The Flesh Made Word

The Flesh Made Word : Female Figures and Women's Bodies

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Helena Michie's provocative new work looks at how women's bodies are portrayed in a variety of Victorian literary and non-literary genres--from painting, poems, and novels, to etiquette, books, sex manuals, and pornography. After identifying a series of codes and taboos that govern the depiction of women in such activities as eating and working, she then turns to the physical descriptions of Victorian heroines, focusing on those parts of their bodies that are erased, and on those that become fetishized in conventional description. Her vivid analysis moves forward in time with a consideration of 20th-century "second wave" feminism and a discussion of the poetics of the body as articulated by feminist writers on both sodes of the Atlantic. Making use of feminist, poststructuralist, and psychoanalytic accounts of the future of women, and the relation of the body to the text, The Flesh Made Word offers fresh readings of works by writers as diverse as the Brontes, Dickens, Eliot, Gaskell, Trollope, Hardy, Adrienne Rich, Olga Broumas, Audre Lorde, and Louise Gluck."show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 190 pages
  • 144.78 x 213.36 x 22.86mm | 181.44g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195041070
  • 9780195041071

Review Text

An academician's incisive reading, delivered in high scholarese, of the subtext underlying depiction of the female form in Victorian literature and art, and contemporary feminist poetry. Although Michie writes from a feminist's perspective, she admits to a longstanding obsession with the Victorian novel, and this fascination, rather than any political motivation, powers her study. Consequently, the latter part of the book, where she examines the work of Jong, Grahn, Sexton, and other feminist poets, conveys less energy and conviction than her earlier exploration of Victorian literature itself. It is in this microscopic picking at the Victorian practice of creating a distance between the female body and reader - through metaphor, cliche, and fetishism - that Michie excels. She begins by examining Victorian representations of women at the dinner table and in the workplace, pointing out that by eliminating virtually any description of a woman eating, and by equating any serious female career interest with prostitution, Victorians created a prototypical anorexic, meek woman - in effect, making the female body disappear. She then surveys the actual descriptions of the female body in Victorian arts, driving home through myriad examples her thesis that parts of the body - particularly hair, arms, and hands - stood in for the whole: an art based on fetish and metaphor; practices, Michie argues, necessarily if unwittingly inherited by feminist writers because of the limits of language itself. An exemplary work of committed scholarship, but so corseted by academic jargon that few lay readers will slip into it with ease. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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11 ratings
4 out of 5 stars
5 45% (5)
4 27% (3)
3 9% (1)
2 18% (2)
1 0% (0)
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