Women Authors and Feminism

Feminism – The Subjection of Women John Stuart Mill

In The Subjection of Women John Stuart Mill wrote, protesting the status quo, that “women who read, much more women who write, are, in the existing constitution of things, a contradiction and a disturbing element.” Mill, sympathetic to the women’s cause that burgeoned in England in the 1870’s and 1880’s, was pointing to the disparity between the dependency fostered by the laws pertaining to women and the independence that was shown by women who wrote books. In the works of George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, and Doris Lessing, widely diverse and successful authors, there is a confrontation with and self-consciousness about womanhood that is important to their vision of the world and to their aesthetic choices. Their concern with gender, far from being a remedial digression, is central to their work; their talent does not transcend or discard it.

Woman Writers

The writing woman has always been a more modest exception when she was writing “as a woman,” that is to say, with a point of view, style, and subject that could be regarded as “feminine”— whether or not this was to be praised or condemned. It is easy to call up those feminine features, however, obsolete they may be considered at present: the personal, the diminutive, and most of all, the emotional, have been understood to be woman’s particular province. Sympathy, sensitivity, acute feeling, and “pathos, which is the whining of an unmanly spirit,” according to Peacock, are the offerings which convention expects women to bestow, or, as Hazlitt puts it, “Effeminacy of character arises from a prevalence of the sensibility over the will.”

Superior Capacity

Due to the superior capacity to indulge feeling which women traditionally are supposed to have, rationality in the novels of women has taken on a different meaning and a different weight from rationality in the novels of men. For a woman, the novel of the reason may represent an achievement that surpasses expectation, or a greater degree of strain, or a regrettable suppression of gifts— or perhaps, simply, and rarely, a confident equality of mind unspotted by the consciousness of gender. Of the great women novelists writing in English, perhaps only the early Jane Austen occurs to us as an example of the latter category.

Feminism- Austen

Although contemporary with Mary Wollstonecraft, Austen was writing almost a century before the issue of women’s rights began to take political shape; her novels are coolly apart from the kinds of the inner hubbub that feminism created later in many women. As Chesterton remarked, Austen is “that most exasperating thing, an ideal unachieved. It is like leaving an unconquered fortress in the rear. No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains. . . . But she belongs to a vanished world before the great progressive [Victorian] age.”

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