‘No time to mourn': Female characters and their preapocalyptic activities in the postapocalyptic short story

A. J. Ashworth

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Marco Caracciolo states that ‘postapocalyptic fiction implies and foregrounds a catastrophic rupture between a preapocalyptic and a postapocalyptic state of the storyworld’ (Caracciolo, 2018: 223), while James Berger argues that in order for an event to be ‘properly apocalyptic, [it] must in its destructive moment clarify and illuminate the true nature of what has been brought to an end’ (Berger, 1999: 5). Despite Berger’s claim that such an event would be an ‘utterly destabilizing disaster’ (Berger, 1999: 22), this paper will attempt to show how female characters in postapocalyptic landscapes resist notions of the end – often by continuing with preapocalyptic activities in a bid to find stability in a ruined or deeply changed world.
The paper will consider the idea of list-making in Carmen Maria Machado’s short story ‘Inventory’ (Machado, 2019) as well as the writing of a diary in Helen Simpson’s ‘Diary of an interesting year’ (Simpson, 2017), in order to explore how female characters, in particular, use preapocalyptic activities such as list-making or diary-writing to navigate dying or troubled landscapes. The paper will also engage with my own postapocalyptic short story ‘Maybe the Birds’, which is the story of a dying world and how a female sculptor, who fears she is becoming ill, decides to make ceramic bird syrinxes – or voice boxes – in a bid to try and keep birdsong alive. In what may be a final act of artistic activism, she hangs these in the trees so her dog can hear them when the wind blows, her legacy being to ‘leave him the birds’ after she has gone.
In a challenge to Caracciolo’s argument that postapocalyptic fiction usually ‘only implies the pre-world as a backdrop to the plot’ (Caracciolo, 2018: 224; emphasis in original), the paper will instead show that, in the short story, preapocalyptic activities – such as list-making, diary-writing and sculpture – are foregrounded and form part of the survival strategies of female characters in postapocalyptic landscapes.


ConferenceThe European Network for Short Fiction Research Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleENSFR Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Fiction

Research Groups

  • Fiction Writer's Network


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