Defying traditional definitions of public and private as gendered terms, and broadening discussion of women’s writing in relation to feminist work done in other fields, this study addresses American women’s poetry from the seventeenth to late-twentieth century. Engaging the fields of literary criticism, anthropology, psychology, history, political theory, religious culture, cultural studies, and poetics, this study provides entry into some of the founding feminist discussions across disciplines, moving beyond current scholarship to pursue an interpretation of feminism’s defining interests and assumptions in the context of women’s writing. The author emphasizes and explores how women’s writing expresses their active participation in community and civic life, emerging from and shaping a woman’s selfhood as constituted through relationships, not only on the personal level, but as forming community commitments. This distinctive formation of the self finds expression in women’s voices and other poetic forms of expression, with the aesthetic power of poetry itself bringing different arenas of human experience to bear on each other in mutual interrogation and reflection. Women poets have addressed the public world, directly or through a variety of poetic structures and figures, and in doing so they have defined and expressed specific forms of selfhood engaged in and committed to communal life.
Preface: Public and Private in Feminist Theory and Poetics 1. Modest Muses: Feminist Literary History 2. Muted Groups, Veiled Discourses: Feminist Anthropology 3. Recovering Women's Voices: Feminist Psychology 4. Separate Spheres: Feminist History 5. Public Women, Private Men: Feminist Political Theory 6. Civic Feminism and Religious Association 7. The Subject of the Body: Foucault and Culture Studies 8. Feminist Poetics and Aesthetic Theory
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