A collection of essays that reexamine literature through a feminist gaze from "one of our most versatile and gifted writers" (Joyce Carol Oates).
"We think back through our mothers if we are women," wrote Virginia Woolf. In this groundbreaking series of essays, Sandra M. Gilbert explores how our literary mothers have influenced us in our writing and in life. She considers the effects of these literary mothers by examining her own history and the work of such luminaries as Charlotte Brontë, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath. In the course of the book, she charts her own development as a feminist, demonstrates ways of understanding the dynamics of gender and genre, and traces the redefinitions of maternity reflected in texts by authors such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.
Throughout, Gilbert asks major questions about feminism in the twentieth century: Why and how did its ideas become so necessary to women in the sixties and seventies? What have those feminist concepts come to mean in the new century? And above all, how have our intellectual mothers shaped our thoughts today?
The Madwoman in the Attic, a reading of 19th-century women writers, which Gilbert co-wrote with Susan Gubar in 1979, was a landmark of second-wave feminism. It serves as a jumping-off point for this collection of essays spanning three decades and reflecting Gilbert's continuing insights. Most of the initial entries in this volume flow from Gilbert's personal experiences in the forefront of the feminist movement. In "A Fine, White Flying Myth" she discusses the work of Sylvia Plath in light of her own tenure as a guest editor of Mademoiselle four years after Plath had been in that same position in the 1950s. Gilbert speaks of Emily Dickinson's self-mythologizing in order to transform 19th-century notions of womanhood and Jane Eyre as an "an unprecedentedly passionate heroine" who decides to cast off her Christian piety and accept a "hedonistic theology of love." Gilbert's close reading of the writers she calls "our literary mothers" George Eliot, Charlotte Bront , Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, Plath, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and others is persuasive though somewhat pedantic. While it may not appeal to the general reader, this collection contains enough authoritatively reasoned and provocative arguments to make it a candidate for the very women's studies courses Gilbert herself pioneered.