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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  3,575 ratings  ·  147 reviews
An analysis of Victorian women writers, this pathbreaking book of feminist literary criticism is now reissued with a substantial new introduction by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar that reveals the origins of their revolutionary realization in the 1970s that "the personal was the political, the sexual was the textual."

The Queen's looking glass: female creativity, m
Paperback, Second Edition, 768 pages
Published July 11th 2000 by Yale University Press (first published 1979)
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Angela The poems of Emily Dickinson; George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch, Scenes of Clerical Life; Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights,; Charlotte Bronte…moreThe poems of Emily Dickinson; George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch, Scenes of Clerical Life; Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights,; Charlotte Bronte's Villette, Shirley, The Professor and Jane Eyre; Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Pride and Prejudice; Christina Rossetti's The Goblin Market, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein amongst others. Hope this helps x(less)

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Have you ever been bothered by that host of angelically drippy Dickensian heroines? Been more satisfied by the sassy alternatives offered by Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennet, but couldn’t pin down exactly why? Wondered what the hell is up with Wuthering Heights? Thought Eve was shafted?

Well, act now to order your official Madwoman-in-the-Attic Goggles. Put them on, and literature will never look the same.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but there has been this confining social dichotomy that women
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
The imagination of the title is the boundary of Gilbert and Gubar's reflections, and some qualifications might be added to define the limits and orientation of that imagination, such as whiteness and the English language. All of the women writers they discuss as foremothers and proponents of a specifically female literary culture are white and either English or USian (correct me if I err). Of course it is necessary to have a focus, to delineate a subject for enquiry, but it is important to note ...more
Nov 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stela by: Carmen Irimia
I keep thinking that feminism (or every other political or social movement by the way) is a narrow path to follow in a literary analysis. As part of a thorough study, literature is an interesting enough source of feminist examples, and Simone de Beauvoir used it brilliantly in The Second Sex, but the reverse is not equally advisable.

For, in my opinion, The Madwoman in the Attic forces, like Procust once upon a time, an entire literature written by 19th century women to sleep in the bed of the f
Amanda May
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is what my thesis adviser has called the quintessential text about Victorian women writers, and I find that statement to be absolutely true. Gilbert and Gubar begin with a generalized argument that women writers have a counterpart to the masculine "anxiety of influence" discussed by Harold Bloom. Instead, women undergo an "anxiety of authorship" because unlike male writers, women have no predecessors to emulate. Instead, women, particularly nineteenth century female writers, tended to modif ...more
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination forges a ground-breaking contribution to feminist literary criticism. In this study, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar argue for the existence of a distinctly female literary imagination in women writers of nineteenth-century. Their landmark study has influenced how we read women writers ever since.

Gilbert and Gubar systematically deconstruct the obstacles women authors faced and how their struggles are
Aug 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sarah by: school Assignment
The Madwoman in the Attic The Madwoman in the Attic struck one of the first blows for feminist literary criticism and a uniquely female literary tradition. It's near and dear to my heart because it's the first extended lit-crit I've ever read, and also because it's about my favorite bunch of novels: Victorian (well, 19th century) women's fiction. There's also an awesome section on Victorian poetry. Hellooo, Goblin Market!

The basic theory of the book is that women writers twisted the Madonna/who
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Although I did not always agree the authors or saw where they were going and why it was certainly...enlightening. A great piece of feminist criticism that is very useful when you study Literature and constantly have to write term papers. Many secondary sources refer to Gilbert & Gubar's "Madwoman" and it was interesting to see and understand why exactly it is perceived as such an important piece.
“Is a pen a metaphorical penis?”

Thus begins, rather perfectly, this seminal (oblique phallic pun alert!) work in feminist literary theory.

I wish I’d read this during my senior year in college, when I was writing my thesis on Woolf and her portrayal of women artists; I’d have been utterly riveted. (In fact, I’m somewhat surprised my thesis adviser didn’t encourage me to read this book for general context, as important as it is.) So, yes, this tome marks a very important moment in feminist lit th
Militantly Romantic
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I know this is considered passe by most of the lit crit set, particularly post-colonial theorists. That said, it changed my life. And I really think that it's one of the best places a girl can start reading about feminist theory, even if she leaves behind this school of thinking later. If nothing else, the first essay in the book is worth a read. ...more
May 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
See my review on my book blog: ...more
Lukas Evan
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crit-theory, feminism
Somehow I missed out on feminist literary criticism during my undergraduate English classes.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-nonfiction
This book has been on my TBR for a while after it has been recommended in so many lectures. And no wonder because this book was incredibly detailed account on the most important women writes in 19th century UK and America. I felt a bit underwhelmed at some points but I think it was more because I am not very well known with the theories the book discussed than that this was a badly written book. Having read most of the novels that were discussed in the book, this opened the whole new view of man ...more
Kathleen Flynn
Once cutting edge, now a classic, a monument of feminist literary criticism that still holds up despite the many things that have happened since in the world and in academia. Took me months to read this, skipping around and between different other things, but it was fantastic!

The Wuthering Heights chapter is especially fascinating. And I am always up for a new excuse to think about Middlemarch, and of course, Jane Austen.

