Reading the Bathroom in Early Twentieth-Century Women's Writing

Blackwell, Matilda (2022). Reading the Bathroom in Early Twentieth-Century Women's Writing. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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In this thesis, I use the ubiquitous yet often overlooked space of the bathroom as a lens through which to explore the ambivalent social and cultural position of a range of women - from the aging, penniless spinster to the suburban housewife - in the early twentieth century. Enmeshed within a complex discourse of social and moral anxieties, bathrooms are bound up with questions of class, age, gender and sexuality, and, as such, are key sites of meaning and importance for women and women’s writing. Offering valuable insight into the bathroom’s own overlooked place in literature, this thesis generates new readings and rereadings of a myriad of narratives by and about women within the context of historically specific discussions of women’s identity, access to public and private space, and their sense of belonging or existing in modernity.

Building on a growing body of research from the fields of material culture, social history and literary studies, I investigate the different ways that access to everyday bathroom spaces across the urban and domestic spheres played into women’s lives. By examining several unique bathroom spaces - the cafe and restaurant lavatory, the hotel bathroom, the shared lodging-house bathroom, the middle-class family bathroom, and the therapeutic bathroom - this thesis demonstrates why, and the ways in which, a focus on the bathroom in the early twentieth century is of particular relevance and interest. This thesis forms a survey of how a plethora of key spaces within the city and the home - all broadly defined as bathroom spaces - are written into the literature of this period, and, by merging cultural histories and literary representations of specific bathroom spaces, offers fresh readings of women’s experience of and place in modernity.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History


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