- Literary Liaisons: Auto/biographical Appropriations in Modernist Women's Fiction
In her study of literary liaisons, Lynette Felber takes on the complex task of situating individual and gendered identities, relationship definitions and descriptors, life contexts, auto/biography and auto/biographical fictions, analysis of all those texts—through a complex mix [End Page 786] of modernist principals and Lacanian psychoanalysis. In doing so, she sheds light on the intricacies of coupling and writing, but ultimately acknowledges that her inquiry ends with more questions than definitive resolutions.
Felber's choice of literary liaisons is admirable, with chapters focusing on Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, Rebecca West and H. G. Wells, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge, H. D. and her various "mentor-lovers"—Ezra Pound, Frances Gregg, Richard Aldington, D. H. Lawrence, and Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman). The couples are composed of ambitious and talented writers who write autobiographical fiction. Felber examines each liaison through textual analysis of each lover's work, their crossovers with the other's work, as well as real life texts such as diaries and letters, autobiographical fiction, and biographies. Concerned particularly with the women within these liaisons, Felber traces the struggles for primacy in the literary relationship. Taking note of the power differentials within each couple, she sees them inevitably battling the other because of inherent and cultural inequalities. Each chapter "examines a distinctive story that challenges the ideal of the writing couple and presents a skeptical variation on the story of a woman's struggle within that relationship."
"Zelda Fitzgerald's Save Me the Waltz—Household Plagiarism and Other Crimes of the Heart" is the most compelling chapter. Here Felber best explains what she means by the term "appropriation." The Fitzgeralds enact horrifying struggles to individually extract their own experience from shared experience and write it as each sees fit. As in the other couples within the book, the Fitzgeralds' "war" extends to battles over the "role of the writer and subject status." The chapter is richly layered, including the implications of finance, fame, mental illness, and incorporation of the other's life and texts. Scott writes to Zelda, "'I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. That is all my material. None of it is your material.'" His "misappropriation" as Felber calls it, includes his forbidding her to include their trip to the Riviera in her writing. Here, as in the other chapters, Felber presents credible evidence leading to her skepticism as to the ability of writing couples to survive in equanimity. Her Lacanian analysis of Zelda's Save Me the Waltz revivifies Zelda Fitzgerald's talent as Felber exposes autobiographical narratives wrested free from competing forces.
With the first three chapters focusing on heterosexual couples and the inherent inequalities of power under patriarchy, Felber moves the fourth chapter to a lesbian liaison, focusing her inquiry on same-sex couple members striving to write their own identities. She finds the inevitable subordination of one writer by another, in this case [End Page 787] Radclyffe Hall's subordination of Una Troubridge. "Accommodation in Radclyffe Hall's The Forge" traces the assimilated heterodoxy within the lesbian couple that leads to homosexual power imbalances. Felber argues that "parody in The Forge, although it cannot dramatize a solution for the parodied characters, creates a text that explores the partner's conflicted struggle of subjectivity and suggests the extratextual potential in achieving it." The autobiographical portion of Felber's chapter, however, points to Hall's domination of Una Troubridge's feminized, subordinate identity in the couple. Thus Hall critiques heterosexual (and coded lesbian) inequality, but lives a privileged role as husband with a most dutiful, supplicant wife. Felber's analysis of The Forge is excellent, though she doesn't adequately point out Hall's hypocrisy, evident in the couple's actual autobiographical position. She instead, through Lacan, valorizes "Subordination and Vicarious Creativity." Here and elsewhere, Felber might have shown more caution in making autobiographical assumptions about texts written as fiction.
Much is literary in this book of liaisons, but...