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When first published in 1977, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s study of women in literature quickly attracted attention. Their perceptive insights into major woman writers’ works was part of what drew scholars to their critical analyses. The book has been updated and republished several times. They pointed out that female...

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When first published in 1977, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s study of women in literature quickly attracted attention. Their perceptive insights into major woman writers’ works was part of what drew scholars to their critical analyses. The book has been updated and republished several times. They pointed out that female authors wrote not as supplements or complements to male authors, but often in resistance to the constraints that literary traditions imposed. This resistance, however, was sometimes covert rather than overt. By rereading what had become the canon of “women’s literature,” as well as revealing ways that the literary profession had deliberately excluded women, their study became a lightning rod in continuing discussions of the role of feminism in cultural studies, not only in interpreting fiction.

One significant area of contribution has been to uncover feminist dimensions that had been neglected or obscured in well-known works that are not primarily about women. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for example, is addressed both for the underlying questions of creativity that Shelley raises in presenting the “creature,” but also for the Zoraida character in a sub-plot linking gender, to nationality and ethnicity. They address head-on rather than dismiss, as had been customary the implications of Shelley’s female gender identity within the Romantics, a male-dominated movement. The issues of confinement in the “attic” concept are considered across the board, as both physically restrictive spaces and as the intellectually narrow “proper” sphere that female authors were encouraged to occupy. A work that had been regarded as a traditional romance, Jane Eyre, is reconfigured as a feminist exploration of self and sexuality.

The authors challenge many aspects of male-dominated literary criticism, which they criticize as an instrument of patriarchal control, for the critics’ myopic attitudes toward women writers. The psychologically-based introspection that has been praised for male writers, they note, is often not recognized or is likely to be trivialized for female writers. The countless additional analyses of English literature, as well as the substantial revision of the canon, are long-lasting effects that their work stimulated.

The Madwoman in the Attic

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The Work

In the preface to their book, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar note that their study began with a course in literature by women that they had taught together at Indiana University in 1974. During that course, as they read the writings of women such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath, they were surprised by recurring patterns in literature by women who produced their works independent of one another and who were also distanced from one another geographically, historically, and psychologically. Despite distances, these writers shared a sense of literal and figurative confinement. Trapped within a male-dominated society, they struggled with an internal rage against their confinement and with a complexity of anxieties they inherited as a result of their confinement. They dealt with these tensions by creating a metaphor; they created their own double, a “madwoman in the attic.”

Having identified this metaphor, Gilbert and Gubar set out to explore its presence in the work of nineteenth century, mostly British female writers, including Austen, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, and George Eliot. The only American writer who is explored extensively is Emily Dickinson, a woman whose life and career were dramatic embodiments of the madwoman in the attic. Studied together, these writers offer a treasure trove of ideas about the pressures exerted on female artists not only of the nineteenth century but of previous and perhaps subsequent centuries.

Among these pressures is the fundamental problem that faced nineteenth century female writers: the notion that an author fathers his text similar to the way God fathered the world. This kind of patriarchal theology created, in turn, a patriarchal literary theory that posited what Gilbert and Gubar refer to as “a belief in female literary sterility.” Women who attempted to challenge this belief, who asserted their authority as legitimate writers, were considered suspect members of their gender, overreachers who, like Eve, deserved to be punished for their sin of ambition.

To deal with this dilemma, female writers in the nineteenth century engaged in complicated, subversive strategies, most notably the use of doubletalk and the creation of doubles who act out the authors’ guilt, rage, and anger. Some writers, notably Charlotte Brontë, did this by creating a double such as Bertha Mason, the insane wife of Rochester who lives locked in the attic of Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). Jane is Brontë’s double or stand-in, and mad Bertha is the double of both the author and her main character. Subversively, then, Brontë lashed out against the male- dominated culture that expected proper ladies to act—and write—properly.

Another instance of subversive writing is Frankenstein (1818), which Gilbert and Gubar view as an example of a female writer’s confinement and rage being manifest in the creation not of a female alter ego but of a madman in the attic. In their reading of this novel, the authors suggest that Victor Frankenstein’s male monster may be a female in disguise, and they demonstrate how this disguise is the complicated, covert strategy Shelley used to create her alter ego.

