The same feeling of irritation, with some kind of distaste.
The authors' reading is reductive and distorting and ideologically-driven. This is submission. That is renunciation. Those are patriarchal values. This is misogyny. That is self-hatred. This is upholding of conventional values. That is anti-feminism. This is feminine evil. That is male anxiety. This is female passivity. There the authoress is punishing her heroines. Etc. Etc. I'm too lazy and busy to dissect these long chapters, point out all the assertions and remarks I have problems with and comment on each of them. Gubar's analysis of Shirley is generally OK, as Shirley is a political novel (even without the themes of industrialisation and Ludditism) and there's no other way to look at it, but that's not the case with many other works. Gubar and Gilbert go too far in their feminist reading, creating the impression that when they examine a literary work, what they look at and look for is not its literary merits but its political significance, its portrayal of women, its feminism/ anti-feminism, its attitude towards the male-dominated society and tradition, its take on the conventional images in literature of women as the angel or the monster/ the madwoman, and so on and so forth. It is inartistic, simplistic and frustrating.
It is, I think, not accurate to attribute my reaction to this book simply to my general dislike of feminist criticism (The Madwoman in the Attic is, by the way, considered a landmark, a ground-breaking work). Being female, I definitely notice and very often feel bothered by the sexism, bias and prejudice of some writers, and don't deny that feminist criticism can be useful. It should also be noted that Virginia Woolf is a favourite literary critic of mine (though I'm aware that her essays are more like commentaries or reviews), besides, say, Nabokov, and I have tremendous admiration and love (yes, love) for her A Room of One's Own and The Common Reader. However, while discussing the differences in circumstances between male and female writers, pointing out the obstacles and challenges against women and the effects these have on their works, she reads the novels by Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Jane Austen and George Eliot and other authors, as novels, as works of art, and it's from this point of view, as she prioritises art over politics, that she can see how Charlotte Bronte lets indignation distort her works and therefore gets less said despite having more genius in her than Jane Austen or how George Eliot becomes clumsy for trying to write a man's sentence or how Jane Austen's novels are not less important than those books about war and politics because what matters is that they're well-written, etc. She discusses literature and women authors but doesn't necessarily sees individual works through the lens of feminist criticism, doesn't impose ideas and ideologies on them and doesn't try to bend them to fit some theories. She definitely doesn't point at something and put some label on it like "submission" or "renunciation" or whatever as I've written above, which Gilbert and Gubar do. With her essays, Virginia Woolf has made me embrace my gender and think differently about literature and female novelists. That's where she differs from Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Below are some interesting quotes on George Eliot from The Madwoman in the Attic. So far I have only read Adam Bede and Daniel Deronda and don't want to say anything. When I consider myself more familiar with George Eliot, I will come back and comment on them.
"Eliot's punishment of her heroines, her frequent bouts of illness, her often censorious avuncular tone, and her masculine pseudonyms all suggest the depth of her need to evade identification with her own sex."
"By perpetuating [the myth of feminine evil], Eliot demonstrates her internalization of patriarchal culture's definition of the woman as the 'other'. We can see the signs of that internalization throughout her career- in her continued guilt over societal disapproval, her avowed preference for male friends, her feminine anti-feminism, her self-deprecatory assumption that all other forms of injustice are more important subjects for her art than female subjugation, her extreme dependence on Lewes for encouragement and approbation, her inability to face the world as a writer and read even the most benevolent reviews of her work."
"Although until quite recently she has been viewed almost exclusively in terms of male literary history, Eliot shows in "The Lifted Veil" that she is part of a strong female tradition: her self-conscious relatedness to other women writers, her critique of male literary conventions, her interest in clairvoyance and telepathy, her imagery of confinement, her schizophrenic sense of fragmentation, her self-hatred, and what Emily Dickinson might have called her "Covered Vision" place Eliot in a tradition that still survives today."
"Insisting on the primacy of male spheres of activity, Eliot aspires to the 'masculine' scientific detachment of an essayist producing and analyzing 'slices of life'. And in this respect, as in so many others, Scenes of Clerical Life forecasts the camouflages of her later fiction. Adam Bede, with its masculine title, relies on the story of fallen and female Hetty Sorrel for its suspense, just as Felix Holt the Radical maps the mental and moral development of Esther Lyon, while both The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch announce themselves as sociological studies of provincial life, though they were originally conceived and still come across as portraits of female destiny. And at the end of her literary career Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda, a book that could as easily be entitled 'Gwendolen Harleth'."
What do you think about these assertions?