Introduction: Women's Attics, Women's Spaces

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Author: Hsin Ying Chi
Editors: Jessica Bomarito and Russel Whitaker
Date: 2006
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,030 words

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[(essay date 1999) In the following essay, Chi explores the notion of architectural and poetic space in women's writing, noting that the attic for women was a space of isolation, confinement, escape from patriarchal oppression, solitude, seclusion, comfort, and creativity.]

Architecture and Literature

The architecture and literature of any given culture are shaped by the same ideology and social structure, so they share many characteristics. For example, large houses and mansions characteristic of the nineteenth century were designed with different stories for different classes of occupants. Architecture reflects not only class but also gender dispositions as well. Nineteenth-century architecture in some sense epitomizes the patriarchal society, with men as the pillars of society and their women attached to them. Both architecture and literature reveal the hierarchical structure of the social system. Both architecture and literature inscribe invisible and abstract ideologies and cultural values into something visible and concrete in the form of buildings and their occupants, or texts and their characters.

Indeed, the study of the relation between architecture and literature, two seemingly different fields of art, has drawn the attention of literary critics. Ellen Eve Frank makes a connection between these two forms of art in her book Literary Architecture. Reviewing closely the writings of Walter Pater, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Marcel Proust, and Henry James, Frank finds an analogical relationship between architecture and literature: "a building is not an object (product) only; it is, importantly, an activity" (4). To Frank, architectural structures, such as cathedrals, temples, and houses found in literary work correspond to external structures in the physical world. Further, the internal structures which Frank defines are also structures of "consciousness, conventions of perception, systems of belief, as well as the activities of thought and feeling" (6). She summarizes in the introduction of her book that

architecture provides a means of preserving or memorializing the past, and identity, even as it provides for the transformation of that past and of being into literary art. Literary architecture celebrates the perceiving mind of the self; but it does so never at the expense of the universe or whole, never to the exclusion of the world.(13)

If Frank concentrates on the study of the close inter-relationship between literature and architecture and combines the two disciplines into one unified entity, Marilyn R. Chandler sees the houses in American fiction as products of the history, culture, and ideology of the society. According to Chandler, houses occupy an important place in American novels because, first, they represent the history of the country as one of settlement and development, and second, they are a measurement of an individual's independence and self-sufficiency. "A man's house represents his self (the relation of houses to women is a different issue)," Chandler points out (2). She sees gender differences regarding men's and women's relationship to houses. A house represents a man's self: his economic status, his social position, and his cultural value. Furthermore, she establishes a four-way analogy which connects the house with the "psychological structure of the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420071103