Although individuals throughout the twentieth century have read from feminist perspectives—such as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own (1928) and Simone de Beauvoir in Le Deuxième Sexe (1949; The Second Sex, 1953)—feminist literary criticism in the United States, having its roots in the second wave of the women’s movement, did not develop until the late 1960’s. As women discovered that they were alienated from sources of political and economic power, those among them who were students of literature turned to their discipline and found in literary history another story of woman’s marginalization. English professor Sandra M. Gilbert has explained that when she and Susan Gubar, the authors of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979), began reading from a feminist perspective, they discovered that literary history was filled with assumptions about the sexes, a “sexual poetics” that judged women’s writing inferior to men’s.
From the beginning, feminist scholarship has been intensely personal and political. In an article for College English entitled “When We Dead Awaken” (1972), poet Adrienne Rich established the tone for feminist criticism when she called it a “radical critique of literature” which was for women “an act of survival.” A few years later, Judith Fetterley, author of The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction (1978), said that the aim of feminist...
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