Elaine Showalter’s scholarship in literary criticism, history, Victorian literature, the English novel, and women’s studies intersects to inform the sociocultural texts that have made her a key figure in the resurrection of forgotten women writers. Showalter has struggled to redefine literary periods and the recognized literary canon to include the contributions of women.
She was born Elaine Cottler to a father who had only an elementary-level education and a mother who was a frustrated housewife. Her eventual ideology was both an outgrowth of and reaction to her family background. She has cited her mother’s empty, unhappy life as a source of her own feminism. Although her parents protested against her intellectual pursuits, Elaine attended and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Bryn Mawr College in 1962. When she went on to earn her M.A. at Brandeis and announced her intention to marry English Showalter, who was not Jewish, her parents disowned her; Elaine married in 1963 and received her graduate degree in 1964. She went on to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis, under the feminist Gwendolyn Needham, but she took time out to bear her first child, Vinca, in July, 1965. Her second child, Michael, was born in June, 1970, just after she had received her Ph.D.
Showalter’s career began as a teaching assistant at the University of California, 1964-1966. When her husband was appointed assistant professor of French at Princeton University, Showalter became one of the first women to teach at Douglass College, the women’s branch of Rutgers College. While there, between 1969 and 1978, she progressed from instructor to associate professor of English; in 1978 she was awarded full professorship and in 1983 distinguished professorship. In 1984 she left Douglass to become the Avalon Foundation Professor of English and Humanities at Princeton. Over the years, Showalter also served as visiting professor at a variety of institutions, including the University of Delaware, Dartmouth College, and Oxford University in England.
Showalter is a pioneer in women’s studies and revisionist scholarship. In 1968 she became an active voice in the Princeton chapter of the National Organization for Women, whose presidency she assumed the following year. With her groundbreaking courses and scholarship, Douglass College became a center of women’s studies and feminist scholarship.
Showalter’s influence began to be felt most profoundly in the...
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