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Desire and the Divine

Feminine Identity in White Southern Women's Writing

Michael Perman

Publication Year: 2012

In this groundbreaking study, Kathaleen E. Amende considers the works and lives of late-twentieth-century southern women writers to explore how conservative Christian ideals of femininity shaped notions of religion, sexuality, and power in the South. Drawing from the work of authors like Rosemary Daniell and Connie May Fowler, whose characters—like the authors themselves—grow up believing that Jesus should be a girl’s first “boyfriend,” Amende demonstrates many ways in which these writers commingled the sexual and the sacred. Amende also looks at the writings of Lee Smith, Sheri Reynolds, Dorothy Allison, and Valerie Martin and discusses how southern women authors and their characters grappled with opposing cultural expectations. Often in their work, characters mingle spiritual devotion and carnal love, allowing for salvation despite rejecting traditional roles or behaviors. In Martin’s A Recent Martyr, novitiate Claire disavows southern norms of femininity—courtship, marriage, and motherhood—but submits to Jesus as she would to a husband. In Reynolds’s Rapture of Canaan, teenage protagonist Ninah Huff imagines that her out-of-wedlock child is the offspring of Christ because of her conviction that Jesus was present during the sexual act that produced him. This tie between sexuality and religion afforded women movement between the two, but any attempt to separate them into compartmentalized spaces, as Amende shows, produces negative consequences—from pain and mental illness to an inability to connect with others. Ultimately, women have to find a way to unite the realms of the body and of faith in order to achieve spiritual and romantic fulfillment. As in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, where, for the protagonist, gospel music includes both the intensity of violent fantasies along with a spiritual yearning, it is only when the erotic and the spiritual coexist that women achieve full self-realization. Grounded in southern cultural and gender studies and informed by historical, religious, and devotional literature, Amende’s timely and accessible book offers one the first studies to view the intersection of sexuality and Christianity in southern contexts.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

This book has been the work of many years and has undergone numerous changes and versions. Although it started as a doctoral dissertation, it barely resembles those early drafts. Because of the time span of my life that this project has covered, and because this book, like all others, is the work of more than just a writer, ...

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Chapter 1. Southern Women, Desire, and the Divine

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pp. 1-28

In an amusingly revealing anecdote, Lee Smith tells interviewer Susan Ketchin that, as a teenager, she would go on dates with her boyfriend to the local church revivals where she would be saved “constantly.” She explains that “religion and sex—you know, excitement, passion—were all together. ...

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Chapter 2. Erotic Churches and Sacred Bedrooms

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pp. 29-64

In his posthumously released essay “Of Other Spaces,” Michel Foucault defines what he calls a heterotopia, or a heterotopic space as a real or socially constructed space in which multiple, often opposing and incompatible meanings can exist at once. These heterotopias, however, can be more than just places where these opposite meanings exist; ...

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Chapter 3. Resolving the Parental Conflict

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pp. 65-100

The heterotopic space containing sexuality, the sacred, and the South becomes necessarily more complicated with the addition of parental conflicts. Certainly there is a rich narrative history of southern girls who “rebel” against their parents, throwing off or at least struggling with the cultural teachings of their family and society. ...

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Chapter 4. Mysticism and Masochism or Religious Ecstasy and Sadomasochistic Delight

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pp. 101-130

In his 1905 work Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Sigmund Freud made the (now primarily debunked) argument that, because masochism is a naturally feminine state, women are naturally masochistic. This argument, of course, is based on the idea that masochism is a state of weak passivity—a masochist is naturally submissive, ...

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Chapter 5. Contemporary Repercussions

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pp. 131-144

Feminists have long argued about the place of religion in women’s lives and, since the 1960s, have been arguing in particular about the place of theology in feminism. In fact, the term “feminist theology” is standard enough now that Cambridge University Press released, in 2002, The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology, ...

Notes

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pp. 145-148

Works Cited

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pp. 149-156

Index

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pp. 157-162


E-ISBN-13: 9780807150399
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807150382

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Southern Literary Studies

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Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- Southern states -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- White authors -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- Southern States.
  • Women in literature.
  • Desire in literature.
  • Sex in literature.
  • Religion in literature.
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