Performing (In)sanity: Un-Doing Gender in Janet Frame’s An Angel at my Table

Laura de la Parra Fernández


This essay explores madness as a performative practice in Janet Frame’s An Angel At My Table (1981) as a way to escape from gender conventions. Following Shoshana Felman and Suzette Henke, I will look at how Frame deconstructs and reconstructs a new identity by giving up female gender conventions—especially sexuality and the normative female body. In the second part of this article I analyse how, by omitting an actual account of her stay in numerous mental institutions in her autobiography, she reshapes and “re-members” the image that she wants to portray of herself.


Gender studies, Janet Frame; life writing; performativity; madness

Full Text:



Anderson, Linda. Women and Autobiography in Twentieth Century: Remembered Futures. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997.

Appignanesi, Lisa. Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. PMid:18569606

Ash, Susan. “‘The Absolute, Distanced Image’: Janet Frame’s Autobiography.” Journal of New Zealand Literature 11 (1993): 21-40

Boileau, Nicolas Pierre. “Places of Being: Janet Frame’s Autobiographical Space.” Auto/Biography Studies 22.2 (2007): 217-229.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. New York & London: Routledge, 1993.

Chesler, Phyllis. Women and Madness. Rev. Edition. New York: St Martins, 2005.

Felman, Shoshana. “Women and Madness: the Critical Phallacy.” Diacritics 5.4 (1975): 2-10.

---. What Does a Woman Want?: Reading and Sexual Difference. Baltimore & London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Foucault, Michel. Madness & Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Vintage, 1988.

Frame, Janet. An Angel at my Table. London: Virago, 2008.

---. Faces in the Water. London: Virago, 2009.

Gambaudo, Sylvie. “Melancholia in Janet Frame’s Faces in the Water.” Literature and Medicine. 30.1 (2012): 42-60. PMid:22870608

Gilbert, Emily, et al. “Battles From Below: A Literature of Oppression.” Geography and Literature 38.1 (1996): 19-28.

Henke, Suzette A. Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life Writing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. “Folie et Litterature: de Foucault à Janet Frame.” La Licorne 55 (2000): 293-304.

Lejeune, Philippe. “The Autobiographical Pact.” On Autobiography. Ed. Paul J Eakin. Trans. Katherine Leary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. PMCid:PMC1031850

Mercer, Gina. “‘A Simple Everyday Glass’: The Autobiographies of Janet Frame.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 11 (1993): 41-48.

Merli, Carol, and Torney, Kay. “Dangerous Margins: The Body and Art in Janet Frame’s Autobiographies.” Women’s Studies 27 (1997): 63-83.

Oikkonen, Venla. “Mad Embodiments: Female Corporeality and Insanity in Janet Frame’s Faces in the Water and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.” Helsinki English Studies: Electronic Journal 3 (2004) Web. 15 Sept. 2016. .

Rodríguez Salas, Gerardo. “‘Just as a Scientific Hypothesis’: The Literary Language of Madness in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.” Odisea 13 (2012): 105-112.

Showalter, Elaine. The Female Malady: Women, Madness & Culture, 1830-1980. London: Virago, 1987. PMCid:PMC254138

Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978.

Ussher, Jane M. The Madness of Women: Myth and Experience. New York: Routledge, 2011.



  • There are currently no refbacks.