Sandra M. Gilbert

b. 1936
Sandra M. Gilbert

Though widely acclaimed as a leading feminist literary critic, Sandra M. Gilbert is also a renowned poet who has published numerous collections of poetry, including the Patterson Prize winning Ghost Volcano (1997), and Kissing the Bread: New and Selected Poems 1969–1999 (2000), which won an American Book Award. Recent collections include Belongings (2006) and Aftermath: Poems (2011). Gilbert’s poetry is known for its erudition, grace, and formal control. In praise of Belongings, the poet Billy Collins noted, “Sandra Gilbert’s poems are beautifully situated at the intersection of craft and feeling.”

Gilbert’s deft gift for phrasing and interest in the metaphysical are also apparent in her collections of prose, including the harrowing tale of her husband’s sudden death, Wrongful Death: A Medical Tragedy (1995). Offering both a bitter indictment of medical malpractice and a tender eulogy for her husband of more than thirty years, the scholar Elliot Gilbert, the book reconstructs circumstances surrounding his death. Gilbert describes evasive physicians, crass lawyers, and her own deep sorrow. Gilbert’s interest in elegy, grieving, and literary representations of loss have continued to inform her work in books like Inventions of Farewell (2001), an anthology of elegies which she edited, and Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve (2006), a cultural and literary history of grief.

Gilbert is also well known for her work with the scholar Susan Gubar. The two co-wrote The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979), considered one of the most influential works of feminist scholarship of the 20th century. The book was credited with breaking important new ground in the field of women's studies, and has become a classic. The authors examine how attitudes toward women and female writers shaped the literature of Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, and Mary Shelley. Nineteenth century women writers, note Gilbert and Gubar, found themselves "trapped in the specifically literary constructs of what Gertrude Stein was to call 'patriarchal poetry.'" In response, these writers created what critic Kate Arneson, writing in English Notes, described as "subversive, displaced expressions of their own frustration," such as the madwoman of the title—a reference to Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. As Arneson pointed out, "the powerful madwoman in the attic is an alter-ego of the gentle and submissive Jane Eyre…a personification of Jane's hidden anger and unconscious resentment of her powerless…state." The Madwoman in the Attic critiqued the male-dominated literary canon, and was one of the pioneering efforts to create an alternative literary canon. The book has remained on college reading lists since it first appeared and has become one of the most famous works of feminist criticism.

Gilbert and Gubar also produced a three-volume series titled No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century. Though Gilbert and Gubar have come under fire from later feminist scholars for offering essentialized versions of the female experience which fail to take into account differences across ethnicity, class, and history, their work is generally held to have taken an important first step in legitimizing feminist literary criticism.

Speaking to her multiple roles as writer, scholar, and political activist, Gilbert once told Contemporary Authors: "I see myself as a poet, a critic, and a feminist, hoping that each 'self' enriches the others. As a poet, however, I'm superstitious about becoming too self-conscious; as a critic, I want to stay close to the sources of poetry; and as a feminist, I try to keep my priorities clear without sermonizing. Those caveats mean that a statement like this one necessarily has to be short—at least for now."


Career

Queens College of the City University of New York, Flushing, NY, lecturer in English, 1963-64, 1965-66; Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento, CA), lecturer in English, 1967-68; California State College (now California State University), Hayward, CA, assistant professor of English, 1968-71; St. Mary's College, Moraga, CA, lecturer in English, 1972; Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, associate professor of English, 1973-75; University of California, Davis, CA, 1975-85, began as associate professor, became professor of English; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, professor of English, 1985-89, Charles Barnwell Strout Class of 1923 professor, 1989; University of California, Davis, CA, professor of English, 1989—. Literary Classics in the United States (member of board of advisors), 1979-82. Visiting professor, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, fall, 1980, Williams College, fall, 1984, Stanford University, winter, 1985, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, fall, 1986. Barnard College, Gildersleeve professorship, fall, 1982. Mt. Holyoke Project on Gender Context, director, 1983 and 1984. Northwestern University, School of Criticism and Theory, faculty, summer, 1984. Humanities Institute (member of executive committee), 1983-87. Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, Paley Lecturer, 1990. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Danz Lecturer, 1992.

Bibliography

POETRY
  • In the Fourth World: Poems, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1978.
  • The Summer Kitchen: Poems, Heyeck (Woodside, CA), 1983.
  • Emily's Bread: Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Blood Pressure: Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 1988.
  • Ghost Volcano: Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Kissing the Bread: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1999, Norton (New York, NY), 2000.
  • The Italian Collection: Poems of Heritage, Depot Books, 2003.
  • Belongings, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.
  • Aftermath: Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 2011.

PROSE

  • Wrongful Death: A Medical Tragedy, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.
  • Rereading Women: Thirty Years of Exploring Our Literary Traditions, Norton (New York, NY), 2011.

CRITICISM

  • Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," Thor Publishing (Ventura, CA), 1964.
  • Two Novels by E. M. Forster, Thor Publishing (Ventura, CA), 1965.
  • D. H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers," Thor Publishing (Ventura, CA), 1965.
  • The Poetry of W. B. Yeats, Thor Publishing (Ventura, CA), 1965.
  • Two Novels by Virginia Woolf, Thor Publishing (Ventura, CA), 1966.
  • (With Susan Gubar) The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1979, new edition with expanded introduction, 2000.
  • (With Susan Gubar) No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), Volume 1: The War of the Words, 1988, Volume 2: Sexchanges, 1989, Volume 3: Letters from the Front, 1994.
  • Acts of Attention: The Poems of D. H. Lawrence, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1990.
  • (With Susan Gubar) Masterpiece Theatre: An Academic Melodrama, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ)), 1995.

