How do writers and their readers imagine the future in a turbulent time of sex war and sex change? And how have transformations of gender and genre affected literary representations of "woman," "man," "family," and "society"? This final volume in Gilbert and Gubar's landmark three-part No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century argues that throughout the twentieth century women of letters have found themselves on a confusing cultural front and that most, increasingly aware of the artifice of gender, have dispatched missives recording some form of the "future shock" associated with profound changes in the roles and rules governing sexuality. Divided into two parts, Letters from the Front is chronological in organization, with the first section focusing on such writers of the modernist period as Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, and H.D., and the second devoted to authors who came to prominence after the Second World War, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and A.S. Byatt.
Embroiled in the sex antagonism that Gilbert and Gubar traced in The War of the Words and in the sexual experimentations that they studied in Sexchanges, all these artists struggled to envision the inscription of hitherto untold stories on what H.D. called "the blank pages/of the unwritten volume of the new." Through the works of the first group, Gilbert and Gubar focus in particular on the demise of any single normative definition of the feminine and the rise of masquerades of "femininity" amounting to "female female impersonation." In the writings of the second group, the critics pay special attention to proliferating revisions of the family romance--revisions significantly inflected by differences in race, class, and ethnicity--and to the rise of masquerades of masculinity, or "male male impersonation." Throughout, Gilbert and Gubar discuss the impact on literature of such crucial historical events as the Harlem Renaissance, the Second World War, and the "sexual revolution" of the sixties. What kind of future might such a past engender?
Their book concludes with a fantasia on "The Further Adventures of Snow White" in which their bravura retellings of the Grimm fairy tale illustrate ways in which future writing about gender might develop.
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(235mm x 156mm x 45mm)
Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
The final third of this feminist literary study maintains the quality of volumes I (The War of the Words, 1987) and II (Sexchanges, 1989) as it looks at women writers' exploration of our century's complex and ever-shifting cultural scene, particularly the thorny question of gender. Gilbert and Gubar take a generally chronological approach, beginning with the modernists. In their analysis, Virginia Woolf sketched scenarios challenging traditional sex roles, as well as the historical settings and the social hierarchies in which they functioned. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore were "female female impersonators" who exploited femininity's artificiality in an imaginative but uncertainly empowering way. The authors then move on to the Harlem Renaissance, arguing that such writers as Nora Zeale Hurston, Jessie Redmon Faucet, and Nella Larsen worked to reveal the "authentic (black) feminine" behind racial stereotypes and criticized (white) feminism. Intertwining the poet and her work, a chapter on HD maintains that she produced her long poems by consciously manipulating images of herself. Moving forward to WW II, Gilbert and Gubar discuss the period's "blitz on women": Cheesecake pinups on tanks and VD posters conflated sex and death, while even positive images of the women left behind were tinged with resentment. They contend that metaphors from the war, transformed into images of sexual battle, haunted the poems of Sylvia Plath, who fought toward a way of being a woman beyond the old patriarchal traditions. At once playful and thoughtful, the final chapter considers the multiplicity of women's stories via the authors' several rewrites of Snow White - e.g., the no-longer-evil queen challenges gender roles by advising Snow White to "marry the Prince but sleep with me too," while in another version a critically savvy queen realizes they're all "merely signifiers, signifying nothing." A satisfying conclusion to an ambitious project. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Sandra M. Gilbert
Sandra M. Gilbert is professor of English at the University of California at Davis. Susan Gubar is professor of English at Indiana University. They are also authors of The Madwoman in the Attic and editors of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women.