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Title: Relational autonomy and interdependent selves in the fiction of Naomi Mitchison and Doris Lessing
Authors: Boskani, Shene
Advisors: Hubble, N
Cox, J
Keywords: Autonomy in Moral Philosophy;Feminist Philosophy;Value Theory;Feminist Ethics and Intuitions;Perspectives on Psychology and Oppression
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: This dissertation seeks to investigate how Naomi Mitchison and Doris Lessing— with differing but intense interests in Left-wing politics— narrated the individual’s quest for autonomy through their social commitment and involvement in group politics. The journeys their female protagonists go through are influenced by political, psychological, and spiritual factors. They are in a constant quest for their subjecthood and psychological coherence, which is only possible through interpersonal relationships with others. The concept of personal autonomy refers to an agent’s ability to act on their motives, choices, values, and thoughts. Early feminists viewed the notion of autonomy with suspicion, as it was deemed to promote ‘masculinist’ and ‘atomistic’ ideals. Feminists, thus, reconceptualised the concept of autonomy called ‘relational’. This concept concentrates on the social environment of the agent and gives normative importance to the relations of care and connection. Proponents of relational autonomy propose two types of relational theories to address how socialisation influences an agent’s autonomy: procedural and substantive theories. According to the procedural account, regardless of the content of the decision, whichever one opts for is deemed autonomous. On the contrary, the substantive account emphasises knowing right and wrong and that agents must exhibit sufficient self-trust and self-worth. Divergence thus emerges among feminists on which account of relational autonomy best addresses oppressive socialisation. In this study, both procedural and substantive notions of autonomy are vital in addressing how the characters’ environment obstructs the achievement of selfhood and authenticity. Both writers share a passionate concern for the oppressed, which shines out in their fiction. However, the most significant difference lies in their characters’ reactions toward oppression and violence. In The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931), We Have Been Warned (1935), and The Blood of the Martyrs (1939), Mitchison creates women who are politically and sexually autonomous beings. Yet, they believe that individual autonomy could be subordinated to the aim of constructing a flourishing community grounded upon shared values. On the other hand, Lessing evokes societies where women view political and even social commitment with deep suspicion. In The Grass is Singing (1950), The Golden Notebook (1962), and The Good Terrorist (1985), women are inevitably shaped by their oppressive socialisation. They are unable to act in their confined patriarchal and colonial environments. The pressure to conform and satisfy the collective’s demands influences their capacity for resistance to normative social determination. Looking into how both authors link together their characters’ private and public lives allows insight into both accounts of autonomy without imposing one account over the other.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy and was awarded by Brunel University London
Appears in Collections:English and Creative Writing
Dept of Arts and Humanities Theses

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