What happens when a woman dares to imagine herself a hero? Questing, she sets out for unknown regions. Lighting a torch, she elicits from the darkness stories never told or heard before. The woman hero sails against the tides of great legends that recount the adventures of heroic men, legends deemed universal, timeless, and essential to our understanding of the natural order that holds us and completes us in its spiral. Yet these myths and rituals do not fulfill her need for an empowering self-image nor do they grant her the mobility she requires to imagine, enact, and represent her quest for authentic self-knowledge.
The Feminization of Quest-Romance proposes that a female quest is a revolutionary step in both literary and cultural terms. Indeed, despite the difficulty that women writers face in challenging myths, rituals, psychological theories, and literary conventions deemed universal by a culture that exalts masculine ideals and universalizes male experience, a number of revolutionary texts have come into existence in the second half of the twentieth century by such American women writers as Jean Stafford, Mary McCarthy, Anne Moody, Marilynne Robinson, and Mona Simpson, all of them working to redefine the literary portrayal of American women's quests. They work, in part, by presenting questing female characters who refuse to accept the roles accorded them by restrictive social norms, even if it means sacrificing themselves in the name of rebellion. In later texts, female heroes survive their "lighting out" experiences to explore diverse alternatives to the limiting roles that have circumscribed female development.
This study of The Mountain Lion, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Coming of Age in Mississippi, Housekeeping, and Anywhere but Here identifies transformations of the quest-romance that support a viable theory of female development and offer literary patterns that challenge the male monopoly on transformative knowledge and heroic action.