Mary Burns

Webb, Belinda Susan (2012) Mary Burns. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Mary Burns includes two sections: a short thesis called Revolution, Romance, and Revelation, and a work of autobiografiction, Mary Burns. Mary Burns is the major contribution to this PhD submission. It tells a story of the common-law wife of Marxist co-founder, Friedrich Engels, and a contemporary character, Ula Tully, who is attempting to tell Mary's story. The major part of this submission began as an attempt to write the novelised chronological biography of Mary Burns, yet through the writing process, ended up as a work of split-narrative autobiografiction. The stories of Ula and Mary are linked, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously; two women who belong to different centuries but who have much in common. Both stories also represent the dire scarcity of that figure in English literature- the working-class woman. In this way we can see the telling of a story for Mary as an effort at 'rescuing' a figure of whom more 'should' be known, given her place beside the major Marxist figure. Revolution, Romance, and Revelation is a critical paper in three sections, the aim of which was to highlight the stereotypical characterization of Mary Burns in the biographies of Engels. This first section also goes some way to explain the ways in which I departed from these stereotypical characterizations of Mary in my creative work. The second section moves onto the later figure of Ethel Carnie, a working-class female writer of whom, again, little is known, except that she was a staunch socialist, novelist, journalist, and founder of The Clear Light, an antifascist journal that ran from 1920-1925. I also assert that Ethel, whenever mentioned it is as a 'romance' novelist, adopted a dialectical approach to her work, drawing on both romance and the New Woman novel. In doing so, I contend that she more closely wrote within the autobiografictive framework that was formulated by Stephen Reynolds in 1906, and which I discuss in the final section. The third section defines autobiografiction, and explains the process of my adoption of it for my creative work. It is in this section that I also call for this 'mash-up' form to be a more amenable way for working-class women to produce their literature, as practised by Ethel Carnie, moving away from the novel form, which has, from its inception, been synonymous with the middleclasses.

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