Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt: Portraits of Mothers and Mother-Daughter Relationships in the Poetry of Selima Hill

Lucy WinrowUniversity of Salford
Vol. 39, No. 2 (Fall 2020), 237-260

This article traces the emotions of embarrassment, shame, and guilt in British poet Selima Hill’s depictions of mothers and mother-daughter relationships. Critical responses to her poetry often describe an element of difficulty or discomfort, particularly around the subject of gender. This difficulty is used as a starting point for thinking about Hill’s engagement with embarrassment—and the associated emotions of shame and guilt— as both theme and affect. This article explores how Hill’s depictions of feminine roles are informed and shaped by these emotions and how engagement with such work might impact the reader and their own gender identity. Her challenge to readers can be seen as a func- tion of her critique of normative constructions of gender as they are played out in familial relationships. A case is made for the positive impact of these self-appraisal emotions (that typically carry negative associations) in a literary context. They open up inhibiting and narrowly constructed gender roles for questioning, with the possibility for understanding, catharsis, and transformation.


Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]