Feminist Re-reading of Henry James's Washington Square

Feminist Re-reading of Henry James's Washington Square

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An Inappropriate Feminist Re-reading of Henry James's Washington Square


The article "Re-producing James" is a defense of the feminist perspective in regards to Henry James's Washington Square. The article discusses the point of truth in words. Stating only (in a roundabout way) that the readers interpretation and perspective of reading the novel determines their understanding of the truth. The author Barbara Rasmussen, states that another critic, Ian Bell's perspective of Henry James's writing " 'exploits the ideological equipment of that which it opposes': patriarchal capitalism" (63). However, her only point seems to be that in Ian Bell's criticism as well as in Washington Square, the writing is completely phallic, capitalistic, and patriarchal.

In defending the reading of Washington Square and Ian Bell's critical essays, from a feminist perspective, Rasmussen believes that it can change the way one sees these writings. She seems to think that James's and Bell's writings both depend on a "phallocentric exclusion of difference, but will themselves be just as complicit…in the face of patriarchal inadequacies" (66). Yet, this seems to be the contradiction that poses as the general project of a feminist re-reading of American Literature.

This article was hard to read. Rasmussen was a bit roundabout at getting to her point, and once I finally figured out what she was saying, I didn't really care. I personally think that Rasmussen is a sexist woman with an over-rated opinion! She attacks both Bell and James and unjustly signifies that because the writings are from a male perspective, they are themselves sexist and phallocentric. She also implies that the feminist perspective, which she uses as no more than a title under which she can vent her own sexist attitude, is of crucial importance in reading James's Washington Square and Bell's perspectives. She believes that since she reads from the feminist perspective, she has more challenges and undertakings to recognize and deal with because of James's and Bell's use of phallic relations.

One must not, however, take Rasmussen seriously. I felt that she was writing to please herself, and others like her who think that it is unjust, and sexist to write in a patriarchal manner. However, Washington Square was written in 1880 and was very much a patriarchal time. So of course, it would have been written in that perspective, especially since it was written by a man.

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Rasmussen is trying to take a novel which shows an accurate portrayal of the patriarchal society, and put today's value judgements, sexist, gender-specific attitudes, and morals into it. In other words, Rasmussen is a jealous woman, with an Electra complex, that because she does not hold a patriarchal acceptance in her own life, believes that the "male" perspective is wrong and unjust to women.

Work Cited

Rasmussen, Barbara. "Re-producing 'James': Marxism, Phallocentrism and Washington Square." Journal of American Studies. 23.1 (1989): 63-83.
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