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An orgasm and an atom : performing passion and freedom in Margaret Sweatman's When Alice Lay Down With Peter



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Margaret Sweatman’s novel, When Alice Lay Down With Peter, plays with the British Empire’s adventure story and its creation of manhood. Mimicking this creative process in the Canadian Northwest, Sweatman conceives and births a woman’s previously erased passion back into the adventure story in a playful, erotic, and politically-charged presentation of the performing female body. Although appreciating the “magic realism element to the novel” (157), Nicole Markotic suggests that Sweatman’s “characters, like the readers, become ‘History Tourists’” and “are mere backdrop for the last century or so of ‘Current Events’ that take precedence over their stories” (156). The McCormack women, Markotic argues, “have few stories other than going to war, having one momentous sex scene, giving birth” (156). Indeed, Sweatman’s whirlwind tour through 109 years of well-documented, and already too many times rehashed, rebellions, labour strikes, and world wars, seems to reflect this sentiment, but to limit Sweatman and her characters to only the Empire’s gender performative is to miss the female body performing as its own Big Bang.Since a woman’s contingency and agency within the Empire’s gender performative has been vigorously debated by post modern and cultural theorists, Sweatman chooses to birth her characters into a world of/as performance. Richard Schechner, a pioneer in the field of performance theory, argues in his earlier work, Essays on Performance Theory (1977), that performance is a “very inclusive notion of action,” in which the performance workshop and the performance strategy of play are much more important than previously imagined (1,61). Sweatman draws on this discovery in order to free her characters to explore passion beyond Imperial and textual constraints. Four generations of McCormack women mimic, mock, and sidewind their way into, around, and beyond the Empire’s warring narrative and its heterosexual imperative. They are savvy, sexy, and provocative, playing simultaneously as shameless voyeurs, plagiarists, and war artists.



world of largesse and hope, Red River, McCormack women, war artist, performative writing, histrionics and hyperbole, art of feigned diminution, transvestism, Empire's regulatory network, empire unfolding, desire for ecstasy, St. Norbert Manitoba, trickery, world of performance beyond the gender performativ, empire builder



Master of Arts (M.A.)







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