May 2007, Volume 5, No.5 (Serial No.

44)

US -China Foreign Language, ISSN1539-8080, US A

Contribution of gynocriticism to feminist criticism
XU Yue
(School of International Studies, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310058, China)

Abstract: In the history of feminist criticism, especially the Anglo-American feminist criticism, gynocriticism is i the transitional period. Gynocriticism is a criticism which concerns itself with developing a n specifically female framework for dealing with works written by women, in all aspects of their production, motivation, analysis, and interpretation, and in all literary forms, including journals and letters. The main concerns of gynocriticism are to identify what are taken to be the distinctively feminine subject matters in literature written by women; to uncover in literary history a female tradition, incorporated in sub-communities of women writers; and to show that there is a distinctive feminine mode of experience, or “ subjectivity,”in thinking, valuing, and perceiving oneself and the outer world. Though gynocriticism got a mixed reputation, it has a great contribution to feminist criticism. In this thesis, the writer will discuss the contribution from three aspects: the object, theoretical achievement, and quality of its study. Key words: Anglo-American feminist criticism; gynocriticism; contribution; study object; theoretical achievement; study quality

1. Introduction
Compared with the long tradition of the feminist practice or women’ liberation, feminist literary criticism is s th a modern criticism approach that just started in 20 century. The chief pioneers of this approach are English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) and French writer Simone de Beauvior (1908-1986). They firstly had an insight into the twist of the female image and sexism in the male writers’works. This initiated the pursuing of the female reading and writing in the feminist criticism. Since 1960s, Kate Millet with her Sexual Politics made the feminist literary criticism become a theoretical branch. American poet and writer Adrienne Rich, Mary Ellmann; professors Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar and Elaine Showalter; French writer Helene Cixous and English psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell also contributed a lot. In this period, feminist criticism transformed from the “ Female Aesthetic” to “ Gynocritics.”After 1980s, feminist literary criticism got to the way of finding the self of female and affirming the self. The theorists in this period, for example, Julia Kristeva and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak implied post structuralism, psychoanalysis to explore the gender theory. Till now, after a series of ideological trend, feminist criticism was to find a kind of “ discourse,”which is neither masculine nor feminine, but exists in a “ third”form. From the history of theoretical feminism, we usually divided it into two parts, the Anglo-American and the French. These two parts have different theoretical backgrounds, study objects and research methods: American and English critics have for the most part engaged in empirical and thematic studies of writings by and about women; on the other hand, the most prominent feminist critics in France, have been occupied with the theory of the role of gender in writing, conceptualized within various post-structural frames of, and above all Jacques Lacan’ s
XU Yue (1982- ), female, graduate student of institute of English literature, School of International Studies, Zhejiang University; research field: British and American literature. 62

