To attempt to trace the impact of feminism and gender studies on contemporary British fiction is a difficult task. The focus on gender is one of the most important ways in which literary studies has developed in the last 50 years or so and its influence on reading practices, the publishing world and literary criticism is immense. It is difficult to imagine any novel that does not in some way involve issues of gender; any novel that has characters is inevitably open to gendered readings even in genres such as fantasy and science fiction which might not necessarily include human subjects. What follows, therefore, can only be a cursory introduction to this core area of contemporary literary studies and it should be taken as read that any of the writers or novels discussed in the other chapters of this book could very easily have been included in this chapter. Having said that, it is possible to identify writers and novels that push issues of gender and sexuality to the forefront of their concerns and it is in this spirit of emphasis that this chapter will discuss Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) and a number of novels by Alan Hollinghurst and Ali Smith. The first section will also refer to other important writers of the postwar and contemporary period whose work has been closely linked with discourses of feminism, gender and sexuality, including Doris Lessing, Angela Carter and Nick Hornby.
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