Fiction: From Realism to Postmodernism and Beyond

  • Clare Hanson
Part of the The History of British Women’s Writing book series (HBWW)


Over the last four decades, fiction written by women has moved from the margins to the centre of British culture. In 2012, for example, Hilary Mantel dominated the literary landscape, winning the Man Booker prize for the second time with Bring up the Bodies, which also won the Costa Novel and Costa Book of the Year awards. Congratulating Mantel, the chair of the Man Booker panel described her as ‘the greatest modern English prose writer’, an accolade that was widely endorsed.1 What is striking about Mantel’s success is that it came out of her return to the historical novel, a genre which has often been dismissed as popular and escapist.2 Mantel rereads and reinvents the genre, exploiting its ambivalent position between fact and fiction in order to probe the permeable boundaries between the past and the present, the living and the dead. Taking Mantel’s achievement as its cue, this chapter argues that a self-conscious approach to narrative form is the most salient feature of fiction written by women in this period. The existing conventions of realism came under pressure as such writers probed the limits of representation, aiming to put ‘new wine into old bottles’, as Angela Carter (1940–92) so memorably expressed it.3 Realism is an umbrella term, referring to a disposition rather than a form. As Andrzej Gasiorek has suggested, it signals ‘not so much a set of textual characteristics as a general cognitive stance vis-a-vis the world, which finds different expression at different historical moments’.4


Woman Writer Domestic Sphere Domestic Space Blended Family Literary Fiction 
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© Clare Hanson 2015

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  • Clare Hanson

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