Life Studies, or, Speech after Long Silence: Feminist Critics Today Author(s): Sandra M.

Gilbert Source: College English, Vol. 40, No. 8 (Apr., 1979), pp. 849-863 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English Stable URL: . Accessed: 27/09/2013 05:45
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a bookof herown poems. In my own professional life "liberation"(another word I prob- Acts SandraM. Why. Shakespeare's Sisters (InBritain bookon writing by womenin nineteenth-century (with SusanGubar)ofa forthcoming diana). he was pleased to have encountered such interesting work so soon. on a male writer. when I was grappling with my dissertation (a study of D. The Mladwoman in the Attic (Yale).Davis. H.86. I felt rather smugly pleased that I myself was working on a truly "professional" subject-that is. GILBERT Life Studies.236 on Fri. just starting in a new job. should women write about women just because they are women? In fact. Laurence (Cornell)and." and. On the one hand.211. I asked. 849 This content downloaded from 117. recently. She is the co-editor of an anthologyof essaysabout womenpoets. even in those last days of the "feminine mystique" I had read de Beauvoir and Friedan and I did consider myself a kind of proto-feminist (though "feminist" was not a word I would have thought to use). however. Gilbertis an associate professor of Englishat the Universityof California.College Vol. I found myself almost obsessively wondering what this woman's dissertation on women writers really said. H. my husband. a Victorianist. Twelve years ago. In the Fourth \World(Alabama). Lawrence's poetry). Strangely. and co-author and America. 40. came home talking about a dissertation that a woman graduate student in his department was writing. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . On the other hand. It was a manuscript entitled "The Double Critical Standard in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. 8 * APRIL I1979 @ j English SANDRA M. No. my reaction to his description of the project was a mixture of curiosity and scorn. I will begin my commentary on the now well-established conjunction of feminism and criticism with a confessional anecdote. Speech After Long Silence Feminist Critics Today LIKE so MANY OTHER FEMINIST CRITICS. She haspublished of Attention: The Poems of D. or.

for instance. Specifically. 653-661. my consciousness had soared. changed utterly: I was a born again feminist. sociology. at this point. more than a quarter of a century earlier. almost a decade after the first publication of such crucially influential testaments of feminism as Kate Millett's Sexual Politics. for it sent me off to yet further shelvesful of books by and about women. after all. rather romantically believed." from Whitman. I was planning a book on death as metaphor in nineteenth. even alarming rate." and Tillie Olsen's "One Out of Twelve: Writers Who Are Women in Our Century. For even now. not surprisingly.86.and twentieth-century literature. I thought up a number of marvelously optimistic titles for this project-my two favorites were "Different and Luckier. Most of us literary women. Eventually. I had begun such reading partly out of Wuthering of interest in the Liebestod Heightsbut continued it long after exhausting all the possibilities of that metaphor. where books on the history. I was still studying such works. and "The Mother of Beauty. See. and psychology of women were kept." from Stevens-but.850 COLLEGEENGLISH ably would not have used) seemed to me to entail an absolute commitment to studying those male-devised monuments of unaging intellect that I had been taught to define as the most impressive works in the canon of English literature. AttitudesTowardDeath or on when I should have been taking notes on Aries' Western the late eighteenth-century Graveyard School. Afternoons in the library. Several years later.211. informative. 39 (1978).1 I do not have space here to speculate on howvand why so many of us came to notice in the late sixties and early seventies that. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." CollegeEnglish. and extraordinarily useful. having finished a dissertation and a book on Lawrence. to the HQ shelves on another floor.236 on Fri. Yet I believe that even (or perhaps especially) in its rhetoric it is representative. even the literary "daughtersof educated men" have long constituted a "Society of Outsiders" within (and without) patriarchalsociety. still believe this. indeed." that mysterious work in which I had always been secretly interested. people who must enact and express in their own lives and words the re-visionary sense of transformation that seems inevitably to attend the apparently simple discovery that the experiences of women in and with literature are different from those of men. I hunted up that dissertation on the "Double Critical Standard. I moved from the PR section of the library. as we thought we had been taught (but were we?). I found myself almost involuntarily reading books by and about the Bronte sisters. I had awakened. it was fascinating. where the Brontes resided. Written by someone named Elaine Showalter who had evidently been a feminist critic long before the term was invented. "What Women's Literature?." most feminist critics speak-at least from time to time-like people who must bear witness. And of course. indeed. This content downloaded from 117. My carrel filled up at an amazing. all was changed. as Virginia Woolf had observed in ThreeGuineas(1938). Adrienne Rich's "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision. that the literary mind is not only disembodied but genderless. But in 'Some of us. MlindaRae Amiran. a kind of spiritual neuter forever burning with the hard gemlike flame of disinterested inspiration. most of the volumes on death and its metaphors had to be reshelved to make room for armloads of new booksbooks about women's lives and woman's life: my life. This account of my own "conversion" to feminist criticism may strike some readers as melodramatic or hyperbolical. I became increasingly depressed by its gloom.

