Carolyn Gold Heilbrun Joyce Carol Oates - Essay

Joyce Carol Oates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To Carolyn Heilbrun … the very salvation of our species depends upon our "recognition of androgyny" as a conscious ideal; her book [Toward a Recognition of Androgyny] is a frank, passionate plea for us to move "away from sexual polarization and the prison of gender toward a world in which individual roles and modes of personal behavior can be freely chosen." Though she has constructed a critical-scholarly study to support her argument—she moves with dizzying rapidity from Homer to Joan Didion in 189 pages—the essence of her book is this imperative….

Heilbrun's is an interesting, lively, and valuable general introduction to a new way of perceiving our Western cultural tradition, with emphasis upon English literature from Clarissa Harlowe to Clarissa Dalloway. Fired by a passionate need to express her belief in the imminent doom of our species unless we move toward an androgynous ideal, she has done a fantastic amount of reading: She attempts a re-evaluation of the role of woman in practically everything ever written, Greek literature, the Bible, the epic, the romance, the plays of Shakespeare ("a genius as devoted to the androgynous ideal as anyone who has ever written"), and, of course, Richardson, Ibsen, James, Austen, Dickens, the Brontës, George Eliot, Lawrence.

It was a heroic undertaking and, having herself admitted that she was not entirely suited for the task, lacking much knowledge of history or language, she is certainly not to be blamed for having produced a sketchy book. The section on the Bloomsbury Group is most rewarding, because Heilbrun is convinced that...

(The entire section is 672 words.)