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Victorian Feminist Criticism: Recovery Work and the Care Community

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2018

Extract

It is fitting that this article emerged from a conference in which the orderly progression of speakers was continually modified by exchanges within the conference space, for these two ways of organizing information form the subject of this article. When we aim to recover Victorian women writers, we often imagine a particular case in a timeline, selecting and extracting in a tacit model of linear orderliness. This is particularly significant in what we might call “recovery feminism,” the practice of salvaging texts that have been lost to history. Recovery feminism has dominated Victorianist feminist criticism since its development in the late 1970s, and I practiced it enthusiastically in my first book, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes. In this article, I want to acknowledge what recovery feminism has given us, but I also want to delineate the profound and often unarticulated ways it continues to structure our work, often with unintended consequences. In order to explore alternative forms of feminism, I assess theories of influence and intertextuality, and I use Charlotte M. Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe (1853) as an example that both thematizes this issue and acts as a case study of forms of feminist criticism. A viable feminist criticism, I contend, ought to be able to address a novel like Heir, and Heir itself may be able to provide a model for how to do that. Such a model of feminist practice might actually resemble the simultaneous, atemporal, interactive model of the conference day. In the digital era, we occupy an alternative chronology, in which we envision ourselves not as strenuously excavating the last disintegrating relics of the past, but rather as choosing among multiple simultaneous virtual texts, severed from markers of time or space. What might be a feminist critical practice for the way we work now?

Type
Essay Cluster: The Futures of Feminist Criticism
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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Footnotes

I am grateful to Elsie Michie and Pamela Gilbert and to audiences at the Society for Novel Studies, Yale, MLA, and University of Louisville who heard parts of this project, and to the participants in the 2017 CUNY Victorian Conference.

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