Regeneration, Redemption, Resurrection: Pat Barker and the Problem of Evil
Is Pat Barker a feminist or a realist novelist? Barker’s early novels, Union Street (1982), Blow Your House Down (1984) and Liza’s England (1986), all focus on working-class women, victims of poverty and violence, factory workers and prostitutes: ‘women who have got short shrift both in literature and in life’.1 But her great success, particularly in the 1990s (the first novel in her acclaimed Regeneration trilogy was published in 1991), has to a large extent been associated with a move away from feminism, ‘to male protagonists, a favouring of the masculinised spheres of pub, battlefield, hospital or government, and a leaning towards the epic rather than domestic scale’.2 The Man Who Wasn’t There (1988), the Regeneration trilogy (1991–5) and Barker’s subsequent three novels, Another World (1998), Border Crossing (2001) and Double Vision (2003), all focus primarily on male protagonists, and it has become something of a commonplace to say that Barker has become no longer (just) a feminist, that she has achieved ‘double status as [a] feminist and mainstream writer’.3 Barker has been hailed for her exploration of manhood and masculinity, and her ability to ‘write outside her experience’.4 As Maya Jaggi writes, ‘By the late 1980s Barker had published three highly praised novels, but she was pigeonholed as northern, working-class, feminist and gritty’; in 1999, Michael Thorpe wrote that ‘If any contemporary English novelist has made redundant that male reviewer’s discriminatory phrase woman novelist, it is Pat Barker’.5
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