How women writers reclaimed the literary device & made it their own
I did a podcast episode on Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” in which a man tries to convince a pregnant woman to have an abortion. If one can put aside all the seeming anti-feminist baggage affiliated with him, I think the story is in dialogue with many of the ideas you present here. My very short take on the story is that the woman sees the world associatively/non-rationally, as an artist, who views the world as pregnant with meaning, whereas the man can only see the rational dimensions of experience. The podcast is Hemingway Word for Word, if you’re interested. But it strikes me that despite what is often said about him, Hemingway goes beyond just borrowing a female experience to use as a tidy representation of art.
So much good stuff here to think about! I am a former foster mother and was often a mother figure to my younger siblings but I don't have biological birth children and have no children in the home ... so my own relationship with motherhood is already complex and then I bring that to the question of whether I not I see my writing as my "baby." This gives such great historical context for a variety of perspectives. Love it.
In reading what you shared about Wroth, I immediately thought about Frida Kahlo. Her intense self-portraiture of body trauma including miscarriages is so powerful and I'm sure there was catharsis in creating it and claiming her own narrative around it.
Thoroughly enjoyable read! Also enjoy comments from readers. It’s difficult (for me) to respond without being too ‘wordy’. I feel that it’s a bit like looking through binoculars, from either the near sighted end of the small lens, or from the larger span from the wide angled distant perspective! As an (amateur) artist and lover of both art and literature, should I zoom in on a detail or make a sweeping statement using a wider brush! I shall ruminate (sit on the fence).
So much to consider here, Kate. What a wonderful piece. There isn’t a clear answer but I love the way you trace the metaphor of childbirth here.
What first strikes me is that in “old” literature, one is also dealing with much higher infant and mother death rates in childbirth, so the metaphor is changed (for me at least) into something like a miracle or fragile and also close to death, or a dangerous undertaking.
Then I can see how different articulations of feminism would see this metaphor as good/bad and it’s interesting to see similar intentions with opposing views. I do like Cixous!
Lastly (for now!) although sometimes it does feel problematic to me, the concept of something coming from within you, as a part of you, feels right when talking about writing. It might even be a desire by the male poet to give birth themselves.
This is so good. I never really had this on my radar previously but it really opens your (my) eyes. Great piece.
So good! I have always loved discussing this literary topic. I wonder: how does the device of childbirth intersect with another feminist literary concern, namely, that of women’s writing being persistently deemed as “biographical.” As if women writers can *only* write from a place of their own lived pain and experiences.
In a modernist lit course ago, we read several novels that concern childbirth and specifically post-partum depression. (The Shutter of Snow and Spleen.) I loved them both for the completely different treatments of the metaphor. Spleen is a *bizarre* and experimental grappling with this device because the main character, a mother named Ruth, believes that her artistic desire to bring something new into the world has resulted in her living child’s mental disability. 🤯 have you read that novel? I ended up writing a dissertation chapter on it because it was so fascinating and difficult to piece together.
Loved this week’s essay, as usual!!