Still another variation on the theme of creating a double is found in Dickinson’s work: She turned herself into a madwoman in the attic, aided by costumes and other accoutrements. In the last chapter of their book, Gilbert and Gubar examine the ways in which Dickinson’s life became a kind of novel or narrative poem in which she acted out and eventually resolved her anger at being a trapped female in a culture dominated by males. In this interpretation of Dickinson’s life and works, her lyric poems thus became the speeches of a fictional character, a character such as the speaker in the famous “I felt a Funeral,” who could be viewed as narrating a gothic story of psychic fragmentation. Gilbert and Gubar compare this poem with another lyric, which they call a companion piece to “I felt a Funeral,” a poem that begins with a parallel structure, “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind.” In this later poem, like its companion, the speaker again describes the psychological fragmentation that is the cause of her madness and echoes the message of Dickinson, a female writer of the nineteenth century who needed to find an alter ego to utter the words her own voice could not speak.

These women of the nineteenth century thus subverted the male literary traditions they had inherited by adopting clever, sophisticated strategies to redefine themselves, their art, and the society in which they lived. Perhaps the greatest testimony to the success of their subversiveness is the fact that it has gone unrecognized until Gilbert and Gubar revealed it in their revolutionary study.

Like other significant works of feminist literary criticism, such as Ellen Moers’s Literary Women (1976) and Elaine Showalter’s A Literature of Their Own (1977), The Madwoman in the Attic is critical to the ever-increasing body of work about female writers. Gilbert and Gubar’s study, which was a runner-up for the 1980 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction and the 1979 National Book Critics Circle Award in literature, is especially noteworthy for its seminal ideas and readable style. Invaluable to scholars, it is also useful to those who read and reread the classic works of the nineteenth century, which are being viewed differently because of this ground-breaking study.

Bibliography

Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland, eds. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983. A collection of essays on the female Bildungsroman, or novel of development. Interesting considerations of the relationship between gender and development in nineteenth and twentieth century British women writers.

Auerbach, Nina. Romantic Imprisonment: Women and Other Glorified Outcasts. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. A collection of essays that examine many of the same authors and issues analyzed in The Madwoman in the Attic. Auerbach’s interpretations are characteristically provocative.

Homans, Margaret. Bearing the Word. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. An analysis of nineteenth century women writers that uses Lacanian psychology to draw relationships between the maternal and language.

Pratt, Annis. Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. Pratt argues that women’s fiction should be read as an interrelated field of texts reflecting feminine archetypes in conflict with patriarchal culture.

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Cited in The Madwoman in the Attic, Showalter’s work is a source of information on the female literary tradition, breaking down that tradition into three stages: 1840-1880 (the feminine stage of imitation of the dominant male discourse), 1880-1920 (the feminist stage of protest against that dominance), and 1920 onward (the female stage of searching for a new identity).

The Madwoman in the Attic

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The Madwoman in the Attic is not light reading in any sense of the word. Its 650 pages of thoroughly researched, intricately argued literary theory and analysis demand close and constant attention from the reader. However, neither its length nor its complexity should be allowed to deter the student of literature from reading it through, for it is one of the most detailed, substantial, and provocative considerations of the special problems of women writers yet published. It should immediately take its place beside such works as Ellen Moers’s Literary Women, Elaine Showalter’s A Literature of Their Own, and Patricia Meyer Spacks’s The Female Imagination as an indispensable resource for the study of nineteenth century fiction and poetry.

Authors Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have attempted to discover and describe the assumptions nineteenth century women writers had about themselves as human beings and as artists and to see how these assumptions affected the content and style of their works. Essential to the self-image of the woman writer, they suggest, was the “patriarchal theory of literature” that connected literary production with male sexuality and thereby implicitly denied to women the possibility of creating significant works. They further argue that in addition to barring the way to women through theory, the patriarchy also blocked them through the images of women presented in its literature. The female characters in men’s works fall predominantly into two categories, the angel and the monster, seen most vividly in their archetypal forms in “Little Snow White.” The “good” woman is Snow White, innocent, beautiful, passive, “dead and self-less in her glass coffin . . . an object, to be dead and desired.” Her antithesis is the wicked stepmother, the “mad, self-assertive Queen,” author of plots, initiator of action, who is condemned as a result of her actions and plots to dance herself to death in shoes of red-hot iron.

