The Madwoman in the Attic Critical Context
by Sandra Ellen Mortola, Susan Gubar

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Nominated for the 1979 National Book Critics Circle Award in Literature, The Madwoman in the Attic is described as a seminal work by Le Anne Schreiber in The New York Times. Although such authors as Ellen Moers and Elaine Showalter had previously written works delineating a female literary tradition, many critics viewed Gilbert and Gubar’s work as a singular contribution. One reason for such universal acknowledgment is that the authors utilized and reinterpreted the wellestablished critical theories of Harold Bloom, whose The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973) and A Map of Misreading (1975) had established important precedents. Gilbert and Gubar’s work does have its detractors in those who argue that evidence for their arguments is sketchy in spots or that in their drive to establish a solidarity of female literary purpose, the authors gloss over differences among women writers or ignore similarities between male and female authors and themes. Other critics point out that any ambitious work of this nature is subject to gaps, and that it is the literary theorist’s role to inspire others to reread the original work.

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s other joint efforts include editing The Norton Anthology of Literature of Women: The Tradition in English (1985), the first such work to be published by Norton Press, Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets (1979), and The Female Imagination and the Modernist Aesthetic (1986). With No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century: Vol. 1, The War of the Words (1988), they began their most ambitious work: a projected three-volume study of modern literature from a feminist viewpoint. In all of their work, Gilbert and Gubar call on readers to rethink and reexperience classic texts from a feminist literary critical perspective. Most critics agree that the major contribution of The Madwoman in the Attic lies in its creative revision and clear delineation of distinctively female literary strategies and images.