Feminist Dwellings: Imagining the Domestic in the Twenty-first-century Literary Novel

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Can feminism ‘dwell’ in the twenty first century literary novel? Critical responses to the home frequently imagined by nineteenth and twentieth century feminist writing would suggest that the domestic is too compromised for a twenty-first century feminist imaginary. Indeed, contemporary feminist dialogues are increasingly alert to the politics of the domestic not only in how its gendering intersects with economies of race and class, but also how resistant the domestic is to feminist intervention or transformational politics. Our everyday vocabularies are now inflected by concepts of ‘affective labour’, the ‘mental load’, and ‘institutional housekeeping’, terms that don’t simply identify a gendered distribution of labour but, more importantly, a persistent economic devaluation of that labour. Yet feminist writing has not relinquished the domestic as a site or language for imagining feminist possibility and practice. If anything, we’ve seen a proliferation of feminist writing interested in the domestic since the beginning of the twenty first century by writers such as Maggie Nelson and Rachel Cusk or, more recently, Sara Ahmed who mobilises the metaphors of ‘home’ - of bricks, of houses, and of dwellings, to articulate her feminist practice in Living a Feminist Life (2017). But what kind of scene, and what kinds of textual strategies, does the domestic offer twenty first century feminism? This chapter turns to three literary novels spanning the century so far: Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005), Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home (2011) and Miranda July’s First Bad Man (2015). In each novel the home - as literary institution, holiday house, and single-woman’s apartment - offers a focal point for questions about feminist imagining that gives shape to specific textual strategies, suggesting that if twenty first century feminism can’t relinquish the domestic, we must learn to dwell in its compromised politics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe New Feminist Literary Studies
EditorsJennifer Cooke
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781108599504
ISBN (Print) 978-1108471930
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2020

Publication series

NameTwenty-First-Century Critical Revisions
PublisherCambridge University Press

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