From Housewife to Hermit: Fleeing the Feminine Mystique in Joan Barfoot's Gaining Ground

Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson

Abstract


The link between Canadian women's novels of self-development and notions of "wilderness" has become exceptionally strong over the past few decades. Despite this, Joan Barfoot's feminist wilderness novel, Gaining Ground, has garnered little critical attention. However, Barfoot's modification of Frye's garrison mentality in an expressly feminist context is worthy of consideration. Also of note are the ways in which Barfoot's narrative deals with Atwood's notions of the archaeological, as outlined in Survival, as well as the manners in which Barfoot's writing is clearly informed by Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. A close reading of Gaining Ground in these contexts suggests that the reasons for the disjuncture between the strongly feminist content of the novel and the lack of critical attention paid it might lie in its presentations of separation and the abandonment of children: the ease of which creates a real sense of discomfort and highlights the charges against the feminist movement that it has failed to outline a place for children.

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