By David Glover, Cora Kaplan

An attractive quantity which discusses concept, feedback and exemplary genres and texts, delivering a worthy historic chronology of the advance of the time period in quite a few contexts.

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As a result Guest explains, women’s selfpositioning at this moment is profoundly paradoxical, for even 39 40 FEMINITY AND FEMINISM when highly politicized ‘feminine subjects’ in the 1790s, like Hays and Wollstonecraft, conceived ‘of themselves in terms of discourses of politics, of the division of labour, of civil and commercial culture’ they must both reject those divisions insofar as they excluded women and accept them as a regime which would allow them to be agents in modern culture. New, reformed and liberated femininity had simultaneously to accept the terms of the market – including the volatile feelings that were its psychological drivers – and abjure them.

As a result the psychic life of humans, or 45 46 FEMINITY AND FEMINISM their ‘interiority’ as it is sometimes called, is represented as the invention and inherent property of a powerful but pathologized femininity. In this analysis, psychic selfhood becomes not the place where we all dream, but modernity’s bad dream about itself, a dream with material effects that can do infinite social and cultural harm. Armstrong’s depiction of the feminist femininity of the 1840s has the advantage of rejecting two over-simple characterizations: the received image of passive, repressed and victimized Victorian womanhood and its replacement, the celebratory portrait of vanguard egalitarian feminism, painted by liberal feminists of the 1970s.

Before we come to that history we may need to remind ourselves of how easily femininity in its everyday use naturalizes and genders so many other terms. In ‘Femininity’ Freud asked his readers to reconsider their automatic association of passivity with women, and activity with men. He points out that it is ‘inadequate . . to make masculine behaviour coincide with activity and feminine with passivity . . ’ He warns his readers that to give activity and passivity crude gender alignments serves ‘no useful purpose and adds nothing to our knowledge’ (Freud 1973:148–9).

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