the narrator has to 'break surface' and becomes 'separate'. Therefore Atwood seems to allow her narrator to become a possessor of pre-phallocentric discourse, yet this ominous separation asks whether we can ever completely break out of the Symbolic into the Semiotic in terms of language.

Comparable to Cixous's notion of 'white ink', Atwood creates a strong link between the narrator and her mother in terms of their relationship with language. An example of this is the mother's diary; rather than writing her emotions and experiences, she writes a ‘log-book’ recording the weather changes: ‘All she put in it was a record of the weather [...] no reflections, no emotions […] I thought there might be something about me [...] the pages were blank’.[xxxix] Perhaps this is a silencing of the mother's voice as her emotions are kept from surfacing. However, the diary seems particularly subversive; she autonomously chooses to write in this way, rejecting male-centred language as inadequate for women's representation. Her diary becomes a protective mechanism as she refuses to confine anything important or intrinsic to her within the boundaries of conventional forms of expression. However, this notion is still problematic. For example, the link between mother and daughter in rejecting dominant language creates a biological determinism which would again simply situate women in a different construct of representation and identity. Further, the idea of a female articulation excluding men may also result in a simple reversing of the system; Robbins comments that 'even when it has good intentions, it may just end up replicating in a different order the very system it was supposed to displace'. [xl], [xli]

One way that Atwood deals with this is through Joe's communication and relationship with the narrator. Arguably, Joe struggles to access and fit into the prescribed order of meaning. At points in the text he seems to have the same distance from language as the narrator, he does not replicate and relay language with the superficial ease of David and Anna: 'He put his fingers on my arm [...] which may have meant he wanted to talk to me: speech to him was a task, a battle, words [...] issued one at a time, heavy and square like tanks'.[xlii] Atwood's description implies that Joe is conscious of language as a masculinist construction; each word 'heavy and square like tanks'. Joe's individual identity as a man does not fit within the confinements of the symbolic order, resulting in his problematic relationship with representation and communication. In a similar way to the narrator, he seems to connect communication with his body; at points in the novel the two communicate most effectively this way:

His hands [...] are intelligent, they move over me delicately as a blind man's reading Braille, skilled [...] they're learning me, they repeat patterns he's tried before [...] and my body responds that way too, anticipates him, educated, crisp as a typewriter.[xliii]

By articulating through their bodies, the two re-write conventional forms of representation and communication. However, Atwood reminds us of the risks of forming a new articulation; this image suggests a reversal in the gendered construction of language. Arguably, the narrator is reconstructing Joe's communication; there is even a sense that she confines him within the constructs of her language. In this image, Joe is having to 'learn' her 'language'; it is only at this point in the text that he is 'beginning to trust [her] voice'.[xliv] The narrator's body is termed as 'educated' in terms of the language she is forming, whilst Joe is a man 'learning to read'. Further, although the phrase 'crisp as a typewriter' seems to imply that the characters are writing their own language, it is also a particularly mechanical image. It is specifically the narrator's body that is described as the 'typewriter'; in this way she mechanically negotiates Joe's relationship to language. Atwood thus indicates how his voice is overwritten, comparable to how the grandfathers inserts his dialogue into the narration in McBride's text. Through Joe, Atwood seems to demonstrate not only how a parle femme may simply construct the idealism that it seeks to dismantle, but an awareness of how a specifically female articulation is problematised by essentialist notions. The text even challenges Irigaray's notion of 'feminine specificity' exclusive of men; Joe proves to have a difficult relationship with dominant language and thus is unable to express himself conventionally.[xlv]

To conclude, despite the potential for biological determinism and essentialism, both texts demonstrate the inadequacy of language deemed as 'universal'. The unnamed women struggle to access and reproduce dominant language; Atwood's narrator is conscious of the pre-made nature of Symbolic language whilst McBride's text sees man overwriting woman's voice. These images initially conceptualise language as a closed system to those who don't fit into the Symbolic order; both women are distanced from the words that others speak. However, their awareness of language as a male construct triggers the formation of a female articulation; in both cases this includes writing from the immediacy of the women's body and disrupting stable forms of writing. As the texts progress, Atwood and McBride begin to open up and experiment with language, creating new possibilities for women's representation. As Kristeva argues, deconstructing dominant ideology 'is an exploration and discovery of the possibilities of language [...] it stretches our conceptual framework and liberates our thinking'.[xlvi] Atwood's text in particular is conscious of the risk surrounding écriture féminine, however, by questioning linguistic conventions, both texts become '"a process played out across literary and ideological boundaries [...] that exposes these very boundaries for what they are - the product of phallocentric discourse'".[xlvii]

Word Count: 3, 291


Atwood, Margaret, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009)

