Rereading Women by Sandra M. Gilbert (thoughts)
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.)