‘The Beauty of the Bones’: A feminist theological engagement with the fiction of Michèle Roberts and Sara Maitland

Fisk, Anna Elizabeth (2012) ‘The Beauty of the Bones’: A feminist theological engagement with the fiction of Michèle Roberts and Sara Maitland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b2935428


This thesis draws on the literature of the British second-wave feminist writers Michèle Roberts and Sara Maitland, as well as theological discourse, to explore certain tensions in feminist theology. The introduction explains my wish for theological reflection to resist systematised reconstruction, arguing that feminist theology should attend to the fragments of deconstructed religious tradition, rather than attempt to rebuild it.
The first section is concerned with methodology, explaining how this thesis aims to do theology through reading women’s stories ‘beside my own’. Chapter One, ‘Annunciation’, explores the practice of bringing one’s own ‘stories’ into theological reading. This is contextualised with a critical survey of the use of the personal voice in recent academic discourse. I then further explore the issue of ‘narrative selfhood’, as it pertains to women’s life writing, and the telling of my own stories. I then give an overview and discussion of the ‘narrated selves’—as disclosed in their writing and interviews—of the novelists Michèle Roberts and Sara Maitland, utilising the image of self-narration as ‘annunciation’. ‘Visitation’, the second chapter of Section One, turns to the visitation as representative of the creative power of encounter with other women. My theological reading of Roberts and Maitland’s writing is a ‘visitation’; in turn their writing is generated from multiple and interrelated visitations. I consider this in terms of the communal context of feminist writing practice, feminist revisioning of women encountered in myth and history, and the relationships that readers have with books.
In Section Two, ‘Sex, Sin and Our Selves’, I put into practice the method of theological reflection envisioned in Section One as ‘annunciation’ and ‘visitation’. I use personal narrative, the literature of Roberts and Maitland, and theological discourse, to explore problematic issues in feminist theology, all of which were raised in Valerie Saiving’s 1960 article, ‘The Human Situation: A Feminine View’. Saiving put forward the idea of self-negation as ‘the female sin’, and the questions she asked about how we conceive of our selves and our relationships with others—how to love and yet maintain one’s own integrity—continue to be relevant. In Chapter Three, I explore the tension between women’s need for autonomous selfhood, and feminist emphasis on connectedness and relationality. I then turn to psychoanalytic accounts of subjectivity as explanatory narratives of the conflicting human desires for separation and connection. Chapter Four considers how Saiving’s themes of sin and self-sacrifice in the Christian tradition have been radically critiqued in feminist theology, whilst arguing that feminism tends to privilege ideals above reality in its contention with issues of suffering. In the following chapter, I revisit the discussion of eros and loss of self taken up in the third chapter, via the interplay of sexuality and religious experience in ‘erotic asceticism’. A critique of feminist theology’s reliance on purity and certainty echoes throughout the second section of this thesis: the final chapter looks to the sea for a metaphorical way of thinking about the divine that does not reinscribe such idealised notions, but provides images that combine the feminine with a sense of darkness and terror amidst the possibility of grace.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available once any embargo periods have expired
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: Walton, Dr. Heather
Date of Award: 2012
Embargo Date: 18 May 2015
Depositing User: Dr Anna Fisk
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3387
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 May 2012
Last Modified: 15 May 2024 12:02
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.3387
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/3387

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