Fryer (of Miami University in Ohio) opens with the celebrated ""American myth of a new beginning""--the undefiled Garden, to...


THE FACES OF EVE: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel

Fryer (of Miami University in Ohio) opens with the celebrated ""American myth of a new beginning""--the undefiled Garden, to be peopled with upright and industrious Adams. The 19th century, she argues, saw an Eve assuming separate economic and political reality in a somewhat begrimed Eden--but one would hardly have recognized her in the works of the major American novelists. Even (or especially) the greatest of them give us anachronistic, reductive images of the literal changes at work in home and marketplace. Fryer examines four fictional archetypes of this Eve, beginning with the ""temptress"" who dangerously extends the range of personal experience and the ""American princess"" in various guises from the lily-maid to the candid, aspiring heroines of James. The ""Great Mother,"" terrifyingly devoted to the control of a child or child-figure, elicits some of Fryer's least satisfying analysis, alternately over-obvious and over-ingenious. More soundly, she argues that the only American novel of the 19th century to represent the ""New Woman"" with clarity or depth is Kate Chopin's The Awakening--an electrifying contrast to the sneering caricatures of James (The Bostonians) and tortured ambivalences of Hawthorne (Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance). Fryer adopts a narrower focus and more conventional exegetical aims than Ellen Moers (Literary Women, p. 175) and Patricia Meyer Spacks (The Female Imagination, 1975); she does not seek the range or fluency of Elizabeth Hardwick (Seduction and Betrayal, 1974). Her book has the merit of its self-imposed limitations. There are weaknesses: the Eve-Eden idea does not genuinely cement all of the material, and a certain conceptual vagueness surrounds the claim that the creation of ""a woman, not an image"" eluded all of the male authors examined. But what one remembers is a series of alert and sensible readings that discover meanings in texts far more often than imposing meanings on them.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1976


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1976