The Madwoman in the Attic  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
The Madwoman in the Attic : The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, published in 1979, examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. Authors Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar draw their title from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, in which Rochester's mad wife Bertha stays locked in the attic.

The text specifically examines Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson.

Gilbert and Gubar examine the notion that women writers of the 19th Century were essentially "madwomen" because of the restrictive gender categories enforced upon them both privately and professionally. In their re-examination of these writers, they argue that madness often became a metaphor for suppressed female revolt and anger. They write that the madwoman "is usually in some sense that author's double, an image of her own anxiety and rage." Gilbert and Gubar argue against many popular, explicitly phallocentric literary theories popular at the time. They especially argue against literary critic Harold Bloom's theory of Oedipal poetics, proclaiming that the relationship he describes does not hold true for female authors.

Over 700 pages long, the work is a landmark in feminist literary criticism. While some would argue that it has become outdated, or that the metaphoric framework outlined by Gilbert and Gubar is decidedly limiting, it nonetheless remains an important and still influential, if not foundational feminist work.

Originally published in 1979, the book is now in its second edition (2000), the first from Yale University and second from Yale Nota Bene press.

Gilbert and Gubar continue to write criticism together, examining Shakespeare and Modernist writing, among other topics.


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