Toward a Feminist Poetics by Elaine Showalter

Elaine Showalter’s feminist criticism is a clearly articulated feminist literary theory. Showalter has proposed a separate and independent model of feminist literary theory by rejecting the inevitability of male models and theories and by recalling the history of women’s writing to the present.

She divides her female model in to two types:

1) Feminist critique exposing woman as a reader
2) Gynocritics presenting women as a writer.

She is more inclined to gynocritics in order to develop a literature of their own.

The feminist critique as a sort of feminist criticism envisions the women as the readers of those male produced texts. The feminists thus, try to trace out the images and stereotype of the women exposed in the male texts. This is also called traditional feminist criticism where women are the consumers of the production in literary writing.

On the contrary gynocritics is such a phase of feminist criticism in which “women becomes writer with women as the producer of textual meaning, with the history, themes, genres and structures of literature by women”. This is in true sense the female model of writing being independent of male values and norms. It reflects the position and importance of women’s writing in the literary history.

In this way, gynocritics eschews (deliberately avoid) the inevitability of male models and theories and seeks a purely female model. She takes her departure from the assumption by saying that women are different in terms of nature, race, culture and nation. Thus they can not be universally studied. She claims that like the male writers, female writers too have their own tradition. She says that women’s writing in the past was overlooked and undervalued by male critics. To make the literature of women different and special, there is a need of the reconstruction of its past and rediscovery of the scores of women writers. As a result, she has reconstructed the past of literary history of women by dividing the three stages of woman writers.

1) The Feminine Phase (1840 to 1880):- The women writers such as the Bronte sisters, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, belong to this phase, which covers the period of 1840 to 1880. The writers followed male’s norms internalizing the dominant male aesthetic standards. They identified themselves with the male culture as women were not allowed to write. Some of them even wrote in male pseudonyms. Their works dealt with social and domestic background. They however exhibited a kind of sense of guilt in their writing. They accepted certain limitation in their writings.

2) The Feminist Phase(1880to 1920):- This phase covers the duration of 1880 to 1920 including the writing like Elizabethan Robins, Francis Trallope and others. The women writers of this phase protested against the male canons and values. It is the period of separatist utopia. They rejected any text that stereotyped the women. They developed a personal sense of injustice and wrote biases of male.

3) The Female Phase (1920 to present):- The writers such as Rebecca West, Katherine Mansfield, and Dorothy Richardson of the period between 1920 to the present day came under this phase. The writers of this phase avoid both the imitation of the feminine writers and the protest of the feminist writers and the protest of the feminist writers. They purely develop the idea of female writing and female experience. They differentiate female writing and male writing in terms of language. Their effort to identify and analyze the female experience leads them to this phase of self discovery.

Thus, Showalter’s attempt is note worthy in a sense that she wants to free women from the male dominated literary tradition. For this, she rejects the heliocentric language and calls for the women’s access to language so that the women can develop a cultural model of their own writing to express and interpret women’s experiences distinctly and authentically.