"READING FROM THE HEART: Women, Literature, and the Search for True Love" by Suzanne Juhasz

"READING FROM THE HEART: Women, Literature, and the Search for True Love"

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An earnest and intimate, though single-minded and somewhat disappointing, tour through women's romance fiction, from Jane Austen to contemporary lesbian novels. Leaving aside the lighter, Harlequin-style romances, Juhasz (English/Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) focuses on the classics she grew up with, which continue to give her sustenance. Drawing primarily on the psychoanalytic theories of D.W. Winnicott (who stresses the infant's connection with the mother in the formation of identity), Juhasz argues that reading women's romance fiction ""is informed by needs and desires that stem from the earliest relationship between mother and infant."" She contends that these books are about identity as much as about love, illustrating her point with many candid examples of how the heroines in her favorite novels -- Marmee and Jo in Little Women, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice -- helped her to discover her true self, to feel recognized and accepted. But not all the books discussed fit the girl-finds-boy-and-herself-too model. Juhasz devotes one chapter to an analysis of lesbian romance fiction, concluding that the heroines of books like Isabel Miller's Patience and Sarah are just like their hetero counterparts, except that for them, coming out is the happy ending. In another case, she registers disappointment in Jane Eyre -- the book and the character -- for failing to provide a male maternal figure and instead following the oedipal arrangement and embracing a domineering father figure (i.e., Mr. Rochester). Examples from the texts to support her pre-oedipal model of maternal love, however, can strain credibility, as when she claims that ""Heathcliff is clearly in [Wuthering Heights] to 'mother' Catherine,"" or that George in Gloria Naylor's Mama Day ""must go the way of all who would attempt to force masculine dominance upon the world of the mother."" Too theoretical to be a homey reader's companion, not rigorous enough to be a serious scholarly examination.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking