Literary Trauma

Sadism, Memory, and Sexual Violence in American Women's Fiction

By Deborah M. Horvitz

Subjects: Women's Studies
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791447123, 180 pages, November 2000
Hardcover : 9780791447116, 180 pages, November 2000

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Table of contents


1. Introduction: Bearing Witness

2. Reading the Unconscious in Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead

3. Freud and Feminism in Gayl Jones's Corregidora and Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of Carolina

4. Hysteria and Trauma in Pauline Hopkins's Of One Blood; Or, the Hidden Self

5. Postmodern Realism,Truth and Lies in Joyce Carol Oates's What I Lived For

6. Intertextuality and Poststructural Realism in Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"

7. Conclusion: Words Finally Spoken

Works Cited

Examines representations of political, psychological, and sexual violence in seven novels by American women.


This book examines portrayals of political and psychological trauma, particularly sexual trauma, in the work of seven American women writers. Concentrating on novels by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Pauline Hopkins, Gayl Jones, Leslie Marmon Silko, Dorothy Allison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood, Horvitz investigates whether memories of violent and oppressive trauma can be preserved, even transformed into art, without reproducing that violence. The book encompasses a wide range of personal and political traumas, including domestic abuse, incest, rape, imprisonment, and slavery, and argues that an analysis of sadomasochistic violence is our best protection against cyclical, intergenerational violence, a particularly timely and important subject as we think about how to stop "hate" crimes and other forms of political and psychic oppression.

Deborah Horvitz teaches at Salem State College and at the School at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.


"I like the almost seamless blending of literary discussion with psychological information, as well as the author's use of methodologies from the areas of women's studies, cultural studies, African-American literary and folk studies, multiculturalism, and psychoanalysis. The book is significant to the entire field of women's studies and is also a marker for the gaps in our accepted academic discourses. It is, in a large sense, cultural history. By paralleling turn-of-the-century works with very contemporary ones, Horvitz creates a meaningful century of discussion. " — Linda Wagner-Martin, author of Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and Her Family

"Horvitz uses recent trauma theory as she analyzes the representation of sexual trauma and heterosexual sadomasochism in selected works by a diverse group of women authors. This book provides a thoughtful and eminently readable contribution to the study of psychoanalysis and literature, trauma literature, feminist studies, and women's fiction. " — J. Brooks Bouson, author of Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison