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194Victorian Review Elsie B. Michie. Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference and the Victorian Woman Writer. Ithaca & London: Cornel UP, 1993. 190. $34.95 US (cloth); $13.95 US (paper). As black feminist critics like Gwendolyn Mae Henderson have most strikingly shown in their analysis of black women as "the other of the other," literary criticism has tended to focus on only one category of otherness at a time. Many analyzes of race or class have therefore remained blind to gender; while, conversely, a focus on gender has led to the elision of class, or of the racist and imperialist ideologies that Gayatri Spivak condemned in her critique of white feminist criticism of Jane Eyre. Despite the singular focus on "gender difference" implied by the subtitle ofBeyond the Pale, Elsie B. Michie explicitly sets out to counteract the limitations of such a critical monologism by employing a "double focus" (13) that combines constructions of gender with "other discursive structures" (2). Her "intent" — and it is an intent she very successfully translates into practice — is not simply to consider the differing definitions of femininity negotiated by nineteenth-century women writers at varying historical moments, but "to analyze how discourses having to do with gender work together with discourses having to do with politics, economics, colonial thinking, or class relations" (7). The historical range ofBeyond the Pale, which extends from 1818 to 1870, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to George Eliot's Middlemarch, facilitates Michie's pursuit of her intent So too does the interdisciplinary nature of her exploration, combined with her detailed attention to changing historical circumstances and discourses. "As one moves from decade to decade," of the nineteenth century, she observes, "one can see that economic and social debates change their emphasis from production in the early 1800s, to class difference and property owning at midcentury, to difference in access to culture and education in the latter half of the century" (14). Michie posits a succession of hegemonic models of gender difference functioning in conjunction with these economic and social debates. Each of the five women writers she considers "was excluded from a realm implicitly defined as masculine because she was imprisoned within a limiting definition of femininity" (4), but these definitions vary as "what is repressed or denied" by the dominant culture changes (1). Another selection of autiiors and/or texts than those chosen by Michie might well produce a differing historical pattern than the one she discerns. Nevertheless, the transitions she describes from debate over production in the early nineteenth century, to class conflict at midcentury, to controversy over access to culture in the latter half of the century are clearly exemplified in her analysis of Reviews195 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Charlotte Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, and George Eliot's Middlemarch. "During die period when Shelley and die Romantic poets were writing, the English economy was becoming increasingly dependent on the production of commodities" (20); as a result, Michie argues, Frankenstein reflects a culture in which "economic anxieties and fantasies were focused more on die arena of production than on that of class difference" (26). But whereas "die Romantic poets" responded to "what diey saw as die increasing materialism of their time" by privileging "the spiritual, ideal or abstract over die material" (22), Shelley, by virtue of her gender, writes from die position of materiality they repress. (Ann Mellor's Romanticism and Gender suggests that manyfemale Romantic poets may have written from a similar position, but since it appeared in the same year as Michie's study, her assumption that "the Romantic poets" are the "major" male poets of the traditional canon is understandable.) Michie convincingly demonstrates how Frankenstein "engages die same kind of issues of alienation and labor which Marx deals widi in his early critical responses to Hegel" (25), though some might question aspects of the analogy she draws between Victor Frankenstein and die worker alienated from die product of his own labor (25-7). In some respects, at least, Victor seems more analogous to die engineer-entrepreneur of early industrialization than to the factory worker. Michie also reads Frankenstein, and particularly Shelley's introduction, as proleptic of Pierre Macherey's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 194-199
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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