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Moving across a Century

Women’s Short Fiction from Virginia Woolf to Ali Smith


Edited By Laura Lojo Rodriguez

The difference between modernism and postmodernism has been object to constant revision from a variety of critical perspectives. The present collection of essays on women’s short fiction tackles anew this thorny distinction from the theoretical perspective sketched by psychoanalytical philosopher Slavoj Žižek. According to Žižek, modernism hints at the incompleteness of the Symbolic Order, but does so from a separate, marginal and alternative sphere of enjoyment. Postmodernism, on the contrary, exposes the fundamental inconsistency of the Symbolic Order by giving it a central place at the very core of the text. The key distinguishing feature is the mutation of the status of paternal authority throughout a century to which modernist and postmodernist texts are responsive. Starting from this theoretical premise, this volume analyses the work of five major women practitioners of the short story – Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, Angela Carter, and Ali Smith – to offer fresh critical readings of canonical pieces that exhibit either a modernist or a postmodernist sensibility. The volume has, therefore, both critical and theoretical value: it redefines Woolf ’s and Mansfield’s modernist status, the transitional character of Bowen’s short stories, and the different versions of postmodernism found in the work of Carter and Smith, while, at once, contributing to the reassessment of modernism and postmodernism from a new theoretical angle. The methodological consistency of the book – half-way between collection of essays and monograph – places it at a remove from the usual collection of critical pieces from disparate perspectives around a particular issue.


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Chapter 2. “Flying off on Tangents”: Katherine Mansfi eld’s Short Stories 29­ - MARÍA CASADO VILLANUEVA


MARÍA CASADO VILLANUEVA Chapter 2. “Flying Off on Tangents”: Katherine Mansfi eld’s Short Stories This article discusses Mansfi eld’s position in relation to Modernism tak- ing up Slavoj Žižek refl ections on modernist practice. A reading of three widely anthologized stories, “The Daughters of the dead Colonel”, “Bliss” and “The Garden Party” illustrates Mansfi eld’s affi liation to modernism, since modernist aesthetics, according to Žižek, puts an emphasis on the incompleteness of the symbolically structured reality and hints to alterna- tive spheres of enjoyment neatly separated from the prevailing patriarchal ideology. Through the dissection of female experience, a particular use of language and textual indeterminacies, Mansfi eld’s short stories disclose the imperfections of the symbolic order and present reality and identity as arbitrarily constructed notions. The meaning of the stories is multiplied by the appearance of subsidiary details and marginal narratives which evidence the impossibility of a univocal interpretation. Josephine and Constantia, protagonists of “The Daughters of the dead Colonel”, face the void which lays at the core of their existence and the social prac- tices which only superfi cially fi ll their insignifi cant lives but also undergo experiences which escape the control of paternal authority. Bertha Young, in “Bliss”, misinterprets and disguises her true desires but these are none- theless articulated through an underlying narrative which unveils the inconsistency of her notions of reality. Laura Sheridan’s ‘coming of age’ adventure in “The Garden Party”, stages a process of gentrifi cation of the traumatic and of its...

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