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Rereading Women by Sandra M. Gilbert (thoughts)

December 14, 2011

Because I don’t have an academic literature background, I’d never heard of Sandra Gilbert before I randomly pulled Rereading Women off my library’s new releases shelf (such a pretty cover!). That means I went into this essay collection without any idea of the treat in store for me! Gilbert is an English lit scholar, with a feminist focus; she co-wrote the book Madwoman in the Attic (which has been on my wish list for too long) and began developing women’s lit classes in the 1970s when women’s studies had yet to even appear. Rereading Women combines a variety of essays written over the course of her career: some are more personal, some are more lit criticism, but they’re all well-written and fascinating. Gilbert’s love for, and celebration of, women authors (admittedly solely of the white, Anglo-American variety) really comes through. The combination of such enthusiasm with an intelligent grounding and background makes for excellent writing: since her focus is on ‘literary grandmothers’ and establishing a kind of women’s canon, I had at least passing acquaintance with all of the authors she discusses, which I think is good for a book aimed at general readers. The book’s structure is also excellent: it opens with the autobiographical “Becoming a Feminist Together-and Apart,” so I felt like I really got to know Gilbert before diving into the more academic essays. Also as a reluctant poetry reader, I especially enjoyed her essays on poets: it helped me see another way to approach a poem and made me glad that I have a copy of Emily Dickinson’s complete poems.

At the end of the day, reading this book felt like attending a lecture series by a charismatic, smart professor. I am not always naturally inclined towards literary criticism, but I love Gilbert’s approach and cannot wait to read more of her work. As an interested, reasonably intelligent layperson, I got a ton of enjoyment out of Rereading Women, and I highly recommend it to similar readers. If you have any curiosity about the intersection of literature and feminism, do track this down! As for me, I’ll be reading The Madwoman in the Attic very soon.

Suggested Companion Reads

  • In My Father’s House by Kwame Anthony Appiah (I still haven’t managed to blog this, but it’s an excellent essay collection concerning literature and Africa.)
  • An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis (Obviously, Lewis does not have the same background as Gilbert! But I loved this little book about his approach to literary criticism.)
  • Virginia Woolf’s Nose: Essays on Biography by Hermione Lee (I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I have it waiting for me at the library! Lee is an excellent biographer (her Virginia Woolf remains my favourite biography ever), so I’m sure I’ll a peek ‘behind the scenes’ of her craft.)
15 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim M permalink
    December 14, 2011 7:53 am

    Fascinating! I was reading along, and thought “that name sounds familiar” but I was sure I had not read any of her books. I did a bit of online research and discovered I had her for classes when I was a student at UC Davis many years ago! I don’t know why her name stuck with me. I will definitely need to locate this book. Thank you, your blog always has something that piques my interest.

  2. December 14, 2011 12:55 pm

    Like Kim above, I also took her Women in Literature class while I was at UC Davis. She’s amazing! We used her Norton Anthology of Literature by Women as our main text, and it blew my mind. I’m trying to remember (it’s been eight years or so), but her analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (one of the creepiest stories I have ever read) stayed with me for a long, long time. I hardly ever kept textbooks, but I still have that Norton Anthology. On top of all that, she’s a really nice person too.

    • December 15, 2011 10:43 pm

      I’m jealous of you too! She edited that Norton anthology, right?

    • Kim M permalink
      December 16, 2011 3:30 pm

      It’s been *ummm* 25 years since I was in college, but I still remember “The Yellow Wallpaper”, too. I had the Norton Anthology on my shelves for years. I believe it is gone now…

  3. Mirjam permalink
    December 14, 2011 1:04 pm

    You really made me curious about Gilbert’s book, thanks a lot.

  4. December 14, 2011 4:09 pm

    Oh I enjoyed The Madwoman in the Attic years ago. Sandra Gilbert is one of those critics who really engages the reader in a good, smart way. She’s a role model! I’d love to read these essays and will look out for a copy.

  5. December 14, 2011 4:20 pm

    I’ve just been given “Reading Women” by Stephanie Staal – Gilbert will be next on the list!

  6. December 14, 2011 7:43 pm

    This sounds really great, so glad you brought it to my attention. Too bad her focus is so Anglo-American though!

    • December 15, 2011 10:45 pm

      I wasn’t terribly bothered by it, since I understand that PhDs require a lot of specialisation! It’d be fun to find a similar author with a non Anglo-American focus though. :)

  7. December 14, 2011 9:29 pm

    I can’t resist the Hermione Lee book…because it’s her (she’s a rock star to me!) and because of that title!

  8. December 15, 2011 5:25 pm

    I have a copy of Madwoman in the Attic — have been meaning to read it ever since my husband picked it up for me, knowing it’s the kind of thing I’d love :) But I hadn’t heard of this one, so now I’ll have to find it as a companion read; it sounds great. Haven’t read any “lit crit” in a while and this sounds just about right!

  9. December 16, 2011 9:23 am

    just tried to leave a comment and told me comments were closed? Here I try again.

    This sounds like a nice balance of literary criticism and fascinting reading. I’ve added it to my “for later” list for when I get a chance to read essays again…

  10. December 17, 2011 10:35 am

    I did read Madwoman years back, and have long considered it a pivotal work, and when I picked a copy of this one up, it felt very Madwoman-y to me. I think I was expecting something that felt “new” and maybe it was just my mood (it was high summer…Gilbert’s style might just have been too much for me to take on while simple acts like walking to the corner seemed to require incredible exertion in the humidity and heat). If you jump to Madwoman in the near future, I’ll be curious to see how you think they compare…


  1. The Literary Horizon: The Madwoman in the Attic, Rereading Women « The Literary Omnivore

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