The nineteenth century woman writer, then, had only two choices: to identify herself with the passive, submissive, often death-linked heroines idealized by the patriarchs (the prelapsarian Eve, Amelia Sedley, Coventry Patmore’s “The Angel In the House,” and Little Nell) or to ally herself with the monsters who asserted themselves (Becky Sharp, Satan and Sin, Goneril, Regan, and Lady Macbeth). Such a choice, to be angelic and therefore silent, or articulate and thereby monstrous, inevitably produced in the would-be women writers what Gilbert and Gubar term “anxiety of authorship.” It is not surprising that their works are filled with images of enclosure, imprisonment, and claustrophobia.

However, Gilbert and Gubar suggest, enclosed spaces are not necessarily destructive. As they point out in their chapter entitled “The Parables of the Cave,” the enclosure can also be a life-giving, creative womb. Mary Shelley’s brief fable about her discovery of inscriptions on leaves and bark in the cave of the Cumaean sibyl is turned into the authors’ own myth of a “feminist poetic.” They say that this book is “an attempt at reconstructing the Sibyl’s leaves, leaves which haunt us with the possibility that if we can piece together their fragments the parts will form a whole that tells the story of the career of a single woman artist, a ’mother of us all.’”

After establishing in their first section the theoretical premises for their criticism, Gilbert and Gubar turn to an exploration of the various strategies adopted by women writers to combat the patriarchal stereotypes and give an authentic picture of the female experience. Many readers will find their book most valuable for the extensive analyses of single works. While Part I is really essential for an understanding of the rest of the study, its later sections could, if necessary, be read separately. The discussions are, however, closely interrelated, and the full impact of the work will be found only by following Gilbert and Gubar all the way through their search for the mythical “mother” artist.

Their individual studies begin with Jane Austen, in whom they find “an implicitly rebellious vision and an explicitly decorous form.” Many of her heroines, from the preposterous Laura and Sophia of Love and Friendship to Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey and Emma Woodhouse, are young women trying to author their own lives by the exercise of their imagination. While Austen generally makes them renounce their plots in acceptable patriarchal fashion in order to win husbands and “comfortable space,” she cannot erase the effect produced by her characters’ creative, energetic attempts to control their own destinies.

Gilbert and Gubar suggest that Austen’s subconscious may not always have acquiesced in the conventional patterns she established for her heroines, and they find evidence to support their view in her “mad matriarchs.” Characters like Aunt Norris, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Mrs. Ferrars, and the unseen Mrs. Churchill are powerful women who act out the “rebellious anger repressed by heroine and author” and exert considerable influence over the fates of the other characters in the novels.

Austen’s resistance to patriarchal concepts was, on the whole, restrained. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, the opposition was much stronger and more impassioned. Both novels are analyzed in relation to Paradise Lost. Milton scholars might legitimately disagree with some of the interpretations of the epic stated here, but what interests Gilbert and Gubar is not so much what Milton wrote as what his woman readers understood him to have said. Their Satan, filtered through Blake and Byron, is a heroic rebel against patriarchal tyranny, their Eve corrupt even before the fall, allied in an “unholy trinity” with Satan and Sin in opposition to the patriarchal trinity of God, Christ, and Adam. The central lesson of Paradise Lost for woman is seen to be her irretrievably fallen state. To seek her own voice is to ally herself with Satan; redemption and entry into heaven can be achieved only by renunciation of self and submission to the patriarchy.

Frankenstein is here analyzed as a fictional commentary on Milton’s poem, a study of fallen humanity in which each character takes on attributes of all of Milton’s major figures—God, Adam, Satan, and Eve. It is the monster, according to Gilbert and Gubar, who most fully embodies Shelley’s concept of Eve: isolated from the knowledge that God and the angels shared with Adam, envious, threatened with abandonment before Adam agreed to eat the apple, even physically less godlike than man. While the validity of this reading of the novel will have to be confirmed by the Shelley scholar, it is an extraordinary intellectual exercise. The following sentence is typical of Gilbert and Gubar’s approach:Animal and misshapen, these emblems of self-loathing [images of monstrous women in several contemporary poems] must have descended at least in part from the distended body of Mary Shelley’s darkly parodic Eve/Sin/Monster, whose enormity betokens not only the enormity of Victor Frankenstein’s crime and Satan’s bulk but also the distentions or deformities of pregnancy and the Swiftian sexual nausea expressed in Lemuel Gulliver’s horrified description of a Brobdignagian breast. . . .

