Narrative Conventions And Lesbian Desire University / English Lit Essay

2432 words - 10 pages

One subversive way of encoding lesbian desire has been through undermining dominant textual narrative strategies. Compare how Cather, in My Antonia, and Stein, in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, rework narrative conventions as a possible strategy to encode or reflect lesbian desire in their works.
Both Cather and Stein are seen as authors who create a lesbian narrative space within their work. Marilyn Farwell argues that a lesbian narrative space occurs ‘when two women seek another kind of relationship than that which is prescribed in the patriarchal structures’ (Farwell, 1990, p.98). This meant that the period in time limited an author in terms of what they were able to write about, and this was because it was not socially acceptable to be openly lesbian. Therefore, a theory of Lesbian reading, known as resistive reading, is used to find a place of alterity or otherness in the text to critique heteronormative practices of reading. Both Cather’s My Ántonia and Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas seem to rework the narrative conventions in order to encode lesbian desire in their works. Cather does this through detailed descriptions of landscape and nature as she is able to encode hidden sexual meaning within the description. Furthermore, she portrays heterosexual relationships as negative and critiques conventional gender norms through heterosexual characters in the novel. Finally, she uses a feminised male narrative voice as her own. This is similar to Stein as she also uses a narrative voice that is of her lesbian lover, Alice Toklas. Stein also encodes female desire through complicated syntax and lack of punctuation; this break from traditional writing is seen as defying the patriarchal constructs. Finally, the descriptions of her and Alice’s daily lives encode the relationship that they have together as it portrays a mimicking of a heterosexual relationship, just as the ‘geniuses and their wives’. ‘In opening a new narrative space, the reader can forge a subtext that explores female desire while the main text does not. The subtext gives us the possibility for a transgressive narrative’ (Farwell, 1990, p.102).
There seems to be a dominant body of Cather criticism that sees My Ántonia as a heterosexual love story due to the many heterosexual relationships within the novel. However, it could be read as a critique of conventional gender norms as Cather uses the portrayal of conventional heterosexual relationships in a negative light. Ántonia is a perfect example of this, having been ‘deserted’(Cather 1994, p.223) by Larry Donovan while pregnant and ‘never married’(Cather 1994, p.223) she had become ‘an object of pity’(Cather 1994, p.223). Whereas, Lena Lingard ‘that was always a bad one…had turned out so well’ (Cather 1994, p.233). Lena is a working woman who refuses to accept the constraints society placed upon her. Even when society predicts that by becoming a dressmaker instead of marrying she will fail and become a "loo...


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