Thomas Austenfeld, Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet (editors). Writing American Women. SPELL 23, 2009
Table of Contents
Mary Loeffelholz (Northeastern University)
Sisters of Avon: The Poetess in the World Economy of Letters, 21
Dahia Messara (Mulhouse)
The Competing Voices of “Narrator,” “Author,” and Publisher in Women’s Captivity Narratives, 41
Mariacristina Natalia Bertoli (Fribourg)
A Muse of One’s Own: The Relationship Between Androgyny and Creativity in Little Women, 61
Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet (Lausanne)
Louisa May Alcott’s Many Masks: An Encounter Between Feminism and Queer Theory, 81
Boris Vejdovsky (Lausanne)
Henry and Edith: The Artist and the Model and Writing American Women, 101
Kimberly A. Frohreich (Geneva)
Writing, Performing and Gendering the Wicked Witch of the West, 121
Manuel Brito (La Laguna, Spain)
Language Poetry and Editorship in Lyn Hejinian and Carla Harryman: More Than the Gender Struggle, 141
Thomas Austenfeld (Fribourg)
Locked Up Underground: Kay Boyle and Prisons, 161
Ilona Sigrist (Lausanne)
“Living in Quotation Marks”: The Rhetorical Second Self of Mavis Gallant and Nancy Huston, 181
Francesca de Lucia (Oxford)
The Hybrid Identity of an American Woman. Ethnicity and Gender in Kym Ragusa’s The Skin between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty and Belonging, 201
Sämi Ludwig (Mulhouse)
From Phallic Binary to Cognitive Wager: Empathy and Interiority in Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, 221
Notes on Contributors, 241
Index of Names, 249
Sisters of Avon: The Poetess in the World Economy of Letters
This essay examines three women poets – Jane Ermina Locke, Lucy Larcom, and Amy Lowell – who together span American literary history from the 1830s through the emergence of international modernism. Locke, Larcom, and Lowell had a geography in common: all three are linked to Lowell, Massachusetts, one of the first industrial cities of the United States. They also had in common an interest in longer poetic forms, including what this essay calls “anthology form” – a loose, baggy poetic genre of the nineteenth century that Amy Lowell translated into the beginning of the twentieth – as well as an intense self-consciousness about the vexed relationship between their own writerly ambitions and the much-derogated figure of the poetess. Locke, Larcom and Lowell each used “anthology form” as a means of exploring both their individual social locations as women poets and the role of the poetess in the world economy of letters.
The Competing Voices of “Narrator,” “Author,” and “Publisher” in Women’s Captivity Narratives
Many critics have questioned Mary Rowlandson’s authorship and postulated the existence of a strong male voice behind that of the ex-captive. This essay compares Rowlandson’s A True History to other Puritan women’s captivity texts written by influential men of the time such as “A Narrative of Hannah Dustan’s Notable Deliverance from Captivity” by Cotton Mather, and “A Narrative of Hannah Swarton Containing Wonderful Passages Relating to Her Captivity and Deliverance,” also by Cotton Mather. Is a Puritan female ideal represented by Rowlandson’s passive attitude of a vulnerable woman who relied on domestic tasks to survive her captivity and to make her captors happy, or is it represented by the rebellious Dustan who killed and scalped her captors to escape from their hands? Likewise, did the Puritan captive women speak their minds or did they remain passive when men appropriated their experiences to enhance the values of a patriarchal society?
A Muse of One’s Own: The Relationship Between Androgyny and Creativity in Little Women
Mariacristina Natalia Bertoli
The long-lasting debate about androgyny was stirred up afresh by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Orlando at the beginning of the last century. Yet, this concept has still not been disambiguated, as 20thand 21st-century critics have interpreted it in manifold and even contradictory ways. This essay seeks to redefine the concept of androgyny in the light of its close connection with creativity. The connection was highlighted by a number of 19th-century authors such as Louisa May Alcott, whose Little Women may be interpreted as a Bildungsroman in which the concept of androgyny plays a prominent role. By presenting this novel’s implicit view of androgyny as grounded in the Transcendentalist Weltanschauung and, at the same time, as foreshadowing Woolf’s idea of androgyny as the source of creativity, the essay attempts to remove androgyny away from the indeterminacy surrounding it for most of the twentieth century
Louisa May Alcott’s Many Masks: An Encounter Between Feminism and Queer Theory
Agnieszka Soltisyk Monnet
This essay makes Louisa May Alcott’s multifaceted work into a pretext for an encounter between feminist and queer theory-oriented literary analysis. Alcott’s work lends itself particularly well to such a comparative reading not only because it is typically focused on unconventional young women but because it explicitly makes gender identity, social conformity and rebellion, and female (and to a lesser extent, male) homosociality key issues. While much has been written about the ambivalent gendering in Little Women (1868) and the powerful heroines of Alcott’s more gothic fiction such as “Behind a Mask” (1866), this essay examines not only these well-known texts but also Alcott’s two more socially exploratory novels, Moods (1865, 1882) and Work (1873), as well as other lesser known stories. Special attention is given to the queer moments and possibilities in Alcott’s writing and a case made for reading her as a queer writer even though she has never been considered as one and rarely appears in queer literary histories (except, on occasion, as the creator of the famous tomboy “Jo”). The insights about Alcott made available by feminism are placed side by side those suggested by queer theory in order to understand how these two approaches can offer complementary readings.
