Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Written during the height of the women’s movement, at a time when women were questioning society’s rigid definitions of what it meant to be a woman or man, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny suggests that the salvation of the human race depends upon the ability to transcend gender stereotyping and allow individuals a full range of human behaviors. This ideal state of understanding is “androgyny,” a term derived from the Greek andro (“male”) and gyn (“female”), meaning “a condition under which the characteristics of the sexes, and the human impulses expressed by men and women, are not rigidly assigned.” Turning to literature for examples of this androgynous vision, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, then professor of English literature at Columbia University, finds them in writers as diverse as Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Emily Brontë, and Virginia Woolf in this ambitious reexamination of some of the major texts of Western literature.

The book is divided into three separate but interrelated sections. The first traces “The Hidden River of Androgyny” embodied in Greek mythology and literature and continuing through the Renaissance, finding its fullest expression in Shakespeare’s complex heroines. Proceeding chronologically and shifting, for the most part, to fiction, “The Woman as Hero” section is the longest. This section examines mostly female characters from some of the most important novels written in...

(The entire section is 489 words.)