- Through the Window, Out the Door: Women’s Narratives of Departure, from Austin and Cather to Tyler, Morrison, and Didion by Janis P. Stout (review)
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 34, Number 3, Fall 1999
- pp. 365-366
- View Citation
- Additional Information
b o o k R eview s 3 6 5 Through the Window, Out the Door: Women's Narratives of Departure, from Austin and Cather to Tyler, Morrison, and Didion. By Janis P. Stout. Tuscaloosa: U niversity o f A labam a Press, 1998. 312 pages, $39.95. Reviewed by Cynthia Taylor U niversity of Southern C olorado, Pueblo In the first chapter of this well-written and well-argued study, Janis Stout constructs a historical and theoretical context for the journey narra tive and its appropriation by modem American women writers by discussing two works which outline the range of responses to the home/departure dual ity: Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. Stout describes Jewett’s journeys as looping back toward home, while Robinson’s are more outward-bound. Jewett provides a model for the urge toward reconciliation of outward venture with homebiding that Stout sees in every writer considered here. Stout assumes that these journeys are connected to freedom or the desire for freedom, and to the emergence of the self. She attempts to define the freedom being sought and the degree to which it is attained or attainable. One of the most effective features of this book is the way in which, in each chapter, Stout provides a context for the work of the writer under dis cussion by invoking other women writers whose work resonates with the texts she is analyzing. The chapters on Mary Austin and Willa Cather call attention to Jewett’s influence on them as well as to their awareness of each other. Ann Tyler’s work is juxtaposed with that of Cather and Eudora Welty. The chapter on Toni Morrison refers to Zora Neale Hurston, among others, and discusses Morrison’s analysis of Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Joan Didion’s writing is examined against the poetry of Denise Levertov and Adrienne Rich. Stout’s focus on the journey trope brings a fresh perspective, even to the work of writers who have received a lot of scholarly attention. In her chapter on Austin, for example, she argues that while Austin’s imagination centered on movement, she is also “one of the most insistent on the need for home and centering, even marital, relationships” (28). Stout demon strates familiarity with a wide range of Austin’s work and makes a convinc ing argument that works such as Starry Adventure deserve more critical attention than they have received. In her chapter on Cather, Stout argues that Cather’s expansive vision coexists with an impulse to withdraw to enclosed spaces and that mediating between the two urges is the open window, an image that recurs through out her fiction (62). As in the chapter on Austin, Stout’s work on Cather is wide-ranging and nuanced. The links she makes between Austin and Cather yield new insights into both writers; for example, she speculates that 3 6 6 WAL 3 4 .3 F a l l 1999 reading Austin’s fantasy, Outland, stimulated Cather to complete The Professor’s House, and she outlines some interesting parallels between these two very different texts. Stout is an excellent guide on these literary journeys, but there are a few places where I would have welcomed more discussion. In the chapter on Morrison, why does Stout focus primarily on Beloved and Jazz■ Her insightful discussions of those two texts, and less extensive references to Morrison’s other works, make me wonder why she has nothing to say about Tar Baby. Through the Window, Out the Door should be particularly interesting to scholars of western American literature for several reasons. First, Stout brings a new perspective to western writers such as Austin, Cather, Didion, and Robinson. Second, female versions of the journey balance the mascu line images of ritualized flight and self-exploration that have long domi nated western literature. Third, Stout draws on the work that has been done by western literature scholars and situates hers within it; for example, in her conclusion she points out how the images she analyzes of home and departure, public and private, are central to the comparison essays, many of them...