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Reviews147 stimulated and supported Whitford, communities which continue not only to challenge the heretofore dominant forms of thought in Western philosophy, but to provide a space within which to imagine the new forms so essential to the survival of the culture. University of Illinois—ChicagoRuth El Saffar Writing the Female Voice: Essays on EpistoL·^ Literature, edited by Elizabeth C. Goldsmith; xiii & 296 pp. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1989, $32.50. Elizabeth C. Goldsmith has brought together a collection ofessays on women's epistolarity: letters written by real women ("writers" and non-writers), as well as letters written by fictional women in novels by both men and women. The time and place of these letters varies from sixteenth-century Venice (Veronica Franco) to twenty-first century "Gilead" (Margaret Atwood's TL· Handmaid's Tale). Despite the enormous variety in chronology and geography (Italy, France, England, Germany, Persia, North and South America, Africa), the essays are linked by their common attempt to define the nature of the female voice in the letter-writing genre. Various critical perspectives become apparent, as we survey the essays in this volume. Goldsmith raises, in her introduction, one of the key questions of the book: can male authors faithfully represent the female voice, or is this sort of literary "cross-dressing" inevitably doomed to failure? The authors who treat this problem, particularly acute in the eighteenth-century epistolary novel, respond in a variety ofways. Carson, in an essay on Richardson's Clarissa, develops a theory about male authors as female impersonators, allowing the male author, Pygmalion-like, to develop a maternal side. Pucci explores the eleven letters written by the Persian wives in Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes, finding, surprisingly , that Montesquieu does write "like a woman," particularly in the final letter by Roxanne, which redefines female passion, nature, and virtue. Epstein shows Cleland's Fanny Hill to be a manipulation of female epistolarity, to treat male sexuality (for a male audience), and eventually to consign Fanny to a traditional marriage and silence. Jackson, in the last of the eighteenth-century studies, demonstrates Laclos's Liahons dangereuses to overdetermine its female voices, through a predictable concern with mastery and victimization. The majority of essays mentioned above use a feminist perspective to show the failure of male authors, for a variety of reasons, to capture the female voice in the letters they attribute to female characters. The remaining essays in the 148Philosophy and Literature volume treat female epistolarity in works written by women, but must still address a host of other puzzling questions, particularly about the fundamental differences between fictional women's letters and collections of real letters by women, often assembled after the author's death. The analyses of "real" letters seem, in this reviewer's opinion, the least successful in the volume, as the critical questions asked of them are not the same as for epistolary fiction, male or female. The passionate female love letters found in epistolary novels written by males vanish when we look at realcollections of women's letters: Mme. de Sévigné (Goldsmith); Mme. de Sade (Hayes); and George Sand (Crecelius). None of these women intended to publish her letters, and they generally wrote to relatives rather than lovers. More comparison among these audiors would have strengthened these essays, all of which show lack of communication between writer and correspondent. The remaining essays treat fictional epistolarity in women authors, representing , for the most part, the voices of women characters. These essays are among the strongest in the collection, showing women who "find their voice" in letters, often overcoming isolation, and achieving communication with the reader, if not with the original (fictional) correspondent: Spacks shows Jane Austen to understand the power of the female voice, even in apparendy trivial letters; Altman celebrates the striking success ofMme. de Graffigny in the Lettres d'une Péruvienne, which challenge European ethnocentrism as well as sexism; Kauffman demonstrates how Margaret Atwood unearths a female voice from the year 2000; and finally Williams, in a masterful essay on The Color Purple, explores the ironic nature of Alice Walker's use of the epistolary form, which highlights Celie's isolation, and depicts links between the letter and the more solitary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 147-148
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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