Study Guide

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar Buzzwords

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Anxiety of Authorship

We are really proud of this one, because it's a feminist inversion of Harold Bloom's Oedipal reading of literary legacies, known as the "Anxiety of Influence."Like it sounds, the "anxiety of authorship" describes the gut-roiling fear experienced by 19th-century female writers: they were terrified that they just weren't fit to produce works of literature.

Whereas Bloom's male writer is worried about being original in the face of a long history of fabulous male writers, the female author suffering from the anxiety of influence had no lineage. She was frozen, in part, because of the anticipated criticism she would receive from the patriarchal oppressor—a.k.a. her husband, father, brother, so on and so forth.

Since there was no precedent for the 19th-century female writer, she pretty much had to brave new territory. The upside was that things were a wide-open playing field for anyone who wanted to give it a go. Being original isn't so hard when there is no female literary tradition to cast its long shadow over you.

Literary Canon

When we talk about the literary canon, we're talking about the white, male-dominated body of literature that, for a long time, stood for all literature. Those days are over, thanks largely to us, who said, "Hey, where are the ladies?"

We expanded—and exploded—the canon. As we say in the preface to Madwoman: "We found a distinctively female literary tradition, a tradition […] which no one had yet defined in its entirety."

Patriarchal Poetics

This ain't your grandfather's poetry. Unless your grandfather is John Milton, in which case: we feel sorry for you. Patriarchal poetics is, to put it bluntly, the enemy. Why?

At best, it willfully overlooks the significance of women to literary expression. At worst, it is outrightly misogynistic. Harold Bloom mastered the study of patriarchal poetry. So, as we sad in Madwoman, we looked to recuperate "their matrilineal heritage of literary strength, their female power."

We were sick of seeing the pen as a metaphor for the penis and the idea of the author being automatically associated with masculinity. As a result, we embarked on a quest for new metaphors for (female) creativity.

Gender and Genre

Well, we noticed that a lot of genres are "gendered," which means that certain genres are associated with men—most genres, actually—and certain genres with women. Batting for the men, we have picaresque novels, Bildungsroman, epic poems, and pretty much everything else. Batting for the women, we have all the touchy-feely stuff that isn't generally lauded for its stylistics, like popular romantic novels and melodrama.

In general, of course, literature has always been associated with men. Masculinity is productive, femininity is reproductive. We came along and said, "No. Women have written literature in all sorts of genres, dummies." Fin.

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