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The private lives of Victorian women : autobiography in nineteenth-century England /
Valerie Sanders.
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1989.
xi, 184 p. ; 23 cm.
More Details
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1989.
general note
Includes index.
catalogue key
Bibliography: p. [169]-180.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1990-04:
Sanders's study broadens the definition of autobiography and enriches our understanding of the genre. It is the first full-length treatment of the subject, and an important companion to E.C. Jelinek's Women's Autobiography: Essays in Criticism (CH, Oct'80). Sanders asks two large questions: Why did 19th-century women choose not to write traditional autobiography? What rhetorical strategies did they employ when writing about the self? Recent studies such as J.H. Buckley's The Turning Key (CH, Jun'84) have ignored the subject. Sanders finds the central plots of autobiography (the growth of the mind and the course of the career) alien to Victorian women. She ably demonstrates, however, that a vast range of "achieving women" wrote about the self, validating the importance of hidden lives. Elizabeth Barrett, Sara Coleridge, Anna Jameson, and the Bronte sisters all wrote memoirs of a childhood; novelists such as Elizabeth Sewell, Harriet Martineau, Margaret Oliphant, Charlotte Elizabeth, and George Eliot found the form of autobiography fraught with problems the novel lacked. Sanders emphasizes the links among these writers: she identifies the "dominant theme" as the "consciousness of solitude." Women's "self-writing" repeatedly demonstrates the anxiety of authorship, the consciousness of a hidden or double life. The work is well grounded in recent theory: Sanders persuasively discusses the ways in which current feminist French criticism is limited in its applicability to these writers. Her intention is "to challenge the increasing unintelligibility of much recent critical writing, its growing elitism, and its reliance on a purely technical vocabulary that dehumanises the subject of its study." Graduate level. -M. Jones, University of North Florida
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, April 1990
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