An Interview with Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2001
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay; Interview
Length: 8,980 words

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[(interview date 1989) In the following interview conducted by Rosdeitcher, Gubar and Gilbert discuss a variety of topics such as their work, women writers, feminist criticism, their critics, and their writing partnership.]

[Rosdeitcher:] I'd like to begin with a discussion of The Madwoman in the Attic, which has come to be regarded as one of the founding texts of American feminist criticism. What did you feel were the most pressing issues it raised at the time of its publication?

[Gubar:] Well, Sandra and I began thinking about The Madwoman in 1974, and as we were working on it a generation of feminist literary critics had begun to emerge, working primarily on issues of images of women in male literature and then on the recovery of the neglected or misread female literary tradition. The best example of the first category, images of women in male-authored literature, would be something like Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, which came out quite early.

In the second category, as we were writing, we were reading Ellen Moers's Literary Women, Pat Spacks's Female Imagination, and then Elaine Showalter's book, A Literature of Their Own. Both of those projects, images of women and the recovery of neglected or misread women, were obviously part of the impetus for the writing of The Madwoman in the Attic; that is, we were looking at texts by women from Jane Austen through George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Emily Dickinson in order to understand them as a response to male-authored images of women in Victorian literature.

At the same time, we were also fascinated by theories of literary history which seemed skewed by issues of gender that were not fully articulated, that were hidden inside, let's say, Harold Bloom's idea about the anxiety of influence. So finally we were trying not only to recover a neglected tradition, not only to read books that we thought were fascinating by linking them to each other and to a set of common themes or strategies--say, doubling or schizophrenia, disease, imprisonment--but also to figure out the dynamics of literary influence for women, and that was how we arrived at the concept of the "anxiety of authorship." We wanted to understand what it meant for the nineteenth-century woman writer to grapple with a predominantly male literary inheritance. How did that effort instill feelings of anxiety that then led her to subvert the conventions of genres she inherited because they were male-defined?

[Gilbert:] While everything that Susan says is absolutely true--especially in what I guess we'd all consider a "professional sense"--I'd like to add something more personal about how I, and I guess both of us, experienced our work on The Madwoman. We had never actually planned to write a book together; in fact, what happened was that we taught a course together in response to a need expressed to us at Indiana University in the fall of 1974. The department thought there should be courses on, of all things, women writers--and Susan and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100036841