Michèle Roberts’s The Looking Glass Essay

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Michèle Roberts’s The Looking Glass

The understanding of history as a linear and unproblematic narrative, dominated by kings and queens, warriors and heroes, has long been denied by women writers. As Linda Anderson argues, these events ‘take on a different meaning, a different configuration when we begin to see through them – in both senses – to women’s concealed existence in the private sphere of family and home’ (Anderson, p.130). Women have little place in traditional linear history and have come to deny its authority and question its dominance. Frieda Johles Forman, in her introduction to a 1989 collection of essays on women’s temporality, argues that women suffer from a lack of history, an unrecorded past, and that this ‘absence
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Anderson claims that history differs from fiction in its claim to somehow offer a link to the ‘real’, which is a repression of difference. It is vital for women to break the link between history and the ‘real’ and highlight the mediated nature of any narrative, historical or fictional, thereby defusing the power of linear, authoritative, historical narrative and opening up gaps in which women can tell their own stories and their own ‘herstories’.

The ‘reclaiming of history’ is something integral to much of Michèle Roberts’s work, as she re-contextualises, re-configures and rewrites myth, biblical scripture, apocryphal texts and historical figures. Roberts’s work draws heavily upon historical and mythical narrative, from her fifth gospel of Mary Magdalene in The Wild Girl (1984) to her presentation of the world of Victorian spiritualism in In the Red Kitchen (1990). Her latest novel, The Looking Glass (2000), builds upon the presentation of history already found in its predecessor, Fair Exchange (1999). Both of these novels draw upon the recorded lives of famous literary figures. Fair Exchange rewrites the events surrounding the births of William Wordsworth’s first daughter and Mary Wollstonecraft’s first child. Using the perspective of female servants, this novel highlights the marginal and glories in the minutiae of everyday life. Similarly, The Looking Glass mines the

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