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Criticism of Criticism

To the Editors:

Since Anthony Appiah states in print that he is “happy to acknowledge the essential goodness of Professor Gubar’s soul,” I am eternally grateful to him. Still, I want to raise two caveats about his review of Critical Condition: Feminism at the Turn of the Century [NYR, April 27].

Although Professor Appiah writes that The Madwoman in the Attic discusses the works of Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Stein, the book’s subtitle—The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination—inhibited such an undertaking, which Sandra Gilbert and I pursued instead in its three-volume sequel, entitled No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century. More important in relation to the book he was reviewing, Professor Appiah argues that Critical Condition is mainly “criticism about criticism of criticism.” The second section of this collection of essays does focus on the current state of feminist criticism; however, the first and longer section analyzes feminism in contemporary visual art and literature as well as in religious and academic settings.

Whether I should be heartened or petrified by the prospect of “l’affaire Gubar” rendered as a novel by David Lodge, Molly Hite, or Philip Roth remains a matter of more importance to me personally than to readers of The New York Review of Books. But what I take to be Professor Appiah’s major point—that criticism in general, feminist criticism in particular shows signs of rallying from the divisive moralizing and abstruse theorizing of recent years—reflects a guarded optimism (which I share) about a recovery that would benefit us all.

Susan Gubar
Department of English
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana

The Editors replies:

Through no fault of Mr. Appiah, the title No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century was omitted from his text as the source of the reference to the writers he mentioned. Our apologies to Mr. Appiah.

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