I’m really pleased to say that my new article, “Feminism’s Family Drama: Female Genealogies, Feminist Historiography, & Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women“, has just been published in Feminist Theory, and you can read it online and download it for free.
I loved writing this piece, not least because I love the novel by which it was inspired. Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women (2009) is a patchwork of short stories about several generations of women who are all connected by one shared ancestor: a suffragette who, in the early twentieth century, starved herself to death. Skipping forward and backward in time between the late Victorian period, the onset of the First World War, the Second World War, the 1990s, and the early 2000s, the stories explore the relationships between the women whose stories they tell. Each woman feels differently about the activism and death of Dorothy Trevor Townsend, their suffragette relative. When we speak of feminist history, we often speak of mothers and daughters, and of feminist generations. It’s a curious choice, of course, given that much of the feminist project has, for centuries, been about seeing women as more than familial creatures, as more than mothers, daughters, and sisters. So why are we so hesitant – even as feminist scholars – to let go of this notion of feminist generations? Walbert’s novel, I suggest, helps us think through this question. By exploring the relationships between female and feminist generations, and between mothers and daughters, A Short History of Women explores the potentials and drawbacks of the ways in which we talk about feminist history. To me, it is one of those exceptional works of fiction which combine theory and practice. It is not simply a novel to be analysed through a feminist lens, but it is a novel that makes a contribution to feminist theory, that works through key questions of feminist history and historiography in a creative way.