Top positive review
The best of 1890s Women's experimental writing
on 29 June 2012
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field of women's literature and feminist criticism, assembled this choice selection in the 1980s and it has yet to be superceded.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.