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 Imaginationwas hailed as a pathbreaking work of criticism, changing the way future scholars would read Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, the Brontës, 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 ecofeminism 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 elegantly embodied many concerns central to second-wave feminism. Other chapters consider Madwoman’s impact on Milton studies, on cinematic adaptations of Wuthering Heights, and on reassessments of Ann Radcliffe as one of the book’s suppressed foremothers.
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.
The previously unpublished essays collected here are by literary scholars who have dedicated their lives to reading and studying nineteenth-century British fiction and the Victorian world. Each writes about a novel that has acquired personal relevance to them––a work that has become entwined with their own story, or that remains elusive or compelling for reasons hard to explain.
These are essays in the original sense of the word, attempts: individual and experiential approaches to literary works that have subjective meanings beyond social facts. By reflecting on their own histories with novels taught, studied, researched, and re-experienced in different contexts over many years, the contributors reveal how an aesthetic object comes to inhabit our critical, pedagogical, and personal lives.
By inviting scholars to share their experiences with a favorite novel without the pressure of an analytical agenda, the sociable essays in My Victorian Novel seek to restore some vitality to the act of literary criticism, and encourage other scholars to talk about the importance of reading in their lives and the stories that have enchanted and transformed them.
The novels in this collection include: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle The Newcomes by William Makepeace Thackeray Middlemarch by George Eliot Daniel Deronda by George Eliot The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell Bleak House by Charles Dickens David Copperfield by Charles Dickens New Grub Street by George Gissing The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens Dracula by Bram Stoker Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) loved more than anything to talk about the craft of writing and the pleasure of reading good books. His dedication to the creative impulse manifests itself in the extraordinary amount of work he produced in virtually every literary genre—fiction, poetry, travel writing, and essays—in a short and peripatetic life. His letters, especially, confess his elation at the richness of words and the companionship of books, often projected against ill health and the shadow of his own mortality.
Stevenson belonged to a newly commercial literary world, an era of mass readership, marketing, and celebrity. He had plenty of practical advice for writers who wanted to enter the profession: study the best authors, aim for simplicity, strike a keynote, work on your style. He also held that a writer should adhere to the truth and utter only what seems sincere to his or her heart and experience of the world. Writers have messages to deliver, whether the work is a tale of Highland adventure, a collection of children’s verse, or an essay on umbrellas. Stevenson believed that an author could do no better than to find the appetite for joy, the secret place of delight that is the hidden nucleus of most people’s lives. His remarks on how to write, on style and method, and on pleasure and moral purpose contain everything in literature and life that he cared most about—adventuring, persisting, finding out who you are, and learning to embrace “the romance of destiny.”