Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Debra Rae Cohen


The ambiguous relationship between history, women and witchcraft in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes and Graham Swift’s Waterland foregrounds the constructedness of historical narratives while also recuperating women’s marginalized positions within history. Both novels link historical narratives with the received ideas upon which norms of gender, sexuality, and the nation are constructed. In recognizing this, both authors challenge the monolithic male gaze of history, revealing it to be a story which, totalizing as it may be, is not in fact “natural.” While many women in both novels are configured as haunting figures - women who confuse the boundary separation presence from absence - this liminal position draws attention to and ironizes their exclusion from historical narratives. In both novels, these exclusions are recuperated through the figure of the witch, a character who gestures beyond these oppressive narratives, but who also challenges the distinctions that separate history from fantasy and past from present. History is then reframed; it is revealed as not only a narrative construction, but a way of organizing and defining bodies. Both Warner and Swift use the figure of the witch to explore the many ambiguities contained within historical narratives and to reveal how tenuous and oppressive these narratives are.