This, “Out of Body: Reading Gender Through “Women’s Fiction”” by Rob Hardy in The Critical Flame is a wonderful essay about being a stay-at-home father and how that changed the way this literary academic read women’s literature. This essay visits a number of places that I love.. how women writers are represented, the purpose of reading fiction and the important role of maternal feminism in the feminist movement at large.
After The Way Things Are, I began to search the shelves of the local used book stores for more Virago Modern Classics. At one of the shops on Division Street, I found a peculiarity in the shelving system: there was a section labeled CLASSICS, and a separate section labeled OLDER FICTION. Most of the authors in the Classics section were men, with a few well-known women thrown in—Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontës, Virginia Woolf. The Virago Modern Classics were shelved in the OLDER FICTION section.
I asked Dick, the owner, about this peculiar arrangement. Why, for example, was William Faulkner (the Nobel Prize winner in 1949) shelved among the Classics, but Ellen Glasgow (the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1942) shelved among Older Fiction? Was it that men became classics and women just became old? Or, not to make a gender issue out of it, why was Virginia Woolf a Classic, but May Sinclair, who first applied the term “stream of consciousness” to fiction, simply Older?
As a young stay-at-home father, I gravitated toward Virago Modern Classics because they illuminated the ordinary domestic life to which I was growing accustomed, without becoming sentimental or losing sight of the broader human concerns and higher aspirations of their female characters. For most of the history of the English novel, writing was one of the only occupations open to women, one of the only ways in which they could make their voices heard outside the nursery and the kitchen. Their writing can’t help but express the immense gulf between the expansiveness of their imaginations and the apparent narrowness of the sphere to which they were traditionally confined. But being confined to that sphere, the sphere of domesticity, they also couldn’t help looking around and seeing some of its homely significance. They couldn’t help seeing that this world of messy children and dirty floors, of broken cookers and tight household finances, was also the real world. More real, perhaps, than anything else.
Thanks to Tedra for the link.