WRITING WOMAN: Women Writers and Women in Literature, Medieval to Modern by Sheila Delany

WRITING WOMAN: Women Writers and Women in Literature, Medieval to Modern

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These ten ultimately disappointing critical essays present a trained medievalist (Simon Fraser U.) wielding a variety of analytic tools and a Marxist-Freudian critic investigating a wide range of documents involving women--from Chaucer's Constance to Rosa Luxemburg--with a view to sexual politics in both the historico-economic and the psychological sense. What they very rarely present is the sense of a focused critical response to the work in its entirety. Thus a study of the anonymous 13th-century romance Flore et Jehane has much to say about the status of women among the emerging bourgeoisie; but it does not offer those who have never read the work sufficient quotation, paraphrase, and critical description to give them a preliminary feeling for the text. Generally speaking, the best analyses are those with the simplest and most straightforward trains of thought: an autobiographical account of developing political perceptions; a forthright demonstration of the intellectual feebleness of Charlotte P. Gilman; a sympathetic treatment of money metaphors as an indication of obsessions and anxieties in The Book of Margery Kempe; an examination of gradually regressing attitudes toward women in the pre-Stalinist and high-Stalinist Soviet Union. When critical tools of different sorts must be brought to bear in close alliance, Delany not only shifts gears noticeably, she has a tendency to treat a text's implications (or frames of reference) as more or less on the same level as what it sets forth. It is perfectly true that The Rape of the Lock is firmly, conspicuously, and wittily rooted in certain circumstances of early modern capitalism; that does not mean that calling Belinda at the mirror ""the very symbol of commercial Britannia"" is anything but a clumsy muddling of categories, or that Pope intends anyone to see the actual snipping of the lock as ""a breach of class trust""--that is, bourgeois ""acquisitive fervor"" inappropriately practiced by an aristocrat--rather than a prank among silly young nebs. At times, this is a passionate and striking synthesis of disparate intellectual elements; at others, a very oddly carpentered bed of Procrustes. It is always the work of a fiercely engaged mind and conscience.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Schocken