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The feminine subject in Mahy’s Tricksters

May 25, 2012

In her review of The Feminine Subject in Children’s Literature (by Christine Wilkie-Stibbs, New York: Routledge, 2002), Roberta Seelinga Trites, whose work I always seek out, writes:

“Many of us have recognized intuitively – and analytically – that children’s literature lends itself well to readings of feminist theory because so much of it is grounded in the female worlds of home and the female-dominated professions of teaching and librarianship.” (116)

In The Feminine Subject, Wilkie-Stibbs proves her point with Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters, Memory, The Other Side of Silence, The Changeover, and Dangerous Spaces; and Gillian Cross’ Pictures in the Dark and Wolf. “Her reading of The Tricksters,” Seelinger Trites states, “is one of the most sensitive and convincing I have ever read.” (117) HIGH PRAISE! …”she notes the metafictionality of the text that resides in the desire of the protagonist – Harry – to create fiction and in the metafictionality ghost-like characters that evolve from her narrative, Felix, Ovid, and Hadfield. Wilkie-Stibbs reads the metafictionality of these characters as an expression of unconscious desire, as ‘the projection of [Harry’s] repressed desire for ego-recognition, a textual unconscious mirroring her own unconscious’ (48). Wilkie-Stibbs observes that the girl’s writing is paradigmatic of the ‘struggle’ women writers have in resolving their artistic and sexual selves: ‘Harry’s love affair with her story is a textual jouissance worked out in the act of writing’ (49). Wilkie-Stibbs then assesses how concepts of the fantastic, the carnivalesque, the incest taboo, and the gaze manifest themselves in The Tricksters. Her assessment is no mere trick of identifying various textual phenomena as parts of an anatomy, either; rather, her identifications of these aspects of the narrative afforded me entirely new, multiple interpretations of a respect-worthy novel. Wilkie-Stibbs demonstrates how intertextuality in this text ‘intersubjectively implicates’ the reader in the interpretation of the text, and she carefully identifies any number of intertextual references that empower both character-as-subject and reader-as-subject (57).” (117)

“In perhaps one of the book’s most intelligent moments, Wilkie-Stibbs acknowledges the inherent humanism that informs most authors of children’s and adolescent literature. Most authors understand that offering the reader narratives in which all meaning is completely destabilized and all values are rendered completely relativistic would be virtually impossible for this genre. But Wilkie-Stibbs indicates that this does not make the literature incapable of postmodernism. Instead, she describes how postmodern authors – especially those writing in the feminine – ‘appropriate [-p.118] postmodern technologies inter-diegetically, that is, at the level of story and fictional worlds’ in order to create spaces for readers to experience texts that ‘feature, and imply, decentered, fragmented subjectivities but [that] resist dissolution of the subject’ (125, emphasis in the original). Readers are not told that their subjectivities are untenable, but they are invited into destabilized subjectivities that allow the possibility to exist.” (117-118)

Wilkie-Stibbs also provides a unique insight into landscape in adolescent novels as a function of psychic space; the initial material on which that chapter is based first appeared in this journal in Summer, 2000. Readers looking to better understand concepts of subjectivity and agency, the discourse of the female body, madness, the Name of the Father, and mother-daughter relations will find The Feminine Subject in Children’s Literature useful. …Wilkie-Stibbs’ understanding of Transference has much to recommend it to scholars of children’s literature and of psychoanalysis. In childhood, when identification with characters is sometimes so complete, the implications for literary Transference are tremendous. Wilkie-Stibbs’ goal is to depict the ‘possibilities for the feminine postmodern in children’s literature’ (175). She has achieved that goal by demonstrating how women’s bodies and women’s subsequent understanding of non-linear time affect plot structure, and, by employing tropes ranging from the fantastic to water, allow us to read feminist children’s literature in exciting and empowering ways.” (Trites, 118)

Ref: The Feminine Subject in Children’s Literature (by Christine Wilkie-Stibbs, New York: Routledge, 2002), reviewed by Roberta Seelinga Trites in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly (bother I have no more details than that on my print out – search the journal’s site?), pp116-118

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