The Search of a ‘Room of One’s Own’: Gender and Space in Saudi Women’s Fiction

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Since the last decade of the twentieth century, Saudi women novelists have made tremendous strides, entering the literary scene in ever increasing numbers and distinguishing themselves with the richness and diversity of their novels’ themes and styles. This richness and diversity, however, has not attracted appropriate scholarly attention; scholarship so far has tended to underrepresent the literary contribution of women novelists. The current study aims at bridging the gap in literary reception of the Saudi women’s novels by bringing to focus works that have been given little attention inside and outside of Saudi Arabia. It will pay particular attention to Saudi women novelists’ search for ‘a room of [their] own’ in the Saudi literary scene since the late twentieth century and on how they have confronted and continue to challenge the politics of space, gender and power. The time frame of the study covers the period from the Gulf War of 1990, to the Arab Spring of 2010. This period marked a new era for Saudi women novelists; it was one in which women writers started to voice in their works their discontent with dominant gender hierarchies, spatial restraints and unequal power relations. The rising feminist consciousness that had begun to emerge in Saudi women’s novels by the end of the twentieth century is one of the main foci of this study. It is through the lens of feminism that I will examine the intersections of the themes of gender, space and power in the novels of Laila Al-Juhani’s Alfirdaus Alyabāb (Barren Paradise, 1998), Raja Alem’s Khatam (Khatam, 2001) and Siter (Cover, 2005), Nourah Al-Ghamdi’s Wijhatu Albūṣalah (Point of the Compass, 2002), Seba Al-Herz’ Alakhrūn, (The Others, 2006) and Atheer Al-Nashmi’ Aḥbabtuka Ᾱktharu mima Yanbaghī (I Loved You More Than I Should, 2009). In my analysis of the selected novels I will pay specific attention to forms of resistance, rebellion and empowerment in the authors’ engagement with such themes.