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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 48.3 (2002) 782-784

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Book Review

The Bitch Is Back:
Wicked Women in Literature

Sarah Appleton Aguiar. The Bitch Is Back: Wicked Women in Literature. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2001. viii + 174 pp.

The man sitting behind me on a plane uttered, "All women are bitches." The earnestness with which the phrase was said to a nearby stranger startled me. After all, no one in his right mind would be talking like that. . . in public . . . in light of political correctness . . . surrounded by women. Nevertheless, here he was, shaking his head, raucously trying to convince his neighbor that you "gotta do to women what you know they're gonna do to you," clearly an understanding of "type" and a confession of [End Page 782] emasculation. What startled me about this man's declaration was the unexpectedness of this comment because men just didn't talk or think that way anymore. Women as bitches were another era and certainly not part of the "second wave" feminist thought current in the media then.

Susan Appleton Aguiar's book The Bitch Is Back: Wicked Women in Literature attests to why it is possible to have this misconception. Appleton Aguiar observes that the "bitch," as type, is absent from contemporary feminist literature because in "second wave" feminist writers' attempts to reverse these prevalent stereotypes, they homogenize their women characters to the inverse types. She contends, "for all her ubiquitous presence in every other form of media, the bitch has been noticeably absent from the feminist literary canon. Until recently." Appleton Aguiar traces the transformation of the bitch from "the embodiment of female evil: the foil for literature's icons of morality and the scourge of the male hero," so central to much of literary history, to "that vital woman, empowered with anger, wit, ruthless survival instincts," which she details in the writings of contemporary authors Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Fay Weldon, and Jane Smiley.

Appleton Aguiar structures her argument around the convention that confirms the Jungian archetypal constructs of animus and anima and their promotion of stereotypical representations in literature with the feminist need "to subvert or reinvent established meaning or to re-inscribe lost meanings." She feels the value of these stereotypical archetypes "outweighs its possible detriments" because these types "contain invaluable clues on how to negotiate the feminine, how men view women, and how women view themselves"—a point well made because it is empowering for both writer and reader to co-opt the "she devil" in literature and re-vision her into what she had always been—a complex, multidimensional representation, capable of good and evil, pain and pleasure.

Appleton Aguiar, in applying the Jungian construct to the works of Ken Kesey and F. Scott Fitzgerald, classifies "the bitch" type into "four structural forms: the Mother, [. . .] the Amazon, the Hetaira, and the Medium, or Medial Woman." When she looks at these types as prominent in male-authored literature, she additionally classifies these types as including the domineering shrew, the witch, the femme fatale, the devouring mother and the castrating bitch. Conversely, when she looks [End Page 783] at literature written by women, "the bitch" may "seem motivated by recognizably devious, self-centered gains, combined with, in some cases, a distinct lack of self-worth," as demonstrated in the writing of V.C. Andrews and Danielle Steele in addition to the Brontës or Edith Wharton. She details how "the bitch" re-emerges in more recent feminist writings, but in trying to express the sheer mischievousness in looking at "the bitch" as type, Appleton Aguiar undercuts her argument with lighthearted chapter titles and the teasing tone they support. Although designating her introduction as "The Season of the Bitch," a playful change to a 60s song which fittingly parallels the referent of the book's title, "The Bitch Is Back," she can't maintain this frivolity throughout the text. She eventually jumps from song referent to Shakespearean pun, "To Arch the Type or Not to Arch the Type," followed by something as mundane as "The Male Perspective...