Dolls to Slide in Grooves: Performances in Paradoxical Space in Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith


Bradenham Manor, by Sealman at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bradenham Manor, by Sealman at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The neo-Victorian novels of Sarah Waters often feature characters who struggle to establish their position as lesbians in a predominantly heterosexual society. This can be seen especially in the setting of the manor house, a male-dominated space which confines and restricts her female characters. In an essay published in our new issue of Postgraduate English, Akira Suwa (Cardiff University) explores the placement of women in Waters’ 2002 novel, Fingersmith.

In her neo-Victorian novel Fingersmith (2002), Sarah Waters sets up the manor house as a place where women have to perform their domestic roles. As one character compares those who live in the house to dolls which slides mechanically in the grooves, the inside of the house is regarded as a space which restrains women’s physical and psychological freedom. Although at first the two heroines, Sue and Maud, perform the roles given to them, gradually their pre-determined actions are overtaken by their spontaneous expression of homosexual feelings towards each other. Maud’s bedroom, which becomes the place for their first sexual union, then serves to signify their rebellion against heteropatriarchal codes. Also, the place where they are reunited – the library which was symbolic of patriarchal authority but is transformed into Maud’s workspace for her pornographic literature – is what Gillian Rose calls ‘paradoxical space’. As it is a space which is still positioned within the boundary of patriarchy and at the same time refuses to be consumed completely in the system, the library space can undermine heteronormativity, holding potential for Sue and Maud’s queer utopia. The presence of lesbians within heterosexist society, not their escape from it, can undercut the rigidity of gender and sexuality.

This article is available to download free in issue 31 of our open access Postgraduate English journal. For more articles from this issue, and the complete archive going back 15 years, find the journal online.

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