- Additional "Variations":Further Developments in Feminist Theory and Children's Literature
When the Children's Literature Association Quarterly began running a column on literary theory and children's literature in 1988, the initial article in that column was Perry Nodelman's "Children's Literature as Women's Writing." Summarizing the winter 1982 Quarterly special section, "Feminist Criticism and the Study of Children's Literature," Nodelman noted that many of the authors in that issue collectively imply "the intriguing idea that children's literature as a whole is actually a kind of women's writing" (32). In her landmark 1987 essay, "Enigma Variations: What Feminist Theory Knows About Children's Literature," Lissa Paul suggests "powerful implications about the content and language of children's literature and children's literature criticism; something to do with 'inside' stories; something of our own fractured sense of the distinctions between self and other; something in tune with our particular moment in Western culture—something articulated in feminist theory" (186). Nodelman's and Paul's essays are among the most frequently cited scholarship on feminist criticism and children's literature, and issues of language, power, and identity remain the focus of much children's literature scholarship. The following reviewed books—two essay collections and one full-length theoretical study—manifest these concerns as well.
Originally released in connection with the First International Symposium on L. M. Montgomery at the University of Prince Edward Island in June 1994, Harvesting Thistles is a collection of eighteen [End Page 223] essays that seeks to reestablish Montgomery as the "Jane Austen of Canada" (Rubio 4). The title of the collection originates in Montgomery's novel The Blue Castle (1926). The heroine, Valancy Sterling, is confined to a home in which her mother and cousin watch her every move; they only allow her to read a library book titled Thistle Harvest because it is ostensibly a nature study. She finds it empowering, however, and thus "dangerous." As editor Mary Rubio explains, "Montgomery's own books, like Thistle Harvest, are books which amuse and soothe, but are also filled with subversive, prickly shafts. Montgomery writes trenchant social satire within the containers of her 'romances'" (1-2). Taken together, the essays included in this collection seek "to put to rest the untenable assumption that L. M. Montgomery writes only about an 'unblemished bucolic paradise' for undiscriminating women and children. This is the first collection of a growing body of Montgomery scholarship to focus on thistles in her landscape. To read her as a rosy-hued optimist who only wrote romances with happy endings is to misread her profoundly" (6). In addition, Rubio aims "to present new interpretations by critics who have had the advantage of reading Montgomery's journals and thus deepening their reading of the novels" (7).
The collection includes material originally delivered at academic conferences; it also contains essays that the editor has solicited. A few essays are book excerpts. The contributors range from leading Montgomery scholars such as Elizabeth R. Epperly and Elizabeth Waterston to scholars who wrote graduate theses or dissertations on Montgomery. With only a few exceptions, the articles are informed by feminist theory and criticism: for example, three of the essays focus on Montgomery and issues of autobiography; two study sisterhood in Montgomery's life and work; others examine the representation of the female voice and the female experience in Montgomery's fiction and journals. Although the collection as a whole is weakened by individual essays that are incomplete or undeveloped (or, occasionally, inaccurate), several of the essays extend Montgomery scholarship in significant new directions and are a welcome addition to the Montgomery canon.
Some of the essays are marred by errors that should have been rectified by the editor. In Marie Campbell's essay, "Wedding Bells and Death Knells: The Writer as...