It’s happened, I’ve come to a point where the dam against my obsessive feminist passions has burst and now it must all spill forth onto this page. I’m sure upon seeing the title ‘Second-Wave Feminist Fiction’ most people will go ‘uuh..no thanks,’ as would I have, but these books aren’t rants against men or manifestos on the benefits of living bra-free. These are fantastic works of fiction which came from authors who spoke about and wrote on women’s issues and feminism in the mid-to-late 20th Century and onwards.
The three I have chosen here all follow a broad theme of sexuality, with Nin’s text being the most explicit by far. I think the ways in which female sexuality is explored and described in these texts is incredibly interesting – simply acknowledging its existence is a step forward from where we tend to still get stuck, culturally. Each of these is based in a reality somewhat shifted from our own (from Atwood’s horrifying, dystopian future to Carter’s world of fantasy and magic) which I think is rather telling in that these texts require a certain distance from the reader in order to gain their power and brilliant – is it possible the extreme distance of environment was necessary for readers to draw similarities to their own lives? Even if feminism isn’t quite your thing, each of these is still really quite a brilliant read.
Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
Most people will have come across this text at some point due to its presence on so many school curriculums, and with good reason. Set in a dystopian future in which few women are left able to have children and as such they become property of the newly developed totalitarian Christian state which issues the women to families as surrogate mothers. That is the plot at its absolute most basic level. This book is amazing, it explores so many ideas that I could probably write a 3-part series on it alone but I’ll keep it short. Following the tale of Offred (Of-Fred: belonging to Fred), we witness her gradual removal of agency and state-sanctioned enslavement and the regular rape rituals which occur.
This text is a warning of a possible future, in which nuclear contamination leaves populations devastated and women become machines of reproduction and are stripped of their humanity and autonomy. Just read it.
After this one, read: The Robber Bride
Angela Carter – The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
Published in 1979, Angela Carter’s collection of short stories is incredibly beautiful but also pretty dark. There is, as the collection title suggests, a lot of blood. There is blood from cuts, violence, murder, but also menstruation makes a few appearances as the young girls of the tales mature into womanhood. ‘The Bloody Chamber ‘ is the longest in the collection and is based on the plot of Bluebeard which
I can’t really talk about this collection without revealing any plots and they are much better when read for the first time. Anyone with a love of fairy tales and fantasy should find this collection entrancing.tells the tale of a young woman married off to an older, wealthy man with a secret love of violence. There are frequent instances of women transforming, being created and being destroyed, often by a man with whom she is enamoured.
After this one, read: Night at the Circus
Anaïs Nin– Delta of Venus
I’m going to admit, I haven’t finished this collection yet. Written in the 1940s for a private collector, this selection of erotic short stories, published in 1977 is pure Nin. She is known for embracing the taboo and giving her readers a shock, and she does this quite thoroughly. Reading this text over 70 years after its original composition, it still had the ability to make me go ‘oh no she didn’t!’ I’m not recommending this as an alternative to 50 Shades (but it probably works for that purpose too), but rather as a way into the writing of Nin. I first encountered her through House of Incest which I found incredibly difficult to understand in parts and quite excluding but when you learn to understand her direction and meaning it becomes a lot easier. I have read 10 of these short stories and I loved them all. Yes, they may be on a general theme of erotica but each has a distinct plot and events which makes them each a worthy read.
After this one, read: House of Incest