“‘The House Was a Garbage Dump’: Waste, Mess and Aesthetic Reclamation in 1960s and 70s ‘Mad Housewife’ Fiction”

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—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. These texts exemplify Shapiro and Meyers’ concept of the “femmage”: a collage work made by women whose fragments in turn reflect the fragmented life of women. 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, while providing an alternate history of their period. These texts extend the definition of “literary fragment” to encompass all of the detritus with which the housewife must battle daily. 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.
Period24 Nov 2017
Event titleBeyond the Ruin: Investigating the Fragment in English Studies
Event typeConference
LocationAthens, Greece
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • housewife
  • waste
  • fragment
  • twentieth century
  • literary studies
  • American literature
  • American Studies
  • discard studies
  • feminism
  • domestic fiction
  • 1960s
  • 1970s
  • Women's Liberation Movement