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Annihilation and writing selves in H.D., Jean Rhys, and Anne Stevenson

VOSS, HANNAH,MADELINE (2024) Annihilation and writing selves in H.D., Jean Rhys, and Anne Stevenson. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 14 May 2027.


My PhD analyses annihilation as a motivating force behind the literary production of H.D., Jean Rhys, and Anne Stevenson. The thesis examines the various annihilatory threats to women writers of the mid-century, looking particularly to the erasure inherent in transnational existence. The in-between existence constructed by these writers constitutes a kind of spectrality that imbues their poetry and prose, suggesting the figure of the ghost as an image for the transnational woman writer. Furthermore, I argue that in the writing of H.D., Rhys, and Stevenson, boundaries between reality and dream, imagination, and myth begin to break down, and suggest that these writers deliberately adopt a ‘dream-real’ mode that allows them to rewrite belonging and resist static interpretation and classification. In Chapter One, I argue that H.D.’s war trauma and atomic anxiety drive her to spiritualist practices that further her sense of reality as ruptured. In Chapter Two, I suggest that H.D.’s work suggests a desire for violent, annihilatory sexual encounters that enable her to access a higher poetic consciousness, culminating in her possessing such annihilatory power for herself. In Chapters Three and Four, I look to Rhys’s use of conspicuous absence to suggest a breakdown in reality and the destabilisation of a single, fixed system of knowledge. This analysis of silence points to an interpretation of the ghostliness and death-drive of Rhys’s protagonists as expressions of their autonomy, following an understanding of ‘negative’ or ‘passive’ feminist resistance. Chapter Five turns to Anne Stevenson, examining her ambivalent relationship to the institutions of the university and the home. Finally, Chapter Six examines Stevenson’s fear of annihilation as represented by her peers, and particularly by the figure of Sylvia Plath, arguing that Stevenson constructs Plath as a ‘madwoman’ so as to distance herself from the dangers of following poetic success to its extremes.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:16 May 2024 09:30

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