The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century Literary Imagination
Strengths and limitations of second –wave feminism. Pulled between separatists and assimilationist tendencies (disavow the given order and form their own communities or striving for equal treatment. The Madwoman in the Attic reflects the pressures from both sides. All parties assumed that all women shared a set of similar experiences and that patriarchy is essentially the same everywhere. This has been challenged later on by Barbara Smith or Judith Butler. The Madwoman in the Attic is a reference to Bertha, Rochester’s hidden first wife. Se stands for everything the woman writer must try to repress to write books acceptable by male standards. Psychological approach to literature. Focus on the psychic cost of repression and on bodily symptoms resulting from that societal oppression. The woman who speaks out is branded an “active monster”, the woman that remains silent risks madness. Gilbert and Gubar attended to the strategies women had adopted to survive in a male dominated society, thus focusing on the world that most women inhabit. Recovery of women’s histories and celebration of women’s successes. They opposed Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” according to which a male author felt fear he was not his own creator. Strong poets were at war with their precursors. Literary Oedipal struggle model, typically patriarchal. He describes literary history as a warfare of fathers and sons. The poetic process defined as a sexual encounter between a male poet and his female muse. It doesn’t fit women. Gilbert and Gubar talk about: Anxiety for authorship: an isolation that felt like illness, an alienation that felt like madness as women writers of the 19th century wrote in defiance of the social injunction that writing wasn’t a woman’s work. A fear that she cannot create, that because she cannot become a precursor, writing can destroy/isolate her. Women’s battle is not against their male precursors’ reading of the world but against his reading of them (women). In order to define herself as an author she must redefine the terms of her socialization, what Adrienne Rich has called re-vision: the act of looking back, of entering an old text from a new critical direction. The woman writer experiences her gender as a painful obstacle. She is victimized by the inferiorized and alternative psychology of women under patriarchy. As Elaine Showalter suggests: women writers participate in a quite different subculture from that inhabited by male writers. Contemporary women writers’ energy and authority stems from the 18th and 19th century foremothers who struggled in isolation that felt the anxiety to authorship as an illness, an alienation, a madness, a paralysis to overcome.
Criticized by their treatment of women as a unitary category and their omission of non-white women writers. Not all women had the same fundamental experiences and women writers could not be judged according to one universal standard. The exploration of difference challenged the notion of “sisterhood” (70s assumption that all women shared certain similarities and would gain political unity through their common experience of being oppressed).

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