NO MAN'S LAND: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Vol. I: The War of the Words by Sandra M. & Susan Gubar Gilbert

NO MAN'S LAND: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Vol. I: The War of the Words

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The first of a three-volume sequel to the groundbreaking The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), this examines with gusto and good humor the effects of women writing--even more than women's writings--on late 19th- and 20th-century American and English literature, and on how the literary battle of the sexes was fired by feminism and the quest for equality. Gilbert (Princeton Univ.) and Gubar (Indiana Univ.) follow men's attitudes and responses, from Tennyson's confounding The Princess: A Medley through a thicket of stylistically diverse writers (Gilbert & Sullivan, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Richard Wright, Ted Hughes, Norman Mailer), concentrating on common themes, images of impotence and combat, ""anxious self-consciousness,"" and other casualties of psychological conflict. During the same years they find evidence of women feeling even more imperiled than men: they must outwit or outlast men--only madwomen attempt physical assault--and struggle against what Virginia Woolf saw as a traditional male aesthetic that locked men in and women out. Gilbert and Gubar demonstrate how particular works, as least in part, were considered successful challenges to perceived threats of female vitality and imagination; for example, Joyce suggested that The Waste Land ""ends [the] idea of poetry for ladies."" Battling back, women took their cues from the writings of those before them (e.g., May Sarton from Woolf) or, inspired by earlier works (Jane Eyre, The Mill on the Floss), transformed them (Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, Drabble's The Waterfall). Gilbert and Gubar conclude that both men and women have nurtured fantasies about language itself(""father speech,"" a ""mother tongue""), and their observations on these perceptions, distinct for each sex, are as balanced and entergetic as the rest of their formulations. Like their previous book, this is rich in insights and dense with supporting quotations. Spiced with remarks from a wide range of partisans, it reads smoothly, with fewer outbursts of the clotted prose (""both matrophilial utopian and matrophobic dystopian meditations"") that seemed to destine Madwoman for ambitious reading lists. There seems good promise that the remaining volumes, on the lesbian literary tradition and the regiments beyond modernism's front lines, will be equally enterprising.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press