Bumps, births and breasts : Maternity in late-twentieth and early twenty-first-century fiction

PhD Thesis

Mattar, Barbara Mary. (2022). Bumps, births and breasts : Maternity in late-twentieth and early twenty-first-century fiction [PhD Thesis]. Australian Catholic University https://doi.org/10.26199/acu.8z78w
AuthorsMattar, Barbara Mary
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

Bumps, Births and Breasts: Maternity in Late Twentieth- and Early Twenty-First-Century Fiction is a critical examination of a selection of novels and one short story that focus on pregnancy and the postpartum period, childbirth and breastfeeding. Themes of loss, sexual freedom, death, homebirth, threat, containment and salvation are discussed in relation to the way maternity is represented.

Using the key categories of dominant, residual and emergent from social theorist Raymond Williams, who describes cultural elements that may work as counter-hegemonies to dominant cultural practices, in conjunction with feminist and matricentric theory, the thesis identifies some of the origins of late twentieth-century representations of the maternal body and the relationship these representations have to twenty-first-century literature.

The fifteen texts discussed in this thesis were published between 1976-2001. These works are written by North American, British and Irish authors Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Emma Donoghue, Maggie O’Farrell, Lori Lansens, Ami McKay, Lissa M. Cowan and Patricia Ferguson, alongside Australian authors Helen Hodgman, Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Nikki Gemmell, Fiona Higgins and Christos Tsiolkas.

The thesis argues that literature on the maternal published in the twenty-first century maintains a strong reliance on historical understandings of ideal motherhood as well as being deeply influenced by second-wave feminist perspectives that viewed maternity as the loss of self. Despite this fiction being indebted to residual, that is, new appropriations of remnants of the past and dominant images of the role of the wife which are currently in cultural use, the emotions of the new mother and the relationship between mothers and their community, some writers have used literature to re-present the maternal body and the figure of the first-time mother in ways that critique hegemonic understandings of motherhood. The emergent qualities of these texts are identified, categorised and discussed to establish a critical vocabulary with which to expand the study of literature on the maternal.

Keywordsmother; literature; pregnancy; childbirth; breastfeeding; maternity
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26199/acu.8z78w
Page range1-277
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Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online07 Aug 2023
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