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  • 18 April 2008

Letters, love and women in the feminist years


In Love and Struggle, a new book by Dr Margaretta Jolly, provides the first cultural study of letter-writing between British and American feminists from the 1970s to the present.

From the women's encampments at Greenham Common and the Seneca Army Depot to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Dr Jolly, senior lecturer in life history at the University of Sussex, shows how vital epistolary testimony has been. She analyses letters between mothers and daughters, lesbian love letters, email novels, memoirs, and feminist activist communities on the Web.

"During the women's movement of the 1970s and 1980s, feminists in the United States and Britain reinvented the image of the woman letter writer," she says. "They wrote passionate letters to one another, exploring questions of sexuality, separatism, and strategy. These texts speak of the new interest women began to feel in one another and the new demands-and disappointments-these relationships would create."

Dr Jolly uncovers the passionate, contradictory emotions of both politics and letter writing and sets out the theory behind them as a fragile yet persistent ideal of care ethics, women's love, and epistolary art. She follows several compelling feminist relationships sustained through writing and confronts the mixed messages of the "open letter," which complicated political relations between women (such as Audre Lorde's "Open Letter to Mary Daly," which challenged white feminists about their implicit racism.

Celebrating the private literature of lesbian and feminist romance, Dr Jolly also confronts the ambivalent feelings preserved in women's correspondences. She concludes by analysing the dilemmas involved in feminist ethics of care, and the meaning behind the burning or saving of letters. As she says: "Letters that chart love stories, letters stowed away in attics, letters burnt at the end of romances, bittersweet letters written but never sent . . . this glimpse into women's intimate archives aims to illuminate one of feminism's central concerns - that all relationships are political - and uniquely recasts a social movement in very emotional terms."

Dr Jolly has published widely on letters and women's writing. She is a director of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research and senior lecturer in the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sussex, as well as the editor of The Encyclopedia of Life Writing and Dear Laughing Motorbyke: Letters from Women Welders of the Second World War.

Notes for editors

  • In love and struggle.  Letters in Contemporary Feminism, is published by Columbia University Press, New York, 2008.
  • Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research http://www.sussex.ac.uk/clhr/
  • University of Sussex Press Office contacts: Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune. 01273 678888, press@sussex.ac.uk

 

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