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BOOK REVIEWS Theorizing The Personal, Personalizing Theory: Recent Works on Women's Autobiography Judy Nolte Temple University ofArizona Margo Culley, ed. American Women's Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. 329 p. Leigh Gilmore. Autobiographies: A Feminist Theory of Women's SelfRepresentation . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. 255 p. Elizabeth Hampsten. Mother's Letters. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993. 185 p. Nancy K. Miller. Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts. New York: Routledge, 1991. 164 p. Sidonie Smith. Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body: Women's Autobiographical Practices in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. 266 p. 1 he study of autobiography as a genre has been accepted into the family circle of established literary criticism, somewhat like an egotistical but interesting sibling, for over a quarter century. Women's autobiographies, however , have had a rocky relationship with the genre because most of the theory of the 1960s predicated on autobiography-as-America and individuation ignored female perspectives. In the 1970s some feminist critics, drawing from the period of "universal" theory within women's studies, generalized gender differences among selected well-known texts and situated "woman" outside the master narrative. In the 1980s, a monograph by Sidonie Smith and collections of critical essays edited by Shari Benstock, Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenck problematized theories of "the old I" by close readings of more diverse autobiographical works. Today, while some areas of literary criticism are imploding upon over-burdened war horse texts, the field of autobiographical studies has exploded. The catalysts are eclectic theory and dynamic primary works by provocative writers who have engaged in "guerrilla autobiographies," to use Leigh Gilmore's term, that are "concerned with interruptions and eruptions, with resistance and contradiction as strategies of self-representation" (42). Adding to the delicious chaos are scholars such as Elizabeth Hampsten and Nancy Miller who have theorized about autobiography and now turn their talents to practicing it in sophisticated essays. Those who enjoy noisy family gatherings where everyone is included, arguments erupt, secrets are blurted out, and typecast roles 177 178Rocky Mountain Review of The Creative One and The Critic are blurred, will find the state of autobiographical letters most stimulating. Margo Culley's collection, American Women's Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, demonstrates this energizing diversity of scholarly viewpoints and texts. Herein are some classics re-read by classics (Stein by Catharine R. Stimpson) as well as essays on more obscure texts that make one want to read ceaselessly in a field secure enough with itself to include abused eighteenth -century diarist Abigail Bailey, Paiute Sarah Winnemucca, and SocialisVSpiritualist Dorothy Day. Culley is clearly comfortable with disagreement and closes her collection with an essay by C. Margot Hennessy on John Edgar Wideman's Brothers and Keepers that challenges many gendered critical assumptions, especially the exclusivity of woman's essential link to the mother. Culley concludes, "Autobiography studies continue to be that vital space where those challenging the constraints of canonicity and those intoxicated by haute theory fruitfully meet" (26). For some readers, the inclusion of new texts will be stimulating, while for others, the lengthy explication required to introduce such texts within some of the essays leaves little room for theoretical analysis. As with any scholarly collection, one may either perceive the wide range of selections in Fea(s)ts as a buffet, where the old favorite and the untried artfully balance each other, or as a potluck, where the offerings are uneven, but interesting. Two recent theoretical studies of autobiography demonstrate the wide range of perspectives within feminist criticism and articulately refuse to fix a definition of "woman" in order to tidy up the house that Augustine, Rousseau and Franklin built. Sidonie Smith adds to her already-considerable reputation as a theorist with Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body: Women's Autobiographical Practices in the Twentieth Century. She progresses from her close readings of four works in A Poetics of Women's Autobiography (1987) to a theoretical framework that operates both within and against the grain of mainstream texts and thinking. While Smith has been often quoted out of context to sound essentialist, she makes clear that this book...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 177-183
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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