p. p. New York: Harcourt Brace." Rich confides in "When We Dead Awaken. of Women:An Idea in Fiction N. for both A Roomof One'sOwn and ThreeGuineasbegin anecdotally." in Adrienne Rich'sPoetry.After LongSilence FeministCriticsToday 851 Life Studies. This impulse can probably be traced at least as far back as the feminist writings of Virginia Woolf. ThreeGuineas. A Literature of Their Own: British WomenNovelistsFrom Bronteto Lessing(Princeton." but she goes on to narrate a moving history of feminist discovery."2 Similarly.86. "WVhen was taken from Ibsen.of course. (Cambridge. Declaring that "the sleepwalkers are coming awake. 'only's'."4 Mly rhetoric of discovery clearly participates in what is rapidly becoming a fully articulated tradition. 90. revealing that "In the late fifties I was able to write. women around fifteen years ago did begin to notice. many of my sister writers in this tradition feel. and for the first time this awakening has a collective reality. 97). And then as now such noticing has been consistently and strikingly described in epistemological imagery of vision and revision. 1978). which is to use myself as an illustration. ed. that they must locate themselves-their literal selves. and to notice not only their own status as outsiders but also their own lives and works. the title of Rich's early essay/manifesto. 5 ff. of entering an old text from a new critical direction-is for us more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. begins w ith a problem in letterwriting." We Dead Awaken. p. But in appropriating a Norwegian playwright's turn-of-thecentury metaphor this twentieth-century woman poet revised and reinterpreted it for her own decade. "I have hesitated to do what I am going to do now. p.236 on Fri. 1957). Rich and Olsen come forward with their own stories. 1977). in "Silences. 9. 93. in a statement that has become almost proverbial.: 5A Roomof One'sOwn (1929. Nina Auerbach."3 More recently.""we who write are survivors. awakening and rebirth. pp." Rich added. they have begun to see it for the first time. With a new perceptual framework. BarbaraCharlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi (New York: Norton. p. 4Elaine Showalter. material hitherto assumed to be nonexistent has suddenly leaped into focus." for." uwhileNina Auerbach observes that "In life as in literature."5 Rather having experienced a transformation of vision on the law^ns more diffidently yet with equal conviction. directly about experiencing myself as a woman" (p. Confessional and impassioned. that "Re-vision-the act of looking back. 39. XMlass. 3Silences (New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence. 1978). 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." Tillie Olsen expressed an impassioned hope that her remarks uwould"illuminate women's silence of centuries. Significantly. that is. as she was bitterly to note in "One Out of Tuwelve." for instance. for the first time. Speech any case. for whatever reason. Olsen is equally diffident in Silences ("If I talk now quickly of my own silences-almost presumptuous after what has been told here-it is that the 2"When XVeDead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision.or. scholars are uncovering unperceived Utopias.211. 1975). p. rather than their literary personae-somew here in their critical work.J. rpt.: Princeton University Press. with autobiographical narratives of what we might call feminist conversions: as Paul insists that he w as utterly changed (the scales fell from his eyes!) on the road to Damascus. 13. This content downloaded from 117. as I did. they want to speak not just of the abstract experience of discovery but of their own particular re-visionary moments. Communitieis Harvard University Press. Elaine Showalter has commented that "As scholars have been persuaded that women's experience is important. moreover. of seeing with fresh eyes. 16. so Virginia Woolf presents herself as of "Oxbridge. intellectual strengthening and "consciousness-raising.

Rich.8 Even less directly personal critics relate feelings and experiences of amazement and discovery-experiences essentially of conversion-associated with their work. . 1. Confessional essays like those of Olsen and Robinson.852 COLLEGEENGLISH individual experience may add") yet equally confessional and equally moving: "It is no accident that the first work I considered publishable began: 'I stand here ironing . Olsen. A Life of VirginiaWoolf(New York: Oxford University Press. That phrase must be carefully qualified. however." in Greg Kuzma. Rather. suggests to me that most feminist critics are engaged not just in Women's Studies but in what w-e might call Life Studies. "We were unprepared. xiv. 1978). vii. p. "for the mass of works [by women] almost untouched in the archives [of the Huntington Library]. they engage in Life Studies as revisionary essays not merely of dissection but of discovery. sketches toward the definition of new life. A Bookof ReReadings Best Cellar Press. whose confessional irony usually depends on a concomitant sense of self-sufficient. Name is Darkness': The '?For discussions of male and female confessional poets. as Rich wrote.86. and Culture(Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p."9 In its cool way. Robinson. . p. of course.6Judith Fetterley ("I distributed my 'journal' to [my] students." Contemporary (Crete. acts not only of contemplation but also. . such thinkers as Woolf. 1979). This content downloaded from 117. It is perhaps even more signifi- 6Sex. 19). please see my " 'M\ly Literature18 (1977). The persistently confessional quality of the works I have mentioned here. . it is surely no coincidence that such an engaged and confessional way of thinking about literature was energized by the same era that brought us the so-called "confessional" poets (of whom Lowell is. by implication. 1978). 7).. Similar confessions dramatize the feminist conversions of Lillian Robinson ("One night I stayed up until dawn reading Virginia Woolfs A Roomof One'sOwn").236 on Fri. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Nebraska: ReReading Robert Lowell's 'Skunk Hour.7 and Phyllis Rose (an entry in Woolfs Diary "astonished me when I read it for the first time in 1971"). . self-sustaining authority. to AmericanFiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. and to local feminist friends"). ed. 7TheResistingReader:A FeministApproach 1978). this scholarly understatement narrates what must have been as vibrant an instance of feminist re-vision as the moment recounted in A Room of One'sOwn when Virginia Woolf was forbidden entrance to the "Oxbridge" library by a censorious male librarian who barred the way "like a guardian angel .10 Although I have said that a serious discussion of the reasons for the rebirth of feminist criticism in the sixties is beyond the scope of this essay. to colleagues . "of survival. are studies of life in process and thus. virtually paradigmatic). life on which both poet and historian (in this case inhabitants of the same consciousness) have cast a cold eye. "' (p. Reinterpreting the letters of their own lives and the lives of all literary women (and men). 8Woman of Letters: 9The Female Spectator:English Women Writers before 1800 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press/ Feminist Press. . and Fetterley do not engage in Life Studies with the surgical detachment of a Robert Lowell. 443-457. to various discussion groups .\aine: Poetry of Self-Definition. ." write Mary Mahl and Helene Koon in their introduction to a collection of writings by women who wrote before 1800. Class. with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings" (p. p. 1978). xiv. however. and my "Mephistopheles in .211." Lowell's confessional poems are frequently clinical analyses of mortified life. together with their pervasive imagery of vision and revision.

