Authorship and Meta-fiction in Carol Shields’ ‘Unless’ and Siri Hustvedt’s ‘The Summer without Men’

By Natalie Kon-yu.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will examine the importance placed on female authorship in two novels; Carol Shields’ Unless and Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer without Men. Given the recent criticism about the lack of recognition given to female authors in our society, this paper will detail the ways in which novels by women are being mis-read by their reviewers. Using Lionel Shriver’s review of Hustvedt’s novel, I will argue that by not acknowledging the meta-fictional impulses in the text, Shriver is ignoring the way in which the novel itself functions as a critique of a literary culture which continues to malign the works of female writers. This paper will position Hustvedt’s novel alongside Carol Shields’ Unless, and examine the meta-fictional impulses in both books. Drawing on post-structuralist theory and the work of Mary Eagleton, I will argue that the female author as protagonist in these two novels is critical and timely. Given that Barthes’ famous proclamation of the death of the author emerged at precisely the same time that works by minority writers–such as women writers, gay writers and writers of different ethnicities - were gaining cultural currency, not paying attention to the author figure seems particularly damaging. By placing female authors at the centre of their novels, I will argue that Hustvedt and Shields are reclaiming the importance of the woman writer in contemporary fiction.

Keywords: Female Author, Post-structuralism, Meta-fiction, Carol Shields, Siri Hustvedt

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 8, pp.45-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 748.900KB).

Dr. Natalie Kon-yu

Lecturer in Literary Studies, School of Communication and the Arts, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Natalie Kon-yu was awarded her PhD in English and the Creative Arts from Murdoch University, Western Australia. She is living in Melbourne and lectures at Victoria University in Creative Writing, Gender Studies and Literary Studies. Natalie was a recipient of the Australian Society of Author’s Mentorship for 2011 is working on her manuscript, ‘The list of missing things’, with Susan Hawthorne of Spinifex Press. Natalie is also part of an editorial collective which is developing an anthology about female friendship which will be published by Pan McMillan next year.

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