The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, selections from The Madwoman in the Attic

When was this work written? Which features of its approach might have been most original in its day?

What do Gilbert and Gubar consider to be revealing claims of Harold Bloom's theory of the anxiety of influence? What place is granted women in this theory?

What do Gilbert and Gubar believe have been some of the problems which faced women authors of the past? Why would these women have suffered anxiety about writing, and what effect did this have?

What are some evidences of this anxiety, in their view?

Do the obstacles they identify still face women writers? (i. e., in 1975)? Some more than others? What has enabled changes in twentieth-century women writers' view of their own work?

What use do Gilbert and Gubar make of myth and fairy tales in their interpretations? Of the themes of madness, anorexia and ill health?

If this were the only work you had read which discussed female authors, what features or traits would you look for in their work? In literary criticism of their work?

After reading this essay, what themes/qualities might you not seek in women writers? Do most of the women writers of the 18th or 19th century with whom you are acquainted manifest some of the qualities they mention? Can you think of exceptions?

What positive elements do they find in the tradition of women's writing?

This work was enormously influential in its decade--indeed some of its assumptions are still tacitly accepted today. Yet it was also criticized. Can you discern some of the reasons why it might have prompted disagreement?

Which of their ideas do you think are still valid and/or useful in exploring the tensions inherent in women's writing?

Selections are from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent Leitch, 2005

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