Adrienne Rich’s first essay collection, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978 (1979), bracketed the first decade of the “second wave” of the twentieth century U.S. women’s movement. The work may be characterized by the title of its foreword: “On History, Illiteracy, Passivity, Violence, and Women’s Culture.” Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985 continues Rich’s examination of these issues. The two titles indicate Rich’s sense of chronological continuity, not least in the scrupulous dating of each collection and of individual essays, which enhances their value as historical documents.
More pertinently, the titles of the collections qualify perceived periods during the feminist struggle. The feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s arose from a female condition of social oppression based quite literally in lies perpetrated by fathers, secrets passed between mothers and daughters for generations, and an all-pervasive silence where women’s voices might have been but were not. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writings (1983) have notably addressed women’s textual silencing. By 1986, however, when Rich published Blood, Bread, and Poetry, the feminist focus had shifted somewhat from an analysis of negative social conditions to a celebration of women’s collective strengths. Ultimately, if patriarchal oppression can be defined by its “lies, secrets, and silence,” then the...
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