Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Finding Refuge: War and Women's Writing

Gillett Sue.

In Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin one its central male characters narrates a story about two soldiers who, after their plane is shot down, find themselves in another dimension of space. They encounter beautiful women –the Peach women of A’a – who are able to satisfy their every desire. Pain does not exist. Life is eternal. But it is such a happy story that it cloys, it bores, the men can’t take it any more. They try to escape, only to find that they are trapped inside a bubble – “a gigantic tit”. Peace, in his story, is no lasting refuge, but a suffocating female breast. The men need war as they need air and space.
Atwood, Macdonald and Jolley depict war as consequential in its imaginative dimensions as well as a real event, perpetuated by male fantasies of violent adventure, rebellion, righteousness and freedom. My interest in each of these novels is in the way the destinies of the main female protagonists are profoundly affected by the reverberations of wars – imagined and real - in which they themselves are not actual combatants (or narrators). In all three novels, war itself is not at the foreground of the narrative action – which is mainly tied to the spatial limits of the heroines’ movements - however it provides an essential context for understanding their dilemmas, choices and chances as women. In contrast to the male characters who flee to war-zones, the women in these novels are indirectly made homeless, emotionally and physically, by the imported effects of war. In this paper I wish to pay special attention to the refuge-seeking journeys of the heroines and the relationship of these journeys to the dislocating consequences of men’s wars.


Gillett Sue  (Australia)
Senior Lecturer
Department of Arts
La Trobe University, Bendigo

Completing a book on director Jane Campion to be published in 2004 by Metro/ATOM

  • War
  • Refuge
  • Women
  • Writing
Person as Subject
  • Atwood, Margaret Jolley, Elizabeth Macdonald, Anne-Marie

(Virtual Presentartion, English)