[The interpretation] of Jane Eyre […] is thought to depend upon the dehumanization of Bertha Mason Rochester, the Jamaican Creole whose racial and geographical marginality oils the mechanism by which the heathen, bestial Other could be annihilated to constitute European female subjectivity. —From Madwoman in the Attic
To us, Bertha Mason is the quintessential madwoman in the attic because she was, well, a madwoman in an attic. But 19th-century novels are full of characters like Bertha. In Jane Eyre, the dashing protagonist, Mr. Rochester, keeps his first wife locked away in the attic because she just isn't socially acceptable.
First, she's foreign. Second, she's just not attractive enough. That was enough to call her crazy in those days. Pretty scary, huh?
We say she wasn't nuts. (Duh.) She was just reacting to the oppressive environment of Victorian England. This is also what Jean Rhys was getting at when she wrote her novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys's book tells the Jane Eyre story from Bertha's perspective.
As we understood Bertha, she had to be stowed away so that Rochester could make right by marrying the good and proper English, white Jane. Too bad that Jane didn't really catch on to the whole oppressive bit that was going on with Mr. Rochester's crazy wife, or she might have run the other way. We mean who wouldn't lose their marbles being locked up in a garret?
In Jane Eyre, they said Mrs. Rochester was crazy. We said she was simply marginalized.
In fact, it is not really until the moment in the mid-nineteenth century when female resistance becomes feminist rebellion that the battle of the sexes emerges as a trope for struggle over political as well as personal power. —From No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The War of the Words
Things really heated up in the 19th-century. It's like something was in the water, and women just got sick of playing second fiddle. Then it got real.
Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, with its powerful female protagonist. Elizabeth Cady Stanton started battling for improving women's status at the famous Seneca Falls Convention. And Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote nonfiction like Women and Economics, as well as the revolutionary short story "The Yellow Wallpaper", in which a woman loses her mind from being locked up in a room to recuperate from her "illness"—a thinly veiled metaphor for being fed up with domestic oppression.
These works made clear that ladies were fed up with being just wives and mothers. They didn't want to live in a world that rejected the possibility of their actually being thinking, creative equals to men. No, no longer.
During our own fin de siècle, after all, as during the last, a heightened consciousness of gender as a social construct has generated heated debates about the place of biology in the formation of sex roles and sex differences, about the relationship between anatomy and destiny. —From No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Volume 2: Sexchanges
Our three-volume study of women writers is still used in classrooms around the world. Why is it so relevant today? Sadly, women struggle with a lot of the same issues now that they did back in the corseted, lacy days of the 19th century.
For example, here in the 21st century, we still ponder what it means to be a woman. What exactly makes women different from men? Is it all biology? We think not. What about culture, that famous seven-letter word?
Society has long sought to put women in their places, citing the realities of the female body as justification for keeping them in the home, paying them less money, and overlooking them for professional and political advancement. In this second volume of No Man's Land, we look at how Victorian ideas of femininity got chucked out the proverbial window.
Who are the culprits in tearing down these old ideas? Female mavericks like Kate Chopin, Willa Cather, Djuna Barnes, and Gertrude Stein, who mad-dogged the masculine regime by celebrating women's sexuality and daring to ditch the "hearth"—be bisexual, lesbian…the possibilities were unlimited. Fight on.
There seems to be no doubt about it. At his most fanatic, specifically in the period when he produced such so-called 'leadership' novels as Aaron's Rod, Kangaroo, and The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence made countless statements of the kind that we would now label 'sexist.' How, then, do I account for my own abiding fascination with his writing? —From Acts of Attention: The Poems of D.H. Lawrence
So D.H. Lawrence is not usually regarded as a feminist paragon. (Fellow feminist Kate Millet wanted to kick him where the sun don't shine.) In this book—much of which was my (Sandra's) dissertation—I make a good case for Lawrence as a writer of poems that didn't fit the masculine ideal presented by, say, T.S. Eliot. Look, he's not politically correct but that doesn't make him a misogynist pig.
As I write in the book's preface, he wasn't obsessed with "law" and "form" the way his fellow patriarchal poets were. In fact, I saw something quasi-feminist in his poems. In that sense, I was like Anäis Nin, who daringly said, "He had a complete realization of the feelings of women."
My basic argument is that, unlike the Hemingways and Pounds of the world, Lawrence cared enough to look into and understand "the female imagination." So maybe he wasn't a radical feminist, but he cared about women, and tried to relate to women's wants, concerns, and dreams.
Think of debulking as evisceration or vivisection or disemboweling, but performed on a live human being […] —From Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer
This is some grim stuff, but in 2008, I (Susan) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to stop teaching. But I had to do something. So I decided to write about the horrors of the many procedures to which the cancer patient is subjected. In this passage, I discuss the brutal surgery to extract all of the cancerous tissue. As if the radiation, chemotherapy, medicine, and medicine's side effects are enough…