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Book Reviews, 32:2, 1988 PATTERNS OF FRIENDSHIP Tess Cosslett. Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1988. $45.00 To say that Tess Cosslett's Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction is principally a literary study is at once to commend its value in elucidating literary texts and to lament its slender capacity for moving beyond those texts. As much as the study accomplishes by focusing on specific works, it forfeits by hesitating to situate those findings within revealing contexts. Cosslett's book only vaguely links the novels' female friendships to the female authors and readers who were tenuously connected through those texts and whose society permitted them to explore their identities only through the negotiation of friendships with other women. Thus her efforts do little to further our understanding of Victorian culture. Even so, she provides effective commentary on individual works and on the corpus of literature by Victorian women. Her study considers principal authors such as Jane Austen, Christina Rossetti, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot as well as less-often canonized authors, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mrs. Humphry Ward, Mrs. Sarah Ellis, Olive Shreiner, Dianah Mulock Craik, George Egerton, Ella Hepworth Dixon, Annie Holdsworth, and Madame de Staël. Tracing patterns of friendship and marriage, Cosslett investigates "concepts of female identity" and examines the "intersections of convention and ideology, structure and meaning." Accordingly she reveals women's tremendous power for "transform[ing] their constraints " (14). Cosslett maintains that the ideology requiring novels to conclude with the heroine's marriage originates solely from "the social assumption that marriage was the only desirable goal for a woman" (2). In doing so she seems to assume the inviolability of this formula, accepting it as the reflection of a Victorian axiom too sacred for writers to dispute. As a result she reduces the relevance of biographical, psychological , historical, and social phenomena, considerations that may have provoked individual authors to sustain this tradition. Hence, her premise divorces the novels from their environment and, more important , from their particular authors and readers. Cosslett therefore does not "do" women's studies. Rather she is a literary critic interested in feminist issues. Clearly this does not constitute a problem in itself. The Introduction, however, in its apparent concern with social history, is misleading. On one hand, Coslett attempts to reconcile Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's findings that female 233 Book Reviews, 32:2, 1988 friendships dominated Victorian women's lives with their secondary status in fiction ("The Female World of Love and Ritual," in Women's America: Refocussing on the Past, ed. by Linda Kerber and Jane De Hart Matthews, 1982). She contends that in the novels women's friendships, though relegated to the periphery, play crucial parts which valorize their importance. On the other hand, the evasive language used in justifying their subordinate role reflects her lack of rigor in establishing the connection between social history and narrative form. Similarly, Cosslett dismisses Nancy Chodorow's research (The Reproduction of Mothering, 1978) on the grounds that "[Her psychological theory] seemed to be unacceptably ahistorical and essentialist in this concept of'female identity'" (10). Still she finds Chodorow's theories persuasive. For although Cosslett honors her pledge to discover how women writers "stretched the limits" of female identity, her analyses of female characters echo many of Chodorow's conclusions about women's psychology (8). Moreover, her disillusion with Chodorow's "ahistorical, essentialist" approach seems disingenuous, since she herself stops short of exploring the shaping forces behind the novels' ideologies. Cosslett, however, compensates with fine textual scrutiny. In brief, she finds in her investigation that friendships between women, while not the subject of the novels, act to assimilate women to traditional roles; hence they effect the novels' resolutions in marriage. Often the "angel" figure endeavors to redeem the "fallen woman." Whether or not this feat is accomplished, the two women usually come to realize that they are rivals in love. Typically they respond by mutually renouncing their claims on the man, achieving solidarity and merging their opposing identities. These friendships, maternal in nature, "spring form an intense 'mother-want'" and provide essential security and nurturing (12). Whereas the...


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pp. 233-236
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