Imagining women artists through fiction : the rose frieze

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2009
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. Access is restricted indefinitely. ----- The Rose Frieze is a novel which explores methods of dealing with historical figures and events in fiction. In this case the historical figure is an artist, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (1864 - 1933) and the novel is a response to her life and artworks. The narrative is built around the relationships between three women: Isadora Swann, an artist whose life is nearing its end; her daughter Isabel whose attempts at artistic achievement have left her alienated from her mother and lacking a focus for her life; and Rosamund Lang, an artist living in wartime London sixty years earlier, whose story is told by way of a letter to an (at first) unknown reader. All three women are connected through the work of the artist Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, although they do not all know it at first. Isabel is called back to her family home by her sister, to help organize a retrospective exhibition about their mother’s career. Her mother, Isadora Swann, spent many years in Paris after the Second World War. While visiting her mother Isabel discovers that after a long period of inactivity, she has started painting again. The paintings seem to be inspired by the work of an artist Isabel has never heard of, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh. Hunting among her mother’s papers she finds a newspaper cutting dating from the Second World War, about an art expert named James Hurst who she suspects of being her mother’s onetime lover. Still nursing resentment against her mother for the failure of her own career, Isabel tries to find out what the secret is behind the paintings. The novel explores some specific historical themes. These include the feminist revision of art history, and the experiences of women artists, both in the past and the present; in particular, how their work has been lost or their creativity silenced. Another important theme is that of provenance, the chain of ownership of cultural heritage, and how it comes into dispute. Writing the novel required engaging with the differences between writing history and writing fiction, and how to deal with the research within the narrative. This topic is discussed in the exegesis, together with an analysis of the literature on perceived conflicts between history and fiction. In addition the exegesis outlines the historical research carried out and analyses other contemporary works of fiction dealing with art and artists.
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