and France. to develop new models to s based on the study of female experience. motivation. The whole paper will be divided into three parts: (1) a brief introduction of gynocriticism. In Showalter ’ A literature of their own (1977). and with the way in which the hypothesis of a female reader changes our apprehension of a given text. rather than to adapt male models and theories”(Showalter. Showalter called gynocritics the “ second phase”of feminist criticism. it plays an important part in the development of this branch. To be more specific. Ellen Moers’ Literary women (1976).Contribution of gynocriticism to feminist criticism reworking of Freudian psychoanalysis in terms of Saussure’ linguistic theory. it is a program which “ construct a female framework for the analysis of women’ literature. s Here. 1997. according to Elaine Showalter. themes. and promotes both a feminist critique (concerned with women readers) and a ‘ gynocritics’(concerned with women writers)” (Selden. The most important concept of “ gynocriticism”in this phase is to study women’ writing in relation to female experience and develop s out of it a theory appropriate to women.” To the second phase. awakening us to the significance of its sexual codes. because it succeeded and built upon an earlier phase of “ feminist critique.” and feminist discourse for female identity. the Anglo-American feminist criticism approach and the French approach began to merge in some aspects. Elaine Showalter ’ A literature of their own: s British women novelists from Bronte to Lessing (1977). Gynocriticism is a criticism which concerns itself with developing a specifically female framework for dealing with works written by women. and structures of literature by women. A Brief Introduction of Gynocriticism The concept of gynocriticism is introduced in Showalter ’ Towards a feminist poetics (1979) for an s appropriate form of feminist criticism. Elaine Showalter helped to rage a more regular warfare. A representative critic in this phase is Kate Millett with her Sexual politics who conducted “ raw guerrilla warfare. we shall study the main contribution of gynocriticism. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar ’ The madwoman in the attic (1979) stresses especially the psychodynamics of s 63 . Towards a feminist poetics. on English and American novels of the past three hundred years. And we can find that the second phase was also the transition period of Anglo-American feminist criticism. (2) the contribution of gynocriticism. including journals and letters. in all aspects of their production. so Showalter adapted the French term la gynocritique (gynocritics). Notable books in this mode include Patricia Meyer Spacks ’The female imagination (1975). 135). genres. namely. p. The first phase is concerned with woman as reader — with woman as the consumer of male-produced literature. which contribute to the formation of the identity of an American feminist theory.” discovery of the women writers in history or spade works for “ gynotexts. There is no term existing in English for such a specialized discourse. and in all literary forms. (3) conclusion. configuration of their material. on major women novelists and poets in England. and interpretation. In this thesis. analysis.”which had focused on women as the writers of male texts. Though there are some shortcomings in gynocriticism. she “ s outlines a literary history of women writers (many of whom had. Moers’Literary women (1976) was “ preliminary sketching in or ‘ a mapping’of this kind” (Selden 1997. 2. p. the type which is concerned with woman as writer— with woman as the producer of textual meaning. with the history. been ‘ hidden from history’ produces a history which shows the ). She proposed a set of strategies and principles. we shall mainly go into the Anglo-American feminism. and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’The madwoman in the attic (1979). which may be divided into three phases: criticism of male sexism in the “ androtexts. Till the last phase. indeed. America. psychological and ideological determinant. 1979). 135).

the feminist critic discovered their careless omission. she neglected the black and lesbian female writers.”or distinctively feminine style s of speech and writing. s s Just as Showalter said. scholarship. However. emulated. instances of this last critical enterprise are Elaine Showalter ’ A literature of their own: British women s novelists from Bronte to Lessing (1977) on British writers. an image s of her own anxiety and rage”(Gilbert & Gubar. types of relations between the elements of a discourse. We will discuss its contribution from three aspects: the object. and nurturing. 1820-1870 (1978). theoretical achievement. and the internalized constructs of feminity. The Contribution of Gynocriticism The main tasks of gynocritics are to reorder the list of literary canon and uncover some “ silent”female writers. yet which dominated the market for fiction in the nineteenth century and produced most of the best-sellers of the time. One concern is to identify what are taken to be the distinctively feminine subject matters in literature written by women — the world of domesticity. and quality of its study. but also the occupations. the madwoman in Charlotte Bronte’ Jane Eyre.”in thinking. and Nina Baym’ Woman’ fiction: A guide to novels by s s and about women in America. 3. Another concern is to uncover in literary history a female tradition. Based on these tasks. in gynocriticism. 1979). 3. A third undertaking is to show that there is a distinctive feminine mode of experience.Contribution of gynocriticism to feminist criticism women writers in the nineteenth century. Some feminists have turned their critical attention to the great number of women’ domestic and “ s sentimental”novels. effected in women writers a psychological duplicity that projected a monstrous counter figure to the idealized heroine. anthropology. and consciousness of women” (Showalter. for example. in sentence structure. and they began to “ excavate”the black and lesbian female writers and their works. Its authors propose that the “ anxiety of authorship. and not external activism. feeling. or mother-daughter and woman-woman relations— in which personal and affectional issues.1 The object of gynocriticism: reordering of the literary canon The goal of gynocriticism is to enlarge and reorder the literary canon— that is. There are three main concerns of gynocriticism. In A literature of their own. are the primary interests. valuing. incorporated in sub-communities of women writers who were aware of. and teaching. such a figure is “ s usually in some sense the author ’ double. psychology. But soon. and sociology. giving birth. All in all. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have described the later history of women’ writings in No man’ land: The place of the woman writer in the twentieth century. 1979). have come to be considered major and to serve as the chief subjects of literary history. and perceiving oneself and the outer world. the contribution of gynocriticism can be found in many areas in feminist criticism. or the special experiences of gestation. feminist studies have served to raise the status of many female authors who are more or less scanted by scholars and critics and to bring into purview other authors who have been largely or 64 . Showalter uncovered a group of female writers.”resulting from the stereotype that literary creativity is an exclusively male prerogative. all of which have developed hypotheses of a female subculture including not only the ascribed status. the set of works which by a cumulative consensus. Related to this is the attempt to specify the traits of a “ woman’ language. “ gynocritics is related to feminist research in history. typified by Bertha Rochester. or “ subjectivity. interactions. and found support in earlier women writers who in turn provide models and emotional support to their own readers and successors. to analyze “ female creativity” and the specificity of female literary tradition. and characteristic figures and imagery. criticism. which are noted in derogatory fashion in standard literary histories.

