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BOOK REVIEWS life, education, work, marriage, divorce, and evolving legal rights of women. She includes a chronology of important dates for women writers and the feminist movement, extensive notes, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Femininity to Feminism is a solid source book and introduction to the period, and to the fundamental issues of the day, from a feminine, and feminist, perspective. Anita Rose University of North Carolina, Greensboro Women's Autobiographies Mary Jean Corbett. Representing Femininity: Middle-Class Subjectivity in Victorian and Edwardian Women's Autobiographies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 240 pp. $36.00 REPRESENTING FEMININITY is an important and often fascinating study of nineteenth and early twentieth-century middle-class women's autobiographies and of the cultural, historical and personal circumstances in which they were produced. Keeping the issues of class and gender at the center of the discussion, the work takes us from an exploration of Wordsworth's and Carlyle's professional self-authorizations through the lives, times and self-representations of a number of women writers, actresses, and suffragettes. Corbett establishes differences as well as insightful points of intersection among these autobiographies and their negotiations of the public and private, and the domestic and professional. The volume of recent feminist and historicist critical and theoretical work in the areas of nineteenth-century women's lives and writings and in autobiography makes any study of this nature a large enterprise, and Corbett deftly engages and extends recent commentaries on nineteenthcentury women and autobiography in her reconstruction of "the autobiographical discourses of middle-class Victorian and Edwardian women through close analysis of the texts they created." The author's fluency with contemporary critical discourses on the cultural formation of class, gender, and authorial subjectivity, and the range of her reading of primary texts, letters, and periodical writings is impressive. The connections and insights Corbett unfolds are persuasive, and the reader remains engaged with the discussions of autobiographical writings of figures like Wordsworth, Carlyle, Harriet Martineau, Anne Ritchie and Ellen Terry, as well as less familiar women like Camilla Crosland, Charlotte Tonnan, and Irene Vanbrugh. The analyses of 113 ELT 36 : 1 1993 contexts and texts are more tightly managed and crisply presented in the last three chapters on actresses and suffragettes than in the first three, which are at points encumbered by the multiplicity of issues addressed and the amount of secondary and theoretical material Corbett assimilates. In these earlier chapters we progress more slowly toward analyses of autobiographical texts, and encounter more points deferred for later elaboration. However, this may be an inevitable consequence of the project's scope. Ultimately one finishes Representing Femininity with an enriched understanding of the relationship between women's autobiographies and the cultural formation of gender, class and subjectivity. Chapters 1-3 formulate the study's central issues. The first, the book's longest, compares Wordsworth's and Carlyle's attempts to position themselves and their writing in a professional, literary arena. The discussion here of the construction of gender identity and the early nineteenth-century "discourse of professionalism" illuminates the readings of the ways in which Wordsworth and Carlyle authorize their subjectivity in The Prelude and Sartor Resartus and maintain "a continuity between product and producer." This material resonates in the next two chapters' explorations of the autobiographical texts of women who chose the literary profession. Chapters 2 and 3 elaborate Corbett's conclusion that "different norms of publicity and privacy" situated women differently from Wordsworth and Carlyle, and that women's "self-representational strategies may differ from those of male authors ... in the means they used but perhaps not the end they have in view. Women writers also fear the alienation of the marketplace and seek to circumvent it, but the cultural prohibition against public female labor makes for an additional stumbling block in their path." Here Corbett details how and why these women writers "configure their authorship as congruent with the norms of domestic femininity," offering interesting observations about a number of women writers. Chapters 4 through 6 consider the autobiographical writings of actresses and suffragettes, whose performances were enacted in the different and literally public arenas of the stage and street. Although we might...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 113-116
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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