Wuthering Heights is discussed as, on one level, another recounting of the fall, with the Heights and Thrushcross Grange as images of heaven and hell. Paradoxically the Heights, described in hellish terms, is Catherine Earnshaw’s paradise, the place where she can be psychically whole with her companion/double, Heathcliff. Her fall is into “civilization,” nineteenth century polite society epitomized in the paradisal comforts of Thrushcross Grange, where she is exiled from her Eden. She is educated in the ways of the submissive wife, and having lost her autonomy and contact with her other self, she dies. While the rest of the novel is not fitted quite so neatly into a Miltonic framework, Gilbert and Gubar note that at the end Catherine Linton and Hareton Earnshaw “have braved Satan, and they have triumphed.” The Heights and the Grange are both civilized; nineteenth century culture has won out; and Brontë’s paradise is lost.

Charlotte Brontë’s four major novels, The Professor, Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette, are examined as models “of the ways in which . . . many nineteenth century women wrote obsessively about the feelings of enclosure in ’feminine’ roles and patriarchal houses, and wrote, too, about their passionate desire to flee such houses.” Brontë allows her quiet, controlled heroines to articulate their feelings about their powerlessness and confinement to some degree, but she frequently uses doubles to express their unacceptable rage at their condition. The “madwoman in the attic,” Bertha Rochester, rips the veil that Jane Eyre sees as a symbol of her metamorphosis into Jane Rochester, a role she fears will bind her in servitude to her husband. Frances Henri, the model of the perfect wife at the end of The Professor, has a young son who displays strange outbursts of temper in “fierce revolt of feeling against disappointment.” In Villette, Gilbert and Gubar find not one but a number of doubles for the self-negating heroine, Lucy Snowe; most of the other characters in the novel are seen to embody the assertive aspects of her personality.

In analyzing Shirley, the authors return to the problem of Eve, who is envisioned by Shirley Keeldar not as submissive, corrupt, and fallen but as a “woman-Titan,” a life-giving force who can speak directly to God. They suggest that Brontë began her novel “with the intention of subverting not only the sexual images of literature but the courtship roles and myths from which they derive.” Yet she concluded by placing both her heroines, the forceful, wealthy, attractive Shirley as well as the weaker, more passive Caroline Helstone, into thoroughly conventional marriages, the lesson being that even with the measure of freedom Shirley’s personal gifts and economic independence provided, the nineteenth century woman still had no real power. There was no way to develop the vision of the new Eve.

George Eliot’s relationship to the patriarchal society presents special problems for the feminist critic, for unlike the other writers analyzed in this study, Eliot tended to identify herself with the patriarchy and to adopt its standards. There was, however, an inherent contradiction in her position. Even as she made her heroines conform to “doctrines of feminine renunciation,” she herself was denying these doctrines both in her professional life as author and scholar and in her unorthodox personal relationship with George Henry Lewes. The ambiguities inherent in her position can be seen in her work, as Gilbert and Gubar point out in showing her links with her female predecessors. They find especially significant a little-known novella, “The Lifted Veil,” a Gothic romance in which they see Eliot “exploring the secret, self-enclosed, and ravaged place of her own self.”

Further ambiguities are discerned in Eliot’s better-known works, in which she examines in various ways the conditions of her confined heroines—Dorothea Brooke entrapped in the winding passages of her husband Casaubon’s mind is the classic example. While these characters do not themselves rebel dramatically, Eliot is seen to be acting on their behalf as the omnipotent author who can and does wreak vengeance on those “male characters who specifically symbolize patriarchal power.”

In the final section, “Strength in Agony: Nineteenth Century Poetry by Women,” the authors discuss the art form they see as the most threatening and daring for women. Lyric poetry, even more than the novel or the narrative poem, requires assertion of the individual spirit. The male poets, here exemplified by Keats and Whitman, gloried in their opportunities for self-exploration in verse. The women lyricists, on the other hand, had to find subterfuges to justify writing songs of themselves. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh made her art acceptable by turning it into an act of service to her husband, while Christina Rossetti concealed her intrinsic seriousness behind verse that often “sounds more like Mother Goose than like, say ’The Eve of St. Agnes.’”

