Biblical Women in Contemporary Novels in English

From Margaret Atwood to Jenny Diski


How are well-known female characters from the Bible represented in late 20th-century novels? In Biblical Women in Contemporary Novels in English, Ingrid Bertrand presents a detailed analysis of biblical rewritings by Roberts, Atwood, Tennant, Diamant and Diski focusing on six different women (Eve, Noah’s wife, Sarah, Bilhah, Dinah and Mary Magdalene). She shows how these heroines give themselves a voice that rests not only on words but also on silences. Exploring the many forms that silence can take, she presents an innovative typology that sheds new light on this profoundly meaningful phenomenon.

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Ingrid Bertrand, Ph.D. (2011), is an Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at the Université Saint-Louis - Bruxelles and the Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium). She has published on biblical rewritings and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Her research interests are dystopias and manifestations of silence in novels.
List of Abbreviations
1Setting the Frame. Voices and Silences

Part 1: The Silenced Feminine?

2Ambivalent Responses to the Bible
 1Listening to the Implicit Dimension of the Bible
 2Challenging Women’s Silencing
 2.1Dumb Silencing
 2.2Garrulous Silencing
 2.3Deaf Silencing
3So Many Forms of Silencing to Denounce
 1The Demoted, Repressed Feminine: The Wild Girl
 2Amputated Subjecthood: The Handmaid’s Tale
 3Boarding the Ark of the Refusées: The Book of Mrs Noah
 4Beware of the Big Bad Lies: Sisters and Strangers
 5The Voiceless Cipher in the Text: The Red Tent
 6Battling Against God: Only Human
 7Feminist Responses to Women’s Silencing

Part 2: Voices Draped in Silences

Section 1:Encountering the Other through Silences. Diamant’s the Red Tent and Roberts’s the Wild Girl

4Dinah’s Ode to the Plural Mother
 1A Universe of Mothers and Goddesses
 2The Bliss and Burden of Silence
 2.1In the Image of the (Great) Mother(s)
 2.2From Eloquent Silence to Silencing
 2.3At One with the Mothers
5Mary Magdalene’s Quest for Identity and God
 1Introduction into the Ineffable Divine
 1.1A Voluptuous Dissolution of the Self
 1.2Ineffable Beauty and Harmony
 2Regaining Primeval Wholeness
 2.1Sexuality as a Route to the Divine
 2.2The Marriage between the Inner Man and the Inner Woman
 2.3The Rehabilitation of the Female Divine Principle
 2.4Celebrating Life and the Eloquent Silence of Intimacy
 3The Harrowing of Hell and Resurrection
 3.1Mary Magdalene’s First Trip to the Nether Realm
 3.2On the Erroneous Belief in the Bodily Resurrection
 3.3Mary Magdalene’s Second Harrowing Scene
 4The Voice of Female Dissent
 4.1Each of Us Is the Rock
 4.2Sailing in and to Silence

Section 2:Blurred Voices and Spectral Silences. Roberts’s the Book of Mrs Noah and Diski’s Only Human

6Mrs Noah’s Journey to Creativity
 1On the Polyphonic, Silent Use of Epigraphy
 1.1Echoing Donne’s Erratic Progress of a Multiform Soul
 1.2In the Image of … Donne’s Soul: Outshining Noah’s Ark
 1.3Sharing a Playful, Ironic Distance towards Authority
 1.4Tempering with Donne’s Voice
 2A Great Web of Blurred Voices
 2.1Voice Blurring Across Narrative Levels
 2.2Blurring within the Main Narrative Level
 2.3A Mixture of Chaos and Rhythm Celebrating Plurality
 2.4Delivered from Confinement, Delivered through Confinement?
 2.5A Heavy Weight to Bear?
 2.6Conjugating “To Come”
 3Climbing Down Deep Inside, to Spectral Silence
 3.1Partying with the Quintessential Silenced
 3.2Speaking with(out) the Lost Mother
7Sarai’s Story Game of Competing Voices and Rival Desires
 1Voice Blurring in a War of the Wor(l)ds
 1.1At the Start, There Is an End
 1.2Unidentified Narrative Voice for a Silenced Heroine
 1.3Blurred Rival Versions of the Beginning(s)
 2Sarai’s Early Encounter with Spectral Silence
 2.1Primeval Loss and the Beginning of Desire
 2.2The Beginning of the End, and Disappointing New Starts
 3Sarai-Abram-God, a Destructive Triangular Desire
 3.1When the One Finds Her Own Voice, the Other Finds God’s
 3.2Enter I Am That I Am, the Homewrecker: Sarai Nil, God One
 3.3The Battle of Wor(l)ds: Sarai One, God One
 3.4The Choice of Laughter: Sarai Two, God One

Section 3:Reticent Testimonies. Atwood’s the Handmaid’s Tale and Tennant’s Sisters and Strangers

8Offred’s Reticent Tale of Resistance
 1An Introduction to Reticence
 2Offred’s Polyphonic Testimony
 2.1Dialoguing with the Narratee(s)
 2.2Passing On Other Mutinous Female Voices
 2.3Offred’s Chatty Discourse with the Maker
 3Fighting for a Plurality of Identities and Meanings
 3.1Remembering Her Former Selves
 3.2Games of Words, Power and Desire with the Commander
 3.3Offred as Secret Lover
9The Playfully Reticent Tale of Eve’s Journey
 1An Introduction into Grandmother Dummer’s Reticence
 2From the Passive Princess to the Demonic Lilith
 3Subverting the Extremes: From Harlot to Madonna
 4Female Lies and Truths: From Courtesan to Bluestocking

Part 3: Closing Silences Voicing Openness

10Passing on the Heroine’s Voice
 1Mary Magdalene’s Distrust of Words
 2Eve’s Ultimate Subversive Enactment of Female Stereotypes
 3Sarai and the Ineffable Human Horror
 4Dinah’s Life Beyond the Grave
 5The Irreconcilability of Mrs Noah’s Aspirations?
 6Offred’s Blurred Voice
Works Cited
All interested in silence and voice in literature or the Bible, reconfigurations of biblical myths and characters, and the fictional work of Atwood, Roberts, Diski, Tennant or Diamant.
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