The Anxiety of Feminist Influence: Concepts of Voice in Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields
Stead, Nicola Jayne
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis explores the concepts of “voice” and “influence” through the case studies of two famous English-speaking Canadian women writers, Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields. The “voice” is multiple, ambiguous and influenced, but it is also apparently unique. How, therefore, is it constructed and where does it come from? I examine, work with and adapt Harold Bloom’s paradigmatic study of influence to a feminist context, exploring the idea that a literary voice can be developed and influenced by Atwood and Shields. I discuss how these writers searched for an appropriate literary role model, exemplified by nineteenth-century English-Canadian writer Susanna Moodie, at the moment when Canadian nationalism and feminism coincided. Atwood and Shields are now canonical writers themselves and important in both the nationalist and women’s tradition, but have they gone on to influence new Canadian women writers? I test the pleasures and the anxieties of Shields’ influence with regard to her creative writing students and her own daughter, Anne Giardini, who has published her first novel. I compare Shields with Atwood, who has achieved a high level of fame, and examine what kind of influence each exerts. I discuss whether literary influence is politically different for women than men and whether there is any jealousy or power struggles between the sexes. Rivalry and competition between writers are not purely caused by the aesthetic issues that Bloom discusses, therefore I contextualise his concept of influence using literary celebrity studies to consider the economic basis of cultural production. This is in order to show that tensions are determined by market conditions, just as much as the new poet’s desire to overthrow a literary precursor. Finally, I examine fan letters to Atwood and Shields as another important source of literary influence. I discuss how fans are constructed through a commercial relationship and how they can also provide an amateur literary voice. Atwood and Shields have helped to create a network of writers across the globe. I explore whether both authors can be role models who will inspire the next literary generation.
PhD in English