History/GWS 249 Reading Guide

Women Writing Women's Lives:  "When the hope for closure is abandoned ...." (Heilbrun):

  • Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing a Woman’s Life (1988; 2008 reprint edition with an introduction by Katha Pollitt), Ch. 4-7 (76-131).

Questions forthcoming.

 “America is now wholly given over to a d****d mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash—and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.  What is the mystery of these innumberable editions of The Lamplighter [by Maria Susanna Cummins], and other books neither better nor worse?  Worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the hundred thousand.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne, Letter to his publisher, William D. Ticknor (1855).

She didn't write it.  But if it's clear she did the deed. . .  She wrote it, but she shouldn't have.   (It's political, sexual, masculine, feminist.)  She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.  (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family.  Other women!)  She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.  (“Jane Eyre,  Poor dear, that's all she ever . . .”)  She wrote it, but she isn't really an artist, and it isn't really art.  (It's a thriller, a romance, a children's book.  It's sci fi!)  She wrote it, but she had help.  (Robert Browning, Branwell Bronte.  Her own “masculine side."She wrote it, but she's an anomaly.  (Woolf.  With Leonard's help . . .)  She wrote it BUT . . .    Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (Austin, Texas, 1983), cover.

“There are four ways to write a woman’s life: the woman herself may tell it, in what she chooses to call an autobiography [or memoir, or letters]; she may tell it in what she chooses to call fiction [or poetry]; a biographer, woman or man, may write the woman’s life in what is called a biography; or the woman may write her own life in advance of living it, unconsciously, and without recognizing or naming the process.  Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life (New York, 1988), 11.

When the hope for closure is abandoned, when there is an end to fantasy, adventure for women will begin.  Endings—the kind Austen tacked onto her novels—are for romance or for daydreams, but not for life.”  Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life (New York, 1988), 130.