‘A Constant State of Tension’

Academic Women Authors
  • Mary Eagleton


In the second edition of A Literature of Their Own, Elaine Showalter comments: ‘Just as the heroine of a New Woman novel in the 1890s was likely to be an artist or writer, the heroine of a New British Woman novel in the 1990s is likely to be a feminist literary critic’.3 As Showalter’s footnote makes clear, this is not solely a British phenomenon and, equally, to demark the 1990s as its period is rather too narrow. She mentions literary examples from the United States — Gail Godwin’s The Odd Woman, published in 1974, and Death in a Tenured Position, published in 1981 by Amanda Cross, pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun; from France, she includes Julia Kristeva’s Les Samouräis. Some of the texts we shall be looking at in this chapter would add other examples to Showalter’s selection — David Lodge’s Nice Work and Antonia Byatt’s Possession: A Romance — while Sarah Maloney in Carol Shields’s Mary Swann, whom I discussed in Chapter 4, would also fit this category of successful feminist literary critic.4 We could further expand Showalter’s claim. Sometimes the literary academic heroine, though deeply involved in her subject, is not writing from a feminist position: Anita Brookner’s heroines, Ruth Weiss in A Start in Life or Kate Maule in Providence, are experts in French literature or, as a slightly earlier example, there is Rosamund Stacey who, in the course of Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone, acquires an illegitimate baby, a Ph.D. in sixteenth-century poetry and an academic post at a new university.


Literary Form Emotional Academic Academic Woman Tenured Position Love Object 
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© Mary Eagleton 2005

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  • Mary Eagleton

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