Remember whose girl you are...Discuss the representation of power and control between females in Affinity

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Mark-James Fisher     English   Module 1011: Introduction to the Novel    Coursework Assignment 1             Dr. Deborah Mutch

“Remember. Ruth is saying. Whose girl you are…” Discuss the representation of power and control between females in Affinity.

Sarah Waters’ Affinity is a gothic novel that represents the power and control between females. In order to understand how ‘power’ and ‘control’ is represented, we need to define these terms. ‘Power’ and ‘Control’ between females could suggest how particular females within the novel influence each other, and also how women wield authority over women.  

Waters represents the ‘power’ and ‘control’ between females when she portrays the structure of Milbank prison by exploring Jeremy Bentham’s panopticism, with regards to both the prison and society.  

The prison’s structure in the form of pentagons could suggest how the female prisoners are institutionalised. Margaret describes the prison on first entering it as a ‘Lady Visitor’ as

It has been designed by a man in the grip of nightmare or madness – or it had been made expressly to drive its inmates mad. I think it would certainly drive me mad, if I had to work as a warder there. 

Margaret’s vision of this prison as an institution built to “drive its inmates mad” emphasises the panopticon prison’s influence over the prisoners.

The prison’s surveillance also illustrates the power and control between women, as the matrons monitor the prisoners through the door flaps and this creates a sense of unease and lack of privacy amongst the prisoners.  

The coding system that co-ordinates the prisoners within the prison system also

Illustrates how the matrons exercise authority over the prisoners.

Selina, in the novel, is referred to like a servant by the matrons, as she suggests that “They call me Dawes here, like a servant.”Selina’s position as a criminal deprives her of identity and her status in society descends.  

The authority of females over other females in Milbank prison mirrors that of Margaret’s household, as this is particularly seen by Mrs Prior’s treatment of Margaret. Since the death of Margaret’s father, Mrs Prior establishes herself as a matriarch who influences Margaret’s day-to-day routines, lifestyle and decisions, and therefore wields authority over the household. Since her suicide attempt, Margaret’s position in society has deteriorated from an upper-middle class woman to a spinster, whom is domesticated:

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“‘Your place is here!’  ‘She answered, -not at the prison. And it is time you showed that you know it. Now Priscilla is married, you must take up your proper duties in the house. Your place is here, your place is here’”.

This illustrates Margaret’s incarceration within the home by her mother, and also shows that in order to elevate her status from spinsterhood by partaking in household duties, she needs to marry and exchange her vows. The critic Jenni Milbank supports this as she argues that:

Margaret’s status as ‘spinster’ renders her vulnerable to pressure from her ...

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