Carolyn Gold Heilbrun The Yale Review - Essay

The Yale Review

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Toward a Recognition of Androgyny] has three parts: the first, "The Hidden River of Androgyny," catalogues random appearances of androgyny in literature from Homer onward; the second examines the emergence of female central characters in the novel; the third presents Bloomsbury as real-life exemplar of "an androgynous world." (p. viii)

Unfortunately, Heilbrun's book is so poorly researched that it may disgrace the subject in the eyes of serious scholars…. "The hidden river of androgyny" is a mistaken metaphor: there is no determining link between earlier and later literary appearances of the androgyne, not in the sense that one could, for example, rightly speak of a "hidden river" of astrological and alchemical lore passing from antiquity to the present. The history of the androgyne is instead one of continually rediscovered perceptions originating in the psyche.

From the work of Jane Harrison, Heilbrun selects that great scholar's one error: her belief in a primeval Mediterranean matriarchy…. [This] myth, for which there is not a shred of evidence, is fast becoming the new barbarism of the women's movement. Heilbrun therefore pointlessly belabors male-centered, nastily warmongering Western civilization for its departure from "the lost androgynous ideal" of a nonexistent matriarchal age.

Her definition of androgyny is so idiosyncratic as to be nearly useless. Indeed, her terminology shifts fuzzily from page to page: sometimes androgyny is "the equality of the...

(The entire section is 629 words.)