Loughborough University
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Sisters and rivals : the theme of female rivalry in novels by women, 1914-1939

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posted on 2012-11-19, 14:20 authored by Diana J. Wallace
This thesis will explore representations of female rivalry in novels by women between 1914 and 1939. It will focus especially on women writers' reversal of the 'erotic triangle' paradigm theorised by Rem\ Girard (1961) and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1985). By using a female-male-female triangle these women novelists are able to examine the conflict between women's primary bonds to other women and their desire for the sexual fulfilment and social/economic status offered by a relationship with a man. The first chapter will offer an historical overview and reasons for a particular interest in this theme during this period. Chapter Two will compare the models of female rivalry which can be drawn from the work of Freud (of key importance in the inter-war period) and Luce Irigaray, from studies of blood sister relationships, and from a Bakhtinian model of subjectivity constructed through dialogue. Both chapters will include brief analyses of novels. The central chapters will use these models of female rivalry to offer detailed analyses of texts by five women writers: May Sinclair, Rebecca West, Vera Brittain, Winifred Holtby and Rosamond Lehmann. The chapter on May Sinclair explores her use of psychoanalysis to problematise the motif of self-sacrifice in Victorian women's novels - the woman who sacrifices her own desires in order to cede the man she loves to her friend or sister. The chapter on Rebecca West looks at her use of her sisters as models for her female characters, and at her exploration of relations between women who are brought together only by their relation to the man they both love. The following two chapters will offer an extended analysis of the friendship between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby and their intertextual rivalry over the meaning of their friendship and female friendship in general. The chapter on Rosamond Lehmann explores her valorisation of sister relationships and her examination Of the romance plot and the way that it constructs women as rivals. Finally, the conclusion will focus on a reading of Lehmann's retrospective The Echoing Grove (1953), which fuses the figures of the rival and the sister. It will argue for the need for a model of female rivalry which can encompass the tension generated by the simultaneous and competing positions occupied by women as rival commodities within a 'male economy' and as 'sisters' within a 'female economy'. I will suggest that we need new plots and narratives which can encompass rivalry between women which is not over a man. We also need to consider the possibility that some kinds of rivalry between women can, ironically, be both positive and energising.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Diana June Wallace

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en

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