Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Ffion Murphy

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Richard Rossiter

Abstract

This thesis comprises a novel, ‘Lilac Tractors’ and an essay, ‘Intersections among psychiatry, madness, sexuality and feminism in ‘Lilac Tractors’’. The novel focuses on the relationship of a married couple, Gary, a fly-in, fly-out rig worker, and Sharon, a mature-age university student studying psychology. They live together in Perth’s north at the turn of the twenty-first century, as the outer suburbs are beginning to sprawl. Gary has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Sharon finds that her growing knowledge of the condition increases her annoyance with him, rather than her compassion. But mostly she is unhappy because Gary is too gentle and the relationship doesn’t provide the power differentiation she requires to feel sexually fulfilled. The novel explores the intersection between his psychiatric condition and their domestic lives while also investigating intergenerational relationships of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and complicated forms of inheritance.

Various themes are explored in the novel, including the overarching idea that, in patriarchal societies, there is a common tendency towards control of that which is different or perceived as threatening: women, the mentally ill and the land. This is explored through the juxtaposition of masochistic sexual desire, psychosurgical treatment and the tractors that clear the land next door to Sharon and Gary’s house. The tractors provide a visual reminder of one way that humankind controls the environment.

The critical essay discusses the inspiration for and genesis of ’Lilac Tractors’, which was developed first as a film script and progressed through many versions to become a novel. I discuss my stylistic choices and why I chose to write a work of general fiction that draws on and also violates some key conventions of ‘chick lit’. The essay also refers to relevant feminist theory and criticism to support a discussion on pornography and female sexuality, providing an explanation and rationale for the novel’s depiction of a masochistic relationship. ‘Lilac Tractors’ depicts ‘aberrant sexuality’ within a conventional suburban milieu, which some readers may find challenging or even iv troubling; however, fictional treatments of this kind are important and might potentially open space for frank and serious examination of power in relation to sexual desire.

A key concern of the novel is psychiatry. The essay also discusses two aspects of psychiatry, with a focus in particular on the history and practice of psychosurgery and diagnostic and literary depictions of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

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