Study Guide

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar Files

Sandra Gilbert

Just found my diary, which I started when I was 18, growing up in Queens. I kept it when I went to Cornell as an undergraduate, and somehow, it's survived all these years. Some parts are boring, some embarrassing, and some particularly interesting for the Gilbertophile. Below, I've included a few random excerpts for your reading pleasure.

October 15, 1954

Dear Diary,
College is soooo fun. Cornell is a great place, and we are reading a whole mess of good literature in Lit 101: Introduction to Literary Thought. We're gonna read Herodotus, Cicero, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Milton, Pope, Dryden, Keats, Byron, Browning, Dickens, Hardy, Joyce, and Beckett. The syllabus is wicked good. I feel like I'm getting a good solid education. I'll leave here with a well-rounded understanding of the world!

With luv, S

November 1, 1954

Dear Diary,
Just received our first big assignment for Lit 101. We have to write about the idea of the hero in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I've always loved that book—even with the decapitated heads on spikes and whatnot. I think I might mix it up. I mean is Charles Marlow really a hero? He may be our narrator, but maybe Kurtz embodies the real hero. I mean he actually has worshippers. Marlow just kind of bumbles around.

More later, S

November 5, 1954

Dear Diary,
Reread Heart of Darkness. Again. So much for joining a sorority. No time to myself! Had no idea there are actually a few female characters in that novel!!! I pretty much read past them my first time around. So I'm thinking of risking it all and arguing that the real hero of the story is Kurtz's so-called Intended. My parents may kill me; I mean heroes are supposed to be men. I don't want to go wasting a perfectly good education. I just don't think I can repeat the same old nonsense about Marlow and Kurtz. Oh, Diary, I am so glad I have you to confess these confusing inner thoughts to!

Goodbye for now, S

November 8, 1954

Dear Diary,
Got tired of wringing my hands, so I just went for it. So I kinda talk about the whole colonial enterprise of the 19th Century. So masculine, so dominating everyone, so not a pretty situation. It's like, "Outta my way, I'm taking over the continent, you native so-and-so!"

Not sure why Conrad included Marlow's aunt, the African woman, and Kurtz's Intended in the novel, but I am determined to get to the bottom of this. It's scary to go rogue in an undergraduate lit course, but it's time for a revolution. I know that the Intended has some significance—if not for the plot, then for me as a reader. She has no name, of course, but I feel a sisterhood with her, like she's reaching out of the pages of the book, saying, "What in tarnation is my role in this gloomy, brutal man-tale?"

P.S. I hate how sympathetic the Intended is about the death of Kurtz. One less fascist, I say.

Later, S

November 20, 1954

Dear Diary,
Okay, I think I'm on to something. Even though the Intended comes across as weak and simpering, I'm going to argue that she is the "moral hero" of the story because she embodies all of the repressed sorrow and guilt of the colonial enterprise. She's the only one strong enough to mourn the cruelties perpetrated in the Congo. She may be mourning Kurtz but she's really mourning the larger ravages of colonial destruction. And that, my friends, is why she is a hero.

Boom! S

December 1, 1954

Dear Diary,
My professor called me into office hours. Gave me some brochures on becoming a double major: theology and anthropology. Not sure what to make of it. Will ask Mom and Dad on Christmas break.

Peace, S

Susan Gubar

I've been asked to do a commencement speech for Smith College's graduation. These are tough times for a young feminist, so I'm burning some serious brain cells trying to give them useful advice. Advice that isn't too much of a downer or too cliché. So much hasn't changed, and yet what has become of feminism? Sigh… I need to speak to this generation, not talk about musty, old 1970s feminism, as much as I love it. Here's a rough draft of my speech.

Here you are, about to embark on your new life with a freshly minted B.A. in hand. This is a proud day. Not only can you call yourself college-educated, but you can also look forward to years of student loan payments, in which you will probably struggle to meet the minimal interest payments.

But don't worry—tossing off Simone de Beauvoir quotations as you pull a double ristretto is no reason to despair. (This may be too negative—consider revising.)

Many of you in the audience are feminists, whether you like it or not. (Maybe: "whether you know it or not"?) Anyone can be a feminist: men, women, young, old. Just like donuts, feminists come in many shapes and sizes. Some are glazed, and some are full of goo. Some even have bear claws, but I'm not naming any names here.

If you ever get someone sneering ask you, "You're a feminist?" Answer with pride and conviction: "Yes, do you have a problem with that? It's always good to answer a question with a question. I'm talking to you, future teachers of America.

We feminists have a big job to do: our cause is on life support. Big time. Journalists and even academics have declared that we live in a post-feminist era. That is unequivocally nuts. 

I mean, if Carrie Bradshaw, Bridget Jones, and Miley Cyrus are our new feminist models, then we better get a new Noah's Ark out here because it's about to get apocalyptic. Cue the helicopters! And if that all weren't bad enough, we've got Time magazine's declaration that feminism is dead. Chew on that, kiddos. (A little harsh, maybe?)

I digress… So what can we do to keep up the righteous fight? To get feminism off life support and at least on a mobile oxygen storage tank? Well, if you want the full story, allow me to direct you to my book Critical Condition: Feminism at the Turn of the Century, published by Columbia University Press and available at Amazon.com for $40.00.

But to give you the Reader's Digest, here are a few things you can do on the daily:

First, stay irritated. Irked even. But don't be mad. Because that gives feminists a bad name. Take a mindfulness class if you need to, but keep it on the mellow—if not for your own blood pressure, for your sisters and your daughters and your sisters' daughters.

Stop fighting. We feminists really all need to just get along. Who cares if one of you is a sex-centered lesbian and the other is an asexual cross-dresser? We are all in this together.

Resist the lure of reality television. We know the industry isn't exactly busting down our door to do "Real Feminists of Northampton," but if they try to hunt us down for content, just say no. The editors will take perfectly good footage from seminars and conferences, protests and marches, and turn it into a montage of kooky wrath.

And, finally, to quote my own favorite commencement speech: "Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly."