Rewriting the Word: American Women Writers and the Bible

Rewriting the Word: American Women Writers and the Bible

Rewriting the Word: American Women Writers and the Bible

Rewriting the Word: American Women Writers and the Bible

Synopsis

Women writers have often felt alienated from both the Bible and the canonical literary tradition that has been built on its foundation. Yet contemporary American women writers seem to be as haunted by the Bible as their nineteenth-century predecessors. This study of feminist biblical revision argues that women writers' contentious dialogues with the Bible ultimately reconstruct the writers' own basis of authority. The author traces the evolution of this phenomenon from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and analyzes biblical revision in works by Emily Dickinson, H.D., Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Gloria Naylor, and Toni Morrison.

Excerpt

In the beginning of American feminist biblical revision was the Word, the same Word that brought the Puritans to these shores and that so decidedly shaped American literature. in the beginning also was American women's imaginative grappling with the meaning of the Word and the significance of their own words. in my attempt to write a genesis for feminist biblical revision in America--to write a story of origin for the confrontation with the Bible that this study explores--I cannot disentangle text from interpretation.

All such stories of origin, of course, are mythic. the reality is that this story begins in medias res, in the middle, where American women writers find themselves struggling with a Bible that they inherit but that never seems as monovocal or monolithic as church officials and policy makers have suggested. Even defining exactly what the Bible signifies for writers is a dicey proposition. the text of the King James Version or the Revised Standard, for example, coexists in our cultural imagination with popularizations, bastardizations, literary echoes, and the long and complicated history of conflicting theological interpretations. For instance, the opening of this preface--"in the beginning ... was the Word"--actually echoes St. John's gloss on Genesis, rather than the opening of the Bible. Confronting the Bible in American culture has al-

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