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on 28 March 2008
This collection of feminist short stories shows the issues concerning female writers at the Fin de Siecle. Moving away from the Victorian three part novel these revolutionary women experiment with parody and allegory in their short fictions. The stories in this collection depict the 'New Woman' and her struggles for equality with men. They portray women as intelligent and sexual rather than simply wives and mothers.
Very enjoyable and recommended reading for anyone. Essential reading for anyone interested in feminist literature and women's literary tradition.
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on 23 April 2008
I actually originally read this book of women's fin-de-siecle short stories last year, but it has been more or less a constant companion ever since. In those gaps where time is too short to read a healthy dose of whichever novel I am on, a quick dip into this wonderful collection is the perfect reading substitute.

Edited by Elaine Showalter (feminist academic and one of My Heroes), this collection rescues fin-de-siecle literature from the clutches of the dominant male writers of the time such as Wilde and Haggard. This was the time of the New Woman, and women were writing furiously. As Showalter says in her excellent introduction:

"Not only as heroines of drama, but also as competitors in marketplace, women were a major presence in the new literary world of the 1880s and 1890s. They were writing with unprecedented candour about female sexuality, marital discontent, and their own aesthetic theories and aspirations; and speaking to - and about - the New Women of the fin de siecle. Famous, even notorious, in their own day, these women writers have been overshadowed not only by such distinguished male contemporaries as Conrad and Wilde, but also by minor novelists like Haggard and Stoker."

It's time for the women to step forward and take the credit they are due. Arguably the most famous story in this collection is Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story The Yellow Wallpaper, which I defy anyone not to love. The story was written in the 1890s after she had been suffering from post-natal depression, and had been treated by Dr Silas Weir Mitchell. He had made her go through the rest cure, and she was not allowed to do anything by stay quietly in bed - she could not even read or write. Now, I can tell you here and now that if I was shut up somewhere in the country without recourse to a healthy dose of books I would be throwing myself out of a high window in fairly short order. Charlotte PG instead waited until she could write again and wrote this furious, eloquent, heartbreaking story of a woman in just such a situation, descending from depression into true madness in her confinement.

However, the lesser-known stories are just as wonderful. Kate Chopin - best known for her novella The Awakening - opens the collection with a very, very short story called An Egyptian Cigarette which sees a woman who smokes a cigarette brought back from Cairo for her and slips into a druggy dream of Egyptian Gods, and a mysterious man.

There is also a feminist counterpart for Conrad's The Heart of Darkness: Charlotte Mew's A White Night. It is narrated by the heroine's brother, Cameron, and follows Ella, Cameron, and Ella's new husband King on their honeymoon to Spain. There they witness the ritual burying alive of a veiled woman, which Showalter rightly calls "a warning of female destiny in the contexts of patriarchy", then sees the party's reaction to it. Ella is massively disturbed and transforms from strong New Woman into speechless hysteric, while Cameron believes that "the woman didn't really count", the whole thing was merely a "spectacle" and a "rather splendid crime".

These are all truly fantastic stories, and I heartily recommend that you all go and haste ye to a place where you can buy it. Go, go, go! You won't regret it.

(And what a gorgeous cover - lovely Virago designs strike again.)
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on 31 May 2012
Elaine Showalter has compiled various short stories written during the 1880s and 1890s. The majority of these are not available online. I, personally, liked The Yellow Wallpaper, which has a nice twist in the end.

The female authors featured in this book experiment with the changing gender dynamic befitting the idea of the New Woman. Theodora: A Fragment, written by Victoria Cross and published in the literary magazine The Yellow Book (1895), is a good example of reversed gender roles and is very nicely written. Cross later adapted this short story into a novel called Six Chapters of a Man's Life (1903).

The only negative comment I can think of is the limited scope Showalter assumed. The authors are carefully selected and belong to a certain group of female writers that challenged these ideas. Naturally, not every female author during the period shared these convictions. Based on this book alone, one could think all female writers of the period were interested in these ideas.

