Myth and materiality in a woman’s world

Shetland 1800–2000

Author: Lynn Abrams

This book is about the relationship between myth-making and historical materiality. It is a singular case study of the position and experience of women in a 'peripheral' society distanced - geographically, economically and culturally - from the British mainland. The book first looks at women and gender relations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through examination of the construction of historical myth. It then looks at economic and demographic factors that underpinned the materiality of women's dominance of culture. An understanding of women's work patterns and experiences is central to any analysis of women's lives in Shetland and the gender relations contingent upon this. Shetland women were autonomous, independent workers whose day-to-day productive experiences implicated them in all sorts of social and economic relationships outside the home. The book argues that women's culture in Shetland actually had only a marginal connection to the islands' dominant economic activity - fishing. It also argues that the negligible figures for children born outside wedlock are a poor guide to understanding the moral order in nineteenth-century Shetland. Like the new visitors to Shetland, the historians of the early twenty-first century would ordinarily reach the same conclusions. They would do so, at root, because the authors are equipped with the same myth system of discourse about what constitutes women's subordination and power. The book seeks to navigate the issue of 'power' by approaching it in terms which the Shetland woman understood in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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