Moving Dangerously: Mobility and the Modern Woman

Wendy ParkinsMurdoch University, Australia
Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring 2001), 77-92

This essay demonstrates how modernity in the work of some early twentieth-century women writers is itself a transitional phenomenon, ambivalently belonging to both the past and the future, the country and the city, a feminism of agency and a feminism of mobility. Despite their stylistic differences, Elizabeth Bowen’s To the North (1932) and Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm (1932) both feature heroines who are emblematic of a modernity associated with cars, trains, and planes: highly mobile vehicles that move dangerously. Moreover, both consider the mobility of the female subject beyond the city and show that the female subject represents the disruptions and transitions between the city and the country in ways that represent the non-synchronicities of modernity and the instabilities of modem subjectivity. Applying Ernst Bloch’s notion of “nonsynchronism,” this essay shows how Bowen and Gibbons undercut the myths of modernization’s limitless development and the concomitant notion of limitless self-development. This article also suggests that while the non-realist mode of Cold Comfort Farm may be able to evade the consequences of non-synchronicity through escapist fantasies of country life, the realism of To the North better represents the unevenness of modernity and the vacuity of modernization’s promise to reconcile divergent temporalities in an endless present.

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]