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Persuasive Fictions

Anna Wilson

Feminist Narrative and Critical Myth

2001
161 pages
$34.50
ISBN 0-8387-5482-1
LC 00-065129

Anna Wilson's Persuasive Fictions: Feminist Narrative and Critical Myth offers a provocative new picture of how feminist texts have historically succeeded or failed to change people's lives. Using a range of narrative genres -novels and autobiographies, feature and documentary films, political pamphlets and feminist critical narratives- Wilson challenges the critical myth that feminist texts are naturally effective instruments for raising consciousness or promoting social change. From Marry Wollstonecraft's novels to Thelma and Louise or the prose and films of Audre Lorde, her book documents how the first reception of a feminist work -whether in the 1790s or the 1990s- generates a truly unpredictable history of personal and political responses among readers, including the later critical interpretations that try to decide whether a text successfully "resists" the dominant values and powers of its culture.

Wilson thus puts feminist narratives into a history of persuasion, finding that contemporary critics are often far too confident and sanguine about deciding the political effect of texts that, put to use in the public sphere, can turn from ideological successes into historical failures as cultural conditons transform authorial intentions or public and private ways of reading. Accentuating the practical and the unpredictable in the history of feminist texts, Wilson offer sophisticated sociocultural methoeds of gauging the historical effects and reversals of works like Marilyn French's bestseller The Women's Room or Jonathan Kaplan's film The Accused. To these kind of populist texts, she compares the prose and filmic works of Audre Lorde and the "counter-public sphere" her works address, a highly focused public that now extends to feminist academic critics. Her book thereby ranges from the popular to the most theoretical idioms of feminist critical understanding and mythmaking, and from social to personal transformation as possible scenes where feminist fictions attempt to change lives.

Recent cultural and feminist critics have needed fiction, films, and other texts to be politically effective at a time when other paths of collective social transformation seem blocked. A feminist novelist herself, Wilson writes with an unusual grasp of both the theoretical-interpretative issues facing academic feminist criticism and the local, experiential conditions of writing feminist texts to produce political change. The result is a vigilant yet hopeful work of cultural criticism that maps new ways for thinking about the feminist text as "fragile, fallible, and contingent" in its effort to be an instrument for cultural and political change.

About the author:

Anna Wilson is a Lecturer in American Studies at Birmingham University, England. Her previous publications include the novels, Cactus, Altogether Elsewhere, and Hatching Stones.

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