Cross-dressing the tongue
Nick Greene, I thought, remembering the story I had made about Shakespeare’s sister, said that a woman acting put him in mind of a dog dancing. Johnson repeated the phrase two hundred years later of women preaching.
(Virginia Woolf, 1929:56)
In the introduction to their ground-breaking study of the woman writer in the nineteenth century, The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar argue that culture, literary history, and literary theory have combined to exclude women, to make them passive and merely represented rather than active participants in literary creativity. They cite Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s famous remark that, if women had written stories instead of men, literature would have been very different, for then wickedness would have been seen to be at least as much a masculine as a feminine characteristic. They compare the Wife of Bath to Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, suggesting that both demonstrate “our culture’s historical confusion of literary authorship with patriarchal authority” (1979:11). Later on in their analysis, despite references to Chaucer, the Wife of Bath seems to take on a life of her own, for, unlike other represented feminine characters, she has her own “voice, ” and repeatedly utters memorable and quotable feminist maxims. Chaucer is described as giving her “a tale of her own, ” which projects “her subversive version of patriarchal institutions into the story of a furious hag” (1979:79). “Five centuries later, ” we are told, “the threat of the hag… still lurks behind the compliant paragon of women’s stories”; in the next paragraph, Gilbert and Gubar seamlessly emend “women’s stories” to “women writers” (1979:79), making the conflation