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132 Shorter Book Reviews Mary Eagleton, ed. Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader. Oxford: Basil BlacJ..,.-well, 1986.xiv + 237 pp. Eagleton's idea for this volume resulted from her desire to furnish her own students with an introduction to the central issues of feminist criticism and to make some of the main texts (often originally published in journals) available. The volume differs both from recently-published books that have sought to define and explain feminist literary theory (Tori.I Moi's Sexual/Textual Politics and K.K. Ruthven's Feminist Literary Stu.dies) and from collections of essays about feminist criticism (Elaine Showalter's The New Feminist Criticism), because it is designed specifically as a reader, a collection of texts (or excerpts of texts) that have been crucial to the emergence and development of Anglo-American feminist literary criticism and theory. Its value lies not in its novelty, then, but in its ability to identify themes and questions, to choose representative essays that explore these themes, and to reproduce texts central to an understanding of the origins and importance of feminist literary theory. Selections include extracts from such accessible and firmly canonized pieces as Virginia Woolfs A Room of One's Own, Adrienne Rich's "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision," and Gilbert and Gubar's Afadwoman in the Attic, as well as essays much more difficult to find and make available, such as a brief meditation on feminine discourse by Catherine Clement or an essay on female prophets in the seventeenth century. The collection thus makes manifest the heterogeneous cultural influences--English, American, French--that have produced AngloAmerican feminist theory. It is divided into five sections of essays (or extracts from longer pieces), and each section is prefaced by a concise and clear introduction that is designed to orient the reader to a particular set of issues. The sections focus respectively on the female literary tradition, women and literary production, gender and genre (this part includes examples of practical feminist criticism), the impact that feminism has and will have on women seeking to re-fashion language, and the question of whether we can identify a distinctively female voice. The collection charts the impact feminist theory is having not only on literary criticism in North America, but also on fictional and poetic writings, since a number of the represented authors include poets, novelists and essayists. The volume avoids the elitist, white and heterosexual bias of some recent feminist anthologies, for it represents lesbian and black writers, popular culture as well as traditionally canonized works, and focuses attention on the intersection of literature and such social issues as pornography, violence, Shorter Book Reviews 133 poverty and class. Exemplary though the book is in conception, it is nevertheless somewhat disappointing in execution. In her effort to domesticate theory, to make its importance evident even to those feminists suspicious of the supposedly male bias in any meta-discourse, Eagleton provides such brief extracts that it is almost impossible to understand the form and argument of the original essays. Few entries are longer than three pages; most arc substantially shorter. Even the quotations from WoolPsA Room of One's Own are divided into three separate entries, so that they seem amputated from the longer essay and segregated even from each other. The most egregious case of this radical pruning is Helene Cixous's "The Laugh of the Medusa," a difficult te>..iunder ideal circumstances, but one that, given its central place as one of the most accessible articulations of French feminism, could (and probably should) have been reproduced in its entirety; what Eagleton provides is much less than one finds elsewhere (e.g., in New French Feminisms), and it is inadequate for pedagogical purposes. Inexplicably, the references to fuller versions of the essays must be gleaned from the denselywritten acknowledgements page because the bibliographical information is not included with each essay. Given the need for such a book, and given that feminist literary criticism is an area that is proliferating with what sometimes seems to be bewildering rapidity and complexity, Feminist Literary Theory provides an invaluable service. The danger of the collection, however, is that the admittedly impressive scope of its coverage...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 132-133
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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