Until very recently, feminist criticism has not had a theoretical basis; it has been an empirical orphan in the theoretical storm. In 1975, I was persuaded that no theoretical manifesto could adequately account for the varied methodologies and ideologies which called themselves feminist reading or writing.1 By the next year, Annette Kolodny had added her observation that feminist literary criticism appeared "more like a set of interchangeable strategies than any coherent school or shared goal orientation."2 Since then, the expressed goals have not been notably unified. Black critics protest the "massive silence" of feminist criticism about black and Third-World women writers and call for a black feminist aesthetic that would deal with both racial and sexual politics. Marxist feminists wish to focus on class along with gender as a crucial determinant of literary production. Literary historians want to uncover a lost tradition. Critics trained in deconstructionist methodologies with to "synthesize a literary criticism that is both textual and feminist." Freudian and Lacanian critics want to theorize about women's relationship to language and signification.
· 1. See my "Literary Criticism," Signs 1 (Winter 1975): 435-60.
· 2. Annette Kolodny, "Literary Criticism," Signs 2 (Winter 1976): 420.
Elaine Showalter is professor of English at Rutgers University. The author of A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing, she is currently completing The English Malady, a study of madness, literature, and society in England.
A politics of women's writing, then, if it is not to fall back on a biologically based theory of sexual difference, must address itself, as Luce Irigary has done in "Pouvoir du discours, subordination du feminin," to the position of mastery held not only by scientific discourse (Freudian theory, for instance), not only by philosophy, "the discourse of discourses," but by the logic of discourse itself. Rather than attempting to identify a specific practice, in other words, such a feminist politics would attempt to relocate sexual difference at the level of the text by undoing the repression of the "feminine" in all systems of representation for which the other (woman) must be reduced to the economy of the Same (man).
Mary Jacobus is an associate professor of English and of women's studies at Cornell University. She is the author of a book on Wordsworth as well as the editor of a collection of feminist criticism, Women Writing and Writing about Women. Currently she is at work on a study of Thomas Hardy and a collection of essays on Romantic poetry and prose.
Despite criticism's collusion with Eliot, there are a number of incongruities between Wordsworth's ideas and Eliot's texts that do not seem to be simply differences, scenes and passages that Eliot invites her readers to find Wordsworthian while she indicates a significant pattern of divergence from Wordsworthian prototypes. The brotherly instructions that Eliot is most generally concerned at once to follow and to deny are contained in Wordsworth's wish, in the verse "Prospectus" to The Recluse, to see "Paradise, and groves/Elysian" be "A simple produce of the common day" (ii. 47-48, 55). But when she follows this wish literally, her "common day," the intensely social world of her novels, tests far more strenuously the adaptability of the paradisal vision than does anything Wordsworth wrote. The generic incompatibility between a poet's vision and the form of the novel may account for some of the obvious differences, yet, as I will try to suggest later, it may be that Eliot's choice of the realistic novel as the form for her vision is in part an effect, not a cause of her ambivalent divergences from Wordsworth (for example, a series of her sonnets articulates these concerns as much as do the novels).
Margaret Homans, an assistant professor of English at Yale University, is the author of Women Writers and Poetic Identity: Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, and Emily Dickinson. She is currently at work on a book of feminist criticism of Romanticism and Victorian fiction.
Woman is not simply an object, however. If we think in terms of the production of culture, she is an art object: she is the ivory carving or mud replica, an icon or doll, but she is not the sculptor. Lest this seem fanciful, we should remember that until very recently women have been barred from art schools as students yet have always been acceptable as models. Both Laura and Beatrice were turned into characters by the poems they inspired. A poet as sensitive as Chaucer to this reification of the female allowed Criseyde to recognize and lament her own dilemma: "Allas, of me, unto the worldless ende,/Shall neyther ben ywritten nor ysonge/No good word; for these bokes wol me shende" (bk. 5, st. 152). Like the words written about her, she fears she will be "rolled on many a tongue!"6
· 6. I am indebted for this view of Criseyde to Marcelle Thiebaux's "Foucault's Fantasia for Feminists: The Woman Reading" (paper delivered at the MMLA Convention, Indianapolis, 8 November 1979).