Nonetheless, Showalter has revived various short stories of authors long forgotten and hard to find online for those who get their reading material of websites such as Project Gutenberg. It is thus a worthwhile investment.
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Elaine Showalter, a pioneer in the field of women's literature and feminist criticism, assembled this choice selection in the 1980s and it has yet to be superceded. Its a superb collection of short fiction by progressive women writers of the 1890s, representing an alternative Symbolist/Decadent canon to what is often cast as a male-dominated movement! And the book also comes with Showalter's pithy introduction - an impressive piece of insight and appraisal.

These women writers twist the conservative conventions of a Symbolist movement which often cast female characters as vamps or victims. It is a joy to sit down with the collection and read it through in its entirety, seeing gender roles questioned and changed, then chew over the ideas and issues (definitely food for endless thoughts). And, of course, "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman puts a stunning psychological twist on the haunted room motif of gothic horror (note the gesture to Symbolist colour theories in the title).

If Angelique Richardson's later collection Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women, 1890-1914 (Penguin Classics) extends and adds to the corpus introduced here, Showalter's selection remains the authoritative text and best initial introduction to the field. Space should be found for this collection on every bookshelf of English and American fiction.
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on 16 February 2012
There is nothing actually wrong with this book as such, but I was set it as part of my degree and found it quite hard going. There are some stories that will stick with me for a while, such as Yellow wallpaper and they are a good example of feminist literature.

However, I must confess that if I had had the choice about reading them, I doubt I would have continued.

Overall, for a fan of feminist literature, these will be a pleasure to read and dissect, however, for the ordinary reader, they may not be as satisfying.
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on 15 May 2016
Book required for studies. Good read anyway
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 October 2012
Fin-de-Siècle translates as "end of century" in this case, for the end of the 19th century a period renowned for so called `decadence' within the arts. Stories by women became endemic to the age. This book contains many examples - women writing courageously about sexuality, or marital discontent were often denounced as `literary degenerates' or erotomaniacs, and only a few of the most deserving, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper', have been rescued, and anthologised quite a few times, but most have never been reprinted or anthologised. This volume brings together twenty of the most original.

The best of them is still undoubtedly 'The Yellow Wallpaper', a gentle beginning gradually gives way to a chilling story of a woman being driven to madness by the stifling treatment by her husband and her doctor, all with the aim of ministering to what the men are pleased to call "nerves". What is the worst part is that these men are acting from the best of their instincts, to protect and help her. It must stand for the worst Victorian paternalism in both spouse and medic.

To be honest, there is not much that would cause the most innocent of maiden aunts to raise much of an eyebrow in any of the stories here - one has to remember that at the time that they were written, novels by women were regarded as highly suspect and unusual. They were writing from a time (most began writing in the 1870s or 80s) before emancipation was much bruited or understood. Some of the short stories have a sense of artificiality - perhaps merely because the writers were preternaturally conscious that they would be held in scant regard. Some reacted with an extraordinary kind of hearty bluffness about the opposite sex and depicting their men almost as if as soon as one had a husband he became oddly sexless. There are no bedroom scenes, though one hale fellow picks up his wife and carries her off to her settee. There is also an outrageously mocking satire by a man, the so-called Borgia Smudgiton, printed in Punch, giving his version of female writing. It's hilarious.

This collection is worth reading, for the Gilman story alone, but there are others to enjoy, particularly the spooky story by Charlotte Mew, Edith Wharton's 'The Muse's Tragedy', and Constance Fenimore Woolson's 'Miss Grief'. Other stories are also worth a look even if you don't read to the end, to see how women had to re-invent themselves in order to get a hearing.
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on 3 October 2013
I thought this was a set of essays by Showalter about women writers rather than a collection of short stories, so not what I was expecting from the front cover.
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on 5 January 2015
Fine.
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on 28 June 2015
If this was the best women could do it would be no surprise that they were not heard of! A very bad choice
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