Since 1960 Feminist Criticism is flourishing continuously. The present Essay is an attempt to explore women’s experience as depicted in various kinds of literature – especially the novels; and to a lesser extent, poetry and drama.
It questions the so called masculine ideologies (which add up to kind of male conspiracy), patriarchal attitudes) and male interpretations in literature (and critical evaluation of literature). It questions patriarchal notions of value in literature- by offering critiques of male authors and representations of men in literature and also by privileging women writers. In addition it challenges conventional male ideas about the nature of their opposite sex and about how they feel, act and think, or are ‘supposed’ to feel, act and think, and how in general they respond to life and living. It thus questions, numerous prejudices and assumptions about women made by male writers, not least any tendency to cast women in stock character-roles.
Critics have played their part by interpreting the texts filling in the background detail-not least-explaining how it is that a dominant male tradition has effectively written them out of its purview. It is no longer a question of admitting a few women (Jane Austen, The Brontes, George Eliot) as remarkable exceptions to the rule, and otherwise tracing the rise of the novel through a series of great male writers.
The past two decades have seen a marked growth of interest in feminist literary
Studies. It is possible to distinguish four main lines of approach.
Firstly, there is the rediscovery of works by forgotten women writers novels and poems which have often had to wait until now for a modern reprint and a properly informed readership. Several publishers (e.g. Virago, Pandora, The Women’s Press) have built up impressive lists of such work and laid the ground for a major reassessment of the place of women writers in history.
The second approach is through the re-interpretation of women’s experience as reflected in various kinds of writing. This means identifying explicitly with female characters, often against the grain of a dominant ideology which tends to distort, repress or simply ignore that experience. Thus feminist critics propose new readings of familiar texts, readings that challenge the established (male) idea of how women are supposed to think, feel or act. This has led to some powerful revisionist accounts of 19th-century fiction, rejecting (for instance). The typecast notion of female (hysteria as a weakness peculiar to heroines likes Maggie Tulliver in ‘the Mill on the Floss’ by G. Eliot.
This raises the obvious question: is there such a thing as ‘feminine writing’, marked by certain characteristic features of language or style? Some feminists would endorse this idea, arguing that women have access to a realm of experience from which male language is effectively debarred; Virginia Woolf spoke of a Women’s sentence a mode of writing as yet barely glimpsed in occasional, fragmenty forms but holding out a kind of firmness in masculine habits and thoughts. This firmness can be deliverance also. The character analysis in her fiction clearly projects this opinion. The women characters are a subject of sympathy in her works whereas men are rational in approach. Critics like Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray holds an opinion that ecriture feminine perspective have developed in recent times. Such perspective is a deviation from standard language patterns. Women writers write with libidinal force which has no place for male discourses. The unpunctuated soliloquy of Molly Bloom in Ulysses is one of the most striking examples of ecriture feminism. There are some other writers who assert that there is hardly any difference between the writings of a male and a female writer. It can be personal but personal writings cannot be judgmental.