Study Guide

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar Biography

Basic Information

Name

Sandra Mortola Gilbert and Susan David Gubar

Nickname

Gilbert: The Feminist's Feminist; The Madwoman's Everywoman; Susan Gubar's Other Half; Gilbert the Great

Gubar: Ms. Gubar; The Madwoman's Advocate; Sandra Gilbert's Other Half; The Inimitable Gubar

Sex

We're both female. And as female writers, we haven't always had it easy. We are part of a long tradition of women writers who have struggled to find their voice in a sea of privileged male voices—even in the 21st century. The more things change, the more they stay the same, are we right?

Home town

Gilbert: New York City—Queens, to be exact. With great Italian immigrant parents.

Gubar: Brooklyn, baby.

Work & Education

Occupation

Gilbert: Might be easier to list where I haven't taught, rather than where I have taught. I'm no academic vagabond; I'm just in high demand. I'm one of those rare cheery academics.

I can, like, actually talk to people in real life. Not everyone can get elected president of the Modern Language Association (MLA), which is like ComiCon for the literary set. (Or, you know, the "largest and most prestigious professional society for scholars of literature.")

I won't bore you by listing every university I have taught at, but here are the highlights: I started at Indiana University in the 1970s, where I met my beloved Susan. We immediately began our lifetime of collaborative work by co-teaching a class on literature by female authors.

I was only there for a year, when I beat a hasty retreat to UC Davis. From 1985 to 1989, I was the C. Barnwell Straut Chair of English at Princeton University. (BTW: Holding an endowed chair is as big a deal as it gets, so even if you don't know who the heck C. Barnwell Straut is, just know that having his name in my title makes me hot stuff.)

And that wasn't even my only endowed chair. I have been the M. H. Abrams Distinguished Visiting Professor at Cornell University and the Lurie Distinguished Visiting Professor in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. Boom.

These days, I'm a Professor Emerita in the English Department at UC Davis. I'd tell you to come visit me, but I'm not there that often. I'm too busy writing brilliant poetry to be bothered with all of that.

Gubar: I started at University of Indiana in 1973, teaching English and Women's Studies—a subject very few people had even heard of at the time. Oh, and did I mention there were only three female professors in my department back then?

I stayed at UI for many years. Then, in 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer. Smacked by serious complications from my life-saving "debulking" surgery, I had to retire in 2009.

Education

Gilbert: My B.A. is from Cornell, my M.A. from New York University, and my Ph.D. from Columbia University—in English, not Women's Studies. I had to come along and shepherd Women's Studies Departments into existence. My dissertation was on—you guessed it—D.H. Lawrence, that English novelist famous for his obsession with masculine power.

Gubar: I got a B.A. from City University of New York, an M.A. from University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. from University of Iowa—all in English literature. My dissertation looked at monsters in 18th-century poetry. Are you scared yet?

Beliefs

Political views

We are what you might call hardcore happy feminists. Now, you probably won't find us at the Washington Mall marching around, pumping some sign in the air. That's just not how we roll, politically speaking.

Our politics come out of the feminist writing we do, so we consider ourselves social activists who are living our politics… even if we're not rocking the mic at a Pro Choice rally. We still abide by that old 1970s saw, "the personal is political," and believe that consciousness-raising is a crucial part of female and feminist expression.

Got a problem with that?

Religious views

Gilbert: Like my politics, my religious beliefs emerge through the way I read texts. So, when everyone got really pumped about my original reading of Christina Rossetti's poem "Goblin Market," that was because I looked at "The Poetics of Renunciation"—I read a distinct religious allegory in the poem.

Doesn't sound radical enough to you? Well, maybe you don't know this, but "Goblin Market" is often understood as a children's poem. Even by Rossetti herself. Yet, as I see it, the poem is about the function and surrender of the female artist to Christian prohibitions against female desire.

So, now you see it, I'm sure. I express my religious views primarily through critical readings of literary texts.

Gubar: The short answer: religion is not my thing. I was never a member of any kind of religious community—though I was born to Jewish parents.

I'll further explain by way of example. When some people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they turn to religion, to faith in God, to get through the tough times. Good for them. I never saw religion as a source of solace, so now is no time to start.

Literature and art are my objects of worship.

Activities & Interests

Likes

Feminist sisterhood 
Cheerful conferences with fellow feminists
The adrenaline surge of a good feminist discovery—like, you know, recuperating a lost writer
Paris
Collaborative work (obvi)
Mothers
The personal as political
A good sense of humor
M.H. Abrams
The Victorian Period

Dislikes

Essentialism
Anxiety
Attics and other small, enclosed spaces
New Criticism (literature doesn't exist in a vacuum, friends)
Persistently linear narratives with male protagonists at the helm
Male oppression
Post-Structuralism
The war against the humanities
Paradise Lost
Anyone who declares the death of the author
Patriarchy

Interests

The idea of influence
Tracing a matrilineage
Winning major literary and lifetime achievement awards
Pondering the distinctions between women's studies and gender studies
Defending the existence of the author
Supporting young feminists
Hanging out with family
Working
Never giving up
Interviews
Telling it like it is

Groups

Feminist Literary Criticism
The Post-Bloomians
The Bertha Masonites (this Bertha Mason, not that one, silly geese)
Feminist Literary Critics Detective Club
The Second Wavers
The Friendly Bra Burners