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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 46.
- Review Date: 2009-01-05
- Reviewer: Staff
By covering the lives and careers of hundreds of American women writers of all backgrounds, this survey is ambitious and galvanizing, contributing to feminist theory without itself reading like theory. Diverse beyond easy description, these women, especially in earlier centuries, have two things in common. One is an almost universal break with patriarchal constructs. Second is gaining independence from European literary models, female as well as male. Although there have been multivolume, encyclopedic works of greater scope, like Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s Norton Anthology of Literature by Woman, this is the first guide and history ever attempted by one scholar working solo. With a generally chronological approach (including a handful of sensible deviations), Showalter’s Baedeker showcases the rise and fall of styles and genres. Lives and careers of superstars such as Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Pearl S. Buck and Toni Morrison are put into high relief. In Showalter’s book, the voices of several hundred other authors, ranging from Phillis Wheatley and Julia Ward Howe to Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Grace Metalious and James Tiptree Jr., sing out in a monumental choral orchestrated by Showalter (A Literature of Their Own), a groundbreaking feminist scholar at Princeton. (Feb. 25)
Women in the arts
One of the most exciting new books this year for literature lovers is Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. With this book, Showalter adds much-needed perspective to women's literature, putting works rediscovered by feminist literary scholars into historical context. She looks at the authors' lives, their works and the way they fit into each phase of American history. Many of the included writers were popular during their own period but written out of the literary history books in the male-dominated academy. Showalter shows respect for these "lost women," but she also evaluates these works with rigor. A Jury of Her Peers is a critical piece in the study of American literatureit's also just fun to read.