Books by Elaine Showalter

Released: March 8, 2016

"A rich life well deserving of reconsideration. Showalter provides a solid launching point."
An energetic new look at the author of the lyrics for "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" finds a modern feminist thread in the heroine's frustrated marriage. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 4, 2011

"A mixed bag, then: a one-of-a-kind anthology that, though large, needs to be larger still to do its job, and that begs for more extensive annotation and context."
Overstuffed but still thin anthology highlighting women's contributions to American—and world—literature. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 25, 2009

"Certain to make its way onto college course lists, Showalter's lucid, comprehensive survey should also find an appreciative audience of serious general readers."
At last—a New World companion volume to the distinguished feminist scholar's pioneering A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (1977). Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2001

"Readable and mildly interesting, but shallow and sloppily reasoned—which is a disappointment from someone of Showalter's stature."
Feminist scholar Showalter (Sister's Choice, 1991, etc.) stirs together literary history, biography, personal reminiscence, and pop culture in a peculiar narrative that devotes as much time to female thinkers' dysfunctional private lives as to their public achievements. Read full book review >
Released: April 3, 1997

Applied scholarship in the best interdisciplinary tradition, examining how hysteria, the individual somaticization of anxiety, devolves to the ``hystories,'' or cultural narratives, of the title and how they in turn escalate into psychogenic epidemics. Feminist literary critic and medical historian Showalter (Humanities/Princeton Univ.) identifies six contemporary syndromes as hysterical epidemics, which arise when influential professional gurus impact on vulnerable populations in culturally supportive environments. Showalter modifies her own endorsement (The Female Malady, 1985) of feminist therapy/therapeutic feminism as she attacks the credulousness of ``the feminist embrace of all abuse narratives and the treatment of all women as survivors.'' But psychotherapy is, Showalter claims, part of the solution to the problem that she expands on fluently in the idioms of psychoanalysis, feminism, and literature. When she moves to address chronic fatigue and Gulf War syndromes (rather too absolutely) as psychological in origin, her zeal biases her rhetorical and reportorial judgment; however, on the overlapping hystories of recovered memory, multiple personality disorder, satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction, the advocates convict themselves—of fascination with conspiracy, of accommodating to guilt and fear by licensing the projecting of blame onto others, and above all of resolute obliviousness to ``the way . . . suggestion worked to produce confabulation.'' Showalter has fun with the compound- bizarre, e.g., Harvard psychiatrist John Mack's speculation that remembered sexual abuse actually screens repressed episodes of alien abduction. But she honors the ``spiritual resonance'' lodged even in the narratives she makes sport of: Her quarrel is not with the symptoms of hysteria; she affirms the they are no less real (and no less treatable) than those of organic diseases. It is with the ``social appropriations'' of hysteria (such as the ramifications of incest accusations based on ``recovered'' memory) that she takes issue, and in defense of emotional mystery and narrative truth that she risks the wrath of the epidemics' suffering proponents by challenging them. Muscular, probably inflammatory, and elegantly expressed. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

The title of this collection of essays (some delivered as lectures at Oxford in 1989) refers to a quilting pattern—the image, as Showalter (English/Princeton; Sexual Anarchy, 1990, etc.) explains, that best describes women's literature in America: its communal and ritual nature, its continuity, its diversity, its history as a domestic art that lapsed into disrepute before being resurrected into a high art in the 60's. Showalter's dual preoccupation with the role of women writers and the special identity of American literature appears in the first essay, ``Miranda's Story,'' describing the way various American subcultures have appropriated The Tempest—the role of Miranda, the Dark Lady, Shakespeare's sister—as played by American women, the prototype being Margaret Fuller. In successive chapters on Alcott's Little Women, Chopin's The Awakening, and Wharton's The House of Mirth, Showalter identifies the distinctive voices, values, preoccupations, ``hybridity'' of American women's writing that makes any question of being Shakespeare's sister irrelevant. And in an astute chapter on what she calls ``women's gothic,'' she further explores the contributions of women writers to the dominant male culture. Even in her chapter on the lost generation of women writers of the 20's—poets such as Amy Lowell, Sara Teasdale, and Elinor Wylie, and Afro-Americans such as Zora Neale Hurston—she finds, in spite of the exclusion, victimization, and repression, a ``literary history of female mastery and growth.'' Persuasive, ranging, perceptive, unpolemical, Showalter here offers a splendid example of humanistic writing, of her own ``female mastery and growth,'' a genuine contribution to contemporary thinking about women's literature. Her flaw: excessive quoting of scholars who don't write as well as she does, illustrating merely that she has done her homework. (Photographs of quilts.) Read full book review >