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Reviews211 Tale," "The Wife of Bath's Tale," "The Clerk's Tale," and the "Eunuch Hermeneutics " of "The Pardoner's Tale." While this book is openly heretical (to return toJerome's metaphor), it is not necessary to undergo extensive ideological refashioning in order to read and benefit from its engaging speculations. Whitman CollegeRoberta Davidson Hamlet's Mother and Other Women, by Carolyn G. Heilbrun ; xviii & 317 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, $29.95. Most people in the field of English literature are aware of Carolyn Heilbrun's stature as one of the "foremothers" of feminist criticism in the United States. Her latest scholarly publication is a collection of articles she has written over the last forty years, tracing her own political and intellectual development and highlighting her curiosity about origins and her belated realization of connections . The title is drawn from her first published essay, "The Character of Hamlet's Mother" (1957), in which she was already "gnawing at the idea of women as misunderstood and wrongly condemned." It was the early seventies, however, before she emerged from the intellectual "wilderness" of traditional academia to understand that even in her earlier work she had been "a feminist waiting for a cause to join, or maybe just waiting for the cause ... to be named" (p. 2). This is the nature of revolution in Heilbrun's work: something that happens quiedy, while one's attention is directed elsewhere. Similarly, the courage to embrace radical causes or lifestyles is something that she imagines comes unexpectedly to women with age. Heilbrun makes no explicit avowal of the purpose behind a retrospective of her own works, but a pattern emerges in reading them. First, we are introduced to a variety of "exemplary" women, such as Margaret Mead, Anna Freud, and Virginia Woolf, who had to create their own structures of achievement and make their own peace with largely masculine models. Then the subject matter ofthe essays expands in a discussion in which fictional characters (Sarton's Mrs. Stevens, Alcott's Jo March, and others) and real women are equally matter for investigation. The issue is transformed from the way in which women read men, to the way in which they read and construct themselves. This thematic return and expansion, in which each section of the book asks the same question in a different way, reveals the appropriately odyssean structure ofher narrative. 212Philosophy and Literature Even the chronology of the articles is not linear, after the first essay. Who, Heilbrun asks, are strong, self-assertive or creative women to look to in their quest for new myths of the self? Must they always be their own point of origin? One essay on May Sarton is particularly striking in this regard. Heilbrun quotes Sarton's assertion that "we have to make myths of our lives. ... It is the only way to live without despair" (p. 184). The myths of our lives, in Heilbrun's terms, are constructed through a series of associations. One association is that between our lives and our work, a reciprocal symmetry between author and subject. She herselfunderstands Woolf's professional courage after the age of fifty because of her own experience of being in her fifties. She documents "the bravest acts" of her own life as two essays in which she "spoke as a woman" and sees a similar transformation in Woolf's own later style. By this stage in the essays, it is clear to us that Heilbrun sees herself as a composite identity, constructed not only of her own voice and experience, but of all the women—fictional and real, dead and alive—she's come to know. (Her knowledge , it must be noted, is comprised largely of middle-class, well-educated, white women.) It seems pertinent that the final essays in the collection discuss mysteries; her identity as Amanda Cross, at one time secret and disassociated from her "real" self, now allows her to cross the once-impenetrable lines of defined genre. Appropriately, similar questions ofidentity and belonging, myth and return are addressed in Cross's latest novel, The Players Come Again (1990). "One cannot make up stories," Heilbrun asserts in her discussion of Penelope, "one can only retell...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 211-212
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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