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Urban Captivity Narratives: Captivity and Confession in Women’s Writing
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Urban Captivity Narratives: Captivity and Confession in Women’s Writing Heather Hillsburg Abstract: This paper explores the emergence of narratives (memoirs, literary, and young adult fiction) that chronicle the abduction and prolonged captivity of young women. This paper names this genre the ‘‘urban captivity narrative’’ and maps the social and political factors that inform its widespread popularity. These factors include the post-9/11 social and political climate, our social fixation on damsels in distress, the primacy of the sexual confession, and renewed fears surrounding paedophilia and sexual predators. Keywords: women’s writing, captivity narrative, genre, sexual violence, memoir Résumé : Cet article s’intéresse à l’émergence des récits (mémoires, récits littéraires et fiction pour jeunes adultes) qui relatent l’enlèvement et la captivité prolongée de jeunes femmes. Le genre y est baptisé « récit urbain de captivité », et les facteurs sociaux et politiques qui alimentent sa grande popularité y sont présentés. Parmi ces facteurs, on trouve le climat social de l’après-11 septembre 2001, une fixation de la société sur les jeunes filles en péril, la primauté des confessions sexuelles, et des peurs renouvelées concernant la pédophilie et les prédateurs sexuels. Mots clés : écriture des femmes, récit de captivité, genre, violence sexuelle, mémoire A striking trend is emerging in the Canadian and American literary landscape, and a growing number of texts with the same narrative trajectory are gaining a wide readership and receiving critical acclaim . These stories follow a female protagonist as she is abducted by a man, who holds her captive for months or even years and subjects her to egregious sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. Her 6 Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines ahead of print article doi: 10.3138/cras.2016.009 This ahead of print version may differ slightly from the final published version. escape captures widespread media attention, and the book closes as she is reintegrated back into society. Memoirs that follow this narrative arc include Josefina Rivera’s Cellar Girl (2014), Elizabeth Smart’s My Story (2013), Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus’ Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland (2015), Michelle Knight’s Finding Me (2014), and Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life (2011). Works of literary and popular fiction include Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010), Chevy Stevens’ Still Missing (2010), and Carla Norton’s The Edge of Normal (2013). Finally, young adult literature such as Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl (2008) and Lucy Christopher’s Stolen (2013) suggests that the themes of abduction, prolonged captivity, and sexual abuse capture the attention of readers of all ages. While media outlets devote considerable attention to Smart, Berry, DeJesus, and Dugard’s lived experiences, fictional accounts of prolonged captivity are also culturally significant. Chevy Stevens’ Still Missing was on the New York Times best-seller list in 2010 and received favourable reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times Review of Books, and People Magazine. Donoghue’s bestselling novel Room was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, and the cinematic version, for which Donoghue wrote the screenplay , won the prestigious Audience Choice Award at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books gave Living Dead Girl a favourable review, and the memoirs by Berry and DeJesus, Knight, Dugard, and Smart are also New York Times best-sellers. Despite their success, Elaine Showalter’s 2013 short editorial entitled ‘‘Dark Places,’’ which addressed a handful of the memoirs listed above, has been the only scholarly discussion of these narratives. Showalter situates these books as departures from John Fowles’ 1963 novel The Collector and maps the similarities between these memoirs and Indian captivity narratives. She asserts that these memoirs are examples of ‘‘triumphant survival in the face of overwhelming odds.’’ I do not dispute Showalter’s claim, however, that this phenomenon merits consideration beyond simply operating as a site for women’s empowerment . Such absence of literary criticism is a consequential gap in feminist scholarship, as female authors and protagonists dominate this genre. The object of this...


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