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Women and Scotland

Marie-Odile Pittin-Hedon

Contemporary Scottish Women’s literature

Rewriting myths and writing herstory in Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy

Sarah Bisson


Smith’s rewriting of the ancient myth of Iphis and Ianthe in a contemporary context cannot be reduced to a mere modernization of Ovid’s tale. This paper aims at showing that the retelling of this gender-bending story through the voices of two sisters allows the author to provide a narrative for women in general and for Scottish women in particular, thereby creating a new feminine myth. This is achieved thanks to a (re) telling of often forgotten historical events in which Scottish female figures took an active part and a harsh criticism of the neocolonialist corporate discourse which sees everything as a commodity and which is perceived as violently sexist and masculine. Ali Smith’s creation of a new narrative is thus both political and poetic: her constant exploration of the multiplicity of meanings and connotations of words and names, and her subtle reversal of conventions, help the author produce a new form of discourse that reasserts women’s place within Scottish national history and culture.

Texte intégral

  • 1 “The Myths Series,” Canongate, accessed 11 October 2016, <>

1Ali Smith’s novel Girl Meets Boy forms part of the Canongate Myths series whose basic principle is to bring leading authors to retell a myth in a contemporary way, in order to rediscover and explore how these “universal and timeless stories reflect and shape our lives.”1 In her enlightening study of the novel, Kaye Mitchell has replaced Girl Meets Boy within queer fiction, and shown how Smith’s use of the concept of metamorphosis enables the emergence of new conceptions of queerness, based on fluidity and transformation, and thus going beyond late twentieth and early twenty-first-century notions of queer identity as undefined manifestations of gender (Mitchell 61-74). This paper, while also exploring how the novel makes use of and reappropriates metamorphosis, focuses on another aspect of Girl Meets Boy, namely the process of rewriting itself. Rewriting is obviously central in this work if only by its very nature and the choice of the source text. By choosing to rewrite Ovid’s story of Iphis and Ianthe, taken from Book 9 of the Metamorphoses, Ali Smith not only inscribed her work in a now clearly established literary genre, women’s rewriting, which is defined as a genre in which “narratives of the past are retold from the perspective of a female character” (Plate 3), but also joined the long list of authors who rewrote tales from the Metamorphoses. Rewriting is at the heart of the conception of Ovid’s work too, as every story in the Metamorphoses retells an earlier version and what is more, the poet kept revising his work throughout his life: for him “all writing entails rewriting; all reading, rereading” (Tarrant 29). Finally, the structure of the narrative of Girl Meets Boy itself lays bare the mechanics of retelling and rewriting as one of the most striking features of the novel resides in three crucial scenes that are told twice. My suggestion is that in her rewriting of this myth, Ali Smith actually offers the reader a lesson in myth-reading or rather in myth-deconstructing, showing how these stories may not be as timeless and universal as they are said to be, so that she can then provide a new form of story that actually challenges any type of story supposed to answer the needs of our times and reflect our lives.

2 Girl Meets Boy therefore is quite didactic, even programmatic. In order to understand what Smith’s lesson consists in, this paper will first focus on how Smith’s treatment of her source provides us with the analytical tools that enable the reader to deconstruct all the mythical discourses pervading the novel that ensure the permanence of a male-dominated social order in the context of contemporary Scotland. Then I shall analyse how rewriting allows women to challenge these discourses and to write themselves within society and Scottish history. Finally, this study will show how the novel brings to the fore and eventually manages to solve the inherent paradox that lies in the task of deconstructing a myth while rewriting it at the same time.

  • 2 This phrase recurs throughout the book and its occurrence within the first narration of the myth is (...)

