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Repossessing the World

Reading Memoirs by Contemporary Women

Helen M. Buss

Life Writing Series

Hardcover 231 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-408-9

Release Date: February 2002


Hardcover edition is out of print.  

Paper 231 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-409-6

Release Date: February 2002

Online discount: 25%

$38.99  $29.24


eBook availability

Winner of the 2003 Laura Jamieson Prize awarded by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW)

Why does it seem as if everyone is writing memoirs, and particularly women?

The current popularity of memoir verifies the common belief that we each have a story to tell. And we do...especially women. Memoirs are not only representations of women’s personal lives but also of their desire to repossess important parts of our culture, in which women’s stories have not mattered.

Beginning with her own motivations for writing memoirs, Helen M. Buss examines the many kinds of memoir written by contemporary women: memoirs about growing up, memoirs about traumatic events, about relationships, about work. In writing memoirs, these women publicly assert that their lives have mattered. They reshape the memoir, a form as old as the middle ages and as young as today, into a social discourse that blends the personal with the political, the self with the significant other, literature with history, and fiction with autobiography and essay. Buss urges readers to use their reading experience to help themselves understand and write the significance of their own lives.

Repossessing the World is the first book-length critical inquiry into women’s use of a form that has often been dismissed as less important than autobiography, less professional than the novel, and less intellectual than the formal essay. Buss demonstrates that the memoir makes its own art, not only through selective borrowing from these genres but also through the unique way that the tripartite narrative voice of the memoir constructs the personal and public experience of the memorist as significant to our cultural moment.

Helen M. Buss (aka Margaret Clarke) is a professor in the English Department at the University of Calgary. She has written fiction and memoir as well as books on Life Writing. She is winner of a best first novel award in Manitoba for her book The Cutting Season and the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Mapping Our Selves. Three of her most recent books published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press are Memoirs from Away: A New Found Land Girlhood, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives, edited with D.L. Macdonald and Anne McWhir, and Working in Women’s Archives edited with Marlene Kadar.


Repossesing the World is a fascinating, seminal, challenging, and at time iconoclastic, college-level discourse of the hidden depths in writing by female authors and highly recommended for serious students of women’s studise and contemporary literary criticism.”

— Kristi Siegel, Wisconsin Bookwatch

“Buss argues convincingly that memoir serves as an ideal form for women—in particular—to ‘repossess ways of knowing the world and the self that do not divide the heart from the head.’... Buss’s intelligent book presents an excellent resource on women’s contemporary memoirs, and also serves to offer a nuanced analysis of the memoir itself, a genre that has not received the critical attention it merits.”

— Kristi Siegel, Biography

“Buss picks up on the recent surge in ‘memoir’ writing to distinguish memoir from other forms of life writing as a genre that is both personal and socio-historical. In doing so, she works not only from clear analyses based on her own primary readings in the field (extensive and varied) but also from the most recent and sophisticated theories at work in feminist studies and autobiography studies. Further, focusing on women’s memoirs, she examines the various ways in which women in particular situations have been able to repossess their own worlds in terms of perspective, interpretation, and the power to change. Buss’s chapters develop important stages of this discussion and build into a very persuasive whole. Finally, as part of a radical and significant movement in life writing and in literature studies in general, Buss works as an auto-bio-crito-grapher, positioning herself in order to position and personalize her analyses. She has had the courage and talent to write her own memoir, and is therefore ‘positioned’ to discuss both the reading and the writing of women’s memoirs.”

— Susanna Egan, University of British Columbia

”[This book] demonstrates perhaps the most fulsome review of the literature of memoir and autobiography that I have seen, but the writer also contributes very important theoretical and practical distinctions between autobiography and memoir. Indeed, those distinctions and the history she outlines of both genres are among the most important contributions [this book] makes to the study of women’s self writing.”

— Shari Benstock, University of Miami

“Citing a wide variety of theorists [Buss] probes issues of balance, mother-daughter relationships, trauma, and academic matters as significant themes in the evolution of English-language memoir writing. As with most scholarly monographs, which attempt to advance a field of study, this one can sometimes make difficult reading for those not up on their theory, but the analysis is happily leavened by the author’s determination to integrate her own subjectivity into the discussion and by her engaging scholarly passion.”

— Margaret Conrad, Canadian Book Review Annual

“Buss’s volume will be useful to anyone analyzing the rich nuances of writing as a means of recording and analyzing the self and to students of textual modes: autobiography, memoir, personal narrative.”

— K. Gale, Loyola Marymount University, CHOICE

“Memoir has long deserved the careful attention Helen Buss gives it in Repossessing the World: Reading Memoirs by Contemporary Women.... In this study Buss returns to some of her previous work...investigating the memoirist’s tripartitie roles as witness, participant, and relfective/reflexive narrator. The strengths of this book lis in Buss’s engagement with the interplay between these roles, and in her exploration of how they allow women to resist narratives and restrictions inherited from patriarchal society.”

— Elizabeth Maurer, Canadian Literature

Repossessing the World

Table of Contents

Related interest

Biography and autobiography

Life writing

Women's studies

By the same author

Memoirs from Away: A New Found Land Girlhood, Helen M. Buss / Margaret Clarke

Working in Women’s Archives: Researching Women’s Private Literature and Archival Documents, Marlene Kadar and Helen M. Buss, editors

Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives, Helen M. Buss, D.L. Macdonald, and Anne McWhir, editors