I am also now inspired to continue with Paradise Lost and to look anew at
Nicholas Perez
Jan 17, 2021 marked it as to-read
Disclaimer: I've read parts of this already before. Partially the parts on Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette. ...more
Ann-Cathrine (Literamour)
May 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminism, favourites
Wow! No wonder this is a crucial text in literary feminism. It covers a massive amount of works by 19th century English and American female writers with traces up to Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath.
I have discovered gems through this book which I had previously avoided or not found interesting (Little Women) as well as developing a deeper appreciation for the Brontë's, whose works I did not enjoy reading but I acknowledge their deep impact upon the literary world - and even more so now. in fact,
I've been reading this for some time, and decided to go back to it after reading Showalter's new book. I don't always agree with the authors, but generally find their analysis thought-provoking.

Update: well, I've finished, and as mentioned before, I read this over a long period of time and in some cases came back to it because I read the work in question (I reread Wuthering Heights and The Goblin Market both last year). In other cases, I wish I'd read the work more recently (as with Shirley and
Carol Douglas
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I just re-read this important book on nineteenth-century women writers. It's so beautifully written and full of interesting analysis that I can hardly do justice to it.
Nineteenth-century women wrote in a world steeped in even more male bias than women face today. They "told all the truth but told it slant," as Emily Dickenson said. Even, no especially, Jane Austen's work was full of complaints about men's belittling women and control of what was deemed "literature."
There are illuminating cha
Jul 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating read and gave me a deeper insight into some of my favourite pieces of nineteenth century literature. Gilbert and Gubar explore in detail the work of a wide variety of authors such as Austen, the Bronte's, Eliot, Dickinson, Rossetti, and Shelley. It's a huge tome of a book so does require a bit of a commitment to reading it, but I believe it is thoroughly worth it. It was a ground breaking book for feminist criticism at the time and will inform and influence the way in whic ...more
Carla Remy
Jun 13, 2010 rated it liked it
I thought I liked seminal 1970s feminist literary criticism, but it was too much. I mean, if you haven't just read the books they're covering it's hard to follow. I've read "frankenstein" - 20 years ago. I've read all the Austen novels, but at least a decade ago. I can't recall every character, every nuance. So this just made me feel it was time to do some re-reading. I was looking forward to the "wuthering heights" chapter, and it was good, but it helps that I've read WH 4 times. I gave up befo ...more
Nov 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
The 600+ page tome of dense literary criticism is not for the lighthearted and, to be honest, I would not recommend reading it straight through. Gilbert and Gubar fail to deliver on their promised thesis of the overarching theme of angel versus monster in texts written by female authors in the nineteenth century.

That said, if you've read the books they're discussing, it can be fascinating. My favorite parts by far were the take down of the Snow White tale and the chapters on Wuthering Heights, J
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I took a Female Gothic course in Scotland one year, and this book became my Bible. It was chock full of information about novels written by females in the nineteenth-century. However, that just scratches the surface as Madwoman also rebels against the phallocentric standards that existed in the time of the great female authors such as Bronte, Austen, Shelley, etc.

Gilbert and Gubar have done amazing jobs analyzing and critiquing the Gothic novels and exploring the madwomen that exist within not
Yawn . . . look, I'll save you the 700 pages: various men interpreted female writers in sexist ways in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There you go. Plus sprinkle in some random quotations from Bachelard or whoever.

At least she avoids jargon, mostly, but this is just the least interesting sort of literary criticism possible; all nuance is lost, as all descriptions of female authors or their novels or fictional characters exist only as nails for the sole hammer at hand (i.e. trite
Brenda Clough
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book, full of insight! You do have to know the works in question. Luckily the volume is divided out more or less by the books analyzed, so you can skip the George Eliot section if you haven't read MIDDLEMARCH.
I was thrilled by the analysis of JANE EYRE, and can see why this was seminal.
Dana Stabenow
Oct 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Where does feminist literature come from? There was a there there.
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
This is an absolutely indispensable and priceless book. You can skip about and fall in love with each and every chapter in this book! So incredibly enlightening. Gilbert is brilliant!
Sue Davis
Really helpful for understanding Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Second time I read the section that analyzes Jane Eyre.
Ellie  Breen
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Gilbert and Gubar have dared to create a tangible feminist aesthetic in this book and I am here for it. They address the angel in the house/ monster paradigm with fierce analysis and in depth discussion, proposing that the madwoman is a palimpsestuous double alongside the conventional heroine (such as in Jane Eyre) - and then go on to create a new definition on what it means to be a woman writer. The Anxiety of Authorship: a woman writer is not only anxious about making a statement in literary t ...more
Lauren Kammerdiener
"A life of feminine submission, of 'contemplative purity,' is a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of 'significant action,' is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story."

Some of the most entertaining and well-written academia I've ever come across. Gilbert & Gubar are absolutely brilliant. Excuse me as I pull the entirety of my nineteenth-century female library down from my shelves for an extensive rer
James Tanner
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
'A Dialogue of Self: Plain Jane's Progress', used in study of Jane Eyre in Landmarks in literature and module and English Lit Dissertation. ...more
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I just finished The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. I skimmed small sections of this book for my MA thesis but in no way read the text (which is highly unfortunate because I think that ultimately, G&G's methodology is probably superior to what I used of Elaine Showalter's at a critical juncture, but that's neither here nor there). This book was published in 1979, which is significant for me because that's the year in which I was born. I have a profound respect for these ...more
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Sandra M. Gilbert is the author of numerous volumes of criticism and poetry, as well as a memoir. She is coeditor (with Susan Gubar) of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women. A Distinguished Professor of English emerita at the University of California, Davis, she lives in Berkeley, California.

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“A life of feminine submission, of 'contemplative purity,' is a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of 'significant action,' is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story.” 14 likes
“A life of feminine submission, of 'contemplative purity,' a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of 'significant action,' is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story.” 2 likes
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