Decorative Initial As an effort to overcome the problems associated with tokenism and supplementation, some feminists have compiled anthologies of women writers. The most striking example is the recently-published The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (New York, NY: Norton, 1985), edited by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. This anthology, with formatting identical to the other Nortons, consists solely of women writers and so, presumably, is not offered as an alternative to The Norton Anthology proper. Indeed, in their preface, the editors state their intent: "Complementing and supplementing the standard Norton anthologies of English and American literature, NALW should help readers for the first time to appreciate fully the female literary tradition which, for several centuries, has coexisted with, revised, and influenced male literary models. Designed to serve as a "core-curriculum" text for the many courses in literature by women that have been developed over the past ten years, this collection includes examples of women's work in every genre and period; it thus carries on the tradition of a "course in a book" pioneered by the other Norton anthologies of British and American literature which have proved so consistently useful." The editors here seem anxious not to cause any upset with their supplemental anthology, going to lengths as they do to suggest continuity ("carries on the tradition") with the other by now well-established Norton products ("which have proved so consistently useful").

As much as this anthology makes available much literature by women of all kinds -- "the black, the regional, the lesbian, the working-class, and the native-American traditions," as the editors explain -- and as much as it has been praised by feminists for this contribution, this anthology seems to some feminists supplementation writ large. Offering itself as separate but equal, it appears to some a ghetto for women's writing, excusing the "standard" anthologies for their neglect of women authors instead of challenging the assumptions that make the standard anthologies standard. More importantly, perhaps, the creation of a new set of accepted and acceptable texts results, and the bases for canonization remain unclear.

The Literary Canon


Gender Matters The Literary Canon: an Overview

Last modified 1989