Barreca, R., and Lee Jacobus, eds, Helene Cixous: Critical Impressions (London: Routledge, 2005)

Eagleton, Mary, ed., Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader: Second Edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996)

Cixous, Hélène, "The Laugh of Medusa", in Marks, E., and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds, New French Feminisms: An Anthology (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980)

Fuss, Diana, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature & Difference (New York and London: Routledge, 1989)

Greene, Gayle, 'Feminist Fiction, Feminist Form' , Frontier: A Journal of Women's Studies, 11 : 2/3 (1990) <> (accessed 14 January 2015)

Irigaray, Luce, "This Sex which is not One", in Marks, E., and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds, New French Feminisms: An Anthology (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980)

Kristeva, Julia, Revolution in Poetic Language, in Ruth Robbins, 'Julia Kristeva: Rewriting the Subject', Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000)

Lennon, Kathleen, "Feminist Perspectives on the Body", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (Fall 2014 edition), Edward N., Zalta, ed., <>. (accessed 14 January 2015)

Marks, E., and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds, New French Feminisms: An Anthology (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980)

McBride, Eimear, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (London: Faber & Faber Ltd, 2014)

Morris, Pam, ed., Literature and Feminism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000)

Moi, Toril, Sexual/Textual Politics (London: Methuen, 1985)

Pollock, Mary S., 'What is left out: Bakhtin, Feminism and the Culture of Boundaries', in David G. Shepherd, ed., Bakhtin: Carnival and other Subjects (Leiden: Rodopi, 1993)

Robbins, Ruth, Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000)

Rosalind, Jones A., 'Writing the Body: Towards an Understanding of "L'Écriture Féminine"', Feminist Studies, 7:2 (1981), <> (accessed 13 January 2015)

Ridout, Alice, Contemporary Women Writers look Back: From Irony to Nostalgia (London: A & C Black, 2010)

Saul, Jenifier, "Feminist Philosophy of Language", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N., Zalta, ed., <> (accessed 14 January 2014)

Spender, Dale, Man Made Language (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1980)

[i] Dale Spender, ‘Breaking the Boundaries’, in Man Made Language (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1980), p. 224.

[ii] Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of Medusa", in Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds, New French Feminisms: An Anthology (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), p. 251.

[iii] Ann Rosalind Jones, 'Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of "L'Écrtiure Féminine", Feminist Studies, 7: 2 (1981), <> (accessed 13 January 2015), p. 252.

[iv] Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of Medusa", p. 251.

[v] Ann Rosalind Jones, 'Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of "L'Écrtiure Féminine", Feminist Studies, 7: 2 (1981), <> (accessed 13 January 2015), p. 249.

[vi] Ruth Robbins, ‘Luce Irigaray: Reflections’ in Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), p. 156.

[vii] Pam Morris, ‘Writing as a Woman: Cixous and Irigaray’, in Literature and Feminism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000), p. 114.

[viii] Michael Payne writes: ‘when Kristeva writes about the body […] she gives it a sense of having bone and flesh and hormones. For her the body both is and is not external to language’: Michael Payne, in Ruth Robbins, ‘Julia Kristeva: Rewriting the Subject’, in Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), p. 131.

[ix] Ruth Robbins, Literary Feminisms, p. 129.

[x] Ibid., p. 129.

[xi] Toril Moi comments that: 'having shown so far femininity has been produced exclusively in relation to the logic of the Same, she falls for the temptation to produce her own positive theory of femininity. But [...] to define "woman" is necessarily to essentialize her': Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 139.

[xii] Diana Fuss, 'Luce Irigaray's Language of Essence', in Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature & Difference (New York and London: Routledge, 1989), p. 57.

[xiii] Dale Spender, 'A man's language', in Man Made Language (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1980), p. 12.

[xiv] Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009), p. 98.

[xv] Ann Rosalind Jones, 'Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of "L'Écrtiure Féminine", Feminist Studies, 7: 2 (1981), <> (accessed 13 January 2015), p. 250.

[xvi] Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009), p. 112.

[xvii] Ibid., p. 112.

[xviii] Dale Spender, 'A man's language', in Man Made Language (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1980), p. 12.

[xix] Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2014), p. 14.

[xx] Ruth Robbins, ‘Julia Kristeva: Rewriting the Subject’, in Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), p. 124.

[xxi] Throughout the novel McBride reiterates this silencing of the narrator's voice with images of her being unable to speak, these images are often created when she is being abused by other men, particularly her uncle: 'Stuffed throat as I walked past'/ 'Stitching up my eyes and sewing up my lips'/ 'My throat. Is blank. Is Sown up', McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, pp. 50-131

[xxii] Ibid., p. 35.

