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

NO MAN'S LAND: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Vol. II: Sexchanges

Email this review


A follow-up to 1986's highly regarded The War of the Words, this equally far-reaching second volume (of three) explores ""changing definitions of sex and sex roles"" from late Victorian times through the years just after WW I. During this period, Haggard's She and Jack the Ripper make claims on the popular imagination; Schreiner, Gilman, and Chopin offer flawed but imposing alternatives to traditional sex-role socialization; Cather and Wharton contemplate conventional sex roles with a similar skepticism about possibilities for change; and lesbian writers such as Gertrude Stein devise a satisfying double talk to dramatize their own situations. Though WW I liberates women on several fronts--changing economic expectations, welcoming them into the work force, validating feelings of sisterhood, and revising social and aesthetic aspirations--many fa a backlash as soon as the men return: out of work and out of favor. As in the first volume and in their The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), Gilbert (English/Princeton) and Gubar (English/Indiana) refer to a wide variety of major works (by Joyce, Eliot, Woolf, Lawrence, Hemingway), quote extensively--sometimes excessively--to document their intricately trellised themes, and consolidate a staggering amount of information into readable, enthusiastically argued prose. The last two chapters--on the complex effects of the war on attitudes and on transvestism as metaphor--are especially successful, showing this dynamic duo at their most fluent and insightful. Although The War of the Words offered a more readily apparent sequence of attacks and counterattacks, this is as forcefully presented and as level in its use.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1989
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press