Female Authors & Meta-Fiction

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I am gathering here a list of meta-fictional works of literature (and extra info: reviews, essays) by women. After reading At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien, a classic novel (written by a male) that uses meta-fiction devices, I’ve become obsessed with collating a list of meta-fiction works by women for my own reading.

What is meta-fiction? William H. Gass coined the term metafiction in a 1970 essay entitled Philosophy and the Form of Fiction. Metafiction is a genre of fiction that draws attention to the fact that the reader is in the act of reading a work of fiction. It often adds a deeper dimension to the reading experience.

Patricia Waugh, in her book Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction ( a bit of a bible on metafiction) says, ‘Metafiction is an elastic term that covers a wide range of fictions.’ (pg18)

There are a number of terms that come under the meta-fiction umbrella: selfconscious narrative; post- modernist literature; self-reflexive fiction; surfiction; self begetting novel; fabulation; intertextuality; self conscious narrative; anti-novel; anti-mimetic; unnatural narrative; experimental fiction; meta-narration and many more.

And just to make things difficult I’ll leave here another quote from Patricia Waugh: ‘What I hope to establish… is that metafiction is a tendency or function inherent in all novels.’ (pg5)

Want to explore the idea further? You’ll find more on the genre at the other end of this ( sporadically but continually worked on) list.

(Australian Authors are highlighted in Blue)

 

Margaret Atwood (Canadian)  The Handmaid’s Tale(1985)

(Why is The handmaid’s Tale MF?: The Handmaid’s Tale concludes with a metafictional epilogue that explains that the events of the novel occurred shortly after the beginning of what is called “the Gilead Period”. The epilogue is “a partial transcript of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies” written in 2195. According to the symposium’s “keynote speaker” Professor Pieixoto, he and colleague, Professor Knotly Wade, discovered Offred’s story recorded onto cassette tapes. They transcribed the tapes, calling them collectively “the handmaid’s tale”. Wikipedia)

Other reading:

Margaret Atwood’s Metafictional Acts

Margaret Atwood’s Modest Proposal: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood HAPPY ENDINGS (1983)

Happy Endings is a short story first published in a 1983 Canadian collection, Murder in the Dark.

Read HAPPY ENDINGS here

More readings ON HAPPY ENDINGS 

The Mad Literature Professor; Margaret Atwood’s Happy endings

Margaret Atwood (Canadian) THE BLIND ASSASSIN (2000)

(Why is The Blind Assassin MF?: The book includes a novel within a novel, a roman à clef attributed to Laura but published by Iris. It is about Alex Thomas, a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. That embedded story itself contains a third tale, the eponymous Blind Assassin, a science fiction story told by Alex’s fictional counterpart to the second novel’s protagonist, believed to be Laura’s fictional counterpart. Wikipedia)

Jane Austen  NORTHANGER ABBEY (1817)

(Why is it M.F.? The Novel is a satire of the Gothic novels popular at the time of its first writing in 1798–99…. it contains many literary allusions…. [naming] many of the Gothic novels of that time and includes direct commentary by Austen on the value of novels, which were not valued as much as nonfiction or historical fiction.Wikipedia)

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (UK) 1847

My Thoughts on Jane Eyre as meta-fiction

Christine Brooke-Rose  BETWEEN (UK) 1968

Christine Brooke-Rose, THRU (1978) 1975

Brigid Brophy FLESH (U.K.) 1979

A.S. Byatt (English) POSSESSION (1990) Booker prize.

(Why is Possession MF? The novel follows two modern-day academics as they research the paper trail around the previously unknown love life between famous fictional poets.  The structure of the novel incorporates many different styles, including fictional diary entries, letters and poetry, and uses these styles and other devices to explore the postmodern concerns of the authority of textual narratives. from wiki)

Other readings:

A.S. Byatt’s Possession: A Postmodern perspective Analysis. 