3The story of Iphis and Ianthe, which is embedded in the narratives of two sisters living in Inverness who both undergo some form of metamorphosis, is significantly told twice (in bed), the second version coming immediately after the first. Anthea, the modern-day Ianthe, recalls when her lover, Robin, a queer eco-activist, tells her the story from which she took her nom-de-guerre, that is Iphis. The first telling is quite in keeping with the original as it is made without any comment, so that the reader can be acquainted with the source: Robin narrates how Iphis was raised as a boy by her mother because the goddess Isis had told her to disobey her husband who had decided to get their baby killed if it was a girl because they could not afford having a female offspring. As she grows up, Iphis falls in love with Ianthe, a beautiful girl and soon their respective parents agree to get them married. Iphis then despairs that she will never be able to satisfy her bride as she should, and she complains bitterly to the whole Cretan pantheon as the wedding day approaches. Her mother eventually asks the goddess Isis for help and Iphis, “Lo and behold!” (Smith 89)2, miraculously turns into a boy.

4The second telling is substantially longer as it recounts how the story was actually told: indeed Anthea constantly interrupts her lover, making comments, asking for explanations and reacting to the different episodes of the story while Robin adds details belonging to the original source that were not mentioned in the first summary account. These dialogical additions actually replace the story within a geographical, historical, cultural and social context and at the same time some parallels are drawn with our times as Robin explains that selective abortion is still practiced in some parts of the world and that it is still a scary experience for a twelve-year-old girl to discover that she is in love with another girl. And finally, she reminds her audience that the story was created by a man, a Roman who, “can’t help fixating on what it is that girls don’t have under their togas” and “who can’t imagine what girls would ever do without one” (Smith 97).

5The central message of Ovid’s story is thus made more than explicit here: female homosexuality is impossible, it cannot exist, it does not exist. And this is immediately contradicted by physical evidence as Anthea peeks under the duvet and says: “doesn’t feel or look like anything’s missing to me.” (Smith 97)

6The aim and the effect of these two successive narrations appears to be quite clear if they are read in the terms of the analysis Roland Barthes makes of myths in Mythologies: he defines myth as a second-order semiological system that takes an already constituted sign and turns it into a signifier. Myth is a metalanguage, because it is a second language in which the first is being talked about. At the level of first order language, that is language itself, the words are signifiers that relate a story: how a girl was changed into a boy thanks to the intervention of gods so that she could marry and satisfy the girl she was in love with. But at the level of second-order language, that is myth, the sign of the first level becomes the signifier of another signified to form the signification of the myth: female homosexuality does not exist. The force of a myth resides within this shift between the two orders, which empties the initial sign of its history and makes the final signification of the myth appear to be natural, eternal, absolute, hence its apparently essentialist message about lesbian sexuality here (Barthes 109-127). Myth, Barthes says, “transforms history into nature”, it is consumed rather than deciphered: it is the mythologist’s job to read it, that is to lay bare the social, historical, intentional forces at play in its construction (Barthes 129). So Iphis’s story is here first merely perceived, consumed (hence the “Lo and behold!” injunction that announces the metamorphosis) and then given again to be deciphered.

7The novel contains yet another version of the myth of the impossibility of lesbian sexuality and even though it is delivered by two obviously and ridiculously sexist male characters, it nevertheless reveals the pervasiveness of such discourses that are backed here by psychological and historical pseudo-arguments that were produced again within the context of heavily patriarchal societies.

See, that’s what I don’t get, Dominic says shaking his head, serious. Because, there’s no way they could do it, I mean, without one. So it’s like, pointless.
Freud defined it, Norman says (Norman did psychology at Stirling), as a state of lack. A state of lacking something really, you know, fundamental.
Adolescent backwardness, Marked underdevelopment, Norman says.
Yeah, but a really heavy case of underdevelopment, Dominic says. I mean, never mind anything else. Never mind how weird it is. Like, what gets me is, there’s nothing to do the job. Nothing to do the jiggery-pokery with. And that’s why Queen Victoria didn’t make rugmunch illegal.
How’s that? Norman says.
It was on Channel Four. Apparently she said there was no such thing, like, it didn’t exist. And she was right. [...] It’s, like, how can they? I just don’t get it. It’s a joke, Dominic says.
Smith 69-70

  • 3 Joseph Roth, quoted by Smith (unnumbered page).

