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Reviewed by:
Jane Marcus. Art and Anger: Reading Like a Woman. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1988. 286 pp. $30.00 cloth; pb. $11.95.
Shari Benstock, ed. The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women's Autobiographical Writings. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1988. 319 pp. $34.95 cloth; pb. $10.95.

"Anger is not anathema in art," Jane Marcus writes, "it is a primary source of creative energy. Rage and savage indignation sear the hearts of female poets and female critics." The range and power of the essays Jane Marcus collected under the rubric Art and Anger make clear how penetrating a set of literary and cultural insights feminist rage can produce. [End Page 659]

The collection is divided into four parts: "Reading Practice I. The Feminist Critic Reads Men: Wilde, Meredith, Ibsen"; "Reading Practice II. The Socialist Critic Reads Virginia Woolf'; "Writing Practice. The Lupine Critic Writes a (Biased) History of Virginia Woolf Scholarship"; and "A Theoretical Perspective." The fourth section consists exclusively of Marcus' influential, widely cited essay "Still Practice, A/Wrested Alphabet: Toward a Feminist Aesthetic," an inspiring and witty call for "theory" to come down off its male-defined pinnacle and exchange its aggressive posturing for an openness to the Woolfian "reader's desire to be enraptured by the writer":

Despite [theory's] birth in the left-wing beds of Europe, it has grown in practice to be an arrogant apolitical American adolescent with too much muscle and a big mouth. As theorists constrict the world of readers and writers to ever-tinier elites, the socialist feminist critic must reach out to expand and elasticize that world to include the illiterate, the watchers of television, the readers of romances, the participants in oral cultures—in short, our students.

Marcus' artful socialist feminist anger is most electrifying in the section on "Writing Practice" where, in the well-known essays "Tintinnabulations," "Storming the Toolshed," and "Quentin's Bogey," she attacks, always with the humor evident in her titles, the culturally conservative, patronizing British establishment for rewriting Woolf as a languishing neurotic class snob rather than allowing her her proper stature as the great socialist, feminist, pacifist literary foremother that Marcus and others have shown her to be.

We had just been given a powerful vision of that socialist, feminist, pacifist Woolf in the three essays in "Reading Practice II." In "Thinking Back Through Our Mothers," Marcus elaborates Woolf s articulation of the collective unconscious historically specific to the female artist. In "No More Horses: Virginia Woolf on Art and Propaganda," Marcus argues that Woolf was a visionary, rather than locally pragmatic, polemicist, who worked (in Woolf's own phrase from Three Guineas) in "freedom from unreal loyalties." The essay that gives Marcus her title for this volume, "Art and Anger: Elizabeth Robins and Virginia Woolf," argues, appropriately, for the efficacy, extent, and suppression of feminist rage in writing that has "great violence underneath [its] polished surface." The sympathetic essays on feminist impulses in Wilde, Meredith, and Ibsen in "Reading Practice I" are of profound interest to feminist students of the last turn of the century, a historical moment when gender representation was so powerfully in flux. These little summaries, although not, I hope, inaccurate, give none of the sense of the scope of argument, erudition, inquiry, and reference in these moving, enabling essays.

Jane Marcus also has an essay in the impressive anthology The Private Self. In "Invincible Mediocrity: The Private Selves of Public Women," she expands her material on the collaboration of women writers and readers to show that well-known public women, because the "public world . . . was expected to erase their names and their works," "chose a re/signing of self in the private collective world of women readers as a bid for immortality." Marcus' analyses exemplify the ways in which women's autobiographical writings have had to enter fame by various back doors (think of Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas), including by pointedly abjuring it. Most of the essays in this volume treat the issues that concern Marcus: the subversiveness of women's autobiographical writings, their [End Page 660] differences from men's, particularly in their constructions...


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