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Book Reviews Gender & Modernist Fiction Tamar Katz. Impressionist Subjects: Gender, Interiority, and Modernist Fiction in England. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. χ + 244 pp. $39.95 IN A LETTER to Gerald Brenan written in 1922 Virginia Woolf isolated the particular test she faced as a modern novelist: "I don't see how to write a book without people in it___The human soul, it seems to me, orientates itself afresh every now and then. It is doing so now. No one can see it whole, therefore. The best of us catch a glimpse...." The concern with impressions or glimpses; the desire to connect to others; the primacy of "soul" or the interior self; the instability of identity: Woolf 's passionate declaration offers a neat encapsulation of the debates and tensions which Tamar Katz explores in Impressionist Subjects. For Katz these issues inflect the development of modernism at the turn of the twentieth century in distinctive formal, thematic and structural ways. Perhaps "modernisms" would be a more accurate word, for in passing Katz identifies different constructions of this artistic movement. The canonical masculine version focuses conservatively on tradition and cultural authority with claims to continuity, order and autonomy. A radical, subversive feminist model is positioned at the margins where it critiques and dissolves all hierarchies. However, in this intelligent and thoughtful monograph, Katz offers a different paradigm by arguing that the impressionist techniques of modernist fiction represent more than an experiment in form. They are an expression of the contradictions and ambiguities central to contemporary views of the inner self, particularly "patterns of feminine subjectivity." While numerous critics have approached the gendering of modernism through female writers or representations of female characters, Katz gives freshness to her ambitious thesis by linking a number of complex philosophical, cultural and aesthetic strands. She seeks to show how debates about women's nature and social-spiritual impact informed the modernist commitment to interiority with its ambiguous connection to particular material sensations and abstract, mysterious truths. The perception of "feminine subjectivity as both socially shaped and transcendent " in turn crystallized new thinking about "narrative authority" 440 BOOK REVIEWS and resulted in the development of modernist formal strategies, such as multiple voices and a distinctive use of metaphor as a tool of abstraction. Katz adopts a chronological framework to support her persuasive case. Much of the strength of the volume lies in her delineation of changing cultural and gender politics, beginning with Pater's "aesthetic proto-modernist" stance. Other critics have identified Pater's modernist leanings but Katz offers an interesting perspective by relating Pater's vulnerable, feminized "Child in the House" to late-Victorian domestic ideology. The Victorian home is both idealized and feminized. It offers seclusion from the corrupt practices of the public world. The interior values that it inculcates (such as purity, emotional sensitivity and sympathy ) map across contemporary models of femininity. Yet this sphere is threatening too. Vulnerable to infiltration from the external world, it is also a constrained space submerging its (female) inhabitants in the detailed trivia of domestic life. By allowing home to serve as "metaphor and model of the child's mind" (and that of the aesthete), Pater attributes to subjectivity the strengths and weaknesses of the feminized domestic space. Interiority is simultaneously privileged and private, yet overwhelmed and shaped by impressions and sensations from the outer world. The child-aesthete thus inhabits the same psychological and cultural position as the female subject. But Pater gains authority for his aesthetic by employing impressionistic strategies to defeminize his hero and decrease his vulnerability to the pressures of material sensations. Particulars are recast as generic types or abstractions, and the child becomes a universal model subject. Pater ultimately sidesteps the contradictory doubleness of female subjectivity which is both self-contained and open. On the other hand New Women sympathisers embrace it. As Katz argues, writers from this tradition focus robustly on the need for female knowledge rather than sheltered ignorance. For them, interiority is a safeguard of innocence but only if this innocence is informed by knowledge of the world. Such a model of self-shaping is best realized by the female subject. While the female characters of George Egerton, Sarah Grand...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 440-443
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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