(De)construction of the post modern in A.S.Byatt’s POSSESSION

Tongue Sophistries: Review: Possession by A.S.Byatt

Why You Should Read Possession (A.S Byatt)

A.S. Byatt, THE GAME (U.K.) 1969

Angela Carter (English) NIGHTS AT THE CIRCUS (1984)

(Why is it M.F.? Nights at the Circus incorporates multiple categories of fiction, including postmodernism, magical realism, and postfeminism. As in her previous works, Carter plays with many literary aspects and dissects the traditional fairy talestructure.Wikipedia)

More about this book:

Tall Tales and Brief Lives: Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus

Angela carter’s Nights at the Circus: A Histographical perspective

Tracy Chevalier, Girl With a Pearl Earring (U.K/U.S.) 1999

Joan Didion ( U.S.)  DEMOCRACY  (1984)

Why is Democracy MF? Democracy is unusual in that its narrator is not a character within the novel’s world but a voice whom Didion identifies as herself, a writer self-consciously struggling with the ambiguities of her ostensible material, the ironies attendant to narration, and the inevitable contradictions at the heart of any story-telling. Didion’s deft and economical use of this conceit allows her to comment not only upon the novel she chose to write, a romantic tragedy, but also upon the novel she chose not to write, a family epic encompassing generations of Inez’s wealthy Hawaiian family, artless emblems of the colonial impulse. Wikipedia)

Margaret Drabble  (U.K.) THE RADIANT WAY (1987)

Why is THE RADIANT WAY metafiction?

The Radiant Way is a highly complex work. Subverting traditional structures, using fiction to examine British society, and making comparisons and conversations between her own work and that of others.

‘More than 65 writers and about a dozen visual artists appear in the text…Experiments with Point of View by employing communal protagonists…….the entry of the narrator into the text…makes fictionality…a central theme…'(Bromberg)

Pamela S Bromberg writes extensively in her article Margaret Drabbles. The Radiant Way: Feminist Metafiction

‘The Radiant Way is in its acute self-relexiveness a

NYT Review: Growing Up Thankless By MARILYNNE ROBINSON

An Interview with!Dame Margaret Drabble,  Nick Turner

The Paris Review: Margaret Drabble, The Art of Fiction No. 70

Margaret Drabble, THE WATERFALL, (U.K.) 1969

Jennifer Egan, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD (U.S.) 2011

George Eliot, ADAM BEDE ( U.K.) 1859

Anne Enright, THE WIG MY FATHER WORE (Irish) 1995

Eva Figes, The Tree of Knowledge (U.K.) 1990

A novel about the daughter of the poet John Milton. It has a feminist theme and deals with women, religion and tyranny in 17th-century England.

Eva Figes Nelly’s Version 1977

In acclaimed author Eva Figes’ inventive reshaping of the pop psychological thriller, her fifth novel opens as Nelly Dean, a middle-aged woman suffering from amnesia, checks into a small-town hotel with a suitcase full of cash and no idea where it – or she – came from. Distrustful of everyone from the waiter who serves her lunch to a store clerk who claims to know her from grade school, Nelly fears she is part of a conspiracy, although she is strangely indifferent to the clues that might explain her puzzling circumstances. Part dark comedy, part mystery novel, Nelly’s Version offers an unsettling journey into the mind of a witty, intelligent woman stuck in a pastless present.

Elizabeth KOSTOVA (U.S.) THE HISTORIAN

The Historian ( FROM WIKIPEDIA) is the 2005 debut novel of American author Elizabeth Kostova. The plot blends the history and folklore of Vlad Țepeș and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula. The Historian has been described as a combination of genres, including Gothic novel, adventure novel, detective fiction, travelogue, postmodern historical novel, epistolary epic, and historical thriller.

Review by Bookslut

Dinah Lee KUNG (Swizerland) A Visit from Voltaire 

This is a quirky autobiographical comedy in which the phantom of Voltaire haunts her farmhouse as she tries to settle into life in Switzerland.

Guardian Review

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (U.K.) 1962

The Golden Notebook is the story of writer Anna Wulf, the four notebooks in which she records her life, and her attempt to tie them together in a fifth, gold-coloured, notebook. The book intersperses segments of an ostensibly realistic narrative of the lives of Molly and Anna, and their children, ex-husbands and lovers—entitled Free Women—with excerpts from Anna’s four notebooks, coloured black (of Anna’s experience in Southern Rhodesia, before and during World War II, which inspired her own best-selling novel), red (of her experience as a member of the Communist Party), yellow (an ongoing novel that is being written based on the painful ending of Anna’s own love affair), and blue (Anna’s personal journal where she records her memories, dreams, and emotional life). Each notebook is returned to four times, interspersed with episodes from Free Women, creating non-chronological, overlapping sections that interact with one another. This post-modern styling, with its space for “play” engaging the characters and readers, is among the most famous features of the book, although Lessing insisted that readers and reviewers pay attention to the serious themes in the novel (wikipedia)

Doris Lessing, (U.K.) THE FOUR-GATED CITY 1969

Doris Lessing, (U.K.) BRIEFING FOR A DECENT INTO HELL (U.K.)  1971

Doris Lessing, THE MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR (U.K.) 1974

Joan Lindsay, Through Darkest Pondelayo: An account of the adventures of two English ladies on a cannibal island (Australian) 1936

The book is presented as an autobiographical travel narrative.Lindsay wrote the novel as a satire on English tourists abroad after having spent significant time in Europe with husband. Included in the book are multiple photos, presented as lithographs, featuring Lindsay and friends posed in various simulations as the characters enacting events depicted within the narrative. The narrative is also littered with intentional grammatical errors. In reviewing the book, Martin Boyd called it “one of the best collections of malapropisms in the English language.

