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literature

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Duffy, Maureen (b. 1933)  

Maureen Duffy has published novels that present both lesbian and gay male characters within a broad social and political panorama.

Duffy was born on October 21, 1933, in Worthing, Sussex, the daughter of Grace Wright and Cahia Duffy, an Irish laborer who left soon after her birth. Until the outbreak of World War II, when she was evacuated to Wiltshire, she was raised in London as part of her mother's extended family.

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Duffy, who began to write poetry and stories at an early age, was an exceptional and precocious child in a working-class environment shaped by the illegitimacy of her birth, extreme poverty, and a familial susceptibility to tuberculosis, which claimed the lives of many close relatives.

Her mother, with whom she had close and supportive relationship, nevertheless encouraged her daughter's literary and educational endeavors, enabling Duffy to attend various high schools for girls through scholarships awarded her. In 1956, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from King's College, University of London, and taught in various South London schools for five years.

During these years, she wrote poetry and several plays for stage and television. In 1961, Duffy was approached by publisher Graham Nicol to write a novel for Hutchinson's New Author Series. Although reluctant at first to change genres, she agreed at length and, in 1962, published the semiautobiographical That's How It Was.

Mother-daughter love, the focal point of Duffy's first novel, is a recurring theme in her later work, particularly The Love Child (1971). It is, she implies, the relationship in which the roots of subsequent love of women by women often lie. Her purpose in this representation was "to show how a personality and a relationship that in the world's eyes were brave and fine could produce a psychological result which, also in the world's eyes . . . could be labelled sick or perverted and thought of as at best a great handicap."

Her exploration of homosexuality became more explicit in A Single Eye (1964) in which Duffy's narrator, the unhappily married Mike, is configured in a variety of alternative sexual relationships.

The Microcosm (1966), her best-known novel, presents the diverse lives and experiences of the clientele of a London lesbian bar through a pastiche of stories and literary styles, including the interpolated narrative of the eighteenth-century actress and cross-dresser Charlotte Charke.

Although unique in its candid, nonmoralistic treatment of its subject, The Microcosm incurred the ire of certain lesbian critics and readers for its application of Freudian psychology, an experimental style that was considered "inaccessible," its representation and apparent acceptance of butch-femme roles, and its ultimate renunciation of lesbian separatism.

In subsequent works, particularly her trilogy of London life (Wounds [1969], Capital [1975], and Londoners: An Elegy [1983]), Change (1987), and Illuminations (1992), she presents both lesbianism and male homosexuality as facets of a broader social and political panorama in which all forms of marginalization are interconnected.

Duffy's concern with animal rights is manifested not only in her nonfiction work on the subject but also in I Want to Go to Moscow (1973), a sympathetically parodic thriller about a gang of upper middle-class antivivesectionists, and Gor Saga (1981), a futuristic tale in which the laboratory-created half-human, half-gorilla protagonist is reared as a human child and must attempt to live with self-respect and integrity in the brutal human world.

In addition to her novels, Duffy has published volumes of poetry, plays, a Freudian study of the erotic themes in literature, and a biography of Aphra Behn. She has been an activist for writers' causes and a leader in literary organizations, including the Writers Action Group, which she co-founded in 1972, and the Writers Guild of Great Britain, whose president she became in 1985.

Maureen Duffy's position as a lesbian writer is a paradoxical one. Although openly a lesbian and a leftist since the 1960s, she is much respected in mainstream British literary circles while she remains underappreciated and relatively unknown among many lesbian and gay readers. Many of her works are currently out of print, but the Virago reissue of The Microcosm in both Great Britain (1989) and the United States (1990) has renewed critical interest, and new editions of other works have appeared from time to time.

Although her belief, expressed in The Microcosm, that "there are dozens of ways of being " may have been lost on much of her audience in the 1960s and 1970s, she may yet appeal to a new generation of "queer" readers.

Patricia Juliana Smith

     

    
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    Bibliography
   

Brimstone, Lyndie. "'Keepers of History': The Novels of Maureen Duffy." Lesbian and Gay Writing: An Anthology of Critical Essays. Mark Lilly, ed. London: Macmillan, 1990. 23-46.

Newman, Jenny. "Mary and the Monster: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Maureen Duffy's Gor Saga." Where No Man Has Gone Before: Women and Science Fiction. Lucie Armitt, ed. London: Routledge, 1991. 85-96.

Rule, Jane. Lesbian Images. New York: Doubleday, 1975.

Sizemore, Christine Wick. A Female Vision of the City: London in the Novels of Five British Women. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Smith, Patricia Juliana  
    Entry Title: Duffy, Maureen  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 1, 2002  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/duffy_m.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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