Lynda Zwinger and Jane Miller both embark from what has become a familiar starting point of feminist theory and criticism: the paradox of heterosexual seduction. Why do many women take, and even want, what men—both fictiional male charecters and male theorists—have to offer? Both critics explore the ways that women are complicit in, and yet resist, the seductions of men in male-dominated worlds. While Zwinger takes this paradox to the heart of the novel as genre, Miller lights out for the border that has divided feminism from male-articulated theories of social difference.
In Daughters. Fathers, and the Novel, Zwinger argues that behind the Oedipal myth we accept as a given of Western culture lies a different seduction narrative—the father/daughter romance—which has shaped the genre of the modern bourgeois family novel and the figure of the sentimental daughter. According to Zwinger, "the daughter of sentiment" occupies a unique place in our representations of sexual difference; because this fictional type is not subject to the polarizations of the feminine typically used to manage the anxiety provoked by sexual difference, she must play out the devastating paradox of being "the submissive daughter who must refuse to submit." Richardson's Clarissa provides an archetype whose predilections are fulfilled in Dickens's Dombey and Son, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, James's The Golden Bowl, and The Story of O. Zwinger's final chapter examines daughter-written novels by Austen, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot, whose heroines disrupt the exogamous requirements of heterosexual marriage plotting by staying home.
In describing the intersections among power, the erotic, and the sentimental, Zwinger provocatively demonstrates how the sentimental has been used as a coverup by novelists and literary critics alike. In novels, the "daughter of sentiment" is both alibi and scapegoat for paternal desire; in criticism, the charge of "sentimentality" is one way that critics elude the stories they would prefer not to see . . . or tell. By attending to the gendered asymmetries of power in the family romance, Zwinger accounts for elements of plot and reception which are otherwise inexplicable, such as Dombey's desperate rejection of his daughter or the critics' emphatic rejection of the sequel to The Story of O.
Zwinger limits her discussion to a relatively small number of novels, thus permitting the sustained analysis that helps to make her argument convincing, but her omission of any discussion of the selection process by which she settled upon these apparently representative texts is troubling. Also, the chronological movement of her chapters implies change over time, but the final chapter posits daughterly resistance by nineteenth-century British women novelists while only [End Page 993] gesturing towards the future. What happens to the father-daughter plot in the twentieth century, for male and female authors, for British and American authors? Has it been challenged in new ways, or does the story remain essentially the same?
Miller's Seductions ranges more widely in its choice of texts and in the discourses it uses to examine seduction, which it describes as both a metaphor and "the means by which sexual relations can be inserted into any understanding of how power is experienced in societies built on inequality." Her first chapter analyzes the different histories of use that separate the meanings of "hegemony" and "seduction," attempting to explain why hegemony is "at once so tantalizingly attractive to feminist analysis and yet so wholly undeveloped in its potential relevance to women." The seductiveness of men and their theories to women, and the neglect of the specificities of women's lives and feminist theory by male theorists, are revisited in chapter two which discusses "The One Great Silent Area" in Raymond Williams's accounts of literature and culture, in chapter four which treats Said's "Orientalism" and Fanon's "négritude," and in chapter five which focuses on Bakhtin's "dialogism" in the novel.
But the multiple projects of...