[xxiii] This conforming to the constructs of language introduces the idea of false consciousness into the text. McBride uses recognisable grammar and syntax at points where characters are unaware of their subordination through language. This technique is extended to the narrator's mother who, after her father's horror at the children's lack of religious knowledge, begins to implement a rigid belief in religion which escalates throughout the novel: 'And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice'. McBride demonstrates how she conforms to patriarchal structures through the rare insertion of recognisable syntax: Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2014), pp. 51-2.

[xxiv] For an example of this writing see Hélène Cixous's Angst which focuses on women's bodily experience using syntactic fragmentation to refuse the logic of rational order: 'Cut. You say I. And I bleed. I am outside. Bleeding. Yet formless, helpless, almost bodiless. In and out of my body. In pain. […] Still losing. Not dead, worse. The body, here. Separate. Flesh; separation': Hélène Cixous, Angst, translated by Jo Levy, (London: Calder, 1985), p. 7.

[xxv] Ann Rosalind Jones, 'Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of "L'Écrtiure Féminine", Feminist Studies, 7: 2 (1981), <> (accessed 13 January 2015), p. 249.

[xxvi] McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, pp. 3-4.

[xxvii] Pam Morris, ‘Writing as a woman: Cixous and Irigaray’ in Literature and Feminism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1993), p. 123.

[xxviii] Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed thing (London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2014), p. 147.

[xxix] Ruth Robbins explains how for Kristeva, the speaking subject is always split between conscious and unconscious, nature and culture: ‘Her insistence is that we must take both the mind and the body […] as being absolutely necessary to the process of forming meaning’: Ruth Robbins, ‘Julia Kristeva: Rewriting the Subject’ in Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000), p. 127.

[xxx] Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009), p. 236.

[xxxi] Ibid., p. 95.

[xxxii] Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009) p. 95.

[xxxiii] Ibid., p. 96.

[xxxiv] Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009), p. 36.

[xxxv] ‘The word has several possible meanings, including womb, enclosed space […] mother […] it has so many meanings that it […] refuses definition […] Payne connects the chora to the […] concept of ‘chorion’, the membrane that encloses the foetus in a womb’: Ruth Robbins, ‘Julia Kristeva: Rewriting the Subject’ in Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000), p. 127.

[xxxvi] Julia Kristeva also argues that a pregnant woman is 'the site of a particularly acute realisation of the inadequacy of Symbolic knowledge [...] there is almost a sense in which pregnancy is unspeakable in the language of Symbolic authority [...] the maternal body does certain things to support its foetus; the pregnant woman knows these things are happening inside her, but her knowledge is not susceptible to the rational analysis available in Symbolic language'. Not only does Atwood use maternal and amniotic images to imply how the narrator's experiences cannot be contained within Symbolic language, but she also suggests the narrator herself to be in the early stages of pregnancy towards the end of the novel- at this point she is completely rejecting stable, rational language: Ruth Robbins, Literary Feminisms, p. 131-32.

[xxxvii] Atwood, Surfacing, p. 236.

[xxxviii] Mary S., Pollock, 'What is left out: Bakhtin, Feminism, and the Culture of Boundaries', inDavid G., Shepherd, ed., Bakhtin: Carnival and other Subjects (Leiden: Rodopi, 1993), pp. 232-33.

[xxxix] Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009), p. 22.

[xl] Ruth Robbins, ‘Julia Kristeva: Rewriting the Subject’ in Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000), p. 125.

[xli] Carolyn Burke for example questions whether écriture féminine manages to escape the idealism that it seeks to deconstruct: 'Does her [Irigaray's] writing manage to avoid the construction of another idealism to replace the "phallogocentric" systems that she distmantles? Do her representations of a parle femme [...] avoid the centralising idealism with which she taxes Western conceptual systems?': Carolyn Burke in Diana Fuss, 'Luce Irigaray's Language of Essence', Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature & Difference (New York and London: Routledge, 1989), p. 56.

[xlii] Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009), p. 97.

[xliii] Ibid., p. 83.

[xliv] Ibid., p. 48.

[xlv] It seems significant then that the narrator describes language, the body and nature as synonymous; throughout the text the narrator has control and knowledge in terms of nature in comparison to the other characters. Often, she defines Joe as being a part of nature, resulting in her having a certain form of control over him and his language: 'he is thick, undefined [...] hair and beard a mane, moon behind him'. Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (London: Virago Press, 2009), p. 209.

[xlvi] Julia Kristeva, "Revolution in Poetic Language", in Ruth Robbins, 'Julia Kristeva: Rewriting the Subject', Literary Feminisms (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000), p. 129.

[xlvii] Gayle Greene, 'Feminist Fiction, Feminist Form', Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies, 11:2/3 (1990) <> (accessed 14 January 2015), p. 85.



Mary Peake


brightONLINE student literary journal

26 Nov 2015