This content downloaded from 117. codes and ciphers. however. vulnerable yet energetic. life ultimately becomes a series of studies. like the horrible mottoes of Kafka's penal colony or the molecular encodings of DNA. Yeats' golden bird was almost certainly a male philosopher. For as a representative (rather than a regnant) intellect.After LongSilence FeministCriticsToday 853 Life Studies." To be sure.86. superior. Objectifying. struggles with glyphs and graphs. Abrams recently noted in a lecture at Indiana University. is hot and human-and therefore somehow imperfect. disposed artistically about on the darkling plain of eternity. arrangements of limbs on a bed or biscuits on a plate. with its emphasis upon exegetical strategies and its reverence for monuments of unaging intellect. both in the ordinary (evaluative) and the extraordinary (analytic) sense of the term. however.or." to use Emily Dickinson's wonderful critical term. we might imagine that. she or he struggles to understand them. awaiting his judgment. on the other hand. Afflicted by texts. Moving grandly among those long-established monuments. moreover. the Critic is a wealthy calm connoisseur. 265). from an "Age of the Critic" to an "Age of the Reader. accepts or resists secret messages. As my brief character sketches suggest. the Reader sees that texts are everywhere. the Reader devours poems. Indeed. and studies dissolve into life. autobiographical. Speech cant. even the greatest works shiver on their sometimes glowing. which tend to embalm or reify life. each well-wrought novella. in connection with the female Life Studies I have been describing. as M. and Jacques Derrida have replaced the magisterial old New Criticism. but the Reader is poor and anxious. they are exercises like Lowell's. If the Critic is George Sanders. for those exegetical strategies of his threaten them like sticks of TNT. and reader-centered criticism has evolved just in the years when we have moved. a godlike museum guide discoursing on the virtues and defects of each chiseled sonnet. The Reader. perspires too much. and I myself would add that. gropes toward submerged meanings. he is cool. even the birds who spoke to Virginia Woolf in Greek were university-educated brothers in disguise (Women of Letters.236 on Fri. Enclosed in contexts. however. Abrams was discussing the intellectual dynamic by which the reader-oriented criticisms of literary psychologists like Stanley Fish. the Reader seems to me to be female or male-or possibly androgynous. H. For the Reader.211. As Phyllis Rose perceptively suggests. the Reader is Sandy Duncan or Jack Lemmon. the very words "Critic" and "Reader" seem to me to be of great interest. But if we remove his George Sanders mask the Critic continues to be male. although I find that last word somewhat problematical. exhales codes. If the Critic is stereotypically male. But. electron microscopes. sounds like someone who has so perfectly mastered his reading that he can criticize it. or anyway. appraising. embarrassed by pretexts. and consequently we had to engage in Life Studies to get our definitions straight). sometimes cracking pedestals. Harold Bloom. after all. beneath his metal plumage. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . very tall and quite supercilious. detached and supercilious. The Critic. I think the magisterial Critic is and always was implicitly male: in the scenario of my mind he is played by George Sanders as he was in All About Eve. inhales syntax. that this political. Thus when the Critic engages in Life Studies (as on rare occasions he may). and is in fact assaulted by so many and such various messages that she or he may eventually come to feel that they are inscribed on her or his skin. for in our culture disembodied intellect is traditionally masculine (though we literary women were only taught this secret "slant.p.

many women scholars have done a great deal of "compensatory" research. Robinson's Sex. D. 1978).: Harvard University Press. since to read. in the best sense. 1978).: Cornell University Press. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and The FemaleSpectator: EnglishWomenWritersbefore 1800. Olsen is engaged in a study of her own life which entails a re-search of her world and of those historical/culturaldocuments that are. For most scholars of literature by women. I will also discuss these books: Nina Baym. is to underlgotexts. Woman'sFiction: A Guideto Novels by and about Womenin America. 1978). Judith Fetterley's The ResistingReader:A Feminist Approachto American Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1978). Yet in its profoundly political and revisionary ambition such research seems to me to be the work of impassioned Readers or. Jean E. 1978). and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. rather than criticize. like so many feminists today.211. it may seem to emphasize one aspect of recent feminist criticism at the expense of others. 1978). using the most traditional scholarly tools and methods. and admire T. Lessing. more accurately. For finally. re-readers. and Atwood (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. research into heretofore forgotten or rejected materials seems to have become a kind of re-search for their own lives-that is. This content downloaded from 117. where the Critic is in some sense transcendent-as part of his work he goes over texts-the reader is hopelessly immanent. together with Olsen's afterword (reprinted in Silences) both informs us about women's writing in the nineteenth century and enables us to read a neglected classic of that literature. that Tillie Olsen's Silencesnot only collects for the first time this artist-critic's powerful early formulations of the ways in which class and gender constrain creativity. indeed. for instance. Certainly few of us would want to be without the Feminist Press edition (1972) of Rebecca Harding Davis' Life in the Iron Mills (1861). or. then.Y. believing that "feeling is first" but fearing (with Virginia iWoolf)that the least hint of anger. N. p. which.: Shoe String Press. Yet I find it useful even when I look at the most "conventional" scholarship that feminist critics and sympathizers have produced. researchers into women's literary history lately have paid much attention to the processes (and products) of the formation of the canon.236 on Fri. 111 have already cited most of the books I will consider: Tillie Olsen's Silences (New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence. 1978). 1820-1870 (Ithaca. it also serves as a rich and fascinating source book of statements by and about writers who have been painfully and unnaturally silenced. Ct.86. I came to this complicated distinction between Critic and Reader as I undertook a commission from COLLEGE to write on some recent books by women writENGLISH ers on literature. rather than Critics of the kind I defined above. Woolf. Eliot? Why did we tend to forget Anne Finch and Dorothy Richardson while remembering Christopher Smart and Ford MladoxFord? In order to answer such questions. Finally. 1978)."l The distinction may appear needlessly baroque. Lillian S. Mass. ed. Mary R. Kennard. then." It is not surprising. 108). worse. might be "fatal"(A Roomof One'sOwn. S. Phyllis Rose's Womanof Letters:A Life of Virginia Woolf(New York: Oxford University Press. a crucial species of Life Study and thus an essential rereading of history in the interest of what Rich has called "survival. Nina Auerbach's Communities of Women:An Idea in Fiction (Cambridge. relevant to the questions that consume her attention. Madness and Sexual Politicsin the FeministNovel: Studiesin Bronte. 1978). and to formulate related issues. Class. As most people in departments of English know. Barbara Hill Rigney.854 COLLEGEENGLISH sometimes struggles for a steady voice. Mahl and Helene Koon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press/Feminist Press. or indeed any other strong feeling. How did we come to ignore H. Victimsof Convention (Hampton.

