Susan Fraiman in Modern Philology

Opening up Orlando reminds me of first seeing Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party (a work likewise remarkable in form as much as content)—three decades later, it is still thrilling and affirming to have women’s countless contributions to Western culture and society made visible. What is new in the twenty-first century, however, is that now the guest list of history-making women is electronic—and there are always more seats at the table. In this sense, Orlando goes beyond earlier constructions of alternative canons, whose printed form tended to reproduce hierarchies of “major” and “minor” writers, not to mention the naturalization of a fixed tradition (143).

We might say, then, that Orlando’s narrative is grand not in its seamless hegemony but rather in its tireless productivity. Ceding narratorial agency to each user, this is a women’s history intrinsically committed to a process of continual revision and multiplication of variants (144).

Flexible, practical, and worldly in its approach to identity politics, Orlando is a good example of what I have optimistically begun to call the New Women’s Studies: feminist scholarship willing once again to proceed under the sign of “women”—not in defiance of theoretical work disaggregating “women” and destabilizing “identity” but precisely through having engaged with and processed this work to the point of making it our common sense (146).

Susan Fraiman. “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens—With Help from a New Digital Resource for Literary Scholars,” Modern Philology, August 2008, 142-48. (Available from Chicago Journals).
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