Susan Gubar, associate professor of English at Indiana University, is coauthor of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination and coeditor of Shakespeare's Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets, both with Sandra M. Gilbert. They are currently working on No Man's Land: Feminism and Modernism, the sequel to their book.
The import of Petrarch's description of Laura extends well beyond the confines of his own poetic age; in subsequent times, his portrayal of feminine beauty became authoritative. As a primary canonical text, the Rime sparse consolidated and disseminated a Renaissance mode. Petrarch absorbed a complex network of descriptive strategies and then presented a single, transformed model. In this sense his role in the history of the interpretation and the internalization of woman's "image" by both men and women can scarcely be overemphasized. When late-Renaissance theorists, poets, and painters represented woman's body, Petrarch's verse justified their aesthetic choices. His authority, moreover, extended beyond scholarly consideration to courtly conversation, beyond the treatise on beauty to the after-dinner game in celebration of it. The descriptive codes of others, both ancients and contemporaries, were, of course, not ignored, but the "scattered rhymes" undeniably enjoyed a privileged status: they informed the Renaissance norm of a beautiful woman.1
· 1. On this "thoroughly self-conscious fashion," see. Elizabeth Cropper, "On Beautiful Women, Parmigianino, Petrarchismo, and the Vernacular Style," Art Bulletin 58 1976): 374-94.
Nancy Vickers is an assistant professor of French and Italian at Dartmouth College. She has published articles on Dante and Petrarch and has recently completed a book, The Anatomy of Beauty: Woman's Body and Renaissance Blazon.
It is commonly assumed that Victorian patriarchs disposed of their women by making myths of them; but then as now social mythology had an unpredictable life of its own, slyly empowering the subjects it seemed to reduce. It also penetrated unexpected sanctuaries. If we examine the unsettling impact upon Sigmund Freud of a popular mythic configuration of the 1890's we witness a rich, covert collaboration between documents of romance and the romance of science. Fueling this entanglement between the clinician's proud objectivity and the compelling images of popular belief is the imaginative power of that much-loved, much-feared, and much-lied-about creature, the Victorian woman.
Nina Auerbach, associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction as well as articles on Victorian women and culture. The present essay is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth, a mythography of Victorian Womanhood
Three of Aristophanes' eleven extant comedies use the typical comic device of role reversal to imagine worlds in which women are "on top." Freed from the social constraints which keep them enclosed within the house and silent in the public realms of discourse and action, women are given a field and context on the comic stage. They issue forth to lay their plans, concoct their plots, and exercise their power over men.
The Lysistrate and the Ecclesiazousae stage of the intrusion of women into the public spaces of Athens, the Acropolis and Agora, respectively, as an intrusion into the political and economic life of the city. The Thesmophoriazousae, however, resituates the battle of the sexes in another domain, that of aesthetics, and, more precisely, that of theatre itself. Instead of the collective confrontation of men and women, the play directs the women's actions against a single male target, the tragic poet, Euripides.
Froma I. Zeitlin, an associate professor of classics at Princeton University, is the author of several articles on Greek tragedy and on the ancient novel. Her monograph, Under the Sign of the Shield: Language, Structure, and the Son of Oedipus in Aeschylus' "Seven against Thebes," is forthcoming, and she is presently completing The Divided World: Gender and System in Aescylean Drama.
My purpose here, then, is to reexamine a form which has already attracted considerable attention and, more particularly, by utilizing precisely that same mythopoetic analytic grid established by Fielder and Slotkin to reread on of its most popular incarnations, only adding to it a feminist perspective. My reading will thus avoid the unacknowledged and unexamined assumption which marks their work: the assumption of gender. Nonfeminist critics, after all, tend to ignore the fact (and significance) of women as readers as much as they tend to ignore the potentially symbolic significations of gender within a text. Fiedler, for example, obviously focuses on a male audience when he asserts that "westering, in America, means leaving the domain of the female" (pg. 60). And Slotkin, in making the same mistake, ignores the fact that women, too, required imaginative constructs through which to accommodate themselves to the often harsh realities of the western wilderness.