anthologists like Mahl and Koon give us in The FemaleSpectator an intelligent selection from the wealth of"untouched material"by women that they were so surprised and excited to discover in the archives of the Huntington Library. Most of their novels are in fact quite unsentimental. who seems to me the most fascinating and talented of the relatively unknouwn before 1800. I realized that Rose is not just rehashing Bell. Nina Baym is a scholar as well as a Reader. Finally. 1820-1870. what Mahl and Koon do for the English literary tradition. Like Mahl and Koon. she researches. Although I am sorry about their omission of material by Anne Finch. attempting to assert and maintain a territory within a social space full of warring claims.' then all our theories about American fiction.or. from Richard Chase's 'romance' to Richard Poirier's 'world elsewhere' to Carolyn Heilbrun's 'masculine wilderness' will have to be radically revised" (pp.86. D." Baym declares. as well as uwork by "Bluestockings" like Margaret Cavendish. to give the title of her revisionary new biography of Virginia Woolf." Her careful scholarship leads her to outline in her opening chapters an intelligent new conception of the supposedly sentimental tales told by these scribblers who have so often been blamed for the "feminization"of nineteenth-century America.211. to the extent that the word "sentimentality" is "used to imply that a work elevates feeling above all else . Ernest Hemingway. she is in a sense rereading or reinterpreting him in the light of her own experiences with Woolf's novels and Woolf's feminism. 26). I should probably confess here that my first reaction to Rose's book was somewhat negative. the writers Hawthorne called a "damned mob of scribbling women. . and Norman Mailer are all. she presents us not only with sensible. [and] none of these authors proposed the Huck Finn solution of abandoning 'sivilization' because none of them could imagine the concept of self apart from society" (p. What Olsen does in studying the foreground and background silences of so many women's lives. therefore. This content downloaded from 117. Speech After LongSilence FeministCriticsToday 855 More obviously. and Baym does for American fiction. that brain of American scholarship which in some ways reproduces the literary synapses Virginia Woolf sauw engraved in the marble dome of the British Museum of (A Roomof One'sOwn. I find their offerings otherwise uwomenuwriting impressive. and reviews the enormous company of bestselling domestic novels by nineteenth-century literary women in America. Salinger. . though. and Hannah Moore. for their "plots repeatedly identify immersion in feeling as one of the great temptations and dangers for a developing woman" (p. rereads. then. Phyllis Rose does for one dazzling and charismatic Woman of Letters. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 29). Their anthology includes excerpts from the uwritings such "Women XXorthies" as Catherine Parr. Baym ironically notes that "if critics ever permit the woman's novel to join the main body of 'American literature. 36-37). and Elizabeth Cary. p.Life Studies. J. 25). Since I have so far been exploring and exploiting the confessional impulse in feminist criticism. and of course canonically revisionary. Such novels indeed "represented a protest against long-entrenched trivializing and contemptuous views of women. her work seemed to be merely a "rehash"of Quentin Bell's biography. Finally. "more sentimental than the authors of [nineteenthcentury] woman's fiction" (p. Elizabeth I. Specifically. insofar as it is a biography (but of course it is really more). in Woman'sFiction: A Guideto Novels by and about Womenin America." for "they told stories about the emergent self negotiating amidst social possibilities. 25). As I read further. Baym argues. Katherine Phillips. Mary Sidney Herbert. Thus. useful.236 on Fri.

