29 August 2010

Rooms of Our Own

Susan Gubar is one of my favorite literature professors.

And I've never taken a class from her.

But I do love The Madwoman in the Attic, co-authored with Sandra Gilbert, and eagerly snapped up Gubar's book Rooms of Our Own when it appeared in paperback.

Rooms of Our Own owes a great deal to Virginia Woolf, not just in title, but also in structure.  Gubar chose to structure the book as a semi-fictional, stream-of-consciousness examination of feminism and academia.  She created an alter-ego of approximate age, taste, and experience to herself and followed that alter ego through an academic year at an institution of higher learning (that bears a striking resemblance to Indiana University).  The alter ego muses on the status of women in higher education, what progress has been made or lost since her early years as a young graduate student and professor.  She observes the growth of gender studies and how it intersects with extant women's studies programs.

The book is a bit of an odd ramble for a work based on theory but before you think it's just too wierd I have to say that the structure works very well.  Anyone with a background in women's or gender studies would have a field day with all the theorists mentioned and mulled over in Rooms of Our Own.  The use of the alter ego allows Gubar to comment on situations without being overtly critical of an individual.  Gubar uses a composite faculty meeting - where funding is hashed out - where the participants are all described as members of a menagerie to discuss the competition that is always present in a humanities program; because the meeting is presented through the alter ego, we are able to see the humor and irony that must be present at nearly every faculty meeting at every institution in the country.

I liked my second Gubar book, not quite as much as Madwoman, but Rooms does have a great deal of ideas to think over.

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