Annette Kolodny, the author of The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters, has recently completed the first volume of Westering Women, a projected multivolume analysis of women's imaginative responses to the successive American frontiers. She is presently working on Dancing through the Minefield, a study of the theoretical political, and methodological concerns of feminist literary criticism.
During the past few years, feminist critics have approached writing by women with an "abiding commitment to discover what, if anything, makes women's writing different from men's" and a tendency to feel that some significant differences do exist.4 The most common answer is that women's experiences differ from men's in profound and regular ways. Critics using this approach find recurrent imagery and distinctive content in writing by women, for example, imagery of confinement and unsentimental descriptions of child care. The other main explanation of female difference posits a "female consciousness" that produces styles and structures innately different from those of the "masculine mind." The argument from experience is plausible but limited in its applications: the argument from a separate consciousness is subject to mystification and circular evidence. In both cases, scholars tend to list a few characteristics of writing by women without connecting or explaining them.
· 4. Annette Kolodny, "Some Notes on Defining a "Feminist Literary Criticism"", Critical Inquiry 2 (Autumn 1975): 78.
Judith Kegan Gardiner is an associate professor of English and a member of the women's studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. The author of Craftmanship in Context: The Development of Ben Johnson's Poetry as well as articles on Robert Burton, feminist literary criticism, and contemporary women writers, she is currently working on a study of twentieth-century fiction by women.
The "Kinsey Report" suggests the existence of such a mentality. Of 142 women with much homosexual experience, 70 percent reported no regrets. This consciousness has manifested itself in literature in two ways. First, in lesbian romanticism: fusions of life and death, happiness and woe, natural imagery and supernatural strivings, neoclassical paganism with a ritualistic cult of Sappho, and modern beliefs in evolutionary progress with a cult of the rebel. At its worst an inadvertent parody of fin de siecle decadence, at its best lesbian romanticism ruthlessly rejects a stifling dominant culture and asserts the value of psychological autonomy, women, art, and a European civilization of the sensuous, sensual, and voluptuous. Woolf's Orlando is its most elegant and inventive text, but its symbol is probably the career of Natalie Barney, the cosmopolitan American who was the prototype of Valerie Seymour.23
· 23. See Rubin, introduction to Vivien's A Woman Appeared to Me, and George Wickes, The Amazon of Letters: The Life and Loves of Natalie Barney (New York, 1976).
Catherine R. Stimpson, professor of English at Rutgers University, is the former editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. The author of both critical essays and fiction, she recently co-edited, with Ethel Spector Person, Women, Sex and Sexuality.
I have suggested elsewhere that, when we wander out of our own academic and First-World enclosure, we share something like a relationship with Senanayak's doublethink.2 When we speak for ourselves, we urge with conviction: the personal is also political. For the rest of the world's women, the sense of whose personal micrology is difficult (though not impossible) for us to acquire, we fall back on a colonialist theory of most efficient information retrieval. We will not be able t speak to the women out there if we depend completely on conferences and anthologies by Western-trained informants. As I see their photographs in women's studies journals or on book jackets, indeed, as I look in the glass, it is Senanayak with his anti-Fascist paperback that I behold. In the inextricably mingling historico-political specificity with the sexual differential in a literary discourse, Mahasveta Devi invites us to begin effacing that image.
· 2. See my "Three Feminist Readings: McCullers, Drabble, Habermas," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 1-2 (Fall-Winter 1979-80), and "French Feminism in an International Frame."
Mahasveta Devi teaches English at Bijaygarh College in Jadavpur, India, an institution for working-class women. She has published over a dozen novels, most recently Chotti Munda ebang Tar Tir, and is a prolific journalist, writing on the struggle of the tribal peasant in West Bengal and Bihar. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. The translator of Derrida's De la grammatologie, she has published essays on Marxist meminism, deconstructive practice, and contemporary literature and is currently completing a book on theory and practice in the humanities.