Review by Choice Review
The first volume of a projected three-volume analysis of the development of literary modernism in Britain and America, this is an ambitious and controversial text. Gilbert and Gubar assert and attempt to illustrate the thesis (to be better supported with extended readings in Volumes 2 and 3) that modernism itself is the result of a defensive masculine response to the accomplishments of women in 19th-century literature and society. The authors describe a war between men and women, in and out of books, in which first one sex and then the other imagines the prospect of victory. This thesis results in some revisionist readings of texts previously understood to be sympathetic to women's development (e.g., Nathaniel Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance and Henry James's The Bostonians) as well as a focus on some little-known or uncharacteristic works, such as Booth Tarkington's ``The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis.'' Gilbert and Gubar demonstrate, through a variety of texts and analytical approaches, from close readings to impressionistic tapestries of interpretation, that from D.H. Lawrence to Jacques Derrida male writers and critics have attempted to define and control the very nature of language in order to define and control the nature and power of the female. The evidence is sobering and provocative, ranging widely through popular and elite literature. There is much to argue with and much to reckon with; critics and general readers will await the volumes to follow. Level: graduate and upper-division undergraduate.-R. Nadelhaft, University of Maine at Orono
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
The first of a three-volume sequel to the groundbreaking The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), this examines with gusto and good humor the effects of women writing--even more than women's writings--on late 19th- and 20th-century American and English literature, and on how the literary battle of the sexes was fired by feminism and the quest for equality. Gilbert (Princeton Univ.) and Gubar (Indiana Univ.) follow men's attitudes and responses, from Tennyson's confounding The Princess: A Medley through a thicket of stylistically diverse writers (Gilbert & Sullivan, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Richard Wright, Ted Hughes, Norman Mailer), concentrating on common themes, images of impotence and combat, ""anxious self-consciousness,"" and other casualties of psychological conflict. During the same years they find evidence of women feeling even more imperiled than men: they must outwit or outlast men--only madwomen attempt physical assault--and struggle against what Virginia Woolf saw as a traditional male aesthetic that locked men in and women out. Gilbert and Gubar demonstrate how particular works, as least in part, were considered successful challenges to perceived threats of female vitality and imagination; for example, Joyce suggested that The Waste Land ""ends [the] idea of poetry for ladies."" Battling back, women took their cues from the writings of those before them (e.g., May Sarton from Woolf) or, inspired by earlier works (Jane Eyre, The Mill on the Floss), transformed them (Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, Drabble's The Waterfall). Gilbert and Gubar conclude that both men and women have nurtured fantasies about language itself(""father speech,"" a ""mother tongue""), and their observations on these perceptions, distinct for each sex, are as balanced and entergetic as the rest of their formulations. Like their previous book, this is rich in insights and dense with supporting quotations. Spiced with remarks from a wide range of partisans, it reads smoothly, with fewer outbursts of the clotted prose (""both matrophilial utopian and matrophobic dystopian meditations"") that seemed to destine Madwoman for ambitious reading lists. There seems good promise that the remaining volumes, on the lesbian literary tradition and the regiments beyond modernism's front lines, will be equally enterprising. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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