The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination

by Professor Sandra M. Gilbert

Paperback, 1980




Yale University Press (1980), Edition: first--2d printing, 733 pages


"A feminist classic."—Judith Shulevitz, New York Times Book Review“A pivotal book, one of those after which we will never think the same again.”—Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Washington Post Book World A pathbreaking book of literary criticism is now reissued with a new introduction by Lisa Appignanesi that speaks to how The Madwoman in the Attic set the groundwork for subsequent generations of scholars writing about women writers, and why the book still feels fresh some four decades later.


(136 ratings; 4.1)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wordygirl39
One of those books from graduate school I could never bear to part with. The essays are only slightly dated 15 years later and this is an excellent reference work for those interested in the literature of the 19th Century.
LibraryThing member mudville
Feminist revisionist study of major female 19th Century authors: Jane Austin, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, George Elliot, and Emily Dickinson. A genuinely major work of literary criticism, in my opinion: these are crucial interpretations of the works of a group of writers who, in
Show More
their time, stood as "outsiders" to the literary mainstream. Gilbert and Gubar provide us with a roadmap towards understanding the methods by which they critiqued, revised, and survived the male-dominated culture in which they lived. For those who like delving deep into literature, for those who enjoy pithy literary criticism, this comes highly recommended. For those who feel themselves to be "outsiders" to the mainstream of today, this book may well be revelatory. I know it was for me.
Show Less
LibraryThing member thorold
Another university textbook I've been meaning to read cover-to-cover for a long time. Famous enough that everyone ignores the clever title and just calls it "Gilbert & Gubar", over 600 pages long, and with in-depth studies of half a dozen of the biggest names in nineteenth-century literature, it's
Show More
a daunting prospect. Happily it turns out to be eminently readable, much more so than I remember from when I was writing essays - maybe my standards have changed?

The really important thing about it, of course, is that it's one of the books that made respectable the idea that we need to look at the work of women writers in terms of their role as women in the society of the time, and also bearing in mind that they were writing for a largely female audience. (G&G appeared in 1979, about the same time as Elaine Showalter's A literature of their own.) Where more recent feminist critique tends to mix in other theoretical approaches, G&G look almost exclusively at how women writers deal with and aare influenced by the situation of women in the society of their times, and their own role as women writers in particular. How do you deal with the assertive act of speaking out in print in a society where the ideal of feminine behaviour is supposed to be passive and silent? Despite the famous, aggressively Freudian, opening line, there is little or no recourse to the usual male authority-figures of lit-crit (Marx, Freud, Derrida, Barthes, Foucault...). Virginia Woolf, of course, is quoted heavily, and G&G have quite a bit to say about how 19th century women writers saw each others' work.

One part I found especially interesting was the discussion of how women writers engaged with Milton: maybe an obvious question to pose for Frankenstein and Middlemarch, but not at all self-evident for Wuthering Heights until you've seen their analysis.

With hindsight, one of the surprising things about the book is the way it sticks to the narrowly-defined "canon" of 19th century English writing - there is only the very briefest discussion of Victorian popular novelists who have since fallen out of favour (Mrs Oliphant, Charlotte M. Yonge, Harriet Beecher Stowe, etc.), and apart from Emily Dickinson there is nothing about women writers who were relatively unknown in their own time. Obviously the reason for this is that they want to concentrate their energy on the writers who have received the lioness's share of critical attention and show how looking at them as women can change our perception of their work and what it is trying to say. Rediscovering writers who were unfairly neglected isn't part of their remit. But it does mean that you shouldn't try to use this book on its own to get a view of women's writing in 19th century England (and New England...). Let alone anywhere else.
Show Less
LibraryThing member susanbooks
Yes, it's dated, but for my generation this was so exciting. This made going to grad school feel like punk rock (for grad students, so, y'know, not that punk). We were going to change the academy & then the world & Gilbert & Gubar were showing us how.
Try to read this book as if it's the first or
Show More
at most second piece of feminist criticism you've ever read. Imagine Austen & the Brontes and Dickinson constantly trivialized and George Eliot lauded for her masculine writing in everything you've seen before. Try to think about Bertha Rochester's life as completely unproblematic. Then read this book and you'll get a sense of what we felt.
Show Less
LibraryThing member BarbBowling
This is must-reading for anyone who loves to read serious literature. My copy is dog-eared and marked up; I use it for reference and short reading, as it reads for me more like a text-book than a page-turner. However, it is on my bedside table. This was a watershed influence on my intellectual
Show More
life. Highly recommended.
Show Less


Pulitzer Prize (Finalist — General Non-Fiction — 1980)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

733 p.; 6.25 x 1.75 inches


0300025963 / 9780300025965
Page: 0.1687 seconds