11 November 2022, 4:35:54 am
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Goh Qi Wei is a second-year PhD student with the English division at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU). She obtained her M.A. in English Literature at NTU in 2016 and has experience working in educational publishing and business information systems research. Her research interests include contemporary women’s fiction, particularly in the short story form, and the fantastic in literature. Her PhD thesis is concerned with fantastical bodily transformations in contemporary women's short stories.
Passing the Baton: Silence, Vulnerability and the Storytelling Relay in Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch
Emma Donoghue; short story cycle; silence; vulnerability; storytelling relay
Fairy tales are commonly regarded as entertainment and/or moral lessons for the young and we are expected to let go of them in adulthood. But the fact that contemporary women writers like Anne Sexton and Angela Carter have produced multiple retellings of fairy tales suggest that this does not always happen. But why do contemporary women writers turn to this form of storytelling? How do their retellings engage with concerns of contemporary women’s fiction? To answer these questions, my paper will examine Emma Donoghue’s short story cycle, Kissing the Witch (1997). Each based on a western fairy tale, Donoghue’s thirteen tales are linked together by making a minor character in a tale the narrator of the following story, thereby creating a storytelling “relay”. Consequently, my paper argues that the form of storytelling that Donoghue promotes is one that relies on the success of past storytelling for stories to be effectively told into the future. While each story in Kissing the Witch can be read as standalone tales, they constantly gesture towards alternative futures for the characters. To examine this storytelling relay, I will draw from feminist philosopher Pamela Sue Anderson’s concept of mutual vulnerability to argue for the importance of a collectivity for female storytellers to work through their silencing. In order for the storytelling baton to be passed on successfully, storyteller and listener have to recognise their own vulnerability to being silenced. Additionally, I will lean on Jacques Derrida’s idea of différance to consider how Derrida’s play with silence can add to our understanding of continuous storytelling in Donoghue’s retelling. Through this relay, Kissing the Witch offers a form of storytelling that opens itself up to the future, inviting a multitude of other storytellers who may want to join in.