Golden Chapels and Dark Wells: New Figurations of Women's Spirituality and Sexuality in Michèle Roberts' Novel 'Impossible Saints'

Ms Valentina Castagna
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Spirituality and sexuality were among the most controversial issues in the struggle for the liberation of women during the '70s and '80s and, entwined one with the other, they have remained one of the central themes in the fiction of Michèle Roberts, one of the leading writers in the Women's Liberation Movement and one of the editors of the Spare Rib. The split between body and soul, as in the Christian tradition, was the hardest point to accept for women educated according to Catholic teachings. Roberts's fiction is rich in Christian imagery and her novel Impossible Saints rewrites the life and writings of Saint Teresa of Avila and the lives of other female saints creating alternative representations of female spirituality and sexuality. Roberts challenges the canonical figuration of female saints, pointing at the silencing of women's sexual and creative drives operated by adjusted readings of texts by or on these women, both within and outside religious institutions. The writings of medieval saints and mystics are precious in the establishment of a tradition of female writers, as the same Roberts claims in a recent interview by Jenny Newman, and by means of their sensual language convey the closeness of soul and body which has often been denied or omitted in the transmission of those texts within the Christian sphere.

Keywords: Women's Studies, Rewriting, Sexuality, Spirituality
Stream: Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Golden Chapels and Dark Wells

Ms Valentina Castagna

PhD Student, University of Palermo (joint doctorate with the University of Salerno)

Valentina Castagna graduated in English Literature at the University of Palermo with a thesis on "Identity and recomposition in the fiction of Michèle Roberts" in July 2003. She is the author of "Empowering Paradigms in Feminist Rewriting. Myth and Fairy Tale in Contemporary Women's Fiction by Susan Sellers" in Interactions: a cultural review(Fall 2004?);"Identity and community in The Book of Mrs Noah by Michèle Roberts. Desert 'cityscapes' as the place of individual meditation, and the Ark as women's community symbolic space", Conference proceedings, 22nd Convegno AIA "Cityscapes", University of Cagliari 15-17 September 2005(?);"Michèle Roberts, scheda bio-bibliografica" and translator of Jenny Newman, "Intervista a Michèle Roberts" and of Marina Warner, "Il mito e la féerie: riscrittura e recupero" which will all appear in D. Corona e A. Rizzo (eds),Margaret Drabble,Michèle Roberts e Marina Warner: interviste e saggi su riscrittura e romance, Collana Studi e Ricerche n°36, Annali della Facoltà di Lettere, Università di Palermo(June 2005).

Ref: H05P0840