Still mad American women writers and the feminist imagination, 1950-2020

Sandra M. Gilbert

Book - 2021

"A brilliant, sweeping history of the contemporary women's movement told through the lives and works of the literary women who shaped it. Forty years after their first groundbreaking work of feminist literary theory, The Madwoman in the Attic, award-winning collaborators Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar map the literary history of feminism's second wave. In Still Mad, they offer lively readings of major works by such writers as Sylvia Plath, Lorraine Hansberry, Adrienne Rich, Urs...ula K. Le Guin, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Toni Morrison. To address shifting social attitudes over seven decades, they discuss polemics by thinkers from Kate Millett and Susan Sontag to Audre Lorde, Andrea Dworkin, and Judith Butler. As Gilbert and Gubar chart feminist gains-including creative new forms of protests and changing attitudes toward gender and sexuality-they show how the legacies of second wave feminists, and the misogynistic culture they fought, extend to the present. In doing so, they celebrate the diversity and urgency of women who have turned passionate rage into powerful writing"--

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New York, N.Y. : W.W. Norton & Company, Inc [2021]
First edition
Physical Description
xiii, 441 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 359-412) and index.
Main Author
Sandra M. Gilbert (author)
Other Authors
Susan Gubar, 1944- (author)
  • Introduction. The possible and the impossible
  • Stirrings in the fifties.
  • Midcentury separate spheres ;
  • Race, rebellion, and reaction
  • Eruptions in the sixties.
  • Three angry voices ;
  • The sexual revolution and the Vietnam War
  • Awakenings in the seventies.
  • Protesting patriarchy ;
  • Speculative poetry, speculative fiction ;
  • Bonded and bruised sisters
  • Revisions in the eighties and nineties.
  • Identity politics ;
  • Inside and outside the ivory closet
  • Recessions/revivals in the twenty-first century.
  • Older and younger generations ;
  • Resurgence
  • Epilogue. White suits, shattered glass.
Review by Booklist Review

Gilbert and Gubar broke new ground in 1979 with what's now considered a feminist classic, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Observing that "feminism sustains itself as a profoundly imaginative endeavor," these prolific and versatile women writers return to the field with incisive and redefining inquiries into the lives and work of diverse North American literary women who faced "dizzying contradictions" and seemingly insurmountable opposition to propel feminism through the advances and backlashes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Here are Sylvia Plath, Diane di Prima, Audre Lorde, and Lorraine Hansberry tracking the slow evolution in attitudes toward gender expectations, sexuality, and race. Moving forward in time, Gilbert and Gubar consider how Susan Sontag, Adrienne Rich, Nina Simone, Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many others took on sexual violence, gay rights, nuclear weapons, environmental devastation, and the "feminization and racialization of poverty." Gilbert and Gubar set their pinpoint elucidations within a richly dimensional context, widening the lens to focus on Naomi Wolf, Alison Bechdel, Beyoncé, Claudia Rankine, and N. K. Jemisin. Given humanity's ongoing battles for equality and justice on numerous fronts, Shulamith Firestone's warning is keenly on point: "Power, however it has evolved, whatever its origins, will not be given up without a struggle."

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Literary critics Gilbert and Gubar analyze the cultural legacy of feminism's second wave in this comprehensive if uneven update to The Madwoman in the Attic (1979). They place major works by Sylvia Plath, Diane DiPrima, and Audre Lorde in the cultural context of the 1950s and '60s, and dive deep into the feminist literature of the '70s, including the antipatriarchal writings of Kate Millett, the poetry of Adrienne Rich, and the speculative fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Reactionary conservatism inspired the emergence of queer theory in the '90s, though the knotty philosophical formulations of scholars including Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick reflected a "growing divide between feminists inside the academy and those outside it." Casting contemporary feminism as a resurgence of the second wave filtered through a broader set of concerns, Gilbert and Gubar discuss Rebecca Solnit's response to mansplaining, Claudia Rankine's emotional connections to the Black Lives Matter movement, and N.K. Jemisin's environmentally centered feminist fantasies. The authors' astute selections and skilled close readings are rewarding, but their devaluing of ideas that have emerged since the '70s will frustrate younger feminists. Still, this is a well-informed and accessible survey of the literature of modern feminism. (Aug.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Gilbert and Gubar, renowned for their 1979 work of feminist literary theory The Madwoman in the Attic, here examine 70 years of work (1950--2020) by American women writers and theorists of feminism's second wave. They write that, despite social and political advancements, women remain "mad" at the enduring barriers that stymie their progress in many areas. Their book explores this "madness" and provides in-depth analysis of a wide range of literature and theory. The thoroughly researched chapters examine Margaret Atwood, Alison Bechdel, Judith Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Audre Lorde, Kate Millett, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath, and Adrienne Rich, among others. Gilbert and Gubar weave the political and social attributes of each decade into their literary analysis to illustrate how feminist thought and the nation changed under the societal transformations wrought by the civil rights movement, sexual revolution, Vietnam War, emergence of the New Right, Me Too movement, and other momentous events. Against these settings, writers challenged patriarchal norms and authority, the book argues. Later chapters discuss theories of intersectionality, poststructuralism, and trans identity that are reshaping feminist concepts along racial, ethnic, and linguistic lines. Despite challenges and social/political oscillations, this excellent book demonstrates the ways that feminism has persisted. VERDICT Highly recommended for anyone interested in American literature or women's studies.--Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Four decades after their influential book, The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar offer a comprehensive, evolutionary update. In their latest illuminating collaboration, the authors seek to show "how generations of literary women tapped the enigmas of their own lives to shape visions of cultural transformation." In the 1950s, young women experienced "extraordinary confusions," as their "lives reflected but also rebelled against the conformity of the decade." "Feminism incubated" in the lives and writings of Sylvia Plath, Diane di Prima (the "feminist beatnik"), Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and Audre Lorde. It continued to erupt in the 1960s, especially with Adrienne Rich's politically engaged poetry and Nina Simone's "ribald jokes and daring garb," which reflected "a shift in both racial and sexual attitudes." The sexual revolution and the maelstrom created by the Vietnam War brought forceful voices to the forefront in the works of Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown. Susan Sontag welcomed the rise of new forms of female eroticism and leftist politics while Joan Didion "would deplore them." Gilbert and Gubar call 1968 "feminism's annus mirabilis" as protests sparked the women's liberation movement, here and abroad. Denise Levertov's activist poetry and clashes between feminism and the Black Power movement captured the public's attention. The 1970s brought the publication of Kate Millett's "landmark" book of feminist literary criticism, the controversial Sexual Politics, and bestselling feminist-infused novels by Toni Morrison, Erica Jong, and Rita Mae Brown. Ms. magazine and Judy Chicago's "celebratory artwork," The Dinner Party, were born. In the 1980s and '90s, feminism would take hold in "parts of the entertainment world and in the academy." Andrea Dworkin took on sexual violence, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler battled the "hetero-/homosexual divide." More recently, Claudia Rankine, N.K. Jemisin, and others have worked to create alliances with the Black Lives Matter movement. Gilbert and Gubar deftly explore decades of political and cultural history to fashion this timely and valuable book. A well-rendered who's-who guide to the contemporary women's movement. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.