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Bearing Liminality, Laboring White Ink

Pregnancy and Childbirth in Women's Literature

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Francisco José Cortés Vieco

Literature has been a bastion of male creativity, not of female procreativity, which has traditionally inhibited the voices of women and disempowered their self-expression. This book explores the underestimated legacy of women’s fiction and (semi-)autobiographical works about pregnancy and childbirth in Great Britain and North America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, highlighting the symbiosis between the processes of childbearing and writing, problematizing female subjugation to the patriarchal institution of motherhood, and compensating for the silence around the experience of becoming a mother in literature.

Drawing on the anthropological concept of liminality, controversies about maternity within women’s liberation movements, and milestones in French feminist theory, this book discusses pregnancy and childbirth as transformative events that can engender both women’s imaginative responses to procreation and re-creations of memories about their prenatal/natal episodes, as well as therapeutic narratives of self-discovery and recovery from pain. Examining the works of authors such as Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Jean Rhys, Anaïs Nin, Margaret Drabble, and Toni Morrison, this book posits a literary corpus of procreativity, written by women with an empowering white ink to defend their (un)maternal freedom and (life-)writings.

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CHAPTER 3: Toward a Contemporary Unity between Creativity and Procreativity: Margaret Drabble, Elizabeth Baines, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Ilona Karmel, and Cherríe Moraga

Extract

The literature written by some women in the second half of the twentieth century challenged traditional limitations of the still patriarchal literary Establishment and newer restrictions imposed by some factions of feminist movements. The former persisted in regulating the subject matters that could be aestheticized and those to be discarded. Meanwhile, the latter discouraged the female choices of becoming a mother and writing about maternity, because this literary topic was perceived as having a misogynist connection to the monolithic ideology that sexual reproduction represents women’s only destiny. Among the anatomical experiences where femaleness and biology converge and merge, pregnancy and childbirth stand out, but yet, they were doubly a social taboo and an unartistic, repudiated narrative progeny after World War II. However, Adrienne Rich stresses that the body has remained as a fundamental problem for women, particularly “its clouded meaning, its fertility, its desires, […] its bloody speech, its silences, its changes and mutilations, its rapes and ripenings” (1986: 284). Furthermore, Rich believes that female physicality – including “waves of tenderness in the uterus” stemming from biological maternity – can be converted into power and knowledge (284). Therefore, both the presence and the absence of the liminal experiences of gestation and labor have persisted as vital concerns in the lives of many women and as frequent imperatives for creativity of female authors, despite pressures to avoid these topics from some men and some feminists.

The postwar history of North America and Great Britain is written by arduous fights for women’s rights...

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