27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Caroline Norton. and biographical reinterpreting that I have so far described would make any sense-indeed. canon-revising. so that the dynamics of a miracle may possibly shed some light on other lives." or "Virginia Woolf is always riffing [in The Waves]. But perhaps we must credit the same directness and commitment that allow such lapses for the honesty which permits accurate appraisals of historical reality ("What is amazing to me is that no one had written anything like [A Roomof One'sOwn] before": p.'2 Holtby's Landof GreenGinger(1927) seems to me especially wonderful. whose invaluable series of Cassandra Editions includes books by such contemporaries of Woolfs as Winifred Holtby. "Woolf's feminism as the crux of her emotional as well as her intellectual life. 111. too eagerly colloquial (e. p. but to some extent. in particular. Perhaps for this reason I suspect that she '2Academy Chicago Limited is also the American distributor of the British feminist series entitled Virago lModern Classics. Sylvia Townsend Warner. 186). the problems of achievement for a woman are typical. and Culture-suggests. continues to make available more and more texts associated with Woolf and her circle. ancillary works about Woolf or by her most interesting peers and precursors appear from a number of directions. "Julia Stephen was a hard act for her daughters to follow. Robinson. A Diary WithoutDates (1918) by Enid Bagnold. Class. Recent texts in this series. There are no rhythmic letups which let you appreciate the highs when they come": p. the clarity which sees. all reprints." and the self-awareness which informs a judgment that "Few of us may match her achievement.856 COLLEGEENGLISH jargon-free readings of Woolf's major novels but also with a lucid and luminous new sketch of Virginia Woolf as a female literary person. Of course. and Woolf were among the first and the most famous literary women to attempt theoretical reinterpretationsof their own literal and literary experiences.86. none of it would have happened-without the impetus provided by more theoretical Life Studies. But Lillian Robinson and Judith Fetterley have also been doing such work for quite some time. Alexandra Kollontai. and Olsen have themselves been involved in reprinting as well as rereading lost or forgotten works by women from Julian of Norwich to Rebecca Harding Davis. none of the scholarly reprinting. 212). for instance. Olive Schreiner. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Wilkins Freeman.. a woman of letters. to quote comments on the book's jacket. In particular. feminist critics like Mahl. This content downloaded from 117. and Netta Syrett. while her Virginia Woolf: A Critical Memoir (1932) is the first extended statement about this modernist woman of letters by a notable contemporary who was herself also a feminist and a woman of letters. Rich. as well as otherwise hard to find books by George Sand.g. Sometimes her portrait of the artist as a middle-aged feminist seems a bit too aggressively readable. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. As I've already noted. But a biographer-critic like Rose has been the beneficiary of that tide of scholarly reprinting which has inevitably followed the recent "second wave" of feminism. she is a Marxist critic who sees the pressures of gender as coextensive (or inextricably entangled) with equally powerful pressures of economics and society.211. has been a prominent theorist of feminist literary criticism since the late sixties." As I have noted. and My Own Story (1914) by Emmeline Pankhurst. At the same time.236 on Fri. Olsen. one press that should be mentioned here is Academy Chicago Limited. though as the title of her book-Sex. include PreciousBane (1924) by Mary Webb. and Mary E. Koon.

where the inevitable haste and incompleteness of journalism weaken her intellectual positions. too. a pressure larger. call "patriarchal poetics"?13 That Robinson does begin her book with an ill-considered attack on another feminist is perhaps a function of her divided loyalties. for confessional criticism as I have been describing it must always be close to (often. moreover. certainly it will be mainly of historical interest to many readers of Sex. ardent. But I cannot help feeling that it is philosophically as well as politically inappropriate to begin a book of feminist criticism with an essay attacking an obviously serious and sincere effort by an early feminist critic to define what feminist criticism might be. In any case. where the tactics of the journalist do not seem to me to stand Robinson in good stead. why open a book in some important sense about women of letters by depreciating another literary woman? I do not mean to imply that all feminists must be always and forever stuck together by the mystical glue of sisterhood. and passages throughout her book.After LongSilence FeministCriticsToday 857 Life Studies. There are essays. a form of) journalism. I should note that. and (to me) more frightening than the undeniable constraints of class and money. Ct. which has many classes. 263. p. why concentrate so censoriously on what feminist criticism should not do? Why not demonstrate. indeed. male-defined criticism that we might.and Culture. and I do not mean that last term pejoratively.or. for instance. Putting aside my differences or potential differences from Robinson.236 on Fri. vaguer. and direct. like Woolf. footnoting her stays in jail and explaining that '3"PatriarchalPoetry. in their different ways. Because she is not just an academic Marxist but a sort of "activist"critic. despite the honesty an immediate transcription of ideas may foster. she takes pains to establish her credentials as a real-life revolutionary. indeed. however. and like Olsen she is scrupulous in locating her literal as well as her literary self at the heart of her work. it is and probably ought to be essentially a fugitive meditation. Rich. her book is a collection of essays written and published over more than a decade. Like many other feminists. This content downloaded from 117. taking a hint from Gertrude Stein. Speech and I would differ on a number of issues. however. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Like Olsen's." in Bee Time Vine (New Haven. at her best she writes a kind of compellingly interesting feminist journalism. 1953).86. I do not think.211. instead. Lively. she is not only a pioneering feminist theorist but also a pioneer in the mode of confessional criticism I have been defining here. I am most engaged by her accounts of how and why she reconciled her interests as a graduate student ("in" the Renaissance) with her involvements as a political activist (in the anti-war movement). My sense of the sociocultural forces that constitute the pressure of gender is interwoven with an associated sense of the pressure of texts. that the extended critique of an essay by Annis Pratt which was evidently the foundation of Robinson's "Dwelling in Decencies" (now the opening chapter of her book) should have been collected here. what it can and should do? Perhaps more important. while for some it may actually be distracting. Class. all.: Yale University Press. Wouldn't it be more useful (and exemplary) instead to show the weaknesses of the traditional. I am inclined to see women not as a class in the traditional sociological sense but as a sort of subordinated species. Recording a kind of procedural debate among feminist critics. and Olsen. Often. oppressed or repressed.