Penelope Lively, MOON TIGER (U.K.) 1987

Ki Longfellow, Houdini Heart (U.S.) 2011.

Daphne Marlatt  Ana Historic (1988) (Born Australian-lives Canada)

Ana Historic CanLitGuides

Toni Morrison, Jazz. (U.S.) 1992

The novel deliberately mirrors the music of its title, with various characters improvising solo compositions that fit together to create a whole work. The tone of the novel also shifts with these compositions, from bluesy laments to up beat, sensual ragtime. The novel also utilises the call and response style of Jazz music, allowing the characters to explore the same events from different perspectives.

This book utilise the style of untrustworthy narrators, in which reality is altered slightly by the storyteller’s emotions and perspective. Narration switches every so often to the viewpoint of various characters, inanimate objects, and even concepts. The book’s final narrator is widely believed to be Morrison or perhaps the book itself.

Iris Murdoch, UNDER THE NET 1954

Iris Murdoch, THE UNICORN 1963

Iris Murdoch, A FAIRLY HONOURABLE DEFEAT 1970

Iris Murdoch, THE BLACK PRINCE 1973

Iris Murdoch, A WORD CHILD 1975

Grace Paley, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. (U.S.) 1974

Marge Piercy, WOMEN ON THE EDGE OF TIME (U.S.) 1976

Ann Quin, PASSAGES, (U.K.) 1969.

Alice Randall, The Wind Done Gone. ( U.S.) 2001.

The Wind Done Gone (2001) is the first novel written by Alice Randall. It is a bestselling historical novel that tells an alternative account of the story in the American novel Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell. While the story of Gone with the Wind focuses on the life of a wealthy slave owner, Scarlett O’Hara, The Wind Done Gone tells the story of the life of one of her slaves, Cynara, during the same time period and events.

Wind Done Gone’ copyright case settled

ABC News Review

NYT 

Michele Roberts, IN THE RED KITCHEN  (U.K.) 1990

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (Dominica/U,K.) 1966

The novel is written as a prequel and response to Charlotte Brontë’s noted novel Jane Eyre (1847), describing the background to the marriage that Jane learns about after going to work for Mr. Rochester.

Nathalie Sarraute, THE GOLDEN FRUITS, (France) 1963

Nathalie Ssarraute BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH (France) 1968.

Murial Spark, The Comforters, (U.K. ) 1957

Murial Spark, MEMENTO MORI, (U.K. ) 1959K.) 1959

Murial Spark, THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE (U.K. ) 1960

Murial Spark, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (U.K. )  1961

Murial Spark, (U.K. ) THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS (U.K. ) 1963

Murial Spark, THE PUBLIC IMAGE (U.K. ) 1968

Murial Spark, THE DRIVER’S SEAT (U.K. ) 1970

Murial Spark, NOT TO DISTURB (U.K. ) 1971

Murial Spark, THE HOTHOUSE BY THE EAST RIVER (U.K. )  1973

Murial Spark, THE ABBESS OF CREWE (U.K. ) 1974

Rose Tremain, RESTORATION (U.K.) 1989

Guardian Review, Restoration by Rose Tremain

Satire Revised in Light of Thatcherism in Rose Tremain’s Restoration

Aritha Van Herk, Restlessness, ( CA ) 1998

Sarah Waters, TIPPING THE VELVET, 1998; AFFINITY, 1999; FINGERSMITH, 2002. (U.K.)

Guardian Interview with Sarah Waters Sept 2002

NYT review of Affinity

Guardian review of Fingersmith

A book club reflects on Affinity

Virginia Woolf, MRS DALLAWAY  (U.K.) 1925.

Turning Inwards: the journey from intertextuality to metafiction in Mrs Dalloway and Atonement

Virginia Woolf, An Unwritten Novel. 1920 Short story.