Henry and Edith: The Artist and the Model and Writing American Women
This article is a study of women as writing and reading subjects in the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton. It also examines how women become aesthetic objects of desire and of writing, in particular in James’s novels and stories concerned with art and aesthetics. Writing American women is something James himself, but also his protagonists, do a lot, often with unforeseen consequences. Many of the stories written both by Henry and Edith complicate the relation between an apparently passive model and an active artist; from the tableau vivant in the House of Mirth to the portrait of Mariam in “The Story of a Masterpiece,” women as written models become in their own way the writers of their life stories.
Writing, Performing, Gendering the Wicked Witch of the West
Kimberly A. Frohreich
While the fairy tale The Wizard of Oz depicts women in positions of power, I argue that the dichotomy between the good witch(es) and the Wicked Witch, in both L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel and MGM’s 1939 film, validates one kind of femininity and stigmatizes as masculine, monstrous, and “other” the woman who strays from her gender role. Second-wave feminism as well as postmodernism have re-evaluated the figure of the witch as “other,” leading to the two contemporary texts, Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and the 2003 Broadway musical, Wicked, in which the Wicked Witch is no longer portrayed as the villain. However, while Maguire’s novel fundamentally questions identity categories, the Broadway musical merely uses the Wicked Witch character to validate a new kind of femininity, that of the post-feminist model of “girl power.” In this paper, I explore how the Wicked Witch is or is not portrayed as “other” in these four texts, and how such portrayals either reinforce or challenge the gender binary.
Language Poetry and Editorship in Lyn Hejinian and Carla Harryman: More Than the Gender Struggle
This essay examines the role of two innovative women poets, Carla Harryman and Lyn Hejinian, as editors, respectively, of the little magazines Qu and Poetics Journal, and shows how they have become exemplary of the controversial issue of women’s presence within the language group. These magazines became the dynamic means through which Hejinian and Harryman contributed powerfully to a small poetic community in San Francisco that has become well known worldwide. They responded, discussed, and verified by simple experience that in an age of cultural change the critical construction of a new poetry would embrace theoretical debates and practice. Reflecting on larger gender issues that similarly affected male and female poets was the common ground for these women editors. They were involved in the complex transition from the lyrical and speech-based poetics of the 1960s to a poetry drawn to poststructuralist issues like the exchange value of language, and the social understanding of the self.
Locked Up Underground: Kay Boyle and Prisons
Kay Boyle’s characteristic combination of literature and political activism extended through her entire life. Her final novel, The Underground Woman, published in 1975, should be seen together with her 1977 essay, “Report from Lock-Up,” as documents reflecting on her prison experiences subsequent to her participation in anti-Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s. Boyle’s concern with prisons covers the period from 1967 to 1977 and includes essays about Alcatraz, Attica, and San Francisco, in which she discusses literal and metaphorical imprisonment as well as other forms of deprivation of liberty. This essay situates Boyle’s “prison writings” in the larger contexts of the American literary tradition and places them in relation to today’s concerns raised in connection with academic efforts to bring literacy to prison inmates in the United States.
“Living in Quotation Marks”: The Rhetorical Second Self of Mavis Gallant and Nancy Huston
In their autobiographical writings, both Nancy Huston and Mavis Gallant construct a rhetorical “second self” to perform the feeling of otherness – the gap between themselves and their society – that constitutes them as women writers. Their autobiographical writings take the guise of various other genres, situating themselves between what Gallant calls the Zero of autobiography and the One of fiction, letter, or journal. The “I” they create is a child in a vanished city or an “impostor” in a foreign culture and language, destined to “not only speak but also live in quotation marks,” as Huston has written. Through these images the writers articulate versions of themselves performing the “real” as though it were other. The autobiographical theory of John Paul Eakin and Georges Gusdorf and Paul de Man’s discussion of irony are used to elucidate the “doubled” self as it is constructed and performs itself rhetorically through specific images of containment (for example, in houses). Images of place (elsewhere, exile) and time (the past, from which the present narrating self has “escaped”) figure the “self-creation” of a woman writer.
The Hybrid Identity of an American Woman: Ethnicity and Gender in Kym Ragusa’s The Skin Between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty and Belonging
Francesca de Lucia
Kym Ragusa is a documentary filmmaker of Italian American and African American descent. In her memoir, she describes not only her own growth as an individual with a mixed background, but also evokes the histories of her paternal and maternal families. This essay focuses on three particularly relevant aspects: the elaboration of Ragusa’s identity as a biracial woman in relation to racialized ideas of beauty and feminity, the figures of female empowerment represented by Ragusa’s two grandmothers as well as by the archetypal characters of Persephone and the Madonna of Mount Carmel, and on the influence of Ragusa’s filmmaking on her writing, which indeed borrows structures and techniques from cinematic language. The Skin Between Us blends different literary and cultural traditions drawn from the two minorities constituting Ragusa’s background. Gender here is complicated by a double ethnic allegiance.
From Phallic Binary to Cognitive Wager: Empathy and Interiority in Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers
This paper argues that Yamanaka’s use of distressing imagery of sexual violence and violence towards animals can be understood in ways that go beyond the deconstruction of various binaries of power. In its concrete references this imagery takes relationships of difference from a merely symbolic dimension towards one of performance and pragmatics. This shift manifests itself most forcefully in the many examples of empathy that are based on the attribution of interiority to the Other – in this case mainly animals, who are turned from objects to be acted on into subjects with feelings and a potential for self-expression. This entails a concern for the reframing of phallic authority, which is ultimately expressed in a blinding of the father that changes his relationship with his daughter. The “downward” empathy with animals is hence complemented by an “upward” empathy that allows for a reorientation beyond binary semiotics, i.e., for a new “view” of dialogic reality construction and more egalitarian relationships based on a cognitive model.