Female epic

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The female epic is a concept in literary criticism that seeks to expand generic boundaries by identifying ways in which women authors have adapted the masculine epic tradition to express their own heroic visions.

Historically, epic literature has been considered an exclusively male domain, to the extent that "epic and masculinity appear to be almost coterminous." [1] From Homer's Iliad to Milton's Paradise Lost, the epic canon has been defined by works authored by men, and the characteristic subject matter and diction of the epic have carried connotations of masculinity. Recently, however, feminist literary critics have identified a number of texts written by women which, they argue, deserve to be considered epics, as they have many of the required qualities: emphasis on heroism, nation building, religious authority, a strong quest motif, and significant length.[2] Because these texts post-date Milton's Paradise Lost – conventionally considered to be the last authentic epic in the Western tradition –[3] they are by default "modern epics". However, argue these critics, this is by no means a contradiction. The epic remains an authentic and vital literary genre, and one to which women have made valuable contributions.[4]

The breadth of these studies is indicated by the essays in Bernard Schweizer's Approaches to the Anglo and American Female Epic, 1621-1982 (2006), which features studies of, among others, Lady Mary Wroth’s The Countesse of Montgomeries Urania, Mary Tighe’s Psyche, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, Sharon Doubiago’s Hard Country, and Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.


  1. ^ Schweizer, Bernard (2006). Approaches to the Anglo and American Female Epic, 1621-1982. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 1. ISBN 0-7546-5486-9.
  2. ^ Schweizer, Bernard (2002). Rebecca West: Heroism, Rebellion, and the Female Epic. Westport: Greenwood Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-313-32360-7.
  3. ^ Fowler, Alastair (1985). Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes. Harvard University Press. p. 167.
  4. ^ Schweizer (2006), p. 6

Further reading[edit]

  • Tillyard, E. M. W. (1958). The Epic Strain in the English Novel. Chatto & Windus.
  • Johns-Putra, Adeline (2001). Heroes and Housewives. Frankfurt Am Main: P. Lang. ISBN 0-8204-5076-6.