Virginia Woolf, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE (U.K.) 1827

Virginia Woolf, THE WAVES (U.K.) 1931

Fay Weldon, PRAXIS (U.K.) 1978

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (U.K.) 1987

Though nominally a historical novel, Winterson takes considerable liberties with the depiction of the historical setting and various strategies for interpreting the historical—making the novel historiographic metafiction

Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry (U.K.) 1989

Sexing the Cherry features elements of magical realism. Sexing the Cherry is a postmodernist work and features many examples of intertextuality. It also incorporates the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. (Wikipedia)

 Jeanette Winterson, The Powerbook (U.K.) 2000

Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries (U.K.)  1997

Common metafictive devices  (from Wikipedia) in literature include:

  • A story about a writer who creates a story; for example, John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor, a thoroughly fictional account of the life of real person Ebenezer Cooke, a Maryland colonist who in 1708 wrote the real satirical poem The Sotweed Factor. Barth’s Cooke is a naive innocent who sets out to write a heroic epic, becomes disillusioned and ends up writing a biting satire.
  • A story that features itself as a narrative or as a physical object; a notable example is Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which is ostensibly a 999-line poem of the same name, but with a foreword, index and extensive commentary in footnotes, from which so much detail is revealed of the lives of both poet and editor that a plot gradually emerges.
  • A story containing another work of fiction within itself; e.g. Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
  • Narrative footnotes, which continue the story while commenting on it; e.g. House of Leaves
  • A story that reframes or suggests a radically different reading of another story; for example, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, which retells the story of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre from the point of view of the madwoman in the attic; or J. M. Coetzee’s Foe, which recounts a battle of wills between Daniel Defoe and a castaway survivor over the writing of the story that would be eventually become Robinson Crusoe.
  • A story addressing the specific conventions of story, such as title, character conventions, paragraphing or plots; e.g. The Secret Series
  • A novel where the narrator intentionally exposes him or herself as the author of the story; e.g. Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, in which the first-person narrator—presumably Vonnegut himself, since he even shares Vonnegut’s birthday—regularly reminds the reader that the characters in the novel are fictions of his own creation:
    “I do not know who invented body bags. I do know who invented Kilgore Trout. I did.
    I made him snaggle-toothed. I gave him hair, but I turned it white. I wouldn’t let him comb it or go to a barber. I made him grow it long and tangled.
    I gave him the same legs the Creator of the Universe gave to my father when my father was a pitiful old man. They were pale white broomsticks. They were hairless. They were embossed fantastically with varicose veins.
    And, two months after Trout received his first fan letter, I had him find in his mailbox an invitation to be a speaker at an arts festival in the American Middle West.”
  • A story in which the authors refers to elements of the story as both fact and fiction; for example, in Joseph Conrad’s Author’s Preface to Nostromo, most of which provides a factual account of how he came to write the novel, Conrad states “My principal authority for the history of Costaguana is, of course, my venerated friend, the late Don Jose Avellanos, minister to the courts of England and Spain, etc., etc., in his impartial and eloquent ‘History of Fifty Years of Misrule.'” Thus Conrad, in a putatively factual context, attributes his intimate knowledge of the fictional country in which his story is set, to a fictional book written by one of his book’s characters.
  • A book in which the book itself seeks interaction with the reader, such as Art Spiegelman’s picture book Open me, I’m a dog!
  • A story in which the readers of the story itself force the author to change the story
  • A story in which the characters are aware that they are in a story
  • A story in which the characters make reference to the author or his previous work; for example, in Paul Auster’s City of Glass, the main character is an author of detective novels who writes under a pseudonym, and identifies closely with his own main character. He receives a phone call from someone seeking a detective named Paul Auster, and ends up posing as Paul Auster so as to take the case. Paul Auster is later found to be an author, not a detective.

These elements of metafiction are similar to devices used in metacinematic techniques.

Other Books/works on meta-fiction:

Metanarration and Metafiction by Birgit Neumann & Ansgar Nünning

Hutcheon, Linda, Narcissistic Narrative. The Metafictional Paradox, Routledge 1984,

Levinson, Julie, “Adaptation, Metafiction, Self-Creation,” Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture. Spring 2007, vol. 40: 1.

Patricia Waugh, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction, 1984

Extracts from Patricia Waugh’s Metafiction: the Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction (1984)

The following are other works on metafiction that I keep here just for my own reference, but please feel free to use them too!

  • Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (1989). “Self-reference in Literature.” Poetics 18, 491–515.
  • Peters, Joan D. (2002). Feminist Metafiction and the Evolution of the British Novel. Gainesville: UP of Florida.
  • Quendler, Christian (2001). From Romantic Irony to Postmodernist Metafiction: A Contribution to the History of Literary Self-Reflexivity in its Philosophical Context. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang.
  • Alter, Robert (1975). Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre. Berkeley: U of California P.
  • Booth, Wayne C. (1952). “The Self-Conscious Narrator in Comic Fiction before Tristram Shandy.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 67, 163–85.
  • Cutter, Martha J. (1998). “Of Metatexts, Metalanguages, and Possible Worlds: The Transformative Power of Metanarrative in C.P. Gilman’s Later Short Fiction.” American Literary Realism 31, 41–59.
  • Fludernik, Monika (1996). Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology. London: Routledge.
  • Fludernik, Monika (2003). “Metanarrative and Metafictional Commentary: From Metadiscursivity to Metanarration and Metafiction.” Poetica 35, 1–39.
  • Gass, William H. (1970). Fiction and the Figures of Life. New York : Knopf.
  • Genette, Gérard ([1972] 1980). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell UP.
  • Hutcheon, Linda (1980). Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox. New York: Methuen.
  • Hutcheon, Linda ([1989] 1996). “Incredulity toward Metanarrative: Negotiating Postmodernism and Feminisms.” K. Mezei (ed). Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology and British Women Writers. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 262–67.
  • Nünning, Ansgar (2004). “Towards a Definition, a Typology and an Outline of the Functions of Metanarrative Commentary.” J. Pier (ed). The Dynamics of Narrative Form: Studies in Anglo-American Narratology. Berlin: de Gruyter, 11–57.
  • O’Donnell, Patrick (2005). “Metafiction.” D. Herman et al. (eds). Routledge Encyclopedia of Narative Theory. London: Routledge, 301–02.
  • Prince, Gerald (1982). Narratology: The Form and Functioning of Narrative. Berlin.: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Prince, Gerald ([1987] 2003). A Dictionary of Narratology. Aldershot: Scolar Press.
  • Scholes, Robert (1970). “Metafiction.” Iowa Review 1, 100–15.
  • Šklovskij, Viktor (Shklovsky, Victor) ([1921] 1965). “Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary.” L. Lemon & M. Reis (eds). Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 25–57.
  • Waugh, Patricia (1984). Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London: Methuen.
  • Wolf, Werner (2009). “Metareference across Media: The Concept, its Transmedial Potentials and Problems, Main Forms and Functions.” W. Wolf (ed) in collaboration with Katharina Bantleon and Jeff Thoss. Metareference across Media. Theory and Case Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1–85.
  • Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (1989). “Self-reference in Literature.” Poetics 18, 491–515.
  • Peters, Joan D. (2002). Feminist Metafiction and the Evolution of the British Novel. Gainesville: UP of Florida.
  • Quendler, Christian (2001). From Romantic Irony to Postmodernist Metafiction: A Contribution to the History of Literary Self-Reflexivity in its Philosophical Context. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang.
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13 thoughts on “Female Authors & Meta-Fiction

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  1. Oh dear, I’ve got 489 reviews of works by female authors on my blog, but it didn’t occur to me to tag ’em meta-fiction! I am racking my brains but offhand, all I can think of are male examples, Lenin’s Kisses by Yan Lianke (clever use of footnotes); Miles Allinson’s new novel Fever of Animals and B S Johnson’s The Unfortunates, which is more experimental. Alexis Wright, maybe? I’d have to re-read it to be sure…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve just read Debra Adelaide’s The Women’s Pages, out in November, and it is an EXQUISITE act of metafiction. Very elegant and playful. I always love her writing. In the next issue of Newswrite magazine she is writing an article on ‘writing fiction about writing fiction’. I’m sure you’ll love it!

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  3. Hi Julie,

    I’m amazed at what one can learn… even on a Saturday morning.

    All the reading, here and on the net, about metafiction has got me thinking… could I play with the concept in a short story? Me taking a walk down Dublin’s streets, in the footsteps of Joyce or Beckett or Behan… maybe even interviewing them? I wonder what a chat with Oscar Wilde would reveal?

    Which all goes to show what happens when a real, published author hits the follow button on my blog!! Thanks a million… I’m always humbled when a writer or professional photographer finds something of interest here at OMBH!! 😉

    Thanks,
    AJ

    PS – I’m already jotting down a few lines of action… fun! 🙄

    Like

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