AS EDITOR

  • (Editor, with Susan Gubar) Shakespeare's Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1979.
  •  (Editor, with Susan Gubar) The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English, Norton (New York, NY), 1985, 2nd edition, 1996.
  • (With Susan Gubar and Diana O'Hehir) Mothersongs: Poems for, by, and about Mothers, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
  • (With Wendy Barker) This House is Made of Poetry, Southern Illinois
  •  
  • University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1996.
  • (Editor and author of introduction) Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

 

Also editor of Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Other Stories, Peter Smith. Contributor to anthologies, including Best Little Magazine Fiction, 1971, Bicentennial Poetry Anthology, 1976, Contemporary Women Poets, 1978, and The Poetry Anthology, 1978. Contributor of fiction and poetry to Mademoiselle, Poetry, Epoch, Nation, New Yorker, and other magazines.

 



Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
  • Gilbert, Sandra M., and Gubar, Susan, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1979.

PERIODICALS

  • American Book Review, December, 1995, Mirian Levine, review of Ghost Volcano.
  • American Literature, March, 1990, Linda Wagner-Martin, review of Sexchanges, p. 107; March, 1998, Jane Lilienfeld, review of Letters from the Front, p. 218.
  • Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, Roberta Rubenstein, review of Sexchanges, p. 30.
  • Choice, September, 1995, p. 166.
  • Chronicle of Higher Education, December 17, 1999, Scott Heller, "The Book That Created a Canon," p. A20.
  • Comparative Literature, spring, 1991, Margot Norris, review of No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, p. 199.
  • English Notes, fall, 1998, Kate Arneson, "Shakespeare's Sister and the Madwoman in the Attic: Updating the Literary Canon."
  • Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 13, 1988, Janice Kulyk Keefer, review of The War of the Words.
  • Journal of the American Medical Association, November 8, 1995, John C. Kruse, review of Wrongful Death: A Medical Tragedy, p. 1478.
  • Journal of American Studies, April, 1991, Peter Nicholls, review of No Man's Land, Volumes 1-1, p. 101; August, 1995, Kate Fullbrook, review of Letters from the Front, p. 320.
  • Lancet, September 2, 1995, Paul A. Volberding, review of Wrongful Death, p. 624.
  • Library Journal, June 1, 1995, p. 122.
  • London Review of Books, October 20, 1994, Elaine Showalter, review of No Man's Land, p. 36.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 2, 1980; May 12, 1985; March 26, 1995, p. 6.
  • Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1988, Elizabeth Boyd Thompson, review of The War of the Words, p. 747; winter, 1989, Elizabeth Boyd Thompson, review of Sexchanges, p. 867.
  • Modern Language Quarterly, March, 1996, Sydney Janet Kaplan, review of Letters from the Front, p. 115.
  • National Review, October 28, 1988, Jane Larkin Crain, review of The War of the Words, 0. 46.
  • New Statesman and Society, October 7, 1994, Helen Carr, review of Sexchanges, p. 45.
  • Newsweek, July 15, 1985.
  • New York Review of Books, May 31, 1990, p. 23.
  • New York Times Book Review, December 9, 1979; August 17, 1980, review of The Madwoman in the Attic, p. 27; April 28, 1985; February 7, 1988, Caryn James, "What's Bothering Virginia Woolf?," p. 12; February 7, 1988, Christine Froula, review of The War of the Words, p. 12; February 19, 1989, Walter Kendrick, review of Sexchanges, p. 9; March 12, 1989, Bruce Bennett, "Blood Pressure," p. 38; November 6, 1994, Mark Hussey, review of Letters From the Front, p. 27; March 19, 1995, James S. Kunen, review of Wrongful Death, p. 28.
  • Publishers Weekly, December 5, 1994, p. 59; March 27, 1995, review of Mothersongs: Poems for, by, and about Mothers, p. 79; May 29, 1995, p. 78; June 26, 2000, review of Kissing the Bread, p. 72.
  • Review of English Studies, November, 1996, Judy Simons, review of Letters from the Front, p. 632.
  • Studies in the Novel, spring, 1989, Katherine Fishburn, review of The War of the Words, p. 104; winter, 1990, Katherine Fishburn, review of Sexchanges, p. 472.
  • Times Higher Education Supplement, February 17, 1995, Lorna Sage, review of Letters from the Front, p. 23.
  • Times Literary Supplement, August 8, 1980; April 18, 1986; June 3, 1988; June 2, 1989, Terry Castle, review of Sexchanges, p. 607; June 30, 1995, Gillian Beer, review of Letters from the Front, p. 6; June 14, 1996, Elaine Showalter, review of Masterpiece Theater: An Academic Melodrama, p. 9.
  • Washington Post Book World, November 25, 1979; June 2, 1985; January 17, 1988.
  • Women's Review of Books, July, 1995, pp. 18, 27; November, 2000, Rita Signorelli-Pappas, review of Kissing the Bread, pp. 16-17.
  • World Literature Today, summer, 1995, Sandra P. Cookson, review of Letters from the Front, p. 590.

OTHER

  • Poetry Daily, http://www.poems.com/ (January 4, 2001), "Sandra Gilbert."
  • Sandra Gilbert Web site, http://www.english.ucdavis.edu/ (January 18, 2002).

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Sandra M. Gilbert

Biography

Though widely acclaimed as a leading feminist literary critic, Sandra M. Gilbert is also a renowned poet who has published numerous collections of poetry, including the Patterson Prize winning Ghost Volcano (1997), and Kissing the Bread: New and Selected Poems 1969–1999 (2000), which won an American Book Award. Recent collections include Belongings (2006) and Aftermath: Poems (2011). Gilbert’s poetry is known for its erudition, . . .

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