Elaine Showaiter, editor The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory.
Pantheon, 403 pages, $22.95

As feminist ideology would have it, the world presents a harsh and alien landscape to woman. Shaped against her grain by a tradition that has left her true identity out of account, she must articulate her very grievances in a language created by her oppressor. Inevitably, in the feminist view, literature itself mirrors this oppression. Thus, the feminist literary critic sees the traditional literary canon as a “culture-bound political construct” and literary posterity as nothing more than a “group of men with the access to publishing and reviewing that enabled them to enforce their views of ‘literature’ and to define a group of ageless ‘classics.’” Given the profound illegitimacy at the heart of literary tradition, the feminist critic insists upon “a...

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