Problems in Cultural Interpretation

When George Eliot published Scenes from Clerical Life, Charles Dickens wrote to her publisher and asked who the author was because he did not believe that the heroines in that work could have been invented by a man.

Do women’s books have a discernable style? Do men’s? Is theme, or character, or plot or incident in some way “gendered”? If so, does this mean that women cannot create plausible male characters and men cannot create plausible women—that Henry James’ Isabel Archer (Portrait of a Lady) and George Eliot’s Dr. Lydgate (Middlemarch) reveal the gender of their creators? Or that women are privileged readers of women’s texts and men are privileged readers of men’s texts, such that no woman can fully understand Anna Karenina and no man Emma? What have critics said on this subject? We will read both fiction and criticism in this class to explore the topic.