Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361
The Madwoman in the Attic, published in 1979, attempts to study Victorian literature from a feminist point of view.
Characters mentioned in this work of nonfiction include the following:
Mary Elizabeth Coleridge
The great-grandniece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge is mentioned, with the author musing over the difficulties that present themselves to women who wish to take up the pen. Coleridge's poem "The Other Side of the Mirror" serves as an analogy for feminist writers desirous of shaking off male constructs of an ideal woman.
Albert Gelpi, who taught poetry at Stanford University, makes an interesting point that the artist immortalizes temporal experience by "killing" it into art. The timelessness of art is but an imagined or perceived representation of an event. It cannot capture an event's sights, sounds, and smells accurately. But it has longevity.
English author Virginia Woolf stated that women who intend to write must first get rid of images and ideals that a male-dominated society has foisted on them. Women are neither angels nor ogres. Woolf wondered about the persistent references in Victorian literature to women being very sweet and nice. These likely originated in the ecclesiastical writings of the Middle Ages that eulogized the Virgin Mary.
Mary Shelley's well-documented preoccupation with pregnancy, following the death of a prematurely born child, is cited as an example of how the womb is often a central motif in the works of female authors. The creature in Shelley's novel Frankenstein is not born of the womb and is bereft of maternal guidance. Victorian society considered the woman in a mother's role as central to the development of a well-adjusted child.
Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir, French existentialist philosopher, draws a comparison between the womb and a cave. Women in certain cultures lead lives that are overtly driven by a patriarchal society. Here, women actually live in caves or are allowed to come out in the open only if veiled. It's almost as if the metaphorical cave of the female womb from which all are born is analogously represented by these real caves where deities are worshiped, men meditate, and in the past, virgins were immured.
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