(London: Virago) ISBN 978 1 84408 078 6, hbk £22.50
Audacious in scope, A Jury of her Peers examines over four centuries of American women’s writing, positioned within pertinent social and historical contexts. Engaging and accessible, Showalter masks her scholarly credentials in plain prose. She is brilliant at encapsulating the period significance and essential qualities of the writers and their works. Here she is on “American Eliots”:
During Reconstruction, the clash between old ideals and new aspirations, the Lost Cause and the woman’s cause, inspired Southern women’s interest in Eliot’s realism and broad social understanding. “The old life of the south has passed away,” says a character in Sherwood Bonner’s Like Unto Like (1878). “It only remains for the genius of a George Eliot to grasp these old materials, and from their wreck build a memorial of its glory in a Southern ‘Middlemarch’ ”. (177)
Showalter, rightly, gives a whole chapter to a discussion of Edith Wharton and Willa Cather, “not only because they were giants of their age, but also because of their commitment to an art beyond the limitation of gender. […] American women’s writing could not fully mature until there were women writing against it” (271).
You can read the full review in Issue No. 2 of The Literateur