Mapping and re-mapping the city: representations of London in black British women’s writing

Danaher, Katie (2018) Mapping and re-mapping the city: representations of London in black British women’s writing. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis maps and re-maps literary London through an engagement with selected novels by Diana Evans, Bernardine Evaristo and Andrea Levy. The thesis builds on the work of very strong strands of black British women’s writing, an area of writing that remains committed to the necessity of having to defend it. I argue that the literature of this group of contemporary women writers re-orientates trajectories of black British writing to focus on emerging distinctive London identities in the twenty-first century. The thesis charts a shift in black British women’s writing which rewrites familiar postcolonial tensions around nationhood, displacement and unbelonging to articulate a rootedness in London. Evans’, Evaristo’s and Levy’s sense of belonging stems from the city in which they were all born and raised, their ‘London-ness’ rendering a new form of selfhood which informs who they are and what they write.

The study is motivated by an agenda to critique black British women’s writing outside of the historical paradigmatic racial and gendered identities through which it has traditionally been read. I wish to attend to women’s writing in a way which disturbs the canon of contemporary British fiction, reconfiguring predominately male narratives of London life to present an alternative view of the city. The study assesses Evans’, Evaristo’s and Levy’s contributions to and reappraisal of long traditions of women writing novels of family and home. The novels I engage with are localised within a particular London postcode, foregrounding the importance of microcosmic conceptions of home and domestic spaces to constructions of belonging in a multifaceted, complex urban environment such as London. The role of family is central to the authors’ narratives and the thesis explores familial women’s relationships which are both nuanced and complicated. The trope of sisterhood is deployed across the texts and raises profound questions concerning ideological constructions of belonging and home.

The thesis grounds itself intellectually at the nexus of debates in the fields of feminist discourse, postcolonial theory and contemporary urban theory, implementing them within a more fluid critical framework capable of reading the literature by this group of writers outside rigid categorising partitions. To not attend to questions of race and gender within their works would be to distort the thematic framework underpinning the novels. Nevertheless, I wish to re-inflect the ways in which we critique London writing to encourage the emergence of a new language which allows us think about it as organically diverse, rather than consciously or systematically ‘multicultural’.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0111 Women authors
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0120 Other classes of authors, A-Z > PR0120.B55 Blacks
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0750 Prose > PR0820 By form > PR0821 Prose fiction. The novel > PR0825.5 Special topics > PR0830 Other special topics, A-Z > PR0830.L65 London
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2018 15:03
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

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