This book represents my attempt to comprehend feminism's diverse traditions as I have encountered them in my reading, writing, and teaching. I began my career exploring ways in which three different literary critical approaches—Marxist, archetypal, and neo-Aristotelian—could be used in the practice of feminist literary criticism and illustrating each through three different readings of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Feminism itself, however, remained a fairly monolithic concept in my mind. As I shifted my attention to feminist reader-response criticism and feminist rhetoric and composition, though, and as I began to teach graduate courses in feminist theory, I could not ignore feminism's contradictions and complexities. However, my attempts to find satisfying descriptions of feminist traditions were often frustrated by treatment of feminism as if it were a monolithic ideology, by counterproductive disputes, and by discussions of feminism from disciplinary perspectives that resulted in a proliferation of names that prevented interdisciplinary comprehension and exchange.
The provisional map I provide here is the result of my circuitous inquiry and of my personal and professional situations. I have a hybrid academic appointment—professor of reading and composition—and hybrid affiliations and commitments. My home base is English studies, defined broadly to include both literary studies and rhetoric and composition, and much of my work has been in feminist reader-response criticism and feminist rhetoric and composition. My department, however, is an interdisciplinary one, and the presence of faculty in fields such as philosophy, communication, linguistics, and modern languages has considerably broadened my perspective over the years. My conceptual map has also expanded as I have taught the work of writers such as Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, and Louise Rosenblatt in undergraduate and graduate courses. It became historical in emphasis as a result of attempting to contextualize the reading notebooks of Virginia Woolf and to determine how Woolf's feminism was related to her modernism. I have also had the good fortune over the years of being assigned to teach graduate seminars and a few undergraduate ones in feminist theory, and the contributions of the students in these classes have been invaluable.