Telling Incest

Narratives of Dangerous Remembering from Stein to Sapphire
Janice Doane and Devon Hodges
An exploration of how specific historical contexts, narrative conventions, and cultural politics shape the ways that stories of incest are told and heard


In the last decade, women's accounts of father-daughter incest have prompted much public debate. Are these accounts true? Are they false? Telling Incest, however, asks a different question: what does a believable incest story sound like and why?

Examining the work of writers from Gertrude Stein to Toni Morrison and Dorothy Allison, Telling Incest argues that an incest story's plausibility depends upon a shifting set of narrative conventions and cultural expectations. As contexts for telling incest stories have changed, so too have the tasks of those who tell and those who listen. The authors analyze both fictional and nonfiction narratives about father-daughter incest, beginning by scrutinizing the shadowy accounts found in nineteenth-century case records, letters, and narratives.

Telling Incest next explores African American stories that shift the blame for incest from the black family to the predations of a paternalistic white culture. Janice Doane and Devon Hodges demonstrate that writers drew upon this reworked incest narrative in the 1970s and early 1980s in order to relate a feminist story about incest, a story that criticizes patriarchal power. This feminist form of the story, increasingly emphasizing trauma and recovery, can be found in such popular books as Alice Walker's The Color Purple and Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. Doane and Hodges then examine recent memoirs and novels such as Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina and Sapphire's Push, narratives that again rework the incest story in an effort to "tell" about women's complex experiences of subjugation and hope.

Telling Incest will be of particular interest to readers who have enjoyed the popular and culturally significant work of writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Jane Smiley, and Dorothy Allison and to students of women's studies, feminist theory, and cultural studies.

Janice Doane is Professor of English, St. Mary's College of California.

Devon Hodges is Professor of English, George Mason University. They have also coauthored From Klein to Kristeva: Psychoanalytic Feminism and the Search for the"Good Enough" Mother and Nostalgia and Sexual Difference: The Resistance to Contemporary Feminism.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . speaks intelligently to a complex and disturbing topic that has been sensationalized and trivialized. Its analysis separates substantial issues and arguments from self-interested distortions, but neither idealizes nor revictimizes survivors."
    Modern Fiction Studies
  • ". . . this is a valuable book, clearly written and smart. It offers an overview of the incest narrative which, while debatable, like all categories, is still useful as a point of departure."
    —Sharon O'Brien, Women's Review of Books, September 2002

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 176pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-09794-4

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  • $84.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06794-7

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  • $25.95 U.S.