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REVIEW ARTICLE READING CRITICS WRITING WOMEN READING WRITING Kate Flint. The Woman Reader 1837-1914. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. xii + 366. $56.50 CDN. Lyn Pykett. The 'Improper' Feminine: The Women's Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing. London: Routledge, 1992. xii + 235. $49.95 US. Elaine Showalter, ed. Daughters ofDecadence: Women Writers of the Fin-de-Siècle. London: Virago, 1993. xx + 326. £6.99. Susan Wolstenholme. Gothic (Revisions: Writing Women as Readers. Albany: SUNY P, 1993. xvi + 201. $14.95 US. One of the most impressive stories included in Elaine Showalter's excellent anthology of writing by women of the fin-de-siècle is "A White Night," by Charlotte Mew (1869-1928). As Showalter explains in her Introduction, the title of the story refers to a nuit blanche, or twilight zone of consciousness. Cameron, the first-person narrator, recalls a journey he took through Andalusia with his sister Ella and Ella's husband King, who were on their honeymoon. One night the travellers are accidentally locked inside the cloister of a medieval convent, where they watch as a veiled woman is buried alive by a group of chanting monks. Cameron, intent on observing the "spectacle" of the veiled woman's "performance," prevents King from interefering by suggesting that Ella will be in danger if their presence becomes known. Meanwhile Ella, who has been the most adventurous of the trio, is reduced to speechlessness and hysteria. At the end of the story we learn that her dreams are still "haunted" by "the horror of those hours." Review Article71 I begin with a summary of Mew's story in order to demonstrate how the arguments developed by Susan Wolstenholme in Gothic (Re)Visions may prove useful in interpreting texts by women. In her stimulating but not always entirely convincing study, Wolstenholme devotes chapters to The Italian by Ann Radcliffe, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Jane Eyre and Villette by Charlotte Brontë, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, and The House ofMirth by Edith Wharton. Wolstenholme argues that, for formal reasons, "Gothic narrative has special potential to deal with the issues of writing and reading as a woman" (xi). In particular, she wishes to explain how women have managed to find their own voice within linguistic and social structures that would silence them, by creating a textual space in which they, although female, may occupy the (masculine) position of the spectator viewing a (feminine) object. Wolstenholme analyzes a number of practices or motifs that appear over and over again in the seven novels she discusses. These include the creation, by a woman performer, of a tableaux that presents her body to the gaze of a male spectator; in Ann Radcliffe's novels, such "spectacles" are often staged in an interior (typically, that of a church) which suggests a "dream space." Wolstenholme remarks that in these scenes, the woman under observation embodies a story to be unfolded. She is also a scapegoat, representing unruly elements and disruptive forces. Wolstenholme notes that such staged scenes serve as inset stories to reflect, in distorted form, events in the outer narrative. Furthermore, the relationship between the female object viewed by the male spectator within the text, "doubles" the relationship between the novel and its reader: to be a reader is to see, to interpret, to assign meaning from a masculine subject position. As my summary of Charlotte Mew's story is meant to indicate, these insights can readily be applied to "A White Night." Wolstenholme makes excellent use of them in her own close, comparative readings, as when, at the beginning of Chapter One, she juxtaposes Mary Shelley's account of how the idea for Frankenstein came to her in a "mental vision," with Harriet Beecher Stowe's account, in the third person, of the "vision" that proved to be the genesis of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is important to Wolstenholme's argument to note that Shelley and Stowe are thus able to begin writing, by projecting apparitions of themselves into a scene which they watch and which the reader is invited to watch. Wolstenholme also compares, in highly suggestive ways, strikingly similar passages from the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 70-77
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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