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HUMANITIES 393 the 'archetypal heroic quest/ she writes, the male hero is 'frequently given the role of restoring order to the kingdom ... What if the hero is a young woman? What can she save? Herself.' In the absence of any clear definition of 'women's spirituality/ we are left with this: blessed are the self-absorbed. On the back cover this book advertises itself as an 'unending story of rebirth and reaffirmation,' but it left me feeling saddened. I am saddened by the wrenching stories of abuse, by the fact that the editors did not expect them, and by the muddy writing that will ensure that many remain unread. Most of all, I am saddened by the relentless individualism which comes cloaked in the trappings of postmodemist dialogue. Itmay be true, as Elder insists, that these 'conversations' contain no hierarchies , but there is also no sense of conununity. The faint 'echoes' drummed up by weak editing are inadequate as a substitute for this loss. What is missing, also, is a sense of awe. Gone with the community, apparently . Regardless of what any individual has suffered, is it not when two or three are gathered together in the name of something that is greater than all of them put together - is it not then that we may feel the fleeting presence of that something that we sometimes call 'the spiritual'? This collection offers, instead, a bleakly atomistic view. Only the solitary reader is left with the burden of wanting to redeem these stories from their isolation, but with no means of doing so. There are frequent references in this book to the Goddess. Where is She when we need her most? (MAGDALENE REDEKOP) Nancy Roberts. Schools of Sympathy: Gender and Identification through the Novel MeGill-Queen's University Press. xii, 180. $49.95 cloth, $19.95 paper After reading Clarissa and Tess ofthe D'Urbervilles for her Ph.D. candidacy exams, Nancy Roberts wanted to know why she had to read these books: 'Why were these tales of victimization, cruelty, and suffering given such a central place in the canon?' These questions form the point of departure for a lively, thought-provoking study that, in true postmodem fashion, takes the impact of fiction seriously and may well help us to understand our society's current fascination with identity politics and victim status. Divided into two parts, Roberts's analysis concentrates solely on works that portray their heroines as victims. Part 1 examines four novels by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ma1e writers: Clarissa, Tess, The Scarlet Letter, and Portrait of a Lady. Drawing overtly on Foucauldian theory, Roberts argues that these texts.can be nnderstood as mechanisms of social discipline: Each of the novels under consideration acts as a sort of school of sympathy, a place in which emotions are coached and disciplined ... Readers see sympathy displayed through the performance of certain key characters who show us how we, in turn, might perform it. Reading is the performance through which we get a chance to rehearse such feelings, try different roles, play out various emotional 394 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 responses. The novels, then, as sites of instruction, come to serve as social agents doing social work, and our lessons in becoming good subjects necessarily involve lessons in how to act and feel as gendered subjects. In part 2, the focus shifts to the twentieth century. Here the study investigates how contemporary feminist writers 'talk back' to a tradition that has positioned them and their heroines as passive victims. Four contemporary texts provide a useful counterpoint to the earlier novels: two works by Margaret Atwood (Surfacing and The Handmaid's Tale) and two by Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories and Nights at the Circus). The strength of Roberts's study lies in its clarity and elegant design. In its analysis of each fiction, the study makes four interrelated claims: first, that the emotional effect of the novel is 'plotted and enforced'; second, that the emotional exchange is structured as an 'inherently male activity'; third, that these texts position the suffering heroine as a 'token or item of exchange between men'; and finally, that the female protagonist's power rests...


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pp. 393-394
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