The Feminist Supernatural: Genreflexive Fiction by Transnational Women Writers
Oxner, Alexandra Louise
Occupying a threshold between the real and the seemingly unreal, supernatural figures complicate understandings of a unified reality by existing in excess of the assumptions or expectations of the rational world. Joining feminist criticism with genre studies, such as supernaturalism, enables us to gauge how and why American authors, like Shirley Jackson, revised literary conventions that were also deemed impoverished by authors as wide-ranging as Maryse Condé in Guadeloupe and Jean Rhys in the Dominican. I advance the supernatural-as-metafiction model, or what I term genreflexivity, to argue that women writers utilize otherworldly genre elements to self-reflexively respond to the legacy of nineteenth-century realist conventions in their modernist and postcolonial texts. By fusing realism and supernaturalism, women’s supernatural experiences are naturalized rather than relegated to a realm of mere fantasy. Genreflexivity produces a kind of feminist formalism: by calling attention to their narratives as narratives, supernatural women writers critique their texts’ own construction, thereby rendering both “realism” and assumed versions of “reality” highly suspect. They destabilize cultural sites of knowledge or intelligibility in the living realm – such as gendered and racialized hierarchies of existence – and thus offer examples of how we might understand such hierarchies to be hegemonic “fictions” in need of revision in our own world.