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Mirror, mask and fetish: representations of the mother-daughter relationship in contemporary women’s poetry

Davies, Rachel Mary (2019) Mirror, mask and fetish: representations of the mother-daughter relationship in contemporary women’s poetry. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This creative/critical thesis examines the potential toxicity in the mother-daughter relationship within a patriarchal society’s expectation of the role of women. It is the challenge of maintaining connection in a flawed relationship that is the focus of the work. Melanie Klein described the ‘constant interaction of love and hate’ between mothers and daughters, reflecting Sigmund Freud’s theory of ambivalence. With reference to Jacques Lacan’s and D. W. Winnicott’s theories of the mirror of the other, and Winnicott’s theories of good-enough mothering, and false and true selves, I explore how mirror, mask and fetish are significant in making and breaking the bond between mothers and daughters. I show how these issues are employed as metaphors in the poetry of Pascale Petit, Selima Hill and Carol Ann Duffy. I analyse in depth two of Petit’s collections, Mama Amazonica and The Huntress; Hill’s sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’, in Violet; and a selection of Duffy’s poetry from The Bees and Sincerity. The relationship of Petit’s daughter-speaker is damaged by the psychosis of the mother; Hill’s daughter-speaker’s mental illness is a barrier to her relationship with the mother. In contrast, Duffy’s poetry portrays a rewarding and close relationship between mother and daughter: recognising the ‘Russian doll’ nature of the matrilineal relationship, Duffy’s poetry is written from the perspectives of both mother and daughter. An examination of the history of the sonnet explores the challenge for women writers of finding space for creativity within a literary history dominated by men, revealing how generations of women poets have used the sonnet, Duffy’s ‘little black dress of poetry’, to write of the mother-daughter relationship. The culmination of my research and analysis is a collection of my poetry addressing the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship. A preface to the creative section explores how the various theories directed and affected, and were in turn enhanced by, the creative practice. The backbone of the collection is a sequence of ‘alternative mother’ poems inspired by my research into the ‘mirror of the other’.

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