THE FEMALE IMAGINATION by Patricia Meyer Spacks


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Spacks' study is a spinoff of an undergraduate coloquium at Wellesley. As a teacher, she is more concerned with consciousness-raising than with the development of acumen in reading texts. As critic herself, she is reductive, arrogant and quarrelsome. No matter whom she reads -- and this is more broad than deep -- she finds fault with the level of awareness. She speaks of the ""hole"" behind women's writing (a very Freudian choice of terms, no?): ""that final sense of inadequacy my students felt in so many of the woman writers they encountered. . . ."" And who are these ""inadequate"" women? Start with Virginia Woolf, whose conceptual ""inadequacies are themselves revealing,"" whose Mrs. Ramsay is ""an impossible fictional model for young women of today."" Spacks does not read fiction as art but as ""abundant evidence"" to corroborate Freud's ""description of women as masochistic, passive, narcissistic."" She seems to think that to represent woman in a historical context as she was (oppressed, limited) rather than as she should have been is to affirm the morality of her condition -- powerless, dependent, concealing anger in her altruism. Two fallacies there: the biographical and the historical. . .but it seems that SpacEs was born yesterday. According to her readings, Eliot, Austen and the Brontes find marriage and male dominance happy resolutions. The heroines of Plath and E. Bronte are ""selfish, unstable, ungiving. . . negative images of possibility."" Mabel Dodge Luhan ""sounds like a Wellesley student"" -- and which half of the comparison is she insulting? Hellman's stories ""have an ironic edge, of which she seems unaware."" Mrs. Thrale's writings are ""more revealing than the author intended."" Spacks doesn't give other women much credit. After leaving her course, one devastated student confessed: ""I'm still, I think, male-oriented more than self-oriented. (I get cold chills as I write that.)"" Mrs. Spacks' vision is just that benighted.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Knopf