- Reviewed by
This collection includes eight short papers on French theorists and writers (Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Marguerite Duras, Colette, Madame de Lafayette, Rachilde, and Juliette Adam); two on Québécoise vocal artists Pauline Julien and Angèle Arsenault and novelists Laure Conan, Gabrielle Roy, and Louise Maheux-Forcier; five papers about the works and lives of German and Austrian writers Elfriede Jelinek, Fanny Lewald, Louise van François, and Danish writer Isak Dinesen; one on Spanish writer Ana María Matute; and six on writers from Latin America: Lucia Guerra (Mexico); Cristina Peri Rossi (Uruguay); María Fernández de Tinoco, Carmen Lyra and Yolanda Oreamuno (Costa Rica); Rosario Ferré (Puerto Rico); Olga Savary (Brazil), and a long list of authors from the Dominican Republic, from Amelia Francisca de Marchena to Hilda Contreras and Aida Bennelly de Diaz. Analytic approaches range from comparative studies (Claudine Fisher's "Hélène Cixous' Window of Daring through Clarice Lispector's Voice" being an outstanding example) to more or less convincing applications of Lacanian and contemporary feminist theory, traditional biography, and critical reception history.
This litany of names celebrates linguistic and cultural diversity, as well as writers overlooked by anthropocentric literary traditions and monolingual Americans. The four papers written in Spanish, two in French, and one with original German text in untranslated quotations oblige all but the quadrilingual reader to resort to foreign language dictionaries and to feel the frustration of skimming the surface of other languages and cultures: a pointed and poignant reminder of the extent to which our experience not just of gender but also of culture is confined to linguistic boundaries.
Another problematical boundary is that of the time and length separating a "conference presentation" from an "article." The uneven quality of these proceedings underscores the difficulty of combining creative textual analysis and responsible scholarship within the confines of a short conference presentation. The most successful papers in this collection make judicious, selective use of "outside" theory and focus primarily on the texts themselves, especially their varied specificity of "female" writing. The least successful substitute plot summary and biographical anecdote for substantive literary analysis.
A third boundary is both synecdochal and political. The "francophone" dimension of this collection is in fact limited to Québec. Nothing appears on African or Antillean literature, where the voices and talents of women writers have contributed to a new sense of cultural history and literary style. Perhaps this omission is due to the aleatory nature of regional conferences and academic calls for papers. Nonetheless, the focus here is unmistakably Eurocentric, both in texts and critical theory cited, and the absence of other francophone voices is regrettable.
Some of the most exciting work on women writers done today arises from attentiveness to the work's own strategies for artistic and cultural renewal. The papers in this volume make it clear that scholars in modern language departments must not only draw attention to "women writers" of other cultures whose untranslated [End Page 361] works are unknown but also take on the difficult but essential work of articulating the esthetic singularity and creative impact of those works.