THE SOLITUDE OF SELF by Vivian Gornick


Thinking About Elizabeth Cady Stanton
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Provocative essays on the shaping of 19th-century suffragist Stanton’s thought by feminist and literary critic Gornick (The Situation and the Story, 2001, etc.).

Working as an editor at The Village Voice in 1970, Gornick realized in an illuminating flash that “well into the final half of the 20th century women still did not take their brains seriously.” Her personal discovery of feminism provides a segue into the life and thinking of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: devoted wife, mother of seven, and high-spirited, uncompromising thinker and writer who laid out a scheme for universal suffrage at a time when most activists were concerned exclusively with the rights of freed slaves. By the first Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, Stanton had concluded that without suffrage, one was not a citizen. She was continually amazed at the vitriol aimed at the women’s movement, writes Gornick: “She was made to see the depth of unreality that a person who is a woman embodied not only for those in power, but for the mass of people living lives of ordinary appetite and acquisition, shrouded in received wisdoms so long unreviewed that they seemed at one with nature.” Stanton marched in the movement’s radical wing, an ally of Susan B. Anthony and an orator of extravagant rhetoric (Gornick clearly admires her flourishes). Her union with expedient radical Harry soured, eventually leading her to attack the inequitable structure of marriage. The title comes from Stanton’s swan song speech in Washington, D.C., in 1892. At the age of 76, she spoke the existential truth that each person must make the voyage of life alone, and that “to deny anyone the tools of survival—that is, the power to act— is criminal.” Gornick masterfully places Stanton in the feminist tradition that stretches from the visionary Mary Wollstonecraft to the trenchant Simone de Beauvoir and beyond.

An impassioned look at a fiery radical fueled by an “unyielding sense of outrage.”

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-374-29954-4
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2005


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