Michele Roberts: Female Genius and The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene


Jasper A (2011) Michele Roberts: Female Genius and The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Text Matters, 1 (1), pp. 61-75.;

Since Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex in 1949, feminist analysis has tended to assume that the conditions of male normativity – reducing woman to the merely excluded ‘Other’ of man - holds true in the experience of all women, not the least, women in the context of Christian praxis and theology outside its critical purview. Beauvoir’s powerful analysis – showing us how problematic it is to establish a position outside patriarchy’s dominance of our conceptual fields - has helped to explain the resilience of sexism and forms of male violence that continue to diminish and destroy women’s lives because they cannot be seen as questionable. It has also, I would argue, had the unintended consequence of intensifying the sense of limitation or even erasure within masculinist structures so that it becomes problematic to account for the work and lives of effective, innovative and responsible women in these contexts. As a result, there is an uncritical tendency today, on the one hand to cite the individual accomplishments of women as ‘proof’ that feminist critique of our shared cultural discourses is now outmoded, unfair and even counterproductive, or on the other, to remain silent about the role of women in bringing about change, not least through their work within feminist theory and activism. In order to address this problematic issue, I want to use the life and work of novelist Michèle Roberts, as a case study in female genius within an interdisciplinary field, in order to acknowledge the conditions that have limited a singular woman’s literary and theological aspirations but also to claim that she is able to give voice to something creative of her own. The key concept of female genius within this project is taken from the work of Julia Kristeva and rests on a notion of subjectivity that draws on elements of embodiment and female desire excluded in traditional and normatively masculine theological accounts, or from notions of genius derived from the conceptual repertoire of European Romanticism. I argue that Roberts’ work as a writer qualifies her as female genius in so far as it challenges aspects of traditional Christianity, bringing to birth new relationships between theological themes and scriptural narratives through the mediation of her singular female desires and pleasures as a writer. This paper – as part of a more inclusive, historical survey of the work of women writers crossing the disciplinary boundaries between literature and Christian theology over the last several centuries asks whether, in order to do proper justice to the real and proven limitations imposed on countless women in these fields across global and historical contexts, we need, at the same time, to reduce the Christian tradition to something that is always antithetical or for which women can take absolutely no credit or bare no responsibility.

Female genius; Julia Kristeva; Michèle Roberts; female as subject; feminist theology; women writers; Male as normative; Mary Magdalene; Roberts, Michele Criticism and interpretation; Feminist theology; Women authors

Text Matters: Volume 1, Issue 1

Publication date31/01/2011
Publication date online23/11/2011
PublisherDe Gruyter
Publisher URL