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NO MAN'S LAND by Sandra M. Gilbert

NO MAN'S LAND

The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Vol. III: Letters from the Front

By Sandra M. Gilbert (Author) , Susan Gubar (Author)

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1994
ISBN: 0-300-05631-1
Publisher: Yale Univ.

 The final third of this feminist literary study maintains the quality of volumes I (The War of the Words, 1987) and II (Sexchanges, 1989) as it looks at women writers' exploration of our century's complex and ever-shifting cultural scene, particularly the thorny question of gender. Gilbert and Gubar take a generally chronological approach, beginning with the modernists. In their analysis, Virginia Woolf sketched scenarios challenging traditional sex roles, as well as the historical settings and the social hierarchies in which they functioned. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore were ``female female impersonators'' who exploited femininity's artificiality in an imaginative but uncertainly empowering way. The authors then move on to the Harlem Renaissance, arguing that such writers as Nora Zeale Hurston, Jessie Redmon Faucet, and Nella Larsen worked to reveal the ``authentic (black) feminine'' behind racial stereotypes and criticized (white) feminism. Intertwining the poet and her work, a chapter on HD maintains that she produced her long poems by consciously manipulating images of herself. Moving forward to WW II, Gilbert and Gubar discuss the period's ``blitz on women'': Cheesecake pinups on tanks and VD posters conflated sex and death, while even positive images of the women left behind were tinged with resentment. They contend that metaphors from the war, transformed into images of sexual battle, haunted the poems of Sylvia Plath, who fought toward a way of being a woman beyond the old patriarchal traditions. At once playful and thoughtful, the final chapter considers the multiplicity of women's stories via the authors' several rewrites of Snow White--e.g., the no-longer-evil queen challenges gender roles by advising Snow White to ``marry the Prince but sleep with me too,'' while in another version a critically savvy queen realizes they're all ``merely signifiers, signifying nothing.'' A satisfying conclusion to an ambitious project.