and the ‘ female’phase (1920.” which allows them to “ adopt” literary mothers and to escape the male “ belatedness. If women follow a normative female resolution of s the Oedipus complex. because of the patriarchal literary creativity. 3.2 The theory on “ female creativity” In The madwoman in the attic (1979). the ideal women quality 65 . On the contrary. psychology. In the first phase. Though the comprehensive study of the brief female writers in the 19th century. and the creative option of male mimicry— a departure from Freud’ negative judgment. in 19 century. 1979). the third phase is the self-discovering period. during whic h women advocated minority rights and protested. the ‘ feminist’ phase (1880-1920). during which dependency on opposition— that is. Showalter “ identified three historical phases of women’ literary development: the ‘ s feminine’ phase (1840-1880).” used to describe nineteenth-century women writers— like Harold Bloom’ male-applied term “ s anxiety of influence” — derives from Freud’ psychosexual paradigm of the Oedipus complex. the female writers are easily to be submerged in the river of literary history. female writers imitated the traditional mode of mainstream culture. 198).2. Then. Gilbert and Gubar found that the creativity was defined as masculine. and sociology. p.2 The theoretical achievement of gynocriticism 3.2. The resulting “ masculinist complex”grants autonomy. which is in effect a biological imperative for literary descent from an originatory father. The idea about “ female subculture” apposes the long time oppression of the female consciousness in the phallic society. worried about usurping paternal primacy. This idea also enlightens the later feminist critics to probe into the female aesthetic more comprehensively. Some feminists even have devoted their critical attention especially to the literature written by lesbian writers. Then she raised the assumption of “ female subculture”which has its own subjects and images. during which women writers imitated the dominant tradition. the right of creating female image of female writers’own has been deprived. female writers began to search their own identity without relying on the opposition with male. This is also the track of the growth of female subculture. and the pre-Oedipal desire for the mother (or her literature) is renounced. the father (the male literary tradition) becomes the object of female desire. anthropology. 3. and also tried to find out the essence of female creativity— whether it is the female nature or the femininity which is constructed by the social culture.”or the “ anxiety of influence” theorized by Bloom. the female writers must create some “ immutable” female images according with the patriarchal standard to meet the masculine yearning. all of which have developed hypotheses of a female subculture including not only the ascribed status.). Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar rebuilt the visage of female literary in the 19th century. in the second phase. Showalter emphasized. The discovery of the general female writers and their literary works makes the feminist criticism even the whole literary criticism more comprehensive. Normative resolution of the Oedipus complex may leave women anxious about the fragility of paternal power. on uncovering misogyny in male texts— is being replaced by a rediscovery of women’ texts and women” s (Guerin. female writers began to oppugn these traditional value rules. a new maternal relation. 2004. Twentieth-century women writers have the option of the “ affiliation complex.Contribution of gynocriticism to feminist criticism entirely overlooked as subjects for serious consideration. “ Gynocritics is related to feminist research in history. s th However. or that deals with lesbian relationships in a heterosexual culture. Their concept “ anxiety of authorship. and the internalized consciousness of women” (Showalter. Based on the development of female consciousness. and fearful of male vengeance.1 Idea about “ female subculture” Showalter finds that because of the phallic prejudice.

(in Chinese) ZHU Gang. literature and theory. Elaine Showalter’ contribution to American feminist criticism: One of the reviews of famous American s feminists. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. ZHAO Guo-xin. Only in this way. can feminist criticism develop in the right direction. 1995. References: Abrams. A glossary of literary terms. 2002. (in Chinese) s HU Jing-zhi. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. Though we emphasize that feminist criticism should raise their theoretical level. Twentieth century western critical theories. Their work stands on the first stage of the change of feminist criticism. object. Selden. Raman. Based on this. New York: Ballatine Books. Selective readings in 20th century western critical theory. Toward women’ poetry. (in Chinese) (Edited by Wendy. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. Gibert and Gubar answered the question about female creativity. 2004. Theoretical studies in literature and art. GU Hong-xi. the new feminist criticism: Essays on women. However. They always bear the intention of considering the historical and social elements in their study of literary works in mind. Self definition of multiple subjects strategy: A study of feminist literature theory. 1985. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Researching Press. (3). 1997. This s figure is a counter-figure to the idealized heroine.”and treat them as the creative impetus of female writers in the 19th even 20th century. and a connecting link between the first phase led by Virginia Woolf and the third phase mixing with psychoanalysis and post-structuralism. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. and quality. the gynocriticism was not so thoughtful. At this time. The classic writings of western literature theory. s Showalter. They detect asymmetrical male and female responses to the rise of female literary power. p. the madwoman in Charlotte Bronte’ Jane Eyre. They deepen the significance of these “ madwomen.: Yale University Press. trans. These madwoman or monster repeatedly created by women writers is the author’ double. (in Chinese) Guerin. The madwoman in the attic: The women writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination. That is what we try to find out in this paper. & Gubar. Women have emerged from their liminal position in the attic to wage the battle between the two genders. Kate. That is. 78).Contribution of gynocriticism to feminist criticism is hidden in the monstrous figures such as Bertha Rochester. Susan. This special status entrusts gynocriticism complex study method. H. WANG Feng-zhen. Their novel way of theoretical research enlightens a lot of feminist critics. the feminist critics should still carry on this study quality. Beijing: Beijing University Press. (3). Feminist criticism and the interpretation of feminist literature. especially the Anglo-American feminist critic ism. Sandra M. The feminist critics of gynocriticism form their own peculiar study style. Jessica and Hanna) 66 . s expressing her anxiety. rage. 2004. SONG Su-feng. 3. 2001. Journal of Guangdong Polytechnic Normal University. New Haven. The contribution of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar is mainly on theoretical level. CHEN Xiao-lan. Jinan: Shandong University Press. and “ schizophrenia of authorship” (Gilbert & Guber. Lanzhou: Dunhuang Literature and Art Press. also leads abundant theoretical achievement. Towards a feminist poetics. A handbook of critical approaches to literature. M. Sexual politics. 2002. feminist criticism began their real literary and textual analysis. Wilfred L. 1999. (in Chinese) Gilbert. It has great contribution to the developing of feminist criticism in many aspects. Elaine. CHEN Xiao-lan.3 The quality of gynocriticism Compared with French feminist criticism. Conn. A reader’ guide to contemporary literary theory. 2003. 2004. (in Chinese) Donovan. 1979. (in Chinese) ZHANG Zhong-zai. the quality of gynocritical study is also very significant. New York: Pantheon Books. an image of s her own anxiety and rage. 1970. Millett. Conclusion Gynocriticism is the transitional period of feminist criticism. 1979. but it is usually in some sense the author’ double. their great attention to the real world. Josephine. 4.