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Urban imaginaries : mapping space and self in the writing of Doris Lessing, Michèle Roberts and Sara Maitland

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Keywords
  • Pr English Literature
Disciplines
  • Psychology

Abstract

This thesis explores representations of urban space in work published between 1962 and 2007 by British writers Doris Lessing, Michèle Roberts and Sara Maitland. I read these texts alongside a body of influential urban literature, with an emphasis on the spatial theory developed by postmodern scholar Fredric Jameson in the late 1980s. I argue that, despite claiming to provide a universally valid description of the contemporary urban experience, the spatial categories proposed by Jameson are inadequate for a reading of women's urban writing. My research turns to an alternative framework, which brings together insights from feminist and non-feminist cultural geography and psychoanalysis. My examination of urban texts by Lessing, Roberts and Maitland highlights a persistent interest in gender categories and their role in shaping the individual experience of the metropolis. In particular, I focus on women's struggle to articulate their identity against Enlightenment definitions of public and private spheres in post-1960 London. A second but equally important concern regards the potential of the city to enhance individuals' engagement with spirituality and to reinforce a sense of community that is rooted in a religious worldview. In view of the fact that questions of gender and spiritual identity are commonly overlooked by both Enlightenment rationalism and postmodern urban theory, my central argument is that women writers' accounts of urban experience undermine the Enlightenment gendering of space, while at the same time challenging the revision of the Enlightenment performed by postmodern scholars. In exploring the ways in which women writers' representation of the metropolis is informed by an engagement with gender and spirituality, my research bridges the gap between explorations of urban space and gender, on the one hand, and gender, community and spirituality, on the other, contributing to an enhanced reading of late-twentieth-century, and early-twenty-first-century, urban imaginaries.

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