The most radical course taken was that of Emily Dickinson, the most important of the women lyric poets for Gilbert and Gubar. What she did, they suggest, was to turn herself into a dramatic character. Her poems, then, become acceptable utterances in a drama, rather than the unbecoming assertions of an immodest woman. She paradoxically evaded the restraints she saw society impose on other women by choosing to impose them on herself, with the result that her virginity was not the sterility of the pathetic spinster but the power of the goddess Diana, “a boon she grants to herself: the boon of androgynous wholeness, autonomy, self-sufficiency.” Having chosen this role for herself, Dickinson is set free to seek the poetic force “that can transform her ’smallest Room’ into an Edenic, female continent of light.” It is with poems that show her vision of the possibility of wholeness for women that Gilbert and Guber conclude their study.

The Madwoman in the Attic has its limitations; like any work attempting to shed light on one kind of critical problem, it leaves others in the dark. There are a few moments when the authors seem carried away with their feminist premises. Is one seriously expected, for instance, to answer yes to this question raised during the discussion of Northanger Abbey: “Could Austen be pointing at the real threat to woman’s happiness when she describes her heroine finding a laundry list?” Even with its weaknesses, and they are not major ones, this book is important and useful. The breadth and depth of its analyses can hardly be hinted at in an essay of this length. It requires much from its readers, but it repays their efforts with a wealth of new approaches and insights into the works it discusses. Gilbert and Gubar have made a substantial contribution to the study of nineteenth century literature, and many are awaiting with great interest the promised sequel on twentieth century women writers.

Form and Content

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Growing out of a course in women’s literature taught by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar at Indiana University, The Madwoman in the Attic traces the development of a distinctively female response to the male-dominated literary tradition of nineteenth century England. Based on Harold Bloom’s assertion that literary history is a tale of powerful action and reaction, the work first establishes the standard ways in which women are depicted, defined, and confined in the male literary tradition. Gilbert and Gubar then go on to distinguish the female tradition and literary response from that of their male counterparts.

Beginning with Jane Austen’s juvenilia and mature works, The Madwoman in the Attic follows a roughly chronological pattern to analyze in depth the themes, strategies, and social and literary backgrounds of other novelists including Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot. A less extensive discussion of the female poetic tradition, including Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, precedes the concluding analysis of Emily Dickinson’s work. The volume is divided into six parts that delineate strands of the tradition of real and fictional women in literature, from the viewpoint of both male and female authors.

Calling on a wide background, from classical and biblical sources to fairy tales, from traditional literary critics to psychoanalytic and archetypal theorists, Gilbert and Gubar’s work includes thinkers as disparate in chronology and cosmology as Aristotle and Virginia Woolf. Their approach is as eclectic as their range of authors, with a heavy emphasis on psychological interpretation of historical phenomena. Each chapter begins with quotations from several authors, primarily women, some of whom predate the nineteenth century and others of whom are nineteenth or twentieth century authors. These epigraphs are carefully selected to show the commonality of thought over the centuries; often, fundamental phrases from these quotations are echoed throughout the chapters to follow.

Balance and scope are the key adjectives one might use in describing the tone and form of this 719-page work. The Madwoman in the Attic is at once highly scholarly, with forty-seven pages of notes and twenty pages of index, and lively in its presentation and imagination. Even the selection of illustrations accompanying each of the six sections demonstrates a balance between sense and sensibility, offering reproductions of the following logically selected and aesthetically pleasing paintings: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Astarte Syriaca; John Gubbins Newton and His Sister, attributed to John Zephaniah Bell; George Romney’s Milton and His Two Daughters; Richard Redgrave’s The Poor Teacher; William Quiller Orchardson’s Mariage de Convenance; and Richard Dadd’s Sketch of an Idea for Crazy Jane. Each of these paintings illustrates the thematic content of one of the sections.

While Gilbert and Gubar illustrate the enormous variety in the female literary tradition, they continue to emphasize an underlying distinctiveness, unity, and coherence in the vision and imagination of women writers of the nineteenth century. Their identification of a number of common themes—of entrapment, doubles, madness, silence, rage, incest, survival, birth, and rebirth—constitutes an important contribution to feminist theory. The work allows readers to place the nineteenth century within the context of a larger pattern, constructed primarily by male authors yet constantly undermined and subverted by a persistent feminine principle.

