Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Convinced that women’s fiction over the past three hundred years has formed a body of work with a continuity of themes and issues, Annis Pratt undertook an investigation into what specifically ties women’s fiction together. She based her research on the Jungian notion of archetypes. Psychologist Carl Jung had suggested that throughout history humans have been heir to unconscious, primordial images that exist across cultures and across time, which he named archetypes. Pratt set out to look for what archetypal images underlie women’s fiction, and whether these are the same images found in men’s fiction.

What she found was that although women writers share thematic patterns with male writers, they also have a thread of their own, expressing a peculiarly feminine body of concerns and issues. Examining a large number of women’s fictional writings, Pratt found that they seem to divide into several categories archetypally. Further, she discovered that when women write about the same archetypal themes as men, they look at the images from a different point of view.

An example is the mythical image Pratt chose for the frontispiece of her own book, that of the Greek nymph Daphne turning into a tree rather than be raped by the god Apollo. Noting that this same image would be evaluated differently by individuals and cultural groups with varying points of view, she gives some examples. Medieval Christians would focus on Daphne’s purity for going...

(The entire section is 476 words.)