The Madwoman in the Attic Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series The Madwoman in the Attic Analysis

Sandra Ellen Mortola, Susan Gubar

Masterpieces of Women's Literature The Madwoman in the Attic Analysis

The first chapter of the discussion of Jane Austen—“Shut Up in Prose: Gender and Genre in Jane Austen’s Juvenilia”—begins by showing how the reception of the author shows both her double bind as a woman writer and her analysis of the situations in which her heroines find themselves. In Northanger Abbey, for example, Austen plays with the conventions of the gothic novel to show Catherine Morland’s maturation process and to critique a society that gives no room in which a woman can write her own story. The “evil” that Catherine must overcome is thus both her failure to submit to reality and the reality itself. “Jane Austen’s Cover Story (and Its Secret Agents)” shows how the adult novels expand this double bind of growing up female. Austen’s heroines must surrender self-definition to achieve self-knowledge, because what they come to know is their vulnerability.

To lay the groundwork for their discussion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Gilbert and Gubar show the influence of Milton’s misogynistic mythology on women writers, especially when Milton comes in the guise of the wise father. The influence takes one of two forms: The writer either accepts and rewrites the myth or rewrites it to make it a more accurate reflection of female experience. Shelley chose the first alternative. As the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, she is consciously literary in writing Frankenstein, replaying Miltonic themes and images to show her place in the literary tradition. As Eve’s daughter, however, she cannot escape identification with the monster: Both are motherless, fallen before they are conceived, judged by their otherness, and excluded from a direct relationship with God.

Emily Brontë chose the rebellious alternative to Milton’s influence in Wuthering Heights and thus created a romance of metaphysical passion instead of a fantasy of metaphysical horror. In both approaches, however, Gilbert and Gubar find a shared authorial fascination with origins, abandonment, and exile. In both, the authors seek to solve the problem of good...

(The entire section is 873 words.)