American Literature Joanna Russ
by
Paul March-Russell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0192

Introduction

Joanna Russ was one of the most influential figures within postwar women’s science fiction. As a writer, she incorporated modernist techniques, such as collage, so as to defamiliarize generic science fiction scenarios, for example, the first contact narrative, time travel, and alternate history, and to question their ideological bases. As a critic, she was instrumental in propounding science fiction as a genre that estranges its readership but which, until the Women’s movement of the 1960s, had tended to assume that the reader was exclusively white, male, and heterosexual. Lastly, as a feminist, she united both her creative and critical practices in an attempt to deflect this male gaze, and to open up the possibilities of alternate forms of social and sexual identity. Russ was born in the Bronx, New York City, on February 22, 1937. Her parents were both schoolteachers, from whom she gained a love of reading. She studied English at Cornell University, where she was taught by Vladimir Nabokov. Russ then studied playwriting at Yale University, where she discovered the work of Bertolt Brecht. She published her first science fiction story, “Nor Custom Stale,” in 1959. After teaching at the University of Boulder, Russ returned to Cornell as a tutor in 1968. During the next twelve months, Russ would join the first-ever women’s group at Cornell, publish her first novella, Picnic on Paradise, leave her husband, come out as a lesbian, and begin work on her masterpiece, The Female Man (cited under Novels). During the early 1970s, Russ became, alongside her close friend and fellow author, Samuel R. Delany, one of the most important critical voices in science fiction. In 1977, she became an associate professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, where, six years later, she published her most influential work of literary criticism, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (cited under Nonfiction). Russ won several awards including the Nebula Award in 1972 for “When It Changed,” the Hugo Award in 1983 for “Souls,” and the Pilgrim Award for science fiction criticism in 1988. Her literary output diminished after the early 1980s; Russ’s final short story, “Invasion,” was published in 1996. Plagued by chronic back problems, Russ retired from academia to concentrate upon her critical writings. On April 29, 2011, following a series of strokes, Russ died in Tucson, Arizona.

General Overview

There are several short introductions to Russ’s fiction, which first-time readers of her work may find helpful in obtaining an overall sense of her themes and approaches. Barbour 2009, Clute 2018, Garland 1981, Holt 1982, and Mohr 2009 each offers useful biographical and bibliographical overviews of Russ’s work and her contribution to the science fiction genre. Hacker 1977 and Moore 2012 present personal and critical reflections on Russ’s fiction and its political commitment, in particular, its legacy for readers and writers. Sleight 2009 offers a rare overview of Russ’s short stories, which, as he argues, is one of the most important bodies of short fiction in the science fiction genre. Mendlesohn 2009 remains the only edited collection of essays devoted to Russ’s work.

  • Barbour, Douglas. “Joanna Russ (1937–).” In Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction. Edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint, 190–195. New York: Routledge, 2009.

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    A thorough and up-to-date account of the major themes in Russ’s fiction and her place within the genre, written by one of her earliest advocates in the field of academic criticism.

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  • Clute, John. “Joanna Russ.” In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Edited by John Clute and David Langford, 2018.

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    As with the rest of the Encyclopedia, the essential starting point for all new readers of Russ. A regularly updated entry, covering all aspects of her work, by one of science fiction’s most-knowledgeable and astute critics.

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  • Garland, Barbara. “Joanna Russ.” In Twentieth-Century American Science Fiction Writers, Part 2: M–Z. Edited by David Cowart, 88–93. Detroit: Gale, 1981.

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    A solid overview of Russ’s writing up until the start of the 1980s.

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  • Hacker, Marilyn. “Science Fiction and Feminism: The Work of Joanna Russ.” Chrysalis 4 (1977): 67–79.

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    An important early study of Russ’s fiction and its political commitment, written by Samuel R. Delany’s then wife and coeditor of Chrysalis, the poet Marilyn Hacker.

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  • Holt, M. J. “Joanna Russ.” In Science Fiction Writers. Edited by E. F. Bleiler, 483–490. New York: Scribner, 1982.

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    Like Garland 1981, a solid and useful account of Russ’s fiction up until the early 1980s.

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  • Mendlesohn, Farah, ed. On Joanna Russ. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Shortlisted for the 2010 Hugo Award for the best science fiction or fantasy in the “best related book” category, this is a comprehensive collection of essays dealing with all aspects of Russ’s work, written by many of the leading scholars within the science fiction field. Mendlesohn’s introduction is particularly useful on why we should read Russ despite, or because of, her formal and political complexities.

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  • Mohr, Dunja M. “Joanna Russ (1937–).” In Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Vol. 2. Edited by Robin A. Reid, 268–270. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009.

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    Like Barbour 2009, a more recent account of Russ’s work with particular emphasis upon her place within women’s and feminist science fiction and fantasy.

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  • Moore, Nancy J. “Thinking about Joanna Russ.” In The Wiscon Chronicles. Vol. 6, Futures of Feminism and Fandom. Edited by Alexis Lothian, 198–203. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct Press, 2012.

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    An important reflection upon Russ’s legacy, written shortly after her death, and delivered as part of Wiscon, the annual convention devoted to women’s science fiction and fantasy, an event almost unimaginable without Russ’s earlier artistic and critical intervention.

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  • Sleight, Graham. “Extraordinary People: Joanna Russ’s Short Fiction.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 197–209. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    A very useful overview of Russ’s short fiction which emphasizes how the short story form permits Russ to explore uncomfortable narrative solutions to real-world political problems, while also attesting to the strengths and weaknesses of her characters within these situations.

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Primary Texts

This section includes all of Russ’s novels, short story collections and book-length criticism, and a selection of significant interviews.

Novels

Although all of Russ’s major novels have been republished and are currently in print, her lesser-known works are available only through secondhand book dealers. And Chaos Died is dedicated to Russ’s former tutor, Vladimir Nabokov, and is an early attempt at revising generic science fiction scenarios from a nonbinary perspective. The Female Man is an almost indescribable collage, a work of the highest importance, which has inspired numerous authors both inside and outside the science fiction genre, from William Gibson to Donna Haraway. We Who Are About To . . . . is a savage and bitterly ironic reversal of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), set on a desolate alien world. The Two of Them is a compelling but problematic examination of race and sexuality set within a strictly Islamic society. Published in the same year, Kittatinny: A Tale of Magic is Russ’s reworking of the quest narrative commonly seen within young adult fantasy fiction. On Strike against God, Russ’s final novel, abandons both science fiction and fantasy—but not the metafiction of The Female Man—to reexamine her common theme of women’s struggle within a predominantly patriarchal society.

  • Russ, Joanna. And Chaos Died. New York: Ace, 1970.

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    Russ’s debut novel begins with a spaceship crashing on an alien world before playing with one of pulp science fiction’s favorite tropes: the acquisition of psychic powers. Here, the crashed astronaut, Jai Vhed, is forced to become telepathic, to the detriment of his own (homosexual) identity, by the psychically enhanced inhabitants. Returning to Earth, Jai discovers he no longer fits into human society due to his mental and physical transformation.

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  • Russ, Joanna. Kittatinny: A Tale of Magic. Daughters Publishing, 1978.

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    Russ’s only young adult novel plays with the traditional quest narrative in which a young girl pursues an epic journey, not for a magical token, but to return home as herself. The narrative is therefore a bildungsroman but, unlike classic educational novels, Russ leaves the ending deliberately ambiguous. Although the tale’s sexual politics appear to be heteronormative, the relationship between Kit and her best friend, Rose, suggests a lesbian subtext.

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  • Russ, Joanna. On Strike against God. London: Women’s Press, 1987.

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    Russ’s final novel, originally published in 1980, focuses upon a middle-aged academic whose history, like that of Joanna in The Female Man, resembles that of the author’s. For the most part, however, the narrative is conventionally realist. But, the slippage into metafiction toward the end suggests that the novel should also be read as a further instance of Russ’s negotiation between realistic and nonrealistic (or fantastical) methods of narration.

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  • Russ, Joanna. The Two of Them. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005.

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    Originally published in 1978, Russ’s fourth novel is now available with an introduction by her long-term advocate, the critic Sarah Lefanu. Two time-traveling agents, Irene and her lover and mentor Ernst, arrive on an alien planet governed by a strict Islamic law. They encounter a young girl, Zubedeyeh, whom Irene vows to rescue from her oppression. What follows is an unflinching, although problematic, portrait of race, gender, religion, and violence.

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  • Russ, Joanna. The Female Man. London: Gollancz, 2010.

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    Originally published in 1975, this edition is introduced by leading science fiction writer Gwyneth Jones. Russ’s second novel concerns four women—Jael, Janet, Jeanine, and Joanna—from four separate yet overlapping timelines who each meet one another in contemporary New York City. A hugely influential work, it debates, amongst other topics, the social construction of female identity, the meaning of utopia, the cyborg body, gender and economics, female sexuality, and the violence of desire.

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  • Russ, Joanna. We Who Are About To . . . . London: Penguin, 2016.

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    Originally published in 1977 but now available with an introduction by author, Hari Kunzru. The novel inverts the tradition of the Robinsonade when, following the crash landing of a spaceship on an inhospitable alien planet, the human crew and passengers attempt to fashion a community in the wilderness. One woman, the novel’s narrator, refuses to do so and, in turn, exposes the social and sexual politics of her fellow humans.

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Short Stories

All of Russ’s short story collections, with the exception of Extra (Ordinary) People, are retrospective anthologies of her work. Sadly, they are all currently out of print although a collected edition of her short fiction, bringing together previously non-anthologized pieces, is keenly desired. The Zanzibar Cat collects many of Russ’s earlier short stories, including the award-winning “When It Changed” (1972), which introduced the female utopia of Whileaway, one of the settings for The Female Man (cited under Novels). The Adventures of Alyx collects the stories that feature her fantasy heroine, an important precursor to the mercenary Jael, also in The Female Man. Extra (Ordinary) People, published in the same year, is a short story cycle, framed as a history lesson, that explores many of Russ’s characteristic themes. Her final collection, The Hidden Side of the Moon, is a compendium of stories, previously uncollected, which range from Russ’s earliest publications to those of the mid-1980s.

  • Russ, Joanna. The Zanzibar Cat. New York: Baen Enterprises, 1984.

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    Originally published by Arkham House in 1983, with an introduction by Marge Piercy, Russ’s first short story collection offers an overview of her work in the genre, including her most famous story, the Nebula Award–winning “When It Changed” (1972).

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  • Russ, Joanna. The Adventures of Alyx. London: Women’s Press, 1985a.

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    This collection brings together the various stories of Russ’s time-traveling fantasy heroine, Alyx, published between 1967 and 1970, including the novella Picnic on Paradise. The final story, “The Second Inquisition” (1970), offers an important critical reflection upon the uses of fantasy, including science fiction fandom.

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  • Russ, Joanna. Extra (Ordinary) People. London: Women’s Press, 1985b.

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    Loosely connected by a frame narration, these stories explore themes of gender, sexuality, myth, and history. They include the Hugo-winning novella, “Souls” (1982), the transgender “The Mystery of the Young Gentleman” (1982), and an important demystification of romance, “Everyday Depressions” (1984).

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  • Russ, Joanna. The Hidden Side of the Moon. London: Women’s Press, 1989.

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    A wide-ranging compendium of Russ’s short fiction from her first published story, “Nor Custom Stale” (1959), through to the brilliant series of pastiches, “The Clichés from Outer Space” (1984). Although the stories are not arranged chronologically, it is possible to chart Russ’s growth as an experimental stylist, her adeptness at allusion and textual play, and her blurring of genres, including those of fiction and autobiography.

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Nonfiction

Most of Russ’s nonfiction was retrospectively anthologized. What follows is a complete list of what has been published in book form but there are almost certainly other pieces by Russ which have yet to appear. How to Suppress Women’s Writing is a nonfiction equivalent to Russ’s novel, The Female Man (cited under Novels), a landmark exercise in the misogyny of the literary establishment and the systematic silencing of female authors. Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts moves beyond literary criticism to tackle wider social debates, such as the role of pornography, which set Russ into opposition with other feminists such as Andrea Dworkin. What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism is