Girlhood, Disability, and Liminality in Barbara Gowdy’s <i>Mister Sandman</i>


Barbara Gowdy’s 1996 novel Mister Sandman centers on the mysteriously silent figure of Joan Cannary, a mentally disabled child who yet does not become a spectacle of the grotesque in the mode quite standard for representations of the disabled female figures, as Rosemarie Garland Thomson noticed in her magisterial study Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. In her disability Gowdy’s Joan does not constitute a metaphor of the condition of her family, either, despite the transgressions they are prone to devote themselves to. The novel offers an open-minded outlook on transgression as a means of liberating oneself from the social constraints and from the self-imposed limitations. Joan’s eternal girlhood makes her a lens for the family members’ tendency to transgress against the norms, which is ultimately received with affirmation. Her figure offers a valuable commentary on other texts by Gowdy, which present a discourse on the liminality of human body and on the boundaries of identity.

Key words: Barbara Gowdy, Canadian novel in English, disability, body, gender.

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Anna Czarnowus
University of Silesia 
Anna Czarnowus is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Philology at the University of Silesia, Katowice (Poland). She teaches in the English and French program in the Institute of Romanic Languages and Translation Studies. She is a lecturer of English literature, literary theory, and British and American culture and history. She has recently published the book version of her doctoral dissertation, Inscription on the Body: Monstrous Children in Middle English Literature (Katowice: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego, 2009).