Susan Cahill’s “Women and Fiction.”
As a first assignment in criticism we were given the task to:
Identify and comment on the ideas and assumptions about literature in the introductory essay by Susan Cahill to “Women and Fiction.”
This was an anthology of short stories that can still be bought. You can read much of the introduction at Amazon and one of the reviews usefully reprinted some of it:
In each story in this collection an artist expresses with realistic compassion the consciousness of an individual woman. To label any of the writers ‘feminist’ would be to force that writer into an easy category, to insist her home is not the house of fiction but a smaller place. Yet it is no error to see these fictions as feminism’s sacred texts, their authors as the movement’s greatest prophets, for they tell us more about what it feels like to be a woman than all the grey abstractions about Women heard on the talk shows or read in grey reviews about grey books on sexual stereotypes. In a world whose future may be rationalized by the abstractions of _realpolitik_, anything that takes us closer to the heart, that makes us respond seriously and sympathetically to the individual human being is to be revered. ‘In the end, our technique is sensitivity,’ Eudora Welty writes about the crafting of the short story.
The twenty-six stories in this book have been selected because they are extraordinarily moving and convincing portraits of women and their lives by extraordinary writers… women in the city, suburb, country, ghetto, working-class Jewish, celibate Catholic, Irish, English, American Canadian, and a few secret French women. Women who choose women over men, women who choose husband over personal fulfilment, women who know self, women who are too oppressed or too weak to know or choose anything. The twenty-six stories in this anthology show that a woman’s destiny is as mysterious and individual and various as the human personality itself … these fictions …unfold a deep understanding of what Stephen Daedalus’s mother in _A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man_ prayed her son would someday learn: ‘What the heart is…and what it feels.”
I have resorted to a freeware OCR program to decipher the old typed essay but being on foolscap means it didn’t fit an A4 scanner bed. I hope I’ve edited my essay well enough to be readable.
It got a good mark with some generous comments but noted more obvious critical comments could have been made. Con Castan suggested she had a feminist variant on a Leavasite position. I doubt I would have known how to make that argument. Despite no great interest in feminist writing and criticism I was fated to have quite a lot of it to do at times.