Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

With The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy, Gerda Lerner has completed her two-volume magnum opus, Women and History, which she began with The Creation of Patriarchy (1986). Ranging over the whole of Western history from prehistory to the late nineteenth century, Lerner has theorized how and why the system of patriarchy originated (in the first volume) and the long process by which women began to “think their way out” of that systematic subordination (in the second volume). Unlike many historians, Lerner is undaunted by the task of working in so many areas—sources in medieval Latin, Middle English, and Old High German; meditations of medieval mystics and Reformation visionaries; Jewish Romantic poetry; and medieval drama. This view enables Lerner to speculate and generalize about women in history over varied epochs and cultures.

Lerner’s book is courageous not only because she covers such a long period of time but also because she considers so many whose work has already been the subject of much historical and literary analysis—from medieval writers Christine de Pizan and Hildegard of Bingen to poet Emily Dickinson. Additionally, she challenges traditional assumptions about women’s intellectual prowess. Lerner is not cowed by the task, simply noting that women have not been system-builders in the past because they lacked access to education and their own history. Her own...

(The entire section is 413 words.)