Imogen Free (KCL) - 2019-20 Students

The Politics of Aurality and Vocality in Late Modernist Women's Writing

My research investigates the relationship between modernist women’s writing and sound in the period prior to, during and just after the Second World War. It argues that between 1930-1956 three unique writers, Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Bowen and Jean Rhys, produced literary works that not only gave attention to the sonic, but developed a politics of aurality and orality. It examines the challenging, generative force that novel forms of sensory engagement and quotidian soundscapes play in modernist women’s writing of the time, arguing that these writers not only produced literary engagements that are wilfully entangled with newly quotidian networks and mediations of sonic experience, but that their engagement with the sonic serves to challenge hierarchies of perception, expression and identification. In so doing, this project argues for the author’s significant intervention in the ‘affective mobilisation’ of the sonic in this period, analysing the crucial role sound played in both forming and deconstructing the dynamics of gender, nationhood and subjectivity. It does so by exploring how their attention to the sonic in turn calls attention to, analyses or undermines these contemporary issues of identity, and of gendered identities in particular. Ultimately, this thesis argues that listening to literary sound is key to understanding the development of both the modern subject and the gender politics of the long modernist period. It thus argues for a feminist politics of sound, in which attentive listening can be a form of critique as well as engagement, just as re-sounding can be a means of writing back.

Primary supervisor: Professor Anna Snaith, KCL
Secondary supervisor: Dr Sam Halliday, QMUL

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