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DE-ROMANTICIZING THE SELF: GENDER, GENRE, AND SUBJEClTVTrY Judy Simons. Diaries and Journals ofLiterary Women from Fanny Burney to Virginia Woolf. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1990. ? + 218. $25.95 US (cloth). Katherine Sobba Green. The Courtship Novel 1740 - 1820: A Feminized Genre. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 199?. ? + 184. $23.00 US (cloth). Laurie Langbauer. Women and Romance: The Consolations ofGenre in the English Novel. Reading Women Writing Series. Ithaca: ComeU UP, 1990. xii + 272. $38.50 US (cloth); $12.50 US (paper). Julie Ellison. Delicate Subjects: Romanticism, Gender, and the Ethics of Understanding. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990. xx + 308. $31.50 US (cloth). Diaries, courtship novels, romance and criticism. Such a diverse list of topics seems at first to resist die reader/reviewer looking for connections. However, a second reading suggests that these topics are avenues for discussion of die same question: how do choices of genre relate to issues of gender construction and subjectivity? Genre is poUtical, as Jameson long ago reminded us.1 And among topics considered "political," two initiating some of the most vociferous discussions currently are gender construction and, closely connected to this, subjectivity. None of the four books has THE answer to the above question (I doubt it exists), but each makes die reader aware of die importance of die question by interrogating the assumptions of a particular genre. Thus, in her discussion of women writers' diaries, Simons uses die diary as a vehicle for exploring how creative women form and articulate identities. Similarly, Green analyzes a sub-genre of the novel generally but not exclusively written by women, the courtship novel, to identify ways in which the form can construct women as both objects and subjects, sending messages at once conformist and subversive. In a related vein, Langbauer presents a fascinating consideration of the evolving relationship between the novel/the masculine and the romance/the feminine. She questions gender-based definitions of genre and how they have become encoded in contemporary theory. Finally, Ellison too looks at critical theory, rigorously tracking the influence of gender in romantic definitions of the critic's function from the writings of Schleiermacher to those of contemporary theorists. Review Articles69 None of the books is particularly "Victorian" in focus. Simons covers Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Louisa May Alcott among her diarists; Langbauer has chapters on Charles Dickens and George Eliot, as well as a shorter discussion of George Meredith; and Ellison devotes two chapters to Margaret Fuller. Green is rooted firmly in the eighteenth century. Nonetheless, these books should be of considerable interest to Victorianists. In the 1950s, apologists for the Victorians worked to rescucitate interest in and respect for a period largely ignored after Lytton Strachey's hatchet job. Critics like Walter Houghton wrote on the "Victorian frame of mind" as a monolithic construct, looking for connections and unity. Later, in the 1960s, critics started considering die Victorian "divided self."2 EventuaUy, die Victorian "self," if one can still use the singular form, has come to be seen by many as a construct defined by its rejection of difference: a construct designed to reproduce die dominant bourgeois (white, male, heterosexual) ideology. We are still trying to understand Victorian constructions of both self and other, and the four books under consideration offer options for reconsidering how identity is constructed through gender and genre by looking at how genres construct genders. Simons's book is interesting in this regard, because the diary and die journal are forms of autobiography, attempts at writing one's own Ufe, constructing one's own identity. Simons focuses on the private writings of literary women to explore a number of important questions: [w]hat relationship, if any, can be traced between personal writings and texts for publication by the same author? What is the nature of the "self" that diarists are engaged in constructing and how does this reflect contemporary images of womanhood? Do writers' diaries offer insights into methods of literary production, and those of women writers into the distinctive problems they, as women, might have encountered? What status did women grant their diaries and how does that affect their approach to the medium? (14) Simons applies these questions to the diaries...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 68-76
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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