Comic visions, female voices: contemporary women novelists by Barbara Bennett

By Barbara Bennett

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Although most critics make a distinction between modern and postmodern literature, there is ample evidence showing another important break around 1970, especially in southern writing. Changes in literature at that time came about because of two powerful movements: women's liberation and civil rights. Both changed forever the face and the voice of the mainstream southern writer, which now is more often female and African American.  . "36 A talented and exciting group emerged from this era, some of whom are now established authorsfor example, Anne Tyler, Lee Smith, and Alice Walkerand others who are just beginning to make a contributionDorothy Allison, Tina McElroy Ansa, Sheila Bosworth, Dori Sanders, and Michael Lee West, among others.

30 Humor tests boundaries and pushes limits, doubly so for women. Although women have always known they could be funny, their humor has mainly been relegated to the kitchen, out of the range of male listeners and on the margins of patriarchal society. Giving voice to that humor in the realm of women is relatively safe, but recording that comic voice on paper is more dangerous and disruptive. Many feminist scholars have acknowledged the subversive nature of writing. In Gail Griffin's 1995 book, Season of the Witch: Border Lines, Marginal Notes, she claims that women instinctively have always known it, even as young girls in school: "I always saw writing, as opposed to speech, as secret, subversive, and immensely powerful, whether I was writing to a friend in class or writing poetry in my notebook instead of watching the film or taking notes.

Davis, "Alice Walker's Celebration of Self in Southern Generations," in Women Writers of the Contemporary South, ed. , Speaking for Ourselves: Women of the South (New York, 1984), xixii. 2. George Meredith, "An Essay on Comedy" (1877), rpr. in Comedy, ed. Sypher, 42. 3. O'Connor, Mystery, 199. 4. Lucinda H. , 1990), 105. Page 18 limited. Even into the twentieth century, the female voice is often absent. In Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, for example, each of the first three sections is narrated by one of the Compson brothers.

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