Gilbert & Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years

Gilbert & Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years

Gilbert & Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years

Gilbert & Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years


When it was published in 1979, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination was hailed as a pathbreaking work of criticism, changing the way future scholars would read Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, the Brontës, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. This thirtieth-anniversary collection adds both valuable reassessments and new readings and analyses inspired by Gilbert and Gubar's approach. It includes work by established and up-and-coming scholars, as well as retrospective accounts of the ways in which The Madwoman in the Attic has influenced teaching, feminist activism, and the lives of women in academia.

These contributions represent both the diversity of today's feminist criticism and the tremendous expansion of the nineteenth-century canon. The authors take as their subjects specific nineteenth- and twentieth-century women writers, the state of feminist theory and pedagogy, genre studies, film, race, and postcolonialism, with approaches ranging from ecofeminism to psychoanalysis. And although each essay opens Madwoman to a different page, all provocatively circle back--with admiration and respect, objections and challenges, questions and arguments--to Gilbert and Gubar's groundbreaking work.

The essays are as diverse as they are provocative. Susan Fraiman describes how Madwoman opened the canon, politicized critical practice, and challenged compulsory heterosexuality, while Marlene Tromp tells how it elegantly embodied many concerns central to second-wave feminism. Other chapters consider Madwoman 's impact on Milton studies, on cinematic adaptations of Wuthering Heights, and on reassessments of Ann Radcliffe as one of the book's suppressed foremothers.

In the thirty years since its publication, The Madwoman in the Attic has potently informed literary criticism of women's writing: its strategic analyses of canonical works and its insights into the interconnections between social environment and human creativity have been absorbed by contemporary critical practices. These essays constitute substantive interventions into established debates and ongoing questions among scholars concerned with defining third-wave feminism, showing that, as a feminist symbol, the raging madwoman still has the power to disrupt conventional ideas about gender, myth, sexuality, and the literary imagination.


Sandra M. Gilbert

Note: Because Susan Gubar has been coping with a serious illness, I’ve drafted this foreword on my own. But I hope I’ve spoken for both of us in recounting the excitement, energy, and even joy with which we wrote The Madwoman in the Attic, and, equally important, the pleasure that the responsiveness of our readers inspires in us.

At the risk of hyperbole, we want to say that there’s a kind of ecstasy for us in reading Annette Federico’s collection, just as we experienced a kind of ecstasy in writing Madwoman. No, not ecstasy meaning a fashionable street drug, and not ecstasy in the sexual, mystical sense so famously defined by John Donne. But yes, “ecstasy” signifying, as the American Heritage Dictionary puts it, “intense joy or delight” and having as its root the “Greek ekstasis” meaning both “astonishment” and a kind of displacement of the ordinary. It isn’t, after all, usual to read a book about a book that one wrote many years ago, and it’s especially joyful, delightful, and even astonishing when the writers whose essays are included in that new book are kind, sympathetic— indeed flattering—and of course (from our point of view) exceptionally astute in their analyses of our thought. But then, as the contributors to Federico’s volume seem so clearly to understand, our experience in writing Madwoman wasn’t a quotidian scholarly experience. the book—or rather, the idea and plan for the book—seized us in a way that we felt was truly astonishing: we were taken out of ourselves, that is, transported out of our “regular” academic and personal lives by a series of epiphanies that altered our thinking, our careers, and even our selves with what now seems like exceptional speed. in the poem about Elizabeth Barrett Browning that begins . . .

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