(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination addresses the struggle that nineteenth century women writers underwent in order to determine their identities as writers. The work particularly analyzes the portrayal of women’s identity in female authors’ works of fiction and poetry. The Madwoman in the Attic quickly became a classic of feminist literary criticism. The book is notable for the incisiveness and for the clarity with which it recognizes a single theme in women’s literature and for the encyclopedic breadth of information that it contains. The authors divided responsibility for drafting the chapters, and together wrote the introductory material.

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar argue that nineteenth century women writers were faced with two debilitating stereotypical images of women; women were depicted in male writing as angels or as monsters. The pen in the male literary imagination was metaphorically seen as a penis, excluding women from the authority of authorship. Faced with such images, women writers suffered from an “anxiety of authorship,” in contrast with the “anxiety of influence” Harold Bloom attributes to male authors. Their writings reveal this anxiety in the prevalence of submissive heroines and madwomen. These contrasting female types express the author’s sense of division. The submissive heroine accepts cultural pressures to act as nineteenth century women...

(The entire section is 412 words.)