Preface, Spring 2000, Vol. 19, No. 1

Download PDF

Holly LairdUniversity of Tulsa
Vol. 19, No. 2 (Fall 2000), 183-185

This issue of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature has been caught up in a wave of transitions, as if the new millennium had indeed demanded change. Most important perhaps for the journal is our move to yet another new “old house,” and along with this move, the shifting of our collection of women’s literature and feminist criticism to McFarlin Library. (Visitors to McFarlin thus now have easy access not only to the tremendous manuscript and book collections for women writers in “Special Collections” but also to Tulsa Studies’ inviting archive of books, with the Virago publications at its core.) In addition to these momentous changes, I have become Chair of the Department of English here at the University of Tulsa, while carrying on with editorship of Tulsa Studies, and I do so at a time when—as many of our readers may already know—we will be searching for a new editor of the James Joyce Quarterly to replace Robert Spoo. We miss Bob, his diligence and energy, and his companionship in the “Red House(s)” where the journals have physically dwelled.

The new house where we reside is an elegant structure, set apart slightly from the main campus on a grassy corner. This change was necessitated by the university’s development, as it follows through on its “master plan.” While this move—like the previous one—was onerous for those of us who turned their backs on the memories associated with the spaces in which we worked, and especially for those who packed and unpacked the boxes, the new house tums out to be a more spacious and more pleasant place in which to work. Previously the house was used as a seminary. We welcome visitors who may happen through Tulsa or McFarlin Library. (I wish to thank, in particular, Linda Frazier, Olivia Martin, Kara Ryan-Johnson, Michael Berglund, and Pauline Newton for their help with this move.) We are not yet entirely moved into the house even now, and the move has slowed down our operations, as our current authors, reviewers, and readers already know. We hope that most of you will not notice much in the way of glitches. If you do, however, please let us know, so that we can attend to them as soon as possible.

The shifting of Tulsa Studies‘ small library from our house to McFarlin has caused the greatest of the gaps, of course, in our sense of space in the new house. This was not an easy decision to make. Yet we have long felt that far more students should and would find their ways to this collection if it could be discovered among the rooms of the main library. With library space at a premium, we were surprised and delighted when we learned we would be able to establish this women’s literature collection in McFarlin. We are deeply grateful to the library and to its director, Francine Fisk, for agreeing with us that the collection merited some room of its own.

In the meantime, much continues also to go on without letup within the pages of the journal. This issue fittingly heralds the opening of the new millennium with three articles devoted to reevaluation of both New Women and anti-New Woman novels from the previous tum of the century. Our lead article, an Archives piece, presents readers with a detailed description and evaluation of a heretofore unknown novel by Rebecca West, “The Sentinel.” Kathryn Laing came upon this novel four years ago in the Rebecca West Collection of McFarlin Library, and after painstaking work in transcribing and analyzing it, she offers here the first full-length scholarly examination of it. As Laing narrates, “the striking resemblance of the handwriting [of “Isabel Lancashire”] to that of the young Rebecca West” and “the story of Adela Furnival—schoolgirl, science mistress, and finally suffragette—    . . . suggested the extraordinary possibility that this lengthy but incomplete novel was West’s first, written prior to the posthumously published Adela fragment and started before she began her journalistic work for The Freewoman, when she adopted the pen name Rebecca West.”

In the next essay, “George Egerton and the Project of British Colonialism,” Iveta Jusová extends the work begun by Laura Chrisman of placing the famous New Woman writer George Egerton within the imperialist context of late Victorian England. Rather than focusing exclusively on Egerton’s frankness about female sexuality and gender roles, as have most previous scholars of Egerton, Jusová explores the intersections of gen der and sexuality with race and class. Ultimately diverging from Chrisman’s conclusions about Egerton’s conservatism within a colonialist context, Jusová argues that Egerton went beyond most other New Women novelists in this regard, for her “disrespect for conventional English middle-class values and sensibilities, her lack of direct investment in the maintenance of the British empire, and her engagement with Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy freed Egerton to explore in her work discursive strategies subversive of both middle-class values and, in some instances, of the colonial project.”

In “Disdained and Disempowered: The ‘Inverted’ New Woman in Rhoda Broughton’s Dear Faustina,” Patricia Murphy tums her attention to an anti-New Woman novelist’s demonization of her feminist character, the fictional “Faustina.” As Murphy points out, Broughton has not received much critical attention, though she was widely read in her own day. Yet Dear Faustina, Murphy explains, “provides a fascinating glimpse of the discourses marshaled in the century’s final decades to decry the ‘shrieking sisterhood”‘ by “incorporat[ing] the vituperative sentiments that entered cultural discourse through both fictional and nonfictional writings, [and] resonat[ing] with the nascent scientific study of female homoeroticism conducted by such Victorian sexologists as Havelock Ellis.” Moreover, while this novel overtly reinstitutionalizes a patriarchal order of gender relations, it nonetheless also allows Broughton’s New Woman a central role in the narrative, which puts into performance Ellis’s “sexual invert”; moreover, even after Faustina’s defeat, Broughton retains a commitment to a social mission for women despite the novel’s return to patriarchal norms.

JoAnn Pavletich’s article shifts to the writings of the Jewish immigrant, Anzia Yezierska, in 1920s America. This article, “Anzia Yezierska, Immigrant Authority, and the Uses of Affect,” focuses on a moment in the history of the fascinating discourses of “affect.” As Pavletich shows, “while emotion ostensibly occupies the realm of the subjective, it nevertheless, like sexuality, like class relations, like warfare, has a history.” More specifically, Yezierska’s writings “engag[e] the tensions in early-twentieth-century United States culture between a valorized emotional reserve and a denigrated emotional expressivity [through the] figure of the emotionally intense Jewish female immigrant” and thereby “establish[es] the immigrant woman as an especially important figure in United States culture precisely because of her effusive emotions.” Pavletich does not reach a romantic conclusion about this figure’s role in U.S. culture, however, for she finds that while Yezierska’s texts proffer a critique of class and gender relations in America, these texts remain at least partially constrained not only by cultural stereotypes of affect, but also by the early twentieth-century utopian doctrine of “sympathy” as the answer to “oppressive and marginalizing political and economic forces.”

The next essay by Claudia Ingram on the contemporary coauthors Olga Broumás and T Begley returns to a topic and a question of authorship first broached five years ago in Tulsa Studies‘ publication in Spring 1995 of “What is the Subject? Speaking, Silence, (Self) Censorship,” by the collaborative young scholars Darlene Dralus and Jen Shelton. In “Sappho’s Legacy: The Collaborative Testimony of Olga Broumás and T Begley,” Ingram shows that “in its collaborative production, in the strange and sometimes traumatic content it explores, and in its formal and linguistic qualities, [Broumás and Begley’s verse sequence] ‘Prayerfields’ dramatizes the process of ‘bearing witness.”‘ By “strange,” Ingram means what Shoshana Felman earlier defined as a quality evoked when speech retrospectively and disjunctively marks—or “testifies” to—an undigestible trauma. For Broumás and Begley, as for Dralus and Shelton, the traumas informing this verse sequence include incest. Yet, as Ingram further argues, this poetry does more than memorialize past trauma: Sappho’s “legacy,” as Broumás and Begley themselves remind us, is not one only of “tears,” but of “praise.” In Ingram’s words, these poets “perform the recovery of what they identify as a specifically poetic voice: the voice that is able, without forgetfulness, to praise”—to celebrate not only “the speaking subject, the embodied voice, that survives, but also . . . the intimate ‘you’ who bears witness and, in doing so, enables this survival.”

In the final, culminating essay of this issue, “Who’s Afraid of Mala Mousi? Violence and the ‘Family Romance’ in Anjana Appachana’s ‘Incantations,”‘ Suvir Kaul introduces Tulsa Studies readers to the writing of a contemporary Indian woman author. Working within a feminist con text “made available,” as Kaul says, “by the growth of urban, middle-class feminism in India since the 1970s,” Appachana is one of a group of recent writers who, in contrast to writers like Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, and Arundhati Roy, give voice to “another, quieter strain in contemporary Indian writing in English . . . one whose compressed energy derives not from its sweep or its claim to represent entire worlds-in-the-making, but from its insistence on enacting in a realist idiom the lives and experiences of middle-class families, particularly those of the women who live within and are defined by the expectations of these families.” At the same time, this is a writer for whom a single story like the one on which Kaul focuses, “Incantations,” simultaneously traces “multiple and overlapping stories,” becoming “thick with event and meditation.” “Incantations” is, further, a story whose multilinguality allows an “overlap and jostle of . . . languages [from which] emerge conflicted models of desire and of aberrant or idealized subjectivity.” Whoever is afraid of Mala Mousi—a gynecologist and “feminist avant la lettre” who plays a central role in this story—is still more likely to fear the “power and precision” of Appachana herself.

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]