(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The first section of volume 1 begins with an admonition by D. H. Lawrence: “Fight for your life, men. Fight your wife out of her own self-conscious preoccupation with herself. Batter her out of it till she’s stunned.” The authors then turn to standard texts to cull other battle imagery and evidence of gender antagonism. While mid-Victorian stories by writers of both sexes show women in defeat, turn-of-the-century tales of what would happen if women gained power abound: Hordes of Amazons and Titans make men into sex slaves or eradicate them altogether. These tales of killing, of humiliation, of societies ruled by women who revel in the destruction of men, are balanced by more traditional ones of men pillaging and raping.

Gilbert and Gubar explain that as more women entered the world of literature, a field formerly dominated by men, they met with resistance from those who thought that they might be taking away work rightfully belonging to men. Sometimes their successes were discounted as being spawned by a readership mainly consisting of inconsequential women of leisure. Nathaniel Hawthorne called them a “damned mob of scribbl[ers].” Later, twentieth century misogyny may have grown from the position in which many male writers found themselves. Some were dependent upon women patrons who subsidized their work or female editors who evaluated their work, exercising the power to cut or reject.

This increasingly hostile climate was intensified by fears engendered by the suffrage movement. To many men of letters, the emancipation of women heralded a feminine takeover. Text upon text in this period dealt with “the Woman Question.” Victorian moralist Nicholas Francis Cooke observed in...

(The entire section is 700 words.)