on the one hand. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . I believe.86. in particular. Delivered. leaving me Jerusalem fascinated-and frustrated. . 20) In its polarization of the academy.858 COLLEGEENGLISH she teaches at SUNY Buffalo because Buffalo is a demographically "'normal' American industrial city. with the experience of being male" (p. that in some part of herself Robinson would agree with me. going beyond the dubious confessional process of "self-proclamation. Robinson has provided the essential background for significant new readings of Orlando Furioso. factories. in other words. farms. xxvi). to internalize supposedly normative male voices which equate "the experience of being American . xix. I am not terriblyinterested in whether every "worthwhile" department feminismbecomesa respectable criticism. is a more seriously literary Life Study. journalistic quality I noted earlier means that both pieces seem somehow unfinished." forced.(p. for example. I see that I am criticizing Robinson rather more severely than I had meant to (for I do admire much of her work). After a thorough exploration of the special meaning of the Renaissance for women. evidently.and The FaerieQueene. She has. no doubt in the belief that it may help change the world. on the other. and the women's movement.I am very much concerned part of academic that feministcriticsbecomea usefulpartof the women'smovement. At one point. What I finally want from her. because of her university's undeniable academic prestige (pp. xiv. xii). The Fiction studies the process by which to American A FeministApproach Reader: Resisting American of most the female reader masterpieces (the word itself is significant here) to is "required identify against herself. by her essays on Renaissance women warriors ("Woman Under Capitalism") and on Jane Austen ("Why Marry Mr. And I suspect." tell us that a feminist really is a feminist. indeed. Collins?")." not." noting in a clever bit of wordplay that "though one of the most persistent of This content downloaded from 117. I suspect. to claimthat shouldstockone. 15). she refers to "self-proclaimed feminists" (p. Fetterley calls this process "immasculation. . as its title suggests. I am inclined to speculate that Robinson's practical (or academic) criticism rather than her theoretical manifestoes may ultimately be the most useful material in this volume. and the phrase implies to me that she thinks there ought to be some set of outside criteria which. this passage seems to me to depend upon a submerged form of that banal old metaphor of the Ivory Tower which is irremediably set apart from the so-called "real" world. however. I was impressed. To go on being confessional. for despite her evident contempt for academic criticism she has written a book that includes a good deal of it. that the work of feminist critics in academic departments is an essential component of the work of the women's movement in the "real"world.236 on Fri. for example. because English departments are workplaces and mind-shaping structures as powerful and "real" as.211. although here the occasional. some scorn for literary women who (perhaps like Annis Pratt) do not share such credentials. or prisons.But at this point she breaks off. As a matter of fact. a work that would combine her formidable intellectual skill with her genuine revolutionary fervor. and I think I can perhaps trace my disaffection beyond her attacks upon other literary women to one of her wittiest and most revealing statements: Some peoplearetryingto makean honestwomanout of the feministcritic. Judith Fetterley has given us a book which comes somewhat closer to the kind of criticism I hope Robinson will yet offer us. Specifically. then.

"Dreams." she adds "But The GreatGatsby claims to be universal" (p. Daisy in The GreatGatsby. '4"The Dread of Woman. Does it really. Virginia Woolf's Mrs. As is so often the case. Idols.Life Studies. In clear. she says-and here she is clearly a representative citizen of Abrams' "Age of the Reader"-then "books will no longer be read as they have been read and thus will lose the power to bind us unknowingly to their designs" (pp. and she argues cogently that "the first act of the feminist critic must be to become a resisting rather than an assenting reader and. 1961). esp. At times. 129-185. moreover. Septimus Warren Smith. A senses the deep and usually contradictory vulnerable. Barbara Rigney's Madness study of the fictional strategies by which women writers from Charlotte Bronte to Margaret Atwood have objectified and overcome just such pain. Doris Lessing's The Four-GatedCity. her weaknesses as a reader are probably functions of her strengths. It might be equally interesting and useful. chapter IX. thoughtful readings of BrontesJane Eyre. Declaring that "The Great Gatsbyis based on the lie of a double standard that makes female characters in our 'classic' literature not persons but symbols and makes women's experience no part of that literature's concern. to Arms. (New York: Norton. 97). xxii). by this refusal to assent.she seems to me to project anxieties of her own into the book or even to personify a comparatively ambiguous text as a definitively threatening person. to begin the process of exorcizing the male mind that has been implanted in us" (p. be more interesting-and finally more useful-simply to study the pernicious ways in which male texts have affected female readers without spending much time trying to allocate blame. Texts. responsive reader. This content downloaded from 117."14for finally. Speech After LongSilence FeministCritics Today 859 literary stereotypes is the castrating bitch. however? Can texts in fact "claim" anything at all (as persons may)? I think that especially in this age of the Reader we have to be careful to distinguish between texts and persons." "The Birthmark. in particular. pp. therefore. If we do this. and Margaret Atwood's Surfacing. Though they both record and exert psychological pressures. as Simone de Beauvoir pointed out so long ago. and The Great Gatsby-with passion and (for the most part) precision. 133-146. they do not intendeither of these activities. Fetterley reads a number of central American A Farewell texts-among them "Rip Van Winkle. In her elaboration of this thesis. Laing's theories about the psychosocial function of insanity to show that women novelists have often personified their own and their characters' madness in "self-created others. say.'5 and SexualPoliticsin the FeministNovel is a Interestingly.236 on Fri.86. 1967)."The Bostonians. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . she aluways connections between male fiction and female reality. it is this ontological dread we must confront and transform if we are ever to resist and transform the pain we have read in our own lives." in FemininePsychology '5TheSecond Sex (New York: Bantam. Fears. after all. It might. Rigney uses R. she obviously feels she is defending herself and her own life against the "immasculation"her literary culture has arbitrarily forced upon her." pp. xxii-xxiii). to study the ways in which male texts incorporate defenses erected (and my pun is not altogether intentional) to ward off what Karen Homey called "the dread of woman.211. the cultural reality is not the emasculation of men by women but the immasculation of women by men" (p." grotesque doubles like Bertha Mason Rochester. are unnatural phenomena wholly lacking in autonomy. because she is so concerned to articulate how it feels for a woman to read about.or. xx). Dalloway. D.

