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Beyond Poor Cows and Angry Young Women: Extraordinary Female Voices in the Narratives of Nell Dunn and Shelagh Delaney

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posted on 2023-06-29, 11:42 authored by Lowe, Rosemary

Post-war British writers Nell Dunn and Shelagh Delaney have long been associated with the gritty Kitchen Sink school of social realism. Defined as female versions of Angry Young Men, their working-class female characters have been categorised as poor cows. This characterisation has been emphasised by film versions of their work, for which they wrote the screenplays. Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey (1958) was made into a film in 1961, seen as the embodiment of Northern Kitchen Sink social realism. Dunn’s Up the Junction (1963) and Poor Cow (1967) were both made into films by Ken Loach. Over time, Dunn’s voice has been lost amid the wider Loach canon and this has resulted in a reductive reading of her prose. This thesis explores the narratives of both authors outside this trend and emphasises the hope and humour also present in these texts, a hope that overrides desolation. I read Dunn beyond her seminal works Up the Junction and Poor Cow and include her sequel to Poor Cow, My Silver Shoes (1996). These two narratives have not previously been explored together. I discuss conversation as a literary device and the collective collaborative female voice in Dunn’s Talking to Women (1965). This thesis explores the authors’ voices through their own insights into their work and the collective female voices found through their lived experience in working-class communities. These communities embodied youth, vitality and joy, female camaraderie, and the importance of having a good laugh. This thesis focuses on Dunn’s use of dichotomy and bathos as literary devices, creating humour and hope within desolation. It offers a reimagining of their works beyond that of poor cows and angry young women and a restoration of the extraordinary female voices in their narratives.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130103 The creative arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies and Art History


McNeill, Dougal