Monday, May 18, 2009

Churchwell, Sarah. "A Room of Their Own, At Last." GUARDIAN May 16, 2009.

Showalter, Elaine. A Jury of her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. New York: Virago, 2009. In A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter has produced the first comprehensive overview of the achievement of American women writers from the Puritans to the (not quite) present. She claims to be surprised that it hasn't been done before, but she shouldn't be. It is a daunting task, and few could carry it off with such aplomb. What unites these writers, for Showalter, is less their anatomical sex than the shared pressure of gender roles upon their art; nearly all the women she surveys had to overcome not only the inherent obstacles of creative expression and commercial competition, but also cultural expectations of a life of pure domesticity. Lydia Maria Child, a popular and prolific 19th-century author of novels and verse, made a list at the end of 1864 of what she'd accomplished that year: "Cooked 360 dinners. Cooked 362 breakfasts. Swept and dusted sitting room & kitchen 350 times. Filled lamps 362 times ..." In other words, the women Showalter surveys were all in need of a room of their own. In one sense, this is a familiar story, told not only by Virginia Woolf, but by Showalter herself 30 years ago, in A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, her pioneering genealogy of British women's fiction within its social, cultural and political contexts. One of the founders of feminist literary theory, Showalter has long insisted that women writers should be taken on their own terms, and joined the chorus of her peers in the 1970s and 80s arguing that many had been unjustly neglected on the basis of their sex. Rebuttals soon followed that these writers had been justly neglected on the basis of merit, and should continue to be neglected. . . . Read the rest here:

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