No Man's Land: Sexchanges

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Yale University Press, 1991 - Literary Criticism - 483 pages
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What might sex be, and what could sex roles be, in the midst of a war between men and women? What is a "woman," a "man," an "androgyne"? Such questions haunt the works Gilbert and Gubar study in Sexchanges, the second volume of their landmark trilogy No Man's Land. Investigating the connections between the feminine and the modern made by writers from Rider Haggard, Olive Schreiner, and Kate Chopin to Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and Caryl Churchill, they show that the "no man's land" of the Great War became a metaphor for a crisis of masculinity-a crisis that was already associated with the decline of imperialism and the rise of the femme fatale at the fin de siecle, with the newly visible lesbian literary community that was formed in those years and with what many thinkers increasingly understood to be the artifice of gender. Throughout this century, the therefore argue, images of sexchanges-explored in fictions about transvestism and transsexualism-constituted a set of striking tropes through which male and female writers sought to combat one another's conceptions of the relation between anatomy and destiny. "[This book] will set the direction of feminist criticism for the nest generation of students and scholars."-Walter Kendrick, New York Times Book Review "For the scholar, it will become an indispensable critical text, but it also will reward the thoughtful general reader with a great deal of insight into this extraordinarily complex century in which we live."-Deirdre Bair, Philadelphia Inquirer "A provocative work, characterized by . . . wit and erudition."-Elyse Blankley, Women's Review of Books
 

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No man's land: the place of the woman writer in the twentieth century

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In this first of a projected three-volume study of late 19th- and 20th-century writing by American and English men and women, the authors of The Madwoman in the Attic outline the terrain of a ... Read full review

Contents

The Agon of the Femme Fatale
3
The Colonies of the New Woman
47
Kate Chopins Fantasy
83
Feminization and Its Discontents
121
Willa Cathers Lost Horizons
169
Lesbian Double Talk
215
Literary Men Literary Women and the Great
258
Transvestism as Metaphor
324
Notes
377
Index
437
Acknowledgments following
455
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Gender-Paradoxien
Judith Lorber
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About the author (1991)

A poet, feminist critic, and professor of English at the University of California at Davis, Gilbert received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1968. Her early work addressed canonical male figures, but in the 1970s she began to focus on women writers from a feminist perspective, teaming up with Susan Gubar in what has proven to be a very influential collaboration. In 1979 they published their first joint efforts, a collection of feminist essays on women poets, Shakespeare's Sisters, and The Madwoman in the Attic, an exploration of major nineteenth-century women writers, which has had a major role in defining feminist scholarship. This massive volume takes its title from Jane Eyre's "mad" and monstrous double, Bertha, hidden away in the attic by Jane's would-be lover, Rochester; Gilbert and Gubar see figures like Bertha as resisting patriarchy, subversive surrogates for the docile heroines who populate nineteenth-century fiction by women. Although Gilbert and Gubar's ideas have been very influential, many critics, particularly poststructuralists, have taken issue with them. For Gilbert and Gubar, a woman writer is by definition angry, and her text will express that anger, albeit in disguised or distorted form. Reading hinges on knowing the sex of the author, rather than on a careful analysis of the text itself and the multivalency of its language. Gilbert and Gubar's work is part of a debate about essentialist and antiessentialist feminist theories, which has addressed issues like "the signature" (the significance of knowledge about the author and authorial intentions) and gendered expression in general.

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