8Female homosexuality is here reduced to a joke because of a fundamental lack by Dominic and Norman, whose names are cleverly and quite pointedly merged into a single portmanteau name by Anthea: Dominorm. Their views are thus to be read as the reflection of a dominant norm that needs to categorise individuals within a heteronormative frame that “mistrusts the undefined”3 to cite one of the quotations placed by Smith at the beginning of the novel.

9 Categorising is also what Ovid’s Metamorphoses are all about as all the stories end in classifying things in terms of species, class, gender, etc., as its main function, is aetiology, that is “to explain and, by the very explanation, to organise natural and social phenomena by giving accounts of how they came into being” and so, very often “to legitimate social facts” (Graf 115). The narrative reveals how such categorising is constantly imposed in contemporary society thanks to ubiquitous adverts that invade urban spaces and hammer in their over simplistic normative messages, as in the following example whose rather exaggeratedly long enumeration clearly ensures that the reader gets the message. Get What You Want. In smaller writing at the bottom, Get What You Want In The First Six Weeks or Get Six Months’Free Membership.

It was a massive pink poster with little cartoon people drawn on it in couples standing outside little houses, a bit like weather people. They didn’t have faces, they had cartoon blank circles instead, but they were wearing uniforms or outfits and holding things to make it clearer what they were. A nurse (female) and a policeman (male). That was one couple. A sailor (male) and a pole-dancer (female). A teacher (female) and a doctor (male). An executive (male) and a arty-looking person (female). A dustman (male) and a ballet dancer (female). A pirate (male) and a person holding a baby (female). A cook (female) and a truck driver (male). The difference between male and female was breasts and hair.
Smith 30-1

10Here again the myth is demystified by Anthea’s narrative voice that describes the poster: she insists on how the individuals are reduced to mere symbols that have been deprived of identity, except for simplified indicators of their sex and the corresponding gender roles. Moreover, the constraints such norms impose on the individual are physically inscribed in the text: the brackets clearly limit the space within which the words female and male are written. The same device is applied when Imogen, Anthea’s sister, is the narrator (the chapters of the book being alternately told by the two sisters), but in her case, she is the one who sets constraints to herself and to others: indeed, most of her thoughts revolve around her desire for conformity, her obsessive quest (and request) for the right word and her absolute refusal of any form of uncertainty, blurred lines or deviance from what she perceives as an unquestionable norm. That is why the text itself reflects the normative nature of her discourse: her narrative appears in the form of paragraphs limited by brackets. Imogen seems to have completely integrated and accepted the mythical discourses that have helped maintain women into silence and into submission: she is a woman, so she is to be a mother, and a self-sacrificing one if necessary.

(I will never leave my children when I have fallen in love and married and have had them. I will have them young, not when I am old, like the selfish generation. I would rather give up any career than not have them. I would rather give myself up. I would rather give up everything including any stupid political principle than leave children that belonged to me. Look how it ends. Thank God that feministy [sic] time of selfishness is over and we now have everything we will ever need, including a much more responsible set of values.)
Smith 52-3

11Imogen’s self-denial, which is characteristic of contemporary conservative fear of feminism (Freedman 10-12), is not only about her limiting her future horizons. She also accepts the daily humiliations and abuse her male colleagues inflict to her at work. A scene that recounts a creative session at Pure where both Anthea and Imogen work as executives shows quite clearly how Imogen has been reduced to the state of “anti-narcissism” denounced by Hélène Cixous in The Laugh of the Medusa (Cixous 878):

Water is about well-being, Midge said. About being well.
Nobody heard her.
It’s all about well-being, an unfamiliar Creative said on the other side of the room.
I like that, Keith said. Very good point, Norm.
I saw Midge look down, disheartened, and in that moment I saw what it was that was different about my sister now. I saw it in the turn of her head and the movement of her too-thin wrist. How had I not seen it? She was far too thin. She was really thin.
Smith 38-9

12This passage conflates both women’s deprivation of their speech and women’s confiscation of their body that Cixous exposes and condemns. Indeed, the scene is surprisingly reminiscent of the following extract from The Laugh of the Medusa:

