The Submerged Plot and the Mother's Pleasure from Jane Austen to Arundhati Roy

Kelly A. Marsh

Theory and Interpretation of Narrative


LITERARY CRITICISM / General LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh LITERARY CRITICISM / Feminist LITERARY CRITICISM / Women Authors
296 pp. 6x9

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Table of Contents


The Submerged Plot and the Mother’s Pleasure from Jane Austen to Arundhati Roy is a very significant rereading of the Victorian courtship novel and its twentieth-century heirs. It recenters the courtship novel on the absent mother and revalues the vilified mothers in more recent stories of injured and alienated daughters. Marsh’s study makes significant contributions to feminist literary criticism, to narrative theory, and to scholarship on the novel.” —Margaret Homans, Yale University

“Marsh’s argument—a discovery of the submerged daughter plot as a telling of the absent mother’s unnarratable plot of sexual pleasure—is a rhetorical story narrative theorists and scholars more generally of the Anglophone novel of the nineteenth century to the present will find compelling. In addition, scholars of women’s studies and feminist criticism will find the work important, as it enriches our understanding of how the novel explores the rhetorical construction of mother-daughter relations and a woman’s sexuality and pleasure.” —Kay Young, University of California, Santa Barbara

In The Submerged Plot and the Mother’s Pleasure from Jane Austen to Arundhati Roy, Kelly A. Marsh examines the familiar, overt plot of the motherless daughter growing into maturity and argues that it is accompanied by a covert plot. Marsh’s insightful analyses of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglophone novels reveal that these novels are far richer and more complexly layered than the overt plot alone suggests. According to Marsh, as the daughter approaches adulthood and marriage, she seeks validation for her pleasure in her mother’s story. However, because the mother’s pleasure is taboo under patriarchy and is therefore unnarratable, the daughter must seek her mother’s story by repeating it. These repetitions alert us to the ways the two plots are intertwined and alter our perception of the narrative progression.

Combining feminist and rhetorical narratological approaches, Marsh’s study offers fresh readings of Persuasion, Jane Eyre, Bleak House, The Woman in White, The House of Mirth, The Last September, The Color Purple, A Thousand Acres, Bastard Out of Carolina, Talking to the Dead, and The God of Small Things. Through these readings, The Submerged Plot and the Mother’s Pleasure explores how the unnarratable can be communicated in fiction and offers a significant contribution to our understanding of narrative progression.

Kelly A. Marsh is Associate Professor of English at Mississippi State University.