Textiles in text: synaesthesia, metaphor and affect in fiction



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of the Arts, English and Media


The aim of this thesis is to show how fiction that makes use of textiles as an essential element utilizes synaesthetic writing and synaesthetic metaphor to create an affective link to and response in the reader.

To demonstrate this I have used affect theory from Silvan Tomkins and Brian Massumi and work on synaesthesia by Richard Cytowic, Lawrence Marks, V.S. Ramachandran and others. Synaesthetic writing, including synaesthetic metaphors, has been studied in poetry since the 1920s and, more recently, in fiction, particularly by Sean Day, but these studies have been general in nature. By narrowing the field of investigation to those novels that specifically employ three types of hand-crafted textiles (quilt-making, knitting and embroidery), I have been able to isolate how these textiles are used in fiction. The combination of synaesthesia, memory, metaphor and particularly, synaesthetic metaphor in fiction with textiles in the text of the case studies selected, shows how these are used to create affect in readers, enhancing their engagement in the story.

I have framed my work within the context of the history of textile production and the use of textiles in fiction internationally, but I have concentrated on Australian authors who have used textiles in their writing. The decision to focus on Australian authors was taken in light of the quality and depth of the writing of textile fiction produced in Australia between 1980 and 2005 in the three categories of hand-crafted textiles – quilt-making, knitting and embroidery. The texts chosen for intensive study are: Kate Grenville’s The Idea of Perfection (2000, quilting); Marele Day’s Lambs of God (1998, knitting) and Anne Bartlett’s Knitting (2005, knitting); Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River (1980, embroidery) and Marion Halligan’s Spider Cup (1990, embroidery).


This thesis has been published as Thomas D. M. E. (2016). Texts and textiles: affect, synaesthesia and metaphor in fiction. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
A copy is also available for loan from University of Wollongong library, call number 820.99287/70.

The original thesis manuscript is unavailable due to its continuing embargo.

FoR codes (2008)

200502 Australian Literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature), 200525 Literary Theory, 200526 Stylistics and Textual Analysis



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.