The Posthumous Voice in Women’s Writing from Mary Shelley to Sylvia Plath

–        In The Posthumous Voice in Women’s Writing, I wanted to look at the curious phenomenon that I’d noticed of women writers tending to write self-elegies—elegies in which the speaker was dead and mourning herself. I was fascinated by the way that this feminine self-elegy crossed the Atlantic—practiced by both American and British writers—and also crossed into the 20th century, in the work of Sylvia Plath and even Elizabeth Bishop. (The Elizabeth Bishop chapter from my dissertation was dropped when I worked the dissertation into a book, but my allegiance to Bishop is still very strong. I’m working on an essay now based on her gorgeous poem, “The Riverman.”) I was interested not so much in asking why women writers in 19th and 20th century Britain and America seemed so likely to write self-elegies as rather in the how—that this production of self-elegy was extremely formal and followed the “rules” of pastoral elegy while completely also rebelling against the most central rule of male elegy—that one should mourn for a fallen comrade, a precursor poet. Instead, in feminine self-elegy women poets wrote mourning for themselves, as if to say that they knew no one else would so honor them. Sisters were doing it for themselves, so to speak, and I loved that.

“To scholars of the nineteenth century, the book offers intriguing readings of some of its most famous female writers, by considering their feminist use of the posthumous voice… The strengths of the book to Victorianists are these detailed readings, and the fascinating common threads which Raymond establishes between different writers through establishing ‘feminine self-elegy’ as a strategy in feminist writing.” Rebecca Styler British Association for Victorian Studies

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