however. Jean Kennard examines a different but related process of bifurcation and objectification by which women readers have been taught to define their own lives in terms of their utility for men. therefore.a more wide-ranging and ambitious literary study.211. in other words. to have Kennard's thorough and thoughtful demonstration "of the fundamentally sexist nature of one dominant structural convention in Victorian novels with central female characters"(p. for Woolf s wonderful discussion of this hypothetical futurist novel by "Mary Carmichael. In her note on the book jacket she calls this process or mechanism "the two-suitor convention"-that is. demonstrating through concise readings that.: Yale University Press. for instance. if only because. Susan Gubar and I also deal with the distinctive uses women writers have made of the doppelganger. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . for example. Doris Lessing-Rigney falls into the Laingian trap of romanticizing madness. and sometimes I find her readings rather more cursory than I uwouldlike them to be. more accurately. who discusses sexist (or perhaps. Frank Churchill in Emma]. for essentially Kennard explores the entrapment of women in patriarchal poetics.860 COLLEGEENGLISH and Lynda Coldridge. 10).g. most women. 86-87. Certainly this last mistake is one some feminist critics often risk making. she wonders when women in novels will be allowed to define themselves through serious professional work and/or through friendship with other women as well as through the vagaries of romantic love. Kennard examines them also in female works.16 Sometimes it seems to me that-along with. then. reading can be so anxious yet vital an activity for women of letters. to Atwood's artwork. In our forthcoming The Madwoman in the Attic: The WomanWriterand the Nineteenth-Century LiteraryImagination (New Haven. 10). Yet all too often we write about their uworkas if they were imitating life and had no conception of fictional form to both aid and hinder their creativity" (p. like all men...g.86. uwhosevalues she initially shares but must reject [e. Knightley]. it is cogent but gloomy. pp. In a sense.236 on Fri." Like so many other feminists doing criticism in this age of the Reader. 1979). "is that novelists read as well as live in society. As such. '7See A Roomof One'sOwn. her book is a study of the "immasculation"of the woman novelist which complements Fetterley's analysis of the "immasculation"of the woman reader. pp. from Jane Austen to Erica Jong. "patriarchal")structures only in male novels. Finally. ." This content downloaded from 117. "The premise behind my argument. and she is usually sensitive to crucial imagery. Unlike Fetterley. Mlr. On the whole. and mirrors." she explains. 119-127. In Victimsof Convention. her book is a sensible and salutory demonstration of the pain patriarchal texts and their social contexts have created for women. have fictionalized women "almost exclusively in terms of their relationships with men" (p. Her analyses of echoes and parallels from book to book are quite good (she sees Lessing's Lynda. Kennard is struck by the pervasive pressures of textuality. with Virginia Woolf. Ct. vill such a statement as "Chloe liked Olivia" be an apt rather than an outlandish opening for a novel? 17 Perhaps it is because I very much want to be hopeful rather than despairing that I 16"The Self-Created Other: Integration and Survival. who represents the moral values of the author and whom the heroine eventually marries [e. 18).. When. cameras. It is particularly helpful. the right suito. say. . . the plot formula that depicts "the maturing of the heroine by comparing her with tuwomen: the wrong suitor." in Madnessand Sexual Politics. as a revisionary parody of Bronte's Bertha). as we have seen.

in especially brilliant readings of Pride and Prejudiceand Little Women. In chapters on Cranfordand Villette. the sisterly March household is a center of reality. The OddWomenand The Bostonians. she shows that for Jane Austen a world without men is a uworldwithout substance or reality. Djuna Barnes." though she notes with grim wit that often a fictional (or real) world may be "ruled by women but possessed by men. Thus. Monique Wittig. longer and richer discussions. she notes that. for instance. Finally. even the most traditional genres-genres ordinarily associated with This content downloaded from 117. the Church must surely have appeared to a Protestant feminist like Bronte to be a. p. 157)? Obviously. further interpretations. even when they have willingly renounced their Christmas breakfast. Where the Bennet menage was presided over by a foolish mother. quintessential patriarchal structure. like the one at Longbourn. or even the. each of which is both fact and spiritual emblem" (pp. "is full of things. 113). 6). lacking male validation. peres." the world of the March girls. the Bennet household even lacks concrete detail: food. despite my minor dissents from her analyses.After LongSilence FeministCriticsToday 861 Life Studies. 45). 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Auerbach studies similar dichotomies. 42. and where Longbourn was "a hungry world because an empty one. for in Austen's fiction "it is not women but available men whose presence makes a house a home" (p. with its Popes. both mutilated and outcast sisterhoods. she examines recent evolutions of the "contradictory visions" implicit in those nineteenth-century novels." she argues that "unperceived Utopias" of sisterhood may all along have coexisted. moreover. Indeed. She argues that "this corporate and contradictory vision of a unit that is simultaneously defective and transcendent forms part of all the novels this study will examine" (p. and patriarchs. and in a closing section on Muriel Spark. the Fates or the Muses. appears on the table for the first time uwhen Bingley and Darcy come to dinner. on the one hand. seems to me only very ambiguously to conclude with a female world "all regnant" (p. submerged and subversive. that in our tradition only two male writers. a book that seems to offer at least a tentatively optimistic answer to Kennard's (and Woolf's) worried question. As mythic paradigms for the polarity of "anti-society" versus "unperceived Utopia.86. (On the contrary. for instance. Speech am so fond of Nina Auerbach's Communities of Women:An Idea in Fiction." she suggests. I do not always agree with her readings. both groups representing a "unity of force neither god nor hero dare invade" (p. I find Auerbach's beautifully written book continually absorbing and exhilarating. because her book is a contribution to the history of ideas as well as to the history of literature. For although Auerbach is plainly aware of the oppressive sociocultural exigencies that underlie "obligatory marriage plots. and on the other hand. I do not want revisions from her so much as I want addenda: more analyses. XVhyis it the case. 56-57). of Beckett-like ladies in waiting. For Alcott.211. and certainly neither Madame Beck nor the Roman Catholic Church strike me as primarily emblems of "maternality" (p. my desire for amplification is here a sign of Auerbach's success rather than her failure. with the islands of dispossession or "anti-societies"to which women without men are usually relegated (p. p.236 on Fri. in the employ of revisionary feminist critics. however. 3). the March circle tightens around a wise matriarch. and Ti-Grace Atkinson.or. 6).) Nevertheless. Auerbach's achievement suggests to me that. 61. 107). a kind of world-hearth generating its own warmth and vitality. for instance. the Graie or the Amazons. "endow their [communities of] women with the burden of historical reality communities of men assume as a matter of course" (p. Villette. a community. Gissing and James.

