WRITING OF WOMEN: Essays in a Renaissance by Phyllis Rose

WRITING OF WOMEN: Essays in a Renaissance

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An unassuming, invigorating collection of feminist essays and reviews. Rose (English, Wesleyan), herself a skillful biographer (with books on Virgina Woolf and Victorian marriages), begins by confessing ""my enthusiasm for the revolution in literary history by which women have begun to receive their due as writers, and by enthusiasm for biography in what I see as a golden age""; she then proceeds to demonstrate that double enthusiasm in these lively pieces (19 in all) on Willa Cather, Jean Rhys, Djuna Barnes, Isak Dinesen, Christina Rossetti, Cynthia Ozick et al. Rose looks at these and other women writers and artists from the standpoint of what she calls ""classical"" feminism, which is integrationist rather than separationist, and seeks to give women ""equal access to power""--admission to the literary canon, ""major"" status, etc. That means, in the first instance, arguing for neglected or undervalued women writers, such as the little known Emily Eden (1797-1869), who wrote a pair of fine comic novels patterned after lane Austen. It also means treating Willa Cather not as a marginal (because traditional) figure, but as an important modernist (in the stripped-down functionalism of her style, her rejection of a naively mimetic view of art, her anti-naturalistic blurring together of past and present in Death Comes for the Archbishop). Responsible criticism can't be constant eulogizing: Rose balks, for example, at the way Andrew Fields puts Djuna Barnes on a par with Joyce and Eliot; she admits the triviality and opaqueness of Jean Rhys' autobiography, Smile Please. Rose writes with unabashed colloquial zest (""Sartre suffered from a lulu of a mind/body split""). And if her broader critical intuitions tend to be commonplace (e.g., that biographers' sense of duty to objective facts has inhibited their ""imaginative intensity""), her careful, pointed reviews (of the work of Margaret Drabble, say, or Georgina Battiscombe's life of Christian Rossetti) are superbly professional. Rose modestly calls these pieces left-overs, but they do very nicely.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1985
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press--dist. by Harper & Row