28 October, 2007

Women's literature

Two books about women's literature, of a very different kind: Rosemary Auchmuty's A world of women was an interesting follow-up to her book A world of girls, but ultimately either unconvincing or repetitive. A world of girls dealt with the school stories of Elinor Brent-Dyer, Dorita Fairlie Bruce and Elsie Oxenham, and A world of women revisits these, looking at adulthood and the process of growing up in the school story. While I liked Auchmuty's suggestion that one of the important reasons for the popularity of the school story was that it presented a purely female world as as supportive and fulfilling atmosphere in which girls and young women could achieve on their own terms, what she mostly does in the later book is reiterate this. However, her suggestion that the unreality of the heterosexual romantic relationships in all these school novels is a deliberate ploy on the part of the authors in order to subvert the conventional future envisaged for young women at this time seems to be to be completely far-fetched: the cursory way that the romances are sometimes described may be down to the writers' lack of interest in the romance genre. but to posity this as a deliberate subversion seems to me to be an exaggeration of the conscious feminism of the writers as well as an overestimation of their writing talents. [67]

Elaine Showalter's A literature of their own: British women novelists from Brontë to Lessing was a wonderful book, looking at women's writing in terms of Showalter's proposed periods of feminist consciousness: first feminine consciousness, in which women internalise patriarchal views of their own abilities and attributes and strive to be as good as men, then feminist consciousness, in which women protest against the prevailing patriarchal attitudes, and finally female consciousness, in which women turn to female experience as a method of self-discovery and self-expression. I really thought this was wonderful: half cultural history and half literary criticism. It makes me need to reread all the Brontës and Eliot and read some more Virginia Woolf. Luckily, I currently have plenty of reading time... [68]

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