Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Sharon Bartling


The recent resurgence of feminism has been accompanied by the development of feminist fiction. Identifying those characteristics by which feminist fiction adds to the American novel a new and valid perspective, feminist criticism has also flourished. Feminist critics agree that fiction with a new perspective demands critical evaluation from that same perspective; and Cheri Register provides a concise, thorough list of five elements which comprise effective feminist fiction. Of Register's five criteria, Carol Heilbrun stresses the equalizing, conciliatory influence of androgyny. Recent feminist authors have written many novels which perform one or more of the functions prescribed by Register. Three authors, Alix Kates Shulman, Lisa Alther, and Marilyn French, have each published two feminist novels during the last decade. With Register's criteria serving as a guideline, the comparison/contrast of each novelist's more recent work with the previous novel highlights developments in feminist fiction.

In her earlier novel, Memoirs of An Ex-Prom Queen, Shulman focuses on the need for consciousness-raising and providing a literary forum for women. Burning Questions, a more overtly political novel than Memoirs, presents an idea central not only to the Women's Liberation Movement, but especially to the earlier feminist novels, Speaking Bitterness. Following the example of the revolutionary Chinese peasants, the protagonist Zane and her Third Street Circle feminist group derive strength from the catharsis of speaking freely with other women of the oppression in their daily lives.

Alther's novel Kin-Flicks meets each of Register's five standards for feminist-approved fiction, stressing especially woman's sense of sisterhood. Kin-Flicks is androgynous in detailing woman's life through the relationship of Ginny Babcock Bliss, the protagonist and her mother. In Original Sins, androgyny is achieved. Black culture is examined; Women's Liberation is scrutinized. Traditional male attitudes are demonstrated to be a disadvantage, limiting and narrowing man's existence as well as woman's.

French creates in The Women's Room an effective forum for consciousness-raising. The telling of the suburban housewife's story supplements traditional male fiction; and as a student and career woman, Mira, as protagonist, provides a positive, if not joyous, role model. The Bleeding Heart represents a logical progression from The Women's Room. Its protagonist, Dolores, is in many ways similar to Mira. Dolores is, however, from the beginning a role model immersed in work of her own. By developing Dolores' relationship with Victor, French presents a forum for both male and female, thus progressing toward androgyny.

Critics responded to the interest in feminist fiction by proposing various criteria to be met by feminist authors. Register's list of criteria takes into account the social and political background which nurtured feminist fiction. More recent novels like Original Sins and The Bleeding Heart meet Register's standards; however, because these novels view male needs as equally pressing, they represent, perhaps, the beginning of the androgynous fiction forecast by Heilbrun.