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Negotiating the spaces of adultery : domesticity and the feminist adultery narrative Snowden, Kim Louise


This dissertation examines the representation of spatiality in female adultery novels by women. I explore the ways in which the characters of female adulterers negotiate public and private space, and how adultery affects women's access and mobility in terms of domesticity and acceptable forms of femininity. I argue that in representation there are often multiple and conflicting spatial frameworks and that for women, negotiating these spaces can be a feminist act. I examine four novels within this framework that all deal with female adultery and spatiality-Possession by A.S. Byatt, Other Women by Evelyn Lau, Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson, and Brick Lane by Monica Ali. There is an anxiety present in these narratives concerning the ways that public and private space inter-relate and the gendered body negotiates that space. This anxiety is represented in these texts as a spectral presence - in terms of ghosts, haunting, or a warning of what is to come. The repetition and reproduction of this anxiety binds the narratives to a repressive and sexist literary tradition where Victorian values linger in the lives of the characters, their actions, and the spaces that they occupy; the female adulterers' narrative spaces remain haunted by their literary forbears. The feminist negotiation of space in these adultery narratives is undermined through the creation of binaries-the presence and repetition of a failed domesticity suggests that there may be a successful way to produce domesticity-a model that cannot include the female adulterer. Further, failed domesticity and women's relationship to public and private space, especially in relation to marriage, can be linked to literary constructions of feminine respectability. The female adulterer becomes a site for all of these conflicts, contradictions, and anxieties and her relationship to spatiality becomes key for understanding her narrative function in a feminist literary canon. I argue that she is a feminist figure because her negotiation of space actually reveals the extent to which women are still limited by patriarchal discourses that espouse heteronormative constructions of marriage, fidelity, and family as the only socially acceptable and viable norms for women.

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