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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, published in 1979, examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. Authors Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar draw their title from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, in which Rochester's mad wife Bertha stays locked in the attic.

The text specifically examines Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson.

In the work, Gilbert and Gubar examine the notion that women writers of the 19th Century were confined in their writing to make their female characters either embody the "angel" or the "monster." This struggle stemmed from male writers' tendencies to categorize female characters as either pure, angelic women, or rebellious, unkempt madwomen. In their argument, Gilbert and Gubar point to Virginia Woolf who says women writers must "kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been 'killed' into art"[1][2]. While it may be easy to construe that feminist writers embody the "madwoman" or "monster," Gilbert and Gubar stressed the importance of killing off both figures because neither the angel nor the monster are accurate representations of women or women writers. Instead, Gilbert and Gubar claimed that female writers should strive for definition beyond this dichotomy, whose options are limited by a patriarchal point of view.

Over 700 pages long, the work is a landmark in feminist literary criticism. While some would argue that it has become outdated, or that the metaphoric framework outlined by Gilbert and Gubar is decidedly limiting, it nonetheless remains an important and still influential, if not foundational feminist work.

Originally published in 1979, the book is now in its second edition (2000), the first from Yale University and second from Yale Nota Bene press.

Gilbert and Gubar continue to write criticism together, examining Shakespeare and Modernist writing, among other topics.


  1. ^ The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar
  2. ^ "Professions for Women" by Virginia Woolf
  • Literature After Feminism, by Rita Felski ISBN 0-226-24115-7


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