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Inventing the Suffragettes

Anachronism, Gnosticism and Corporeality in Contemporary Fiction

Katharine Cockin

The longevity of the ‘suffragette’ as a sign of rebellion and dissidence in contemporary British culture is significant.1 Anachronistic citations of the ‘suffragettes’, in novels such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (1999), My Life on a Plate (2000), Kingdom Swann (1990), Suffragette City (1999), the film Mary Poppins (1964) and the performance art of Leslie Hill, invite closer inspection. For the female political subject, the body was a site of ideological conflict during the British campaigns for women’s suffrage in the early years of the twentieth century and it continues to haunt feminist subjectivities and gender transgressors. Ever since members of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), formed in 1903 and led by Emmeline Pankhurst, became known as the ‘suffragettes’ they have been mythologised and reinvented for different purposes. The suffragettes have persisted in popular culture, but perversely reduced to a name and a fatal action: Pankhurst, and that woman who threw herself under the horse. In her investigation of the representation and memorialisation of Emmeline Pankhurst in the period 1930–93, Laura E. Nym Mayhall (1999) has established that the ‘suffragette’ became a ‘symbol of modernity’, a ‘symbol of women’s political activism more generally’, privileging a particular understanding of militancy: ‘militant action, defined narrowly as violence against property, through arrest to incarceration and, eventually, the hunger-strike and forcible feeding’. Mayhall rightly emphasises the constructedness of these representations, and demonstrates the pre-eminence of Emmeline Pankhurst as a signifier of the ‘suffragette’.

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Introduction

Friends and Family Figures in Contemporary Fiction

Katharine Cockin

During the twentieth century, scientific advances, especially in the field of reproductive technologies, have fundamentally altered ideas about parenting, the family and what it means to be human. In the 1980s, the family became a significant site of political conflict in the UK when family values were defended and so-called pretended families were condemned. New information technologies make it possible for online chat between friends who have never met. Changes in legislation have defined and protected the rights of the child and spectacular campaigns have developed for fathers’ rights. Meanwhile tracing your family history has become one of the most popular hobbies.

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Introduction

Contemporary Fiction

Katharine Cockin

Contemporary fiction has to address all manner of uncertainties. Those brought about by scientific developments and related social changes are possibly most acute in novels which experiment with the new science of cloning and reproductive technologies. Here there is often an explicit exploration of what it means to be human. As Eva Sabine Zehelein’s article shows, the capability of science to replace sexual reproduction is explored as a potentially liberating idea by the scientist-author, Carl Djerassi. His novel provides a means of educating the reader about science as well as providing a testing-ground for the ethical issues which face today’s scientists. Notably it is the long-term effects of scientific inventions in reproductive technologies which require hard thinking today. While these concerns will be considered by scientists and legislators, they are certainly being tested in the relative freedom of the novel. Thus Eva Hoffmann’s The Secret demonstrates that, to some extent, it is the clone who exposes what is taken for granted as human. Susan Stuart illustrates here the critical perspective offered by this novel. Whatever scientific interventions and biological crafting are involved in the creation of new life, the complexity of the decisions and actions of the life created provides a rich source of narrative exploration, especially in the bildungsroman form.

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Zoë Brigley, Katharine Cockin, Katharine Cox, Julie Ellam, Sinead McDermott, John McLeod, Estella Tincknell and Catherine Wynne

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Dennis Brown, Ana-Isabel Aliaga-Buchenau, Katharine Cockin, Vybarr Cregan-Reid, Joseph A. Tighe and Peter Wilson

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Richard Brown, Katharine Cockin, Bethan Jones, Lawrence Phillips, Gill Plain, Susan Stuart, Sabine Vanacker and Eva-Sabine Zehelein

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