. Fatal Women of Romanticism
. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.
You can get a peek of the book at Amazon
What is it ?
Here's the description from the UK Cambridge site:
"Incarnations of fatal women, or femmes fatales, recur throughout the works of women writers in the Romantic period. Adriana Craciun demonstrates how portrayals of femmes fatales or fatal women played an important role in the development of Romantic women’s poetic identities and informed their exploration of issues surrounding the body, sexuality and politics. Craciun covers a wide range of writers and genres from the 1790s through the 1830s. She discusses the work of well-known figures including Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as lesser-known writers like Anne Bannerman. By examining women writers’ fatal women in historical, political and medical contexts, Craciun uncovers a far-ranging debate on sexual difference. She also engages with current research on the history of the body and sexuality, providing an important historical precedent for modern feminist theory’s ongoing dilemma regarding the status of ‘woman’ as a sex."
To give a bit of an overview, here's the Table of Contents:
1. The subject of violence: Mary Lamb, femme fatale
2. Violence against difference: Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson and women's strength
3. 'The aristocracy of genius': Mary Robinson and Marie Antoinette
4. Unnatural, unsexed, undead: Charlotte Dacre's gothic bodies
5. 'In seraph strains, unpitying, to destroy': Anne Bannerman's femmes fatales
6. 'Life has one vast stern likeness in its gloom': Letitia Landon's philosophy of decomposition
Why did I read it?
The now finished, submitted, and I hope, finished, article for which I was reading so much on Romanticism than normal. In particular, Craciun is arguably one of the best scholars to have worked on a Gothic author for whom I have a soft-spot that keeps dragging me into this subfield, Charlotte Dacre.
Why should you read it?
1) It provides an intriguing angle into the world of British Romanticism. Whether you are familiar or not with the subject, the book leads you through fascinating case studies of how various women represented and were represented by the era. Histories of this era frequently focus more on the men than the women working alongside them (William
).* I tend to focus a bit more on elements categorized as Georgian or Regency rather than Romantic (even though they are taking place at the same time). The idea of a book on Romantics that focused on women and violence went against a lot of the concepts I associate with that tradition.
2) It gives a nuanced interrogation on what is meant by gender. I love it when history is used to this end. I think the distance between the reader and the subject makes it easier to see how ideas of femininity and masculinity are shaped by other cultural assumptions.
“I argue that Romantic-period writers not only have questioned the nature of femininity and culturally constructed gender, but that they also questioned the stability and naturalness of sex itself. Modern criticism that focuses on the former instances and ignores the latter does so because the system of natural sexual difference, which was in fact fiercely contested at the turn of the nineteenth century, seems intractable and self-evidently universal two centuries later. What appears self-evident is, of course, ideological and historical: it is recent histories of the body and of sexual difference that have helped restore these women’s subtle critiques and questions, and have made them partially visible to our distant eyes. Once we more fully appreciate the diversity of opinion (and the urgency of the debates) regarding ‘natural’ sexual difference among Romantic-period political, philosophical, and scientific thinkers, we should not be surprised that women writers also questioned such purportedly natural categories for their own diverse interests” (3).
3) This may at first seem like a repetition of the preceding point, but it isn’t. This is also one of the best feminist histories I’ve read in quite some time. This is actually quite separate from a history of gender. Craciun directly responds to one of my pet peeves in historical work: the misplaced belief that a subject is only worthy if they are somehow morally/ethically superior to those around them.
“Central to feminist literary criticism on British women writers is the usually unspoken aim to demonstrate that women as a class (that is, as a sex outside of class) eschew violence, destructiveness, and cruelty, except in self-defense or rebellion, like Gilbert and Gubar’s imprisoned madwoman in the attic. This faith in women’s benevolence, for it is indeed a foundational belief of many modern feminisms, originated in the rise of the bourgeois order itself, which enshrined the maternal, nurturing, and domestic middle-class woman as the protected, private moral center of this new socio-economic order. That Romantic-period middle-class women gained an important new sense of moral, cultural, and economic authority through their domestic identities is undeniable. But should feminist criticism share the same commitment to bourgeois women’s special immunity or freedom from masculinist regimes of power, cruelty, or oppression? I want to insist on this connection between contemporary feminist reevaluations of the Romantic period and its normative (but not uncontested) ideology of gender and sex, because current scholarship too often replicates this (gendered) Romantic ideology unproductively” (8).
I love the reproduction pun in the last line! Which leads to Reason No. 4:
4) I think that many people (whether they be academics or not) forget how pleasurable a well-written line can be in any genre, even in literary histories.
I hope to post a bit more on this book and one of its subjects, Mary Lamb
* It was a bit of a pain finding sites on Mary Lamb that were accurate and did not need a subscription to view them.
Adriana Craciun Homepage @ Birkbeck, University of London[www.bbk.ac.uk/english/ac/
Fatal Women @ Cambridge UP Site [www.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.asp
Image @ Cambridge UP Site [assets.cambridge.org/97805218/16687/cover/9780521816687.jpg
Peek of the book @ Amazon [www.amazon.com/Fatal-Women-Romanticism-Cambridge-Studies/dp/0521816688
William Wordsworth Bio @ The Literature Network [www.online-literature.com/wordsworth/
Dorothy Wordsworth Bio @ Books and Writers [www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dwordsw.htm
Charles Lamb Bio @ The Literature Network [www.online-literature.com/lamb/
Mary Lamb Bio @ The Literature Network [www.online-literature.com/elbert-hubbard/journeys-vol-two/9/
Mary Lamb Author page @ GoodReads[www.goodreads.com/author/show/6236.Mary_Lamb
Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare