The history of feminist criticism

Knellwolf, Christa (2001). The history of feminist criticism. In Christa Knellwolf and Christopher Norris (Ed.), The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (pp. 191-206) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521300148.017

Author Knellwolf, Christa
Title of chapter The history of feminist criticism
Title of book The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism
Place of Publication Cambridge
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Publication Year 2001
Sub-type Research book chapter (original research)
DOI 10.1017/CHOL9780521300148.017
Open Access Status
Series Twentieth-Century Historical, Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives
ISBN 9780521300148
Editor Christa Knellwolf
Christopher Norris
Volume number 9
Chapter number 15
Start page 191
End page 206
Total pages 16
Total chapters 30
Language eng
Formatted Abstract/Summary
The term ‘feminism’ first emerged in the English language in the 1890s, a significant historical moment when there was an urgent need to name the activities of the women's movement, which was vibrant and popular as never before. Late nineteenth-century feminism joined together women from different classes and social backgrounds. Although the initial enthusiasm was to be dampened and many found their interests ignored by the politics adopted by the leading figures, it achieved the status of a social movement. While more recent feminist criticism warns against understanding ‘women’ as a homogenous category and emphasises the mistake of eradicating the unique characteristics of different groupings, in the late nineteenth century the emergence of a solidarity across national and class barriers was perceived as so novel that the common factor of being a woman was perceived as outweighing the differences. Among other things, the working conditions of female labourers were so appalling that the primary objective was to strive for some improvement: for instance pregnant women were not infrequently forced to work right up to the delivery of the baby and indeed sometimes gave birth in the factory itself. Like any politically oriented movement, the women's movements which formed in different national settings had to deal with the grossest social injustices of their daily experience; only then could it begin to think about equal rights among its members.
A theoretical engagement with the claims and rights of women concentrated on representation, both in the sense of protesting against political dis-enfranchisement and challenging the insidious power of literature to propagate views about women's inferiority. This chapter examines the development of feminist criticism in the twentieth century. It begins with a review of early twentieth-century feminism (first-wave feminism) and then provides a detailed account of second-wave feminism, illustrating different critiques of observed instances of women’s oppression.
Q-Index Code B1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Non-UQ

Document type: Book Chapter
Collection: School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
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Created: Tue, 28 Apr 2015, 08:46:06 EST by Lucy O'Brien on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry