My graduate work at Columbia was in Shakespeare, a subject I taught happily for forty years. I became seriously interested in women’s issues when I started teaching at Scripps, a women’s college, and began working up courses on women. My first book, The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (University of Illinois Press, 1980), an anthology I co-edited with two other women, looked at Shakespeare from a feminist perspective. We were among the first to take this approach to such a canonical author.
I then found myself writing on women novelists and feminist theory, and this issued into the next few books: Making a Difference, an anthology I co-edited with Coppelia Kahn (Methuen, 1985, reissued Routledge, 2002) and Changing Subjects: The Making of Feminist Criticism, co-edited with Kahn (Routledge, 1993, reissued 2012), a collection of essays by second wave feminists describing how they became feminist scholars. It was exciting to be a part of early feminist scholarship; we felt giddy with the possibility of change. Little did we know.
In Changing the Story: Feminist Fiction and the Tradition (Indiana University Press, 1991), I looked at how writers like Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Drabble reworked traditional conventions to allow new possibilities for women; no longer did novels necessarily end with the marriage or death of female protagonists. Feminist fiction, I discovered, helped make the women's movement, playing a major role in consciousness raising. My next book was a single-author study of Doris Lessing, The Poetics of Change (University of Michigan Press, 1994). After that, I wrote no more literary criticism, turning instead to other subjects.
Of the dozens of articles I published in scholarly journals such as Signs, Contemporary Literature, Renaissance Drama, Studies in English Literature, many have been reprinted in anthologies and collections (as in Blackwell’s Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, 1945-2000, ed. Ross McDonald, 2004).
Here's a lecture where I talk about these changes.
Someone dug this old article of mine out of the archives; it turns out to be painfully relevant today.
In Changing Subjects, I wrote a piece, “Leaving Shakespeare,” about why I'd stopped writing about Shakespeare and turned to women writers. It's been a few decades now since I've written about women writers, but in the book I'm just finishing, Shakespeare has moved to the fore, a best defense of the liberal arts, of the humanities, of humanism. So here I am, writing about Shakespeare again. You really never know.
And that, my friends, is my life so far…