This essay offers a very basic introduction to feminist literary theory, and a compendium of Great Writers Inspire resources that literature writers be approached from a feminist perspective.
It provides suggestions for how material on the Great Writers Inspire site can be used as a starting point for exploration of or classroom discussion about feminist approaches to literature. The A-level context For both the A2 Reflections in Literary Studies unit and the extended comparative essay, it is helpful to approach a collection of texts from a thematic rather than period or writer-based approach. One example of such an angle is to examine literature by or depicting women, and to consider the development of feminist literature, in no small part because ‘feminist perspectives’ is one of the suggested ways of grouping texts for the A2 Unit ‘Texts in Time. In this early stage of feminist criticism, critics consider male novelists’ demeaning treatment or marginalisation of female characters. The first is the examination of female writers and their place in literary history. The second is the consideration of the treatment of female characters in books by both male and female writers. The ‘Feminist’ Phase — in the feminist phase, the central theme of works by female writers was the criticism of the role of women in society and the oppression of women.
The ‘Female’ Phase — during the ‘female’ phase, women writers were no longer trying to prove the legitimacy of a woman’s perspective. Rather, it was assumed that the works of a women writer were authentic and valid. The female phase lacked the anger and combative consciousness of the feminist phase. Do you agree with Showalter’s ‘phases’?
How does your favourite female writer fit into these phases? Bertha Jenkins of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Rochester’s mad wife hidden away in the attic of Thornfield Hall. French feminists postulate the existence of a separate language literature writers to women that consists of loose, digressive sentences written without use of the ego.
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How does Jane Austen fit into French Feminism? In Professor Deborah Cameron’s podcast English and Gender, Cameron discusses the differences and similarities in use of the English language between men and women. How do more modern A-level set texts, like those of Margaret Atwood, Zora Neale Hurston, or Maya Angelou, fit into any of these traditions of criticism? Depictions of Women by Men Students could begin approaching Great Writers Inspire by considering the range of women depicted in early English literature: from Chaucer’s bawdy ‘Wife of Bath’ in The Canterbury Tales to Spenser’s interminably pure Una in The Faerie Queene. How might the reign of Queen Elizabeth I have dictated the way Elizabethan writers were permitted to present women? How did each male poet handle the challenge of depicting women?
By 1610 Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s The Roaring Girl presented at The Fortune a play based on the life of Mary Firth. The heroine was a man playing a woman dressed as a man. Emma Smith’s podcast on John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, a frequent A-level set text, Smith discusses Webster’s treatment of female autonomy. Placing Middleton or Webster’s female characters against those of Shakespeare could be brought to bear on A-level Paper 4 on Drama or Paper 5 on Shakespeare and other pre-20th Century Texts.
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