Susan Merrill Squier's collection of essays, Women Writers and the City, offers a diverse and comprehensive selection of analyses addressing the urban environment vis a vis women writers. The text's strength lies in its division of essays by region (Continental, British, and North American writers), and by critical approach (biographical-historical, linguistic, close textual, for example). In a succinct and persuasive Introduction, Squier poses the argument and the issues that govern the collection of essays: how women writers respond to the city that has been traditionally regarded as a male-centered culture and institution. The struggle, the tensions, that Squier calls attention to in her Introduction are addressed throughout the collection in analyses of women whose writings and, in many cases, political ideologies were shaped by city life, writers such as Flora Tristan, Renée Vivien, George Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, and Virginia Woolf.
As a whole, the collection of essays responds to the dichotomy between the more traditional response to the country in the writings of women and the more complicated, paradoxical inclusion of the city in fiction, such as Willa Cather's Chicago setting and Ntozake Shange's Harlem experience. The essays as a whole argue convincingly for the struggle faced by female protagonists in the literature of women to find autonomy in the urban environment. This struggle, we find, often results in the quest for self-discovery and self-identity for the women protagonists. The city emerges as a life-force, as a backdrop for rebirth and regeneration, and poignantly as a symbol, a symbol of male-centered language, culture, and values. Jane Marcus, in "A Wilderness of One's Own: Feminist Fantasy Novels of the Twenties," describes the city as a "moral landscape"; Christine Sizemore, in "Reading the City as Palimpsest," argues that the city is "multilayered," as is a reading of women's fiction generally. In all cases, however, the city functions symbolically, thematically, and structurally as a value system, as a vision of mobility and vulnerability for women protagonists, and as a powerful psychological and sociological force.
What emerges most powerfully in this collection is the ambivalence in the women who write and in their female protagonists toward the city and toward the urban experience in general. It is this ambivalence that provides a thread throughout the text and poignantly suggests the richness of such a study.
Women of the Future: The Female Main Character in Science Fiction, by Betty King, is a much less sophisticated text because of its intention and structure. We are not offered the depth of analysis that comprises Women Writers and the City primarily because Women of the Future consists of a series of annotated plot summaries of science fiction writings whose main characters are female.
King sets forth a comprehensive and streamlined historical Introduction in which she outlines the development of the female science fiction character. However, her account fails to provide us with sufficient character description, nor does it put the female science fiction protagonist in the larger scope of women protagonists or in a subcategory of women's fiction. [End Page 470]
King takes science fiction through the 1980s and implies both continuity and change in the female character, but the text would have more meaning if we were given a larger context in which to appreciate the fiction of science fiction writers. For its intention—"to provide readers of sf with a self-selection guide in their search for works with women main characters (usually protagonists) and to offer teachers a pedagogical tool for women's studies, sf studies, or other types of classes in which the inclusion of women main characters in sf is desirable"—Women of the Future offers useful information. Its form is easy to read and to scan quickly for pertinent facts regarding writer, title, and main plot.
Both Women of the Future and Women Writers and the...