Elaine Showalter: ‘Towards a Feminist Poetics’

  • K. M. Newton


Feminist criticism can be divided into two distinct varieties. The first type is concerned with woman as reader — with woman as the consumer of male-produced literature, and with the way in which the hypothesis of a female reader changes our apprehension of a given text, awakening us to the significance of its sexual codes. I shall call this kind of analysis the feminist critique, and like other kinds of critique it is a historically grounded inquiry which probes the ideological assumptions of literary phenomena. Its subjects include the images and stereotypes of women in literature, the omissions and misconceptions about women in criticism, and the fissures in male-constructed literary history. It is also concerned with the exploitation and manipulation of the female audience, especially in popular culture and film; and with the analysis of woman-as-sign in semiotic systems. The second type of feminist criticism is concerned with woman as writer — with woman as the producer of textual meaning, with the history, themes, genres and structures of literature by women. Its subjects include the psychodynamics of female creativity; linguistics and the problem of a female language; the trajectory of the individual or collective female literary career; literary history; and, of course, studies of particular writers and works. No term exists in English for such a specialised discourse, and so I have adapted the French term la gynocritique: ‘gynocritics’ (although the significance of the male pseudonym in the history of women’s writing also suggested the term ‘georgics’).


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  1. 1.
    J.S. Mill, The Subjection of Women (London, 1869), p. 133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lee Edwards and Arlyn Diamond (eds), The Authority of Experience (Amherst, Mass., 1977).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    [Ed.] See Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, trans. Geoffrey Wall (London, 1978).Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

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  • K. M. Newton

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