When Money Defines the Workplace: Economics and the Woman Artist in Contemporary Fiction

Dr. Susan E. Lorsch
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Forced by the weight of convention, women artists have traditionally confined their art to the private realm: playing piano exquisitely in the parlor, fashioning beautiful crafts for the home. The artist's workplace, the public world in which art is displayed and remunerated, has traditionally been a man's world, off-limits to women. Taught to restrict her art within the "proper" sphere of home and family, the woman artist thus finds making the leap to the public realm of art particularly difficult. Indeed, the artists in contemporary women's artist-novels are notable for their efforts at escaping and avoiding art, at belittling their own efforts and denying their abilities.
In these artist-novels, the need for money for herself and her children gives the woman artist the justification, the strength and self-confidence, to seek an audience and declare her artistry to the world. However, in novels like Arnow's "The Dollmaker"(1954), Atwood's "Lady Oracle"(1976), Godwin's "Violet Clay"(1978), and Hazzard's "Sheltered Lives"(1980), while financial necessity frees the woman to embrace the public role of artist, it simultaneously leads her into a cruel economic cul-de-sac: justifying her art by making it profitable, she becomes trapped producing readily saleable hack work. In defining the role of the artist in the contemporary feminist Kunstlerroman, the commercial workplace both frees and limits the woman artist.

Keywords: Woman, Artist-Novel, Kunstlerroman, Money, Commercial, Workplace, Feminist
Stream: Analysing Artforms
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Susan E. Lorsch

Associate Professor of English Literature, English Department, Hofstra University

I received my Ph.D. from Brown University in 1977 and am a tenured member of the English Department at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York (on Long Island, just outside of New York City). I teach literature at all levels, from Freshman seminars (such as my current seminar on 20th Century Women and Creativity) to Upper-Level Honors Courses on various aspects of the novel (and sometimes film narrative, as well) to Graduate Courses (for example, on James Joyce). I have published a book (on depictions of "designified" nature in late-19th and early-20th Century literature), a volume on 18th-Century Women and tne Arts (as co-editor), and numerous articles in refereed journals on topics ranging from Swinburne's poetry to Margaret Atwood's fiction. I am currently at work on a wide-ranging reconstruction and analysis of the tradition of the feminist Kunstlerroman in English. I am studying the generic conventions at work in the one hundred or so novels by women about women artists (writers, painters, dancers, etc.)which I have been able to uncover. The novels include such well-known works as Willa Cather's "The Song of the Lark," Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse," and Zelda Fitzgerald's "Save Me the Waltz" and more obscure novels like Cholmondeley's "Red Pottage" and Pesetsky's "Author from a Savage People." The paper I am submitting for the conference is part of my current research.

Ref: A06P0134