The Satirical Theater of the Female Body:
The Role of Women in Martin Amiss The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, and Money: A Suicide Note
©1995, 1996 by Robert Martinez II
[Editor's note: Robert Martinez II, a graduate of the College of William & Mary, completed this essay for his senior year independent study research project in the English Department. He started reading Amis in college, and began to take a special interest in Amis's treatment of sexuality and feminism. He plans to continue this topic of study in the future. Robert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
One of the main thematic concerns running through the fiction of Martin Amis is a satirical preoccupation with human sexuality in the late twentieth century. Many of his novels often present a wide spectrum of debauched and lecherous male characters, ranging from cretinized brawling oafs to stylish degenerates who assault the reader with their explicit sexual behaviors. The shocking and bleak nature of sexuality in Amiss novels represents his cynical yet comic view of how predominantly male narcissistic attitudes and behavior have transformed sex into an arena of self-mastery rather than a transcendence of the self through intimacy and communication. His fiction, as James Diedrick has written in Understanding Martin Amis, largely illustrates a brutal "anatomy of male misogyny" (Diedrick 49).
In The Rachel Papers (1973), Dead Babies (1975), and Money: A Suicide Note (1984), Amis explores the sexual and social worlds of adolescence, the drug culture of the 1970s, and the obscene greed of the 1980s. In each of these novels, however, his concentration on corrupt male sexual actions raises questions about the treatment of women. Even though one of Amiss artistic intentions is to catalogue and criticize male misogyny, these texts are still largely patriarchal in their satirical designs: they often characterize women as sexual objects whose abuse accentuates the violent and sometimes comic degeneracy of his male characters.
James Diedrick has acknowledged the possible antifeminist nature of Amiss fiction, referring in particular to Amiss first three novels, The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, and Success: "Finally, while they often brilliantly render male misogyny, it is not always clear where satirized sexism ends and authorial antifeminism begins. Amis himself has called his first three novels not antifeminist but prefeminist, which is one way of describing a failure to extend full imaginative sympathy to his women characters" (20). I want to suggest, however, that an antifeminist sentiment is not confined to Amiss early fiction. In the three texts under analysis here, Amis seems to use his female characters and the female body as textual landscapes and symbolic mirrors to render the violently Dionysian activity and the comically pathetic antics of his male characters. The absence of consciousness in Amiss female characters becomes a necessary textual vacancy that his male misogynists inhabit in order to establish his postlapsarian view of modern sexuality. In The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, and Money, women ultimately function as narrative devices that stage and give voice to patriarchal behavior and Amiss larger artistic concerns for the Novel.