“When you asked me to speak about women and fiction I sat down on the banks of a river and began to wonder what the words meant.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
The connection between water and femininity forms the basis of my contribution to The Dangerous Women Project, an initiative of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, designed to explore the idea that women from many historical periods, cultures and areas of contemporary life are portrayed as dangerous.
The Dangerous Women Project was inspired by a lecture given by Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge, in the London Review of Books series, titled ‘Oh Do Shut Up Dear!’ which looked at the public voice of women throughout history – or rather the attempts to silence the female voice – and how this legacy still impacts women’s right to speak today.
For my own response, I couldn’t help but think of the danger that lies in the path to intellectual freedom, of the public spaces women were denied access to and the space they had to forge for themselves if they wanted to be free thinkers. It’s a sentiment that I explore in my novel, Bodies of Water set amid the gender conventions of the nineteenth-century, where women who flouted the expectations of society were cast adrift. For me, the water represents female independence and autonomy, a safe harbour for women in a man-made world.
Beginning on International Women’s Day 2016, The Dangerous Women Project is curating 365 responses to the question, what does it mean to be a ‘dangerous woman’. To read more about this innovative project or to read my essay, please click here.