Every woman has known the torment of getting up to speak. Her heart racing, at times entirely lost for words, ground and language slipping away - that’s how daring a feat, how great a transgression it is for women to speak - just open her mouth - in public. A double distress, for even if she transgresses, her words fall almost always upon the deaf male ear, which hears in language only the which speaks in the masculine.
Cixous 880-81

13Imogen’s eating disorders and body issues reveal the extent of her self-censorship: her body is one “(which) has been more than confiscated from her, (which) it has been turned into an uncanny stranger on display ˗ the ailing or dead figure, which so often turns out to be the nasty companion, the cause and location of inhibitions. Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time.” (Cixous 880) Quite interestingly, Anthea mentions thinness when she wonders about the possible origin of myths:

I mean, do myths spring fully formed from the imagination and the needs of a society, I said, as if they emerged from society’s subconscious? Or are myths conscious creations by the various money-making forces? For instance, is advertising a new kind of myth-making? [...] And do people, for instance, want to be thin because of a prevailing myth that thinness is more beautiful?
Smith 88-89

14By questioning myth, she reveals how myths that are perceived as springing from the needs of a society ˗ we think here of the various mythical discourses that help maintain a male-dominated society that have been studied so far ˗ function like the myths created by advertising as they are needed to maintain the economic system. This parallel is actually carried on throughout the novel as Imogen and Anthea are involved in their company’s new project of selling bottled Scottish water and so in the creative process of a myth that would make people believe that they need their product. The Pure creative session that takes place in the first chapter echoes the lesson in myth-reading mentioned earlier: the narrative provides us here with a lesson in myth-creating that discloses some of the rhetorical techniques at work when creating a myth. The session opens with the boss, Keith, showing a series of photographs to his team:

Eileen Donan Castle on a cloudy day. The clouds reflecting in the water round the castle.
The old bridge at Cartridge on snowy day. A ridge of snow on the bridge. The water under it reflecting the blue of the sky. Ice at its edges.
A whale’s back rising out of very blue water.
An archaeological site with a stretch of blue water beyond it.
A loch in green treeless valley with a war memorial at the front of it.
An island rising out of very blue water.
A Highland cow in an autumnal setting, behind it a thin line of light on water.
Smith 34

15The focus here is clearly on an empty signifier: the producer of myths “starts with a concept and seeks a form for it” (Barthes 128). The enumeration of images given here as the basis on which the team has to create the myth is clearly a succession of clichés, empty icons of Scotland. The landscapes, even though the concept of history is evoked through generic references to an archaeologic site and a war memorial, are dehumanised, deprived of their history. For instance, which war is commemorated by the war memorial? Keith, the English boss, then goes further into divesting these representations of Scotland of their historical, social, political, etc components when he decodes the images to his Scottish team: he literally decomposes the notion of water into its basic components, resorting to empty formulas: “Water is history. Water is mystery. Water is life. Water is archaeology. Water is civilisation” (Smith 34). Here the reduction of language clearly reflects the mechanics of neocolonialist corporate discourse which sees everything as a commodity to be sold and thus deprives countries, individuals, etc. of their identities. Such reduction of language reaches a climax in another scene when Keith tries to persuade Imogen to accept the charge of the Pure DND ˗ the letters significantly standing for Dominant Narrative Department as he resorts to tautology, one of the insistent rhetorical figures of myth (Barthes 152): “Pure is pure” (Smith 118). When Imogen eventually realises that her job will consist in distorting reality to an unethical and clearly harmful extent, using the DDR method - that is Deny, Disparage, Rephrase - she has an epiphany and rebels at last, refusing to conform to the role the dominant male wanted her to assume, literally refusing to obey the phallic rule as Keith ostentatiously makes her see his erection. Her metamorphosis leads her narrative voice to gradually shed off its brackets. She thus starts to write herself within the text, asserting her until-then self-censored and self-restricting voice: she reappropriates her identity, claiming she is a “loaded Gunn”, thus incorporating a masculine and even phallic component within her self. She also refers to herself as the descendant of a resisting female figure, from the clan she gets her name from. On the train back home, she remembers the story of her ancestor who refused to marry the chief of another clan who abducted her and locked her up in his own stronghold. She eventually threw herself from the tower rather than give in to male force and what Imogen previously perceived as a rather morbid legend becomes a story that needs to be told:

Listen, world out there, slow-passing beyond the train windows. I’m Imogen Gunn. I come from a family that can’t be had. I come from a country that’s the opposite of a, what was it, dominant narrative. I’m all Highland adrenalin. I’m all teuchter laughter and I’m all teuchter anger.
Smith 127-28

16Other historical accounts of female acts of resistance intersperse the text of the whole novel, linking several generations of women over time, from the first wave of feminism to the third. Each story is somehow connected to the other, thus creating a complex skein of voices that eventually reveals a coherent herstory. It all starts with the account Imogen and Anthea’s grandfather gives of his first rebellious act, which combines two significant elements that are essential in Smith’s rewriting of Iphis and Ianthe’s myth: writing and gender-bending.

So did I ever tell you about the time they put me in jail for a week when I was a girl? our grandfather says.
What for? I say.
For saying you were a girl when you weren’t one, Midge says.
For writing words, our grandfather says.
What words? I say.

NO VOTES NO GOLF, our grandfather says. they put us in jail because we write it into the golf green with acid, me and my friend. [...] I said to them all at the police station, I’m doing this because my mother can’t write her name with words, never mind vote. Your great-grandmother wrote her name with Xs. XXX. Mary Isobel Gunn.
Smith 5-6

17Then the grandfather tells of another episode of the Suffragette movement, explaining how he helped Burning Lily (Lilian Lenton, English suffragist), to escape through some form of cross-dressing as she eventually runs away dressed as a message boy. This story echoes the story of Flora MacDonald which is mentioned later in the book in connection with the messages Anthea and her lover Robin write all over the city of Aberdeen, including the base of the statue of Flora MacDonald, an act for which the two women –Iphis and Ianthe the message boys 2007 – get arrested, just like the grandfather.

I run down to the statue of Flora MacDonald shielding her eyes, watching for Bonnie Prince Charlie, still dressed in the girl’s clothes she lent him for his escape from the English forces, to come sailing back to her all the way up the River Ness.
I walk round the statue three times reading the words ringing the base of her. Tiny, clear, red, a couple of centimetres high: WOMEN OCCUPY TWO PERCENT OF SENIOR MANAGEMENT POSITIONS IN BUSINESS WORLDWIDE. [...] THIS MUST CHANGE. Iphis and Ianthe the message boys 2007.
Smith 136-37

18The narrative therefore literally makes women write themselves on the Scottish landscape, thus creating a room of their own within the Scotland’s historical, social and political space. It also makes use of intertextuality to inscribe women within the literary canon by playfully replacing the terms referring to males by words referring to females such as in the rewriting of the song taken from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and of Kipling’s poem “If”:

The rain it raineth every day. When I was a little tiny girl, with a hey, ho, the wind and the rain.
If you can keep your head when all about you. Are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken. If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew. I you can fill the unforgiving minute. With sixty second’s worth of distance run. Yours is the earth and everything’s that’s in it. And - which is more – you’ll be a woman, my daughter.
Smith 19

19Of course, these little playful permutations are only a tiny part of Smith’s rewriting of the myth of Iphis and Ianthe, which counters the impossibility of lesbian sexuality with the affirmation that gender cannot be categorised, a statement that is illustrated from the opening line of the novel “Let me tell you about when I was a girl, our grandfather says”, which immediately deconstructs the heteronormative authority of the traditional boy-meets-girl story (Smith 3). Thus Robin, the modern-day Iphis, first appears dressed in a full Highland male costume, an archetypal image of masculinity that is immediately challenged by the transformation of he into she when Anthea describes her: “He was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen in my life. But he looks really like a girl. She was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen in my life” (Smith 44-45). Then when describing her, Anthea inverts gendered characteristics, celebrating the undefined:

It had been exciting, first the not knowing what Robin was, then the finding out. The grey area, I’d discovered, had been misnamed: really the grey area was a whole other spectrum of colors new to the eye. She had the swagger of a girl. She blushed like a boy. [...] She was so boyish it was girlish, so girlish it was boyish.
2007: 82-83

  • 4 “Best books of the year – The Observer”, 25 November 2007, The Guardian, accessed 14 October 2016 <>

20The basic instability of gender, its transformative nature is further established in what Jackie Kay described as “the best sex I’ve read in years”4:

Her hand opened me. Then her hand became a wing. Then everything about me became a wing, a single wing, and she was the other wing, we were a bird. We were a bird that could sing Mozart. [...] Was that her tongue? Was that what they meant when they said flames had tongues? Was I melting? Would I melt? Was I gold? Was I magnesium? Was I briny, were my whole insides a piece of sea, was I nothing but salty water with a mind of its own, was I some kind of fountain, was I the force of water through stone? I was hard all right, and then I was sinew, I was a snake, I changed stone to snake in three simple moves, stoke, stake, snake, then I was a tree whose branches were all budded knots, and what were those felty buds, were they - antlers? were antlers really growing out of both of us? [...] I was a she was a he was a we were a girl and a girl and a boy and a boy, we were blades, were a knife that could cut through myth, were two knives thrown by a magician, were arrows fired by a god [...]
Smith 100-02

21In this detailed description of Anthea and Robin’s lovemaking, which is actually much longer, nothing is fixed, both are alternately or simultaneously active and passive, they both undergo several animal, mineral and vegetal metamorphoses. The boundaries between them become indistinguishable as they are fused into a single bird and then later in the paragraph when the use of the pronouns I, she, he and we confuses the syntax while paradoxically creating a perfectly clear meaning. Then, what is extremely interesting is that the same scene is immediately told again, in a much shorter version, which obviously echoes the two tellings of Ovid’s myth.

We were all that, in the space of about ten minutes. Phew. A bird, a song, the insides of a mouth, a fox, an earth, all the elements, minerals, a water feature, a stone, a snake, a tree, some thistles, several flowers, arrows, both genders, a whole new gender, no gender at all and God knows how many other things including a couple of fighting stags.
Smith 103

22This can undoubtedly be read as a warning signal showing the dangers of reducing such experience to the form of mythical discourse as it inevitably strips it of its original context and thus of its erotic and subversive power. But it may also retroactively point to the temptation to mythologize, to create new myths while actually deconstructing myth.

23The same principle applies to the very last chapter of the novel, as the same scene, that of Anthea and Robin’s wedding is, again, told twice. The first version is clearly a fantasy, introduced by the phrase “Lo and behold”, which alerts the reader to the presence of mythical discourse that should be deciphered and not merely consumed. The artificiality of the whole scene is furthermore emphasised by the feeling that we are presented with the typical ending of a feel-good girl-meets-boy story or film, in which all the cast, even the dead grandparents, are present except for the villains (here the representatives of the male-dominating discourse that are Dominorm and Keith) with the grotesque addition of two notable absent characters who send their excuses, John Knox and the Loch Ness monster and the presence of gods from the Roman pantheon, thus placing this evocation on the same level as the end of Ovid’s myth. Of course, this dreamlike idealistic vision is immediately debunked by the second telling as Anthea confesses:

Uh-huh. Okay. I know.
In my dreams.
What I mean is, we stood on the bank of the river under the trees, the pair of us, and we promised the nothing that was there, the nothing that made us, the nothing that was listening, that we truly desired to go beyond our selves.
And that’s the message. That’s it. That’s all.
Smith 159

24Despite the final tone of the last two sentences of Anthea’s retelling of her wedding, that is not the conclusion of the novel as immediately after these lines, the narrative reaffirms the ever-changing nature of things, underlining the necessity of constant metamorphosis. But strangely enough, these considerations gradually evolve into what sounds almost like tautologies, which here cannot not be seen as suspicious indicators of something that resembles mythical discourse:

[…] the story of nature itself, ever-inventive, making on thing out of another, and one thing into another, and nothing lasts, and nothing’s lost, and nothing ever perishes, and things can always change, because things will always change, and things will always be different, because things can always be different.
Smith 159-60

25Smith here subtly lays bare the paradox that is at the heart of the act of rewriting a myth. As Plate underlines it, “(i) f rewriting-as-demythologizing trusts it implies social change, is this not because rewriting is also remythologizing?” (Plate 169). That is probably why the novel instead of sacralising the above sentences ends with the formulation of the same idea on a comparatively more prosaic tone: Anthea’s grandfather says in her ear, “And there’s always a whole other kittle of fish” (Smith 160) while giving her a stone which she keeps in her hand, ready to be thrown - which is a recurring symbol of rebelliousness in the novel, thus symbolically advising the reader to be constantly ready to challenge norms, to question discourses, even when they appear to be satisfying.

  • 5 Jeanette Winterson, Weight, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.

26 Girl Meets Boy therefore reasserts the need for women to rewrite as indeed, the lesson given in this rewriting of Ovid’s myth could be summed up by what Robin says about myths: “Nobody grows up mythless […] It’s what we do with the myths we grow up with that matters” (Smith 98). Myths, stories created in a male-dominated past need to be reappropriated, re-written to be re-written again and again, as the leitmotiv in Jeanette Winterson’s rewriting of the myth of Atlas reminds us: “I want to tell the story again.”5 Only when “the stories that needed the telling” (Smith 180) are told and told again – thus avoiding to be “frozen” in time (Barthes 129) – will things change, as Ali Smith states it:

I believe firmly, and I think this about the novel as a form, it is a revolutionary form. Although it has its comfortable conventions, it forces forward all the time and partly it forces forward because things do change and because society changes and because it reflects that, but partly it shows us the ways in which it is possible for the given shape of things to change. So there’s that as well at the back of this rolling force of all the books that have ever been written, rolling forward, forward, forward to produce the next books, to produce the next books, to produce the next books.

Books would not exist without the books that came before them, and, if we’re going to work with books, we acknowledge that and move with the rhythm of it. (…) So some of the best things I’ve ever done have been work on other writers...
Young 147



Barthes, Roland, Mythologies, London: Jonathan Cape, 1972.

Cixous, Hélène, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society: Vol. 1: Iss. 4, 1976, 875-893.

Freedman, Estelle, No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, New York: Ballantine, 2002.

Germanà, Monica and Horton, Emily (eds.) Ali Smith: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Graf, Fritz Graf, “Myth in Ovid”, in Philip Hardie (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2002, 108-121.

Hardie, Philip (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2002.

Mitchell, Kaye, “Queer Metamorphoses: Girl meets boy and the Futures of Queer Fiction”, in Monica Germanà and Emily Horton (eds.), Ali Smith: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, London: Bloomsbury, 2013, 61-74.

Plate, Liedeke, Transforming Memories in Contemporary Women’s Rewriting, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011.

Smith, Ali, Girl Meets Boy, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2007.

Tarrant, Richard, “Ovid and ancient literary history”, in Philip Hardie (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2002, 13-33.

Winterson, Jeanette, Weight, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.

Young, Tori “Love and the Imagination Are Not Gendered Things: An Interview with Ali Smith,” Contemporary Women’s Writing: Vol. 9, Iss. 1, 2015, 131- 148.


1 “The Myths Series,” Canongate, accessed 11 October 2016, <>

2 This phrase recurs throughout the book and its occurrence within the first narration of the myth is quite significant as seen below.

3 Joseph Roth, quoted by Smith (unnumbered page).

4 “Best books of the year – The Observer”, 25 November 2007, The Guardian, accessed 14 October 2016 <>

5 Jeanette Winterson, Weight, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.


Teaches English in Paris Teachers’ Training College (Sorbonne Université - Faculté des Lettres). Her training and work experience has led her to conduct research into both Scottish literature and didactics. After focusing on the representation of space in Sir Walter Scott’s novels, she is now interested in narrative strategies in contemporary Scottish literature. She has published articles on Sir Walter Scott’s Jacobite novels and the use of literature in teaching English (ESL).

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