Whether you're a fan of Margaret Atwood or Virginia Woolf, a feminist take on literature is a great way to look at how women are second class citizens, now and then. Look into any one novel, whether top-notch or lesser known, and you've got fodder for how both society viewed the role of women at any given time. The field is a broad one, though, so it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where to focus your research. Thankfully, a few typical areas of study exist so pick one, and you'll be well on your way towards exposing misogyny and reading a few really great books as well.
Female Writers and Their Place In Literary History
The writing of female authors gives perfect insight into their place in literary history. Does the writer refuse to take on women's issues and instead write under a male pen name and use male values? Calling George Eliot! Was she embroiled in early feminism and trying to prove that her voice and her writing was just as legit, like Virginia Woolf did? Or does she adopt a more post-feminism approach and simply assume that her work deserves to be heard? All of these approaches will give you plenty of food for thought as to what kind of world your author lived in. For example, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's "The Madwoman In the Attic" argues that Rochester's mad wife who was cooped up in his attic symbolizes the inability of women to get their creative juices going. Instead they had to resort to being destructive. Who can blame them?
The Treatment of Female Characters in Novels
How both male and female authors treat their characters owes a lot to wherever and whenever they lived. In early English literature, most famously we have Chaucer's salacious Wife of Bath in The Cantebury Tales and Spenser's virginal Una in The Faerie Queen. This could show a virgin or whore thinking about women in early English society -- though we wonder, has anything changed? Elizabethan comedic plays often feature crossing-dressing men as a comment on gender -- a researcher could investigate how much Queen Elizabeth I's reign affected how Elizabethan writers were allowed to show women on stage. You'll also want to compare the female characters of male and female authors in a particular genre or time -- this is definitely a rich area for exploration!
Look Into Those Female Canons
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Seek female literary traditions and you shall find them. Female literary canons will give you a great opportunity to look at different cultures, races and classes. Although Victorian works by Bronte, Austen and the like might spring to mind, try to search for a more offbeat subject and don't be afraid to compare canons that might seem dissimilar. For example, one dissertation titled “Seeing Red: Anger, Femininity, and the American Indian of Nineteenth-Century Sentimental Literature" looked at how three early female Native American writers wrote about sentimentality and its overlooked partner: anger. Then they were compared with the works from three female Anglo writers from the same time.
Women Writers and Class
The social and financial status of people are inseparable, especially for women. Looking at how literary characters are affected by their class is a rich topic for research. For example, how is a rich character like Austen's Emma shown as opposed to a poor one such as Bronte's Jane Eyre, and what different problems do they face? Also, how finances affected women writers can be just as compelling. Virginia Woolf's famous work "A Room Of One's Own" argues that women writers can only be successful if they are financially independent. Whether this is true and how this might have affected the development of a female literary canon is a perfect way to bring your feminist perspective to literature.
Alana Vye is a Canadian writer living abroad. She had a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Toronto and has worked in online marketing and publicity. She's also an avid traveler who has visited Asia, Europe and Central America.