Women, Literature, Criticism
Specialized consideration of women and literature is as old in Western thought as literary criticism itself. In chapter 15 of The Poetics, Aristotle comments that women characters will appropriately exhibit type traits of inferiority to men. His remarks, blending description and prescription, are brief and ambiguous. Nevertheless, they have been instrumental in shaping an antifeminist tradition that has informed centuries of literary practice. A counter-tradition, however, has existed as long, with equally ambiguous beginnings. In Aristophanes' comedy The Thesmophoriazusae, women protest their treatment by the playwright Euripides. Chaucer's Wife of Bath chucks her scholarly husband's books of wicked wives into the fire. These fictive examples of protest, while qualified by their authors' satiric aims, nonetheless signal a discontent more directly voiced by Christine de Pisan, who in 1399 argued against the depiction of women in the popular medieval Roman de la rose. Criticism that pays particular attention to sex and society has gradually been articulated by Mary Wollstonecraft in the Enlightenment, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor in the Victorian period, Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir in the first half of the twentieth century, and now, by feminist literary critics. Members of the Modern Language Association indicated through a survey of their interests in 1977 that the study of women and literature in approximately the same numbers as they pursue Victorian literature, or nineteenth-century American literature, or the teaching of writing. The essays in this issue of Bucknell Review represent recent developments in the study of women. They are diverse in opinion, varied in method, and focused in major theoretical approaches. The critics belong to no single school of thought. Rather, the internal climates of individual pieces and their pressures on one another compose a sensitive barometric reading of opinion. Similarly, the essays range from historical to biographical, archetypal, and formalist, often in combination. All the essayists, however, take a new look at the question of women and literature, with an awareness of working in an atmosphere of change. While the essays frequently overlap, they also group around three prominent inquiries characteristic of the study of women and literature: inherited ideas of feminine roles, actualities of female experience, and modes of critical perception of women.
Contributors: Catherine F. Smith, Myra Glazer Schotz, Virginia R. Mollenkott, Ann C. Colley, Saul Levin, Desiree Hirst, Arvind Sharma, Janet K. Gezari, Margaret Bolsterli, Beverly Tanenhaus, Stephanie A. Demetrakopoulos, Marilyn R. Farwell, and Jane Marcus.
About the editor:
Harry R. Garvin was John P. Crozer Professor of English at Bucknell University.
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