Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction traces the presence and development of the idea of communities of women in nineteenth and twentieth century novels by both men and women writers in England and America in order to trace the expansion of women’s freedom in literature, if not in life. In her search for these communities, Nina Auerbach employs provocative and original pairings and readings of texts and authors, ranging from Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott to Henry James and George Gissing.

Auerbach notes that while initiation into society through brotherhood is a highly prized tradition, belonging to a sisterhood usually means exclusion from society. She argues that communities of women, however, exert a “subtle, unexpected power” throughout history, and it is the presence and power of women’s associations which she analyzes in the novels. These communities are self-generative and empower women by allowing them alternative patterns of conduct beyond those of wife, daughter, and mother. Because the presence of communities of women is often veiled and subtle, however, their power is not obvious and their definition is not fixed; their nature, then, will differ from text to text and from century to century. As she identifies communities of women within the novels she analyzes, Auerbach argues that they gain strength and importance from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries.

In the introduction of the text, the author...

(The entire section is 435 words.)