- Reviewed by
The question of woman's voice, indeed, the category of women's writing, generates heated debate among feminist theorists these days. Arguing that the very notion of woman's writing marginalizes the work of female authors, some theorists would abandon the study of woman's voice. Other theorists such as Nancy K. Miller maintain that those who want to deconstruct the very concept of gender and gendered writing simply repeat an old pattern of silencing women's texts. Miller suggests that feminist literary criticism about women's writing remains vitally important: Southern Women Writers and Daughters of Time clearly demonstrate the value of criticism about women's voice. [End Page 757]
In Tonette Bond Inge's Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, women critics offer analyses on the work of a diverse group of post Southern Renaissance women autobiographers, essayists, poets, novelists, and short story writers. The choice of authors includes lesser known writers like North Carolina's Sylvia Wilkinson, writers who have already earned a secure place within scholarly studies like Nikki Giovanni and Alice Walker, and "popular" novelists who draw from an audience not always identified as Southern such as Anne Tyler and Gail Godwin.
The collection recognizes the multiplicity of experiences subsumed under any category as broad as Southern women's writing. Doris Betts, in her insightful Introduction, talks about "sub-Souths" forming a nexus of complex interrelationships between region, class, race, and gender. Thus Jean Haskell Speer shows how Mary Lee Settle's Beulah Quintet explores "the mythology and reality" of an Appalachia that itself "has never been a homogeneous culture." Joanne Veal Gabbin argues that Sonia Sanchez's "strong Southern imagination" was shaped both by her Alabama childhood and her experiences as a black woman developing as a writer in the 1960s.
All of the essays consider the author's work as part of a Southern or woman's tradition. Repeated references to William Faulkner attest to the continuing influence of a masculine ideal against which even contemporary women writers must somehow be measured. The conjunction of women's writing and a Southern tradition is especially strong in the emphasis on family as Anne Cheney notes in her discussion of Gail Godwin. Yet some of the most intriguing essays consider the way a writer both depends on and takes issue with these traditions. For example, Linda Wagner-Martin examines the way Shirley Ann Grau's narrative strategies work within and against narrative traditions of Southern literature. Gloria Wade-Gayle demonstrates how Alice Walker's self-definition as "womanist" rejects the label of feminist in favor of the more concrete term rooted in Southern black language where "womanish" is applied to "a girl who insists on asking questions, demanding answers, and speaking in her own voice." Martha Cook reads Nikki Giovanni's poems as revisions of the traditional Southern concern with place by Giovanni's extension of place into the interior realms of house and home.
Perhaps the major weakness is that some of the information seems incomplete. Although published in 1990, recent works are not always treated—such as Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies or Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons (both published in 1988). Nevertheless this collection is a valuable preliminary survey.
Daughters of Time: Creating Woman's Voice in Southern Story by Lucinda H. MacKethan extends the discussion of Southern women's writing along more theoretical lines by focusing on the letters from the wife of a Southern slave holder and texts by Harriet Jacobs, Ellen Glasgow, Nora Zeale Huston, and Eudora Welty. MacKethan places her study within the context of historical accounts and biographical details about the cultural role of Southern women and broader feminist analyses of how women acquire identity, knowledge, values, and narrative power. For MacKethan, women writing about "their lives in the South" have to engage with "a culture that remained patriarchal even longer than other regions of...