The above epigraph is from chapter 26 of Mortimer Cropper’s The Great Ventriloquist, his study of the Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash. It is one of the many fictional intratexts of Antonia Byatt’s novel. Even these few lines give us a sense of Cropper’s fulsome, self-satisfied prose; further acquaintance reveals that his research has little to do with ‘measured judgment’ or a ‘desire for full and calm knowledge’ and much to do with his own tortuous psyche. At the end of the book, Cropper does, indeed, ‘come a cropper’ when he is caught plundering the grave of Ash to retrieve the material that has been buried with him. The impulse to destroy or hide is evident in the texts that feature in this chapter. In Jane Gardam’s story, ‘The Sidmouth Letters’, Annie, the author heroine, inherits some lost love letters of Jane Austen and with complete ‘measured judgment’ destroys them, unread. In Ursula Le Guin’s short story, ‘Sur’, a group of South American ladies reach the South Pole three years in advance of the Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen. One writes a report about the trip but doesn’t publish it. In Michèle Roberts’s The Looking Glass, a number of potential female writers hesitate about writing and publishing.2 If the figure of the woman author in contemporary fiction has demanded access to the cultural sphere and support for her role as author, she has also on occasions expressed considerable doubt about what she is getting into.


Symbolic Capital Surrogate Mother Cultural Sphere Student Essay Speaking Subject 
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© Mary Eagleton 2005

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