When it was published in 1979, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's "The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination" was hailed as a path-breaking work of criticism, changing the way future scholars would read Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, the Brontes, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. This thirtieth-anniversary collection adds both valuable reassessments and new readings and analyses inspired by Gilbert and Gubar's approach. It includes work by established and up-and-coming scholars, as well as retrospective accounts of the ways in which "The Madwoman in the Attic" has influenced teaching, feminist activism, and the lives of women in academia.
These contributions represent both the diversity of today's feminist criticism and the tremendous expansion of the nineteenth-century canon. The authors take as their subjects specific nineteenth- and twentieth-century women writers, the state of feminist theory and pedagogy, genre studies, film, race, and postcolonialism, with approaches ranging from eco-feminism to psychoanalysis. And although each essay opens "Madwoman" to a different page, all provocatively circle back - with admiration and respect, objections and challenges, questions and arguments - to Gilbert and Gubar's groundbreaking work.
The essays are as diverse as they are provocative. Susan Fraiman describes how "Madwoman" opened the canon, politicized critical practice, and challenged compulsory heterosexuality, while Marlene Tromp tells how it embodied many concerns central to second-wave feminism. Other chapters consider "Madwoman"'s impact on Milton studies and on cinematic adaptations of "Wuthering Heights". In the thirty years since its publication, "The Madwoman in the Attic" has potently informed literary criticism of women's writing: its strategic analyses of canonical works and its insights into the interconnections between social environment and human creativity have been absorbed by contemporary critical practices.
These essays constitute substantive interventions into established debates and ongoing questions among scholars concerned with defining third-wave feminism, showing that, as a feminist symbol, the raging madwoman still has the power to disrupt conventional ideas about gender, myth, sexuality, and the literary imagination.
Annette R. Federico — Annette R. Federico is professor of English at James Madison University. She is the author of Masculine Identity in Hardy and Gissing (1991) and Idol of Suburbia: Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture (2000). Her articles on Victorian fiction have appeared in journals such as Victorian Studies, ELT, and Dickens Studies Annual.
Gilbert & Gubar's The madwoman in the attic after thirty years, ed. and introd. by Annette R. Federico. Missouri, 2009. 272p index afp; ISBN 9781602801332. Reviewed in 2010may CHOICE.
The third wave of feminist criticism has made its mark since the first edition of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic (CH, Jan'80). This volume attests to the tradition fostered by that study (MA), which was a model for crossing boundaries while empowering women. The 14 contributors assess their intellectual debt to, and also the shortcomings of, MA's early methods. Essays on postcolonialism (by Narin Hassan), racial diversity (Danielle Russell), and deconstruction (Lucia Aiello) expand and enrich MA's original insights into how patriarchal oppression imposed a double bind in the palimpsests of British and American sensation novels by white women writers. Other noteworthy commentators include Carol Blessing, who looks at how MA marked the study of Milton and the character of Eve; Susan Fraimen, who expands MA's insights to show that race, nation, and social class interact with gender in Jane Eyre; Katey Castellano, who identifies the stakes of ecofeminism in Frankenstein and The Last Man; and Hila Schachar, who distinguishes selected film versions of Wuthering Heights influenced by the gender debates MA initiated. However, one wonders why after all these years the book includes so few offerings by men.
Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. -- R. A. Champagne, Trinity University