Form and Content

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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination began as a course on British and American women writers team-taught by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar at Indiana University in 1974. These two feminist scholars found, in teaching such writers as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson, that the works of these authors shared, to a great extent, themes and images, despite the fact that they were created in different places at different times. Based on this revelation, they developed a definition of a female literary tradition, the existence of which had often been intuited by readers but which had never been thoroughly researched. The central image of this definition proved to be confinement, both literal and literary, and the authors in the tradition shared an impulse to seek freedom by subverting patriarchal definitions of self, art, and society. Using close readings and many secondary sources, Gilbert and Gubar implemented the methodology of Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence, a study of male authors based on the premise that literary history involves strong action and inevitable reaction. They also applied the techniques of critics such as J. Hillis Miller in showing the intersection of experience and metaphor.

The text, which is as collaborative as the teaching that produced it, is divided into six jointly or individually written parts: “Towards a Feminist Poetics,” “Inside the House of Fiction: Jane Austen’s Tenants of Possibility,” “How Are We Fal’n? Milton’s Daughters,” “The Spectral Selves of Charlotte Brontë,” “Captivity and Consciousness in George Eliot’s Fiction,” and “Strength in Agony: Nineteenth-Century Poetry by Women.” The first part focuses on a central Western concept of author/authority, one that equates the penis and the pen and makes the “man of letters” the father and owner of the text. The effect of this metaphorical and practical control of text is the “penning up” and “sentencing” of women in images of angels and monsters, making their entrance into authorship complex and stressful. “Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship” shifts from the male literary construct to female efforts to escape it. Inverting Bloom’s partriarchal notion that the history of literature is driven by oedipal warfare between literary fathers and sons, Gilbert and Gubar show that for the woman writer it is not influence that is feared but authorship itself, because the woman is excluded from it. Indeed, the woman writer looks for female precursors to show that revolt against such exclusion is possible. The effort is monumental, requiring exorcism of male definitions, male plots, male images. Often the effort produces illness, madness, and despair and their literary counterparts, doubleness, secrecy, and duplicity.

Having built this persuasively argued and documented framework with classical, contemporary, and modern sources, the authors then move into close analyses of particular writers, beginning with Jane Austen and moving in roughly chronological order to Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and, finally, Emily Dickinson. Throughout, the individual writers and texts are contextualized by means of the use of a wide range of secondary material, as the forty pages of notes at the back of the book attest.

Context

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Since its publication in 1979, The Madwoman in the Attic has given critics new strategies and issues to consider in reading women writers. Their encyclopedic array of primary and secondary material gives Gilbert and Gubar’s argument great authority. While the texts they analyze do not receive equal attention, the writers’ tracing of parallel images and themes creates an impressively coherent argument, especially given the length of the book (719 pages). Some critics have noted that the same images and themes can be traced in male authors, but no one has yet pursued the research necessary to make that case. The fact that The Madwoman in the Attic is scholarship begun in the classroom and based on female conversation is evident in its readability and its practical use of literary theory.

Bibliography

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Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland, eds. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983. A collection of essays on the female Bildungsroman, or novel of development. Interesting considerations of the relationship between gender and development in nineteenth and twentieth century British women writers.

Auerbach, Nina. Romantic Imprisonment: Women and Other Glorified Outcasts. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. A collection of essays that examine many of the same authors and issues analyzed in The Madwoman in the Attic. Auerbach’s interpretations are characteristically provocative.

Homans, Margaret. Bearing the Word. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. An analysis of nineteenth century women writers that uses Lacanian psychology to draw relationships between the maternal and language.

Pratt, Annis. Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. Pratt argues that women’s fiction should be read as an interrelated field of texts reflecting feminine archetypes in conflict with patriarchal culture.

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Cited in The Madwoman in the Attic, Showalter’s work is a source of information on the female literary tradition, breaking down that tradition into three stages: 1840-1880 (the feminine stage of imitation of the dominant male discourse), 1880-1920 (the feminist stage of protest against that dominance), and 1920 onward (the female stage of searching for a new identity).

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