Literature is the art of written work. Literature is normally categorized into two distinct categories- fiction and non-fiction- with a variety of sub-categories within each, commonly referred to as “genres” (a term that originates in the 19th century, from a French word that literally means “a kind” [“Genre” 1]).
While non-fiction and fiction literature refer to texts of factual information or contrived narratives of the author's own imagination, respectively, literature can also be classified into several genres within each categorization. Non-fiction genres include autobiographies, reflective essays, or informative writings on law, history, science, or philosophy. Fiction genres include adventure, science fiction (i.e. Octavia Butler's “Bloodchild and Other Stories”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “Herland”), horror, poetry, drama (i.e Tony Kushner's play, “Angels in America”), romance (i.e. “Angels in America”), and mystery. Aside from genre, however, literature can also be classified in regards to historical periods, political influences, or other categories of cultural significance.
As the prominence and prevalence of literature has grown in societies, several historical movements have arisen that have both influenced and been a result of literature of the time, such as the Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Romantic, Restoration, and Victorian Eras. Additionally, several intellectual movements that have influenced the study of literature include post-colonialism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, post-modernism, and feminism. Despite the longstanding existence of literature, of which some of the earliest examples (such as the Epic of Gilgamesh) can be dated to roughly 1900 B.C., feminist literature has only risen to prominence in roughly the 17th and 18th centuries.
Many key cultural movements have relied on the use of literature as a means of social discourse, including literature as an expression for feminist viewpoints in the 19th-21st centuries to advocate social change. Dr. Rebecca Richards, in a lecture at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, cites Abigail Adams, Mary Wollstonecraft, Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton among several key woman authors that served as figureheads in the history of feminism and feminist theory. As an example, authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote on the subject of women's rights, criticizing the lack of opportunities for women in society, such as education, employment, and suffrage (Foss, Foss and Demenico 47). Furthermore, in 1850, Lucretia Mott published her speech Discourse on Woman, a pamphlet which discussed restrictions on women in the United States at the time.
In the tradition of Virginia Wolf and her essay, “Three Guineas”, many feminists in the post-modern era have continued to deconstruct the idea of “woman”, as well as relevant topics of gender, sex, identity, agency, gender perspective and gender binary (Foss, Foss and Demenico 3). For instance, in the aforementioned essay, Woolf responds to a man's letter pleading for advice on how to end war with a variety of criticisms, including women's lack of education presence in the work force. Woolf argues that it is impossible for men to understand the plight of women, as the very paradigm that frames societal thought is based in a biased masculine perspective, and is indicted with patriarchal language, a form of communication that is by its very nature assumptive and exclusive. Additionally, in 1915, Charlotte Perkins Gilman published her novel, Herland, a utopian novel about an isolated society of women that reproduces asexually through parthenogenesis. The novel deconstructs how gender is socially constructed, as well as the idea of whether “gender” has any real definition at all in the absence of differing genders.
1. Foss, Sonja, Mary Demenico, and Karen Foss. Gender Stories: Negotiating Identity in a Binary World. Long Grove, Il.: Wave Press, Inc., 2013. Print.
2. "Genre." Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2012. Oxford University Press. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/genre>.