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August 16, 2014

Just Read || Feminist Literary History by Janet Todd

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Janet Todd's 'Feminist Literary History' is an excellent overview of early Anglo-American feminist criticism, particularly with regards to its early history, and to how it differs.

She takes a look at notable publications by the likes of Elaine Showalter, Kate Millett, Julia Kristeva, and many more, pointing out the positives and negatives of their arguments, but intending to show how the early feminist criticism was hostilely attacked from feminist and non-feminist arenas.

She summarises her main points best in her introduction: Her look at the history of early feminist criticism reviews in particular the rereadings of Lacan, Freud and Derrida to demolish traditional binary oppositions, while they still hold firmly to the importance of the penis for the development of these binaries and of language. She also questions how psychoanalysis has taken away the political reins of the original feminist movement and turned the horse's head to focus on interiority - a feminine trait indeed - and family rather than opening wide canonical texts to expose conservative workings of culture.

One of the most interesting features of this book was Todd's look at Mary Wollstonecraft, whose temporal location in history provided for her a background in enlightenment that was hopeful, yet at the same time bound her in her gender that left her confused, and made her writings seem too much to desire the position of dominance her male contemporaries revelled in. However, Todd states Wollstonecraft was claiming the only power aristocratic females had in hand in her time; where male aristocrats were supremely active, she claimed the feminine sexual power of passivity as her own in her writings.

Todd's second to last chapter looks at how men in feminist criticism have claimed their place in the negotiations for female power, but morosely admits that for the most part, it had been turned around to become an investigation into what was masculine, and finally concentrated on how homosexuality was also a victim in the world of hegemonic masculinity.

In her conclusion, Todd calls for feminist literary study to be recognised as the study of women affecting and becoming part of culture at particular sociohistorical times, and urges male feminists to read women as part of their studies, too.

Of course, this book was published way back in 1991, and it may be safe to assume that gender studies today makes a more far-reaching area for debate on gender.

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