Preface, Spring 1998, Vol. 17, No. 1

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Holly LairdUniversity of Tulsa
Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 1998), 7-9

Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature continues a sea change with this issue, as we tangle still with learning QuarkXpress. Our first desktop-printed issue of last fall went forward without a glitch and, to our surprise, was nearly on schedule. The slowdown in our operations will be more marked, however, with this spring 1998 issue. We hope that this issue will reward your patience. Our foremost priority in the immediate future will be to return to our original schedule of publication.

This belated issue also happens to mark a decade in my tenure as editor. Strangely, despite ten years of editorship, the journal still seems like a new venture to me and, of course, barely across the threshold of the enormous changes transpiring in the world of electronic publication. (I am one of those especially astonished, now belated people who wrote her dissertation in longhand and on a typewriter.) In 1988, I would have taken it as a wild surmise that in only ten years, writers and readers like me would be writing, reading, conversing with friends and strangers at least as often through a virtual window in a plastic box on their desks as through the undulating faces of pieces of paper. One day, I would like to see developed a hypertext version of Tulsa Studies that would create electronic space for creative writing by women and chat rooms for conversation between writers and scholars (and interested men-in-feminism) in addition to critical/theoretical articles on women’s writing. But that is sheerly a dream for the present. Even then, I would hope for the journal’s sustained commitment to beautiful, tangible, fierce books (including these printed volumes of Tulsa Studies) and to precise, pushy, heady scholarship devoted to writing and women-as in the present issue.

This issue begins with the archival recovery of a forgotten essay by Edith Wharton. Frederick Wegener has uncovered a short travel essay published by Wharton during the war that turns out to be an unusual appreciation of charities ambitiously managed by a French general’s wife, Madame Lyautey. Its topic is unusual because it uniquely highlights the achievements of a woman whose reputation has otherwise been submerged in her husband’s and because Wharton herself rarely paid admiring attention to activities considered “women’s work.” Indeed, she later edited Madame Lyautey out of reminiscences of the French Moroccan protectorate described in this essay. This essay is of interest, as Wegener shows, not only for its restoration to the known corpus of Wharton’s work, nor only for what reading it contributes to understanding her relations to other achieving women and to women’s work, but also for its small portrait of Wharton’s flattering attitude toward colonialism—not an attractive portrait from today’s perspective, but an illuminating one.

Moving back and forth through time as well as across national borders (from Europe to Morocco, from Canada to the States, from England to France), the articles in this issue are exemplary in expanding the borders not only in what we know about women’s writing, but in how we think about gendered narrative. Following Wharton’s story in this issue is Jean Wyatt’s article on envy between women in Atwood’s The Robber Bride. This essay goes well beyond an acute analysis of Atwood’s novel, moreover, to present a provisional theory of the place of envy in feminist communities. Drawing on Lacanian arguments of the double, Wyatt produces a compelling argument for acknowledging and allowing envy in our (feminist) relations to each other.

Suzanne Juhasz builds upon and corrects previous discussions that she as well as other critics have offered of romantic plots and women readers by turning her attention here to popular romantic novels by and about lesbians, in particular to Sarah Aldridge’s Keep to Me, Stranger (Naiad, 1989). As Juhasz’s title suggests, she provocatively discerns in this fiction alternative “plots of desire,” designed to support lesbian identity as well as to stimulate fantasies of lesbian relations, much as conventional contemporary heterosexual romances arguably support a woman’s need to be nurtured both emotion ally and in a modem career. Juhasz boldly risks essentializing the lesbian in order to describe what lesbian readers often wish for.

Anne Morey’s article on gender and photoplaywrights in the early decades of this century is a first for Tulsa Studies. Though Tulsa Studies is obviously not a journal of film criticism, films should nonetheless be included as subjects for discussion in this journal, for the act of writing plays a crucial role in films, in silent films as well as talkies. Morey explores an important historical decade, from 1913 to 1923, when women rose and fell in their contributions as scenarists and as screenwriters to the burgeoning film industry. It is another monitory example of the ways women have succeeded and then been forced to yield to the other gender their status and the status of what they do.

Patricia Moran has traced a fascinating pattern of oblique references to hymenal intactness and rupture in Virginia Woolf’s writing. She argues that a letter of 1930 to Ethel Smyth marks a shift in Woolf’s thinking of a woman writer’s “centre” from figuring it as lacking to figuring it as a site of creative rupture. The hymen came to seem—as evidenced particularly in a comparison between unpublished passages in A Room of One’s Own, on the one hand, and passages in “Professions for Women” and The Waves, on the other hand—pliable rather than fragile, transformatively shapeshifting rather than tragically frangible. Moran links Woolf’s early thinking about the hymenal center to her early sexual abuse and contrasts this with later thinking that arose from her passionate conversation with other women artists.

Finally, Catherine Liu challenges feminist readings of women’s narratives (citing Nancy K. Miller’s famous “Emphasis Added” as a classic case) and, more specifically, feminist reappraisals of The Princess of Cleves that describe this narrative as contributing to a history of heroic women. Liu redescribes this heroism as profoundly complicated by the princess’s self-renunciation. While the princess can be characterized as seeking a type of Nietzschean will to power through inimitable virtue, she thereby produces a “particularly demanding set of representational and hermeneutic problems.” The writer’s will to power depends, moreover, on Madame de Lafayette’s anonymity as an author, not only on the text’s advocated renunciations. Any inclination to a “faux pas” must yield to the prohibition of “faut pas.”

Readers should be sure also not to miss our next issue. Guest edited by seventeenth-century scholar Teresa Feroli, the fall 1998 issue, “Political Discourse/British Women’s Writing,” focuses on British women’s writing from 1640 to 1869. This exciting special issue includes Diane Purkiss’s “Invasions: Prophecy and Bewitchment in the Case of Margaret Muschamp,” Tamsin Spargo’s “The Fathers’ Seductions: Improper Relations of Desire in Seventeenth-Century Nonconformist Communities,” Katharine Gillespie’s “‘A Hammer in Her Hand’: The Separation of Church from State and the Early Feminist Writings of Katherine Chidley,” Clare Brant’s “Armchair Politicians: Elections and Representations, 1774,” Ewa Badowska’s “The Anorexic Body of Liberal Feminism: Figures of Femininity and Languages of Taste in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Esther Schor’s “The Poetics of Politics: Barrett Browning’s Casa Guidi Windows,” and Florence Boos’s “‘We Would Know Again the Fields . . .’: The Rural Poetry of Elizabeth Campbell, Jane Stevenson, and Mary Macpherson.”

Let me remind Tulsa Studies readers that I would love to hear what topics you feel are needed or of special interest as a focus for panels at the 1999 MLA, panels that I hope will generate publishable articles in the future. Each division sponsors a series of three panels every year, and in 1999 I will chair the Executive Committee of the Women’s Studies Division, and so must organize that year’s topics. Topics must be finalized by this coming winter. The 1998 panels, to be conducted in San Francisco, examine the relations between passion and gender in the feminist classroom, in feminist writing, and in feminist scholarship.

On a more personal note, before concluding this preface, I would like to let you—especially those of you I have met or with whom I have worked at any time in the last ten years—know that my husband’s and my two-year wait for a daughter from China is now blissfully over. We travelled in February to meet her and bring her back. Her name is Sage Menglian—a wonderful child, brimmingly responsive, full of laughter, and growing extraordinarily rapidly. Wish her long life and happiness, please, in your thoughts.

Holly Laird
University of Tulsa

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]