How to Be Good

Elaine Showalter

  • Unless by Carol Shields
    Fourth Estate, 213 pp, £16.99, May 2002, ISBN 0 00 713770 2

The debate about women’s writing – is it too restricted, domestic and love-obsessed, in contrast to the more sweeping, historical, socially aware and experimental novels of men? – has been going on since Jane Austen’s day. Charlotte Brontë was one who rejected Austen’s plot, which she called ‘a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden’. Recently Gillian Beer even announced the death of the traditional women’s novel: instead of the masochistic themes of unrequited love, she said at the Hay Festival, ‘women have freed themselves to write more forcefully about much larger networks, wars, families, communities, national change, terrorism and history.’

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