Kennard. Fetterley. 2 (1976). Like the structuralist. they enhance each other. In addition. a number of readers will have the advantage I have had of reading in conjunction with each other the books I have reviewed here. then.236 on Fri." But although in discussing this dissolve of criticism into reading I mentioned only the three readeroriented critics whom Abrams discussed. 821-832. Soon. feminist criticism is an intellectual phenomenon whose growth has been facilitated (though not necessarily caused) by the metamorphosis of an "Age of the Critic" into an "Age of the Reader. Ultimately. Yet why should this be so? As my allusion to Abrams implied. and others do not detract from or subvert each other.86. I w ant to close this essay w ith a qualification. And of course such a communal self-definition is a healthy and hopeful development." and A\nnette Kolodnv.organ. I think it is just as important for us to talk to-and be heardby-our male colleagues. not just for literary women but. might rather scornfully dismiss as academic criticism-can serve passionate purposes and facilitate Life Studies.862 COLLEGEENGLISH what Robinson. This content downloaded from 117. it becomes increasingly clear to me as I write this that in its impassioned. for just as female texts have so far been written mostly in patriarchal contexts.211. As Annette Kolodny and William Morgan both observed some time ago." Critical Inquiry. Rigney. "The Feminist as Literary Critic. While it is obviously important for women of letters to talk w ith passion and conviction to and about each other.18 Lately. forces that have shaped the period of extraordinary social change in which I believe uweare living.Annette Kolodny. 807816. after all. have welcomed. Baym's insights into the development of "woman's fiction" in the nineteenth century enrich Auerbach's visions of female communities. I might just as reasonably have noted that the Life Studies undertaken by feminist critics have deep affinities with the work done by proponents of a number of other "mainstream"critical isms. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the dangers of separatism are real and great." in "Critical Response. the feminist critic is trying to define the one 18See William WV. reveal neglected truths. after all. For this reason. alas. male texts have in some sense always been written about or for women. "Feminism and Literary Study: A Reply to . and no doubt many readers will notice what I have noticed: that these works by Olsen." Speaking of such Utopias. and sisterly dialogue the community of feminist critics uwhichis emerging right nowshalf-consciously perceives itself as such a society. confessional. like Auerbach. to read them all is finally to begin to see as shadowy distant shapes the sociocultural forces we have heretofore only intuited. it has seemed to me that by and large we feminist critics talk only to each other or to a few other literary women who define themselves as potential converts to our creed. Auerbach. as Robinson might agree. and Fetterley help explain overt and covert struggles going on in many female and male lives right now. for the women's movement in general. the Life Studies I have tried to define here are confrontations of the letters of both women's and men's lives. M. specifically a note of doubt about the feminist literary community w hose growth I. for one. the powerful but conflicting aesthetic structures studied by Kennard. the larger community of literary people will surely benefit from the intricate texture of ideas that members of this emergent critical community are weaving. or uncover "unperceived Utopias.

After LongSilence FeministCriticsToday 863 Life Studies. feminist criticism is and should be a major current in the main stream of contemporary literary thought. even to our antagonists. as I began. and to transform the painful truths all our Life Studies reveal. by explaining that this belief underlies my choice of a subtitle for this essay. This content downloaded from 117. a feminist. of textuality. and it has been-and perhaps will continue to be-most crucial for us to break silence with each other. Insofar as it is applied to every ism but feminism.or.236 on Fri. Like the Freudian critic. 1977). For as Dorothy Dinnerstein has brilliantly demonstrated. asking me why I have to choose a phrase from the work of a male poet. 27 Sep 2013 05:45:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . then. as I have already argued. in my view. '9See The Mermaidand the Minotaur:Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise (New York: Harper and Row. the word "mainstream"is a misleading term. Speech paradigmatic "story" that underlies the many. to tell. we literary women have experienced "long silence. As Tillie Olsen's famous essay notes. addressing a long-estranged woman and adding that "young/We loved each other and were ignorant. Like the Marxist critic. like so many recent writers in this age of the Reader." Yeats mused." centuries of it." it is increasingly clear that there was much hostility and dread veiled by that love. she believes that an understanding of the sexual component of these social arrangements is the key to an understanding of the story or stories such arrangementscondition her culture to tell her. For I suspect it will require much speech to learn. I want to end. "Speech after long silence" is of course a line from Yeats. Because I believe this so strongly.86. even a flood. and as I write it I hear in my mind the voice of my closest friend.211. apparently diverse tales her culture tells her. But it is precisely my wish that we may extend our dialogue to male poets and critics that energizes this choice. on a confessional note. And." And although it is no doubt true that men and women "loved each other. she perceives culture itself as a tide. Now we must break the silence and speak about that love and that dread. our gender definitions and their concomitant anxieties in some sense determine all our social and cultural arrangements19. "Speech after long silence. obviously. But now we must also speak to our male counterparts. she sees that story as a function of historically determined social arrangements. it is right.

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