‘Better a prison … than a madhouse!’: Incarceration and the Neo-Victorian Fictions of Sarah Waters’.

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Abstract

The neo-Victorian fiction of Sarah Waters suggests that all its women are in prison, either physically or psychologically. Every woman in Waters’s texts is trapped; the queerly imprisoned, her primary focus, are simply more visibly so. Sometimes she writes her women into prisons of their own making. Sometimes she incarcerates them in the snares of others, notably other women who, far from offering a mutual support network, use and abuse their sisters with scant regard for the consequences. To determine what entraps women in her neo-Victorian novels, and how far they are complicit in their own incarceration, this chapter explores the meanings of women’s literal and metaphorical imprisonment in Affinity (1999), a ghost story, and Fingersmith (2002), an exposé of London’s criminal underworld and England’s pornographic fiction-trafficking elite. The literal prisons in these texts include local houses of correction, national penitentiaries and the lunatic asylum, whereas the metaphorical imprisonment of Waters’s women takes place everywhere, although it is in familial incarceration and the incarceration of professional servitude that Waters is especially intrigued.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSarah Waters and Contemporary Feminisms
EditorsJones Adele, O’Callaghan Claire
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages133-151
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781137506085
ISBN (Print)9781137506078
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2016

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