Consider. Mary Shelley was eighteen, the daughter of a woman who died giving birth to her, the unmarried mother of two children--one already dead--when she began Frankenstein, the story of the birth of a monster. ""All of Jane Austen's opening paragraphs, and the best of her first sentences, have money in them. . . ."" Quite possibly the subject of George Eliot's first novel, Adam Bede, was suggested by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred, its method by Jane Austen's Emma--the first reviewed by George Eliot, the second read aloud by her the next year. . . . Out of observations such as these Ellen Moers, teacher (CUNY) and literary historian (Two Dreisers, 1969), pieces together a new image of women's literature as nourished by its own traditions and embodying ""everything special to a woman's life."" Individually her essays take up, for example, the Gothic tradition, money and employment (""Female Realism""), and types of heroines--or ""heroinism""--from the traveler (safely indoors in Gothics) to the teacher, and thus to the master-disciple, mother-daughter relationship. In modern times Willa Cather, Colette, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf stand forth as, in Stein's phrase, ""The Mothers of Us All""--an extraordinary, unequaled company. Moers does not ordinarily send one rushing to the bookshelves (as one reaches for Hedda Gabler on reading Elizabeth Hardwick's Seduction and Betrayal), but she renews interest in the writer as public figure--Harriet Beecher Stowe is a distinct beneficiary--and, particularly in the cases of Cather and Colette, in the writer as woman. An extensive, potentially invaluable bibliography concludes. The writing is idiosyncratic, pedantic, opinionated; but the book can no more be ignored than a Kansas twister.