Elaine Showalter-The Female Tradition

Topics: Literary criticism, Writing, History of literature Pages: 8 (2587 words) Published: November 6, 2014


ANSWER:In her book 'A Literature of Their Own', Showalter attempts to rediscover the lost Atlantis of female writingfrom the archives of British literary history, for which she tries to assemble women's writing of that period into a linear developmental process dividing it into three phases depending upon their unique characteristics, that is, the Feminine, Feminist and Female phase which thereby establishes the existence of a female tradition in the history of literature. In this essay, I shall elaborate the three phases as propounded by Showalter while critically evaluating the boundaries of these said categories. The latter half of this essay shall deal with the complexities of Showalter's formation and classification of British women novelist's literary genealogy.

Showalter classifies the first stage of female literary history as the 'feminine phase' referring to literature produced during the period of 1840 to 1880.She proposes that women wrote during this period as imitator of dominant patriarchal standards conforming to the notions of high-brow literature and internalised masculine standard of art and their view on social roles, thereby developing an internalized feminine 'self-hatred'. The disguise taken up by female authors through the use of male pseudonyms as seen in the case of the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, etc. is a perfect example of the constant rejection that women practised with regards to their 'masculine' nature, while at the same time signals a 'loss of innocence' for women as they subtly grapple with the idea of role playing required by their gender. Certain areas of experience and knowledge such as sexuality, passion, ambition and male transcendence (as propounded in Simone De Beauvoir's theory) lied beyond the ambits of the Victorian 'angel in the house' or 'the Perfect Lady' and therefore were suppressed by women in their writing through practices of displacement (as seen in Lydia's case in Pride and Prejudice), splitting of self (as seen in Jane Eyre through the figures of Jane and Bertha) or even punishment (as seen in the character of Maggie in The Mill On The Floss) to uphold the idea of 'womanliness' in their writing. Therefore, it seemed that women novelists were compensating for their will to write by preaching submission and self-sacrifice, working at home and denouncing female self-assertiveness. However women did not simply conform to the pattern of society's concept of 'work for others' and challenged the patriarchal reception of women's writing in their own subtle ways. Emily Bronte in her novel Wuthering Heights finds release to explore the fenced territories of dark passion, madness, ruthless desire and its politics through the character of Heathcliff as he would be less scrutinised by male critics. This struggle became a site of anxiety for women writers as the act of writing in itself represented the wish to transcend the defined feminine boundaries of their society, and therefore reconstructed the political and public spheres for women. As Showalter states, the women writers of this period often grappled with the question, "where did obedience to her father and husband end and the responsibility of self-fulfilment became paramount?"

Another vital aspect of this phase is the carving of space for womenin the literary circle as done by feminine writers for women to follow against the hostility and critiques they received from their male competitors and society at large. G. H. Lewes in his 1852 review "The Lady Novelist" proposed that women's literature had fallen short of their task owning to their natural weakness of imitation. Many male critics called women's novel "bland, didactic and senseless rambling" not taking into account the antagonism women received at the hands...

Bibliography: Elaine Showalter 's "A Literature of Their Own".
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