Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In A Literature of Their Own, Elaine C. Showalter traces a tradition of women’s literature in England by examining the works and lives of women novelists from 1840 to the present. Her analysis, which includes both great and minor novelists, juxtaposes these writers’ lives and work against the social, political, and cultural realities of the lives of “ordinary” women of their time, while tracing the similarities of this female literary subculture to other literary subcultures.

Showalter asserts that she is not concerned with delineating a female imagination, which runs the risk of being defined in stereotypes, but is looking for repeated themes, patterns, and images in literature by women. Therefore, her study considers only women who write for pay and publication.

The author divides women’s literary subculture into three stages—the feminine, the feminist, and the female—and traces shifts in perspective toward literature and women’s place in it across these stages as women writers struggle to form and maintain a sense of identity in a male-controlled profession. In the feminine stage (1840-1880), women imitate the dominant culture and internalize its ideas about art and society. In the feminist state (1880-1920), women protest against these ideas and advocate their own thoughts about society and art. In the female stage (1920 onward), women search for self-identity by looking inside themselves and away from the dominant...

(The entire section is 480 words.)