Angels and Monsters of Feminist Fiction

Citation metadata

Author: Margaret Miller
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2001
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,294 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(review date 1981) In the following review, Miller contends that in The Madwoman in the Attic Gubar and Gilbert are more successful when applying their theories to certain authors, such as Charlotte Bronte, than when they critique George Eliot or Jane Austen.]

It is unquestionably true that Madwoman in the Attic is an ambitious and substantial work of criticism and scholarship. It offers important feminist rereadings of many of the major texts by women writers in the 19th century. In it, Gilbert and Gubar demonstrate an impressive command not only of the primary texts but also of the biographies, letters, juvenilia, and criticism of the writers covered; the range of allusion goes beyond the 19th century to include 17th- and 18th-century literature, as well as myth, fairy tale, psychoanalytic literature, and literary theory. The book provides more than a series of illuminating readings: these readings arise out of a general theory about the problems faced by the female literary subculture in the 19th century and about the techniques which evolved among women writers to deal with these problems.

Gilbert and Gubar begin with the assumption that 19th-century women writers had a different relationship with their literary predecessors than their brothers had. The woman writer, before being able to move on to self-definition, had to struggle with the two "paradigmatic polarities" (p. 76), angel or monster, in terms of which she was defined by male writers and which were so alien to her sense of herself as a woman and as a writer. In creating versions of the self in her fiction, therefore, with the help of her female precursors she radically revised those conventions. Monsters appear, yes, but they are madwomen, burning down the patriarchal mansion. Angels show up as well, but strangely afflicted with anorexia, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, aphasia, and amnesia. Moreover, the angel and the monster seem strangely related, the madwoman acting out the subversive impulses of the good heroine and,...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100036828