What is a summary of The Madwoman in the Attic?

The Madwoman in the Attic is a book of literary criticism and it centers around the idea that due to the nature of patriarchy, women either come across in literature as "the angel in the house" or as "the madwoman in the attic", and that there is no middle ground between these two extremes. This book is seen as an extremely important piece of feminist literary criticism, and it discusses the struggles that women have gone through in attempting to create their identities as authors. Essentially, the authors, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubor, argue that with the pen being seen metaphorically as a penis, women were subjected to an "anxiety of authorship."

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The Madwoman in the Attic centers around the idea that due to the nature of patriarchy, women either come across in literature as "the angel in the house" or as "the madwoman in the attic", and that there is no middle ground between these two extremes.

This book is seen as an extremely important piece of feminist literary criticism, and it discusses the struggles that women have gone through in attempting to create their identities as authors. Essentially, the authors, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubor, argue that with the pen being seen metaphorically as a penis, women were subjected to an "anxiety of authorship." This anxiety then played out as female characters being portrayed as either submissive or out of their minds.

The book considers the portrayal of females in a number of literary works, including those of Charlotte Brontë, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen, among others.

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Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic was groundbreaking. They were the first to make the claim, which is today foundational to literary criticism, that women writers have a history and tradition that is at once a part of and distinct from the male tradition.

They argue that because women writers enjoyed less respect and acknowledgement than their male counterparts, their work was not grounded by any meaningful sense of female literary heritage or community. Instead, women's literature was often modeled after conventional male storylines with certain established roles for female characters (such as the "angel in the house," "the madwoman," and the "fallen woman"), and yet included—perhaps at times even subconsciously—a hidden feminist subtext.

Gilbert and Gubar call upon Jane Eyre as the most perfect example of this duality. On one level, influenced by what they see as the conventional male tradition, the demure, principled Jane and the wild Bertha (the madwoman referenced in the title) can be seen as simple foils to one another. An another subtextual level, however, Bertha can be seen as an embodiment of Jane's interiority. Bertha expresses all the anger and rage that Jane feels at her lack of value but has suppressed in order to maintain her role in society. Like Bertha locked in the attic, there is so much emotion that Jane must suppress. Gilbert and Gubar anchor their theory with the example of Jane Eyre and go on to explore a pattern of subversive narratives in other seemingly conventional, canonical texts written by nineteenth-century women writers. What emerges is a fascinating hidden tradition of feminist literature.

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The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar is considered a landmark in the history of feminist criticism of nineteenth-century women's writing. It takes its title from Bertha, Rochester's insane wife who is kept locked up in an attic in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre. The main authors covered in the book are Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson.

The first thing that Gilbert and Gubar note is that as women lacked authority in the period, they struggled to claim their own identities as authors. For Gilbert and Gubar, Victorian images of women were strongly bifurcated between the angelic and the monstrous, with the angelic being passive and domesticated. They note that women are often portrayed as confined or imprisoned in the literature of the period, and morally good women were often portrayed as passive or submissive. For women to break outside confinement and submissiveness, and take an active role, such as becoming an author, was to participate in the monstrous side of this binary opposition. 

Gilbert and Gubar argue that the madwoman and the submissive woman portrayed in Victorian literature articulate the two subject positions of the woman author, as the idealized submissive female and the madwoman or monster who steps outside social conventions to become a creator of art and independent agent. 

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