'Shit and String Beans': Aesthetic Reclamation in the American 'Mad Housewife' Novel of the 1960s and 70s

Activity: Talk or presentation for an academic audienceInvited talk for an academic audience


This paper examines the representation of waste and re-use in a selection of 'mad housewife' novels of the late 1960s and 1970s in an effort to redress feminist critics' assessments of the genre as historically important but of dubious literary worth. My contention is that certain few of these texts—Anne Richardson Roiphe’s Up the Sandbox!, Sheila Ballantyne’s Norma Jean the Termite Queen, Alix Kate Schulman’s Memoirs of an Ex Prom-Queen, and to a lesser extent, Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room—enact their protagonists’ departure from convention through the adoption of a fluid, collagistic structure that moves between temporal modes, narrative perspectives, and reality and fantasy, and through their incorporation of a range of external media (newspaper excerpts, recipes, advertising slogans) that ‘mess up’ the tidy structure of a linear narrative. In their relentless attention to literal and figurative waste matter, and through the use of literary devices that defeat the attempt to bind the story within a linear narrative, Roiphe, Ballantyne, Schulman and French create a carnivalesque disorder of both their protagonists’ homes and the novel form. In examining these ideas, I seek to complicate existing accounts of waste in literature and 1960s and 70s countercultural writing, both of which remain heavily focused on writing by male authors.
Period21 Sep 2017
Event titleWaste: A Symposium on Disposability, Decay, and Depletion
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational