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This review is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

PRISONS OF FICTION Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (Cape) £9.95
Elizabeth Wilson, Prisons of Glass (Methuen, £9.95

It's not easy being a consciously feminist writer of fiction. On the one hand there is the familiar marginalization by the mainstream, on the other there are the restrictions coming from within feminism itself. As Cora Kaplan has written1, the under-emphasizing in late nineteenth-century socialism of the political importance of the individual psyche has led to a distrust in feeling itself, which, through socialist feminism, has infiltrated feminist literary criticism, and, I would add, feminist literary production. There is a problem: in spite of the feminist insistence that 'the personal is political', there has been a nervousness of sensibility, the very stuff, we have always assumed, of which fiction is made.

This has provoked some interesting experiments - Alice Walker, for instance, makes the issues and ideas she is concerned with as much, and as successfully, a focus and substance of her narrative as the characters and events - but more often than not it leads to difficulties, and Elizabeth Wilson's Prisons of Glass illustrates the problem. No feminist theorist of the past fifteen years or so has been more aware than Elizabeth Wilson of the (inevitable) contradictions in developing feminist thinking, nor more articulate in delineating the difficulties in reconciling feminist theory with personal living.1 Prisons of Glass is her first novel, and is about these very problems.

Charting, in the main, the period from the 'permissive' 1960s to the present day, the narrative follows the fortunes of a group of women through 'straight' ...


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