Women Wordsmiths of the Historical Avant-Garde

Lauren Faro

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Historical accounts and critical examinations of the early twentieth-century avant-garde for a long time privileged the work of male artists and writers, pushing women creatives to the margins of the movements in which they participated and eclipsing their contributions. In recent decades feminist critics have steadfastly sought to challenge these limited narratives by unearthing and championing the works of avant-garde women, questioning the obstacles facing them and scrutinizing the mechanisms behind the persistent exclusion of their works. But in feminist reappraisals of the avant-garde there has been a tendency to focus on women who worked in the plastic arts; there remains a dearth of critical literature on the works of women who expressed themselves primarily in the written word. This study attempts to redress the imbalance in the research field by shining a spotlight on the poetry of four women associated with groups belonging to the historical avant-garde. Its aim is to highlight, read, and reassess their work, and to bring out the nuances of their participation and contributions. Building on existing research by feminist scholars, it asks the following questions: what was the position of women writers within the avant-garde? What did they see as the possibilities of written expression? What contribution did they make to literary and linguistic innovations? How did they influence or interpret the avant-garde’s dominant aesthetic ideas? The first chapter considers the work of the Paris-based Dada poet Céline Arnauld; chapter two explores the work of the writer and artist Mina Loy, who moved among various avant-garde groups; the third chapter takes as its focus Valentine Penrose, a French writer associated with Surrealism in Paris and England; and finally, the fourth chapter explores the work of the British Vorticist Jessica Dismorr. Through a close critical unpicking of the poetic text, which delves into the often complex fabric of experimental avant-garde writing, this study examines the ways in which women avant-garde writers sought to find new forms of expression. It argues that, far from the margins to which they have been undeservingly cast, these writers were at the forefront of the avant-garde’s experiments with language. Bold adventurers in the written word who dared to express themselves in stridently experimental forms, these women not only participated in, but also drove and determined the avant-garde’s radical aesthetic innovations.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hemus, Ruth, Supervisor
  • Robertson, Eric, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Sept 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Women's Writing
  • Poetry
  • Avant-Garde
  • Modernism
  • Close Reading
  • Feminist Literary History
  • Feminist Literary Theory
  • Writing
  • Early Twentieth-Century Literature
  • Visual Arts
  • Women Writers
  • Experimental Literature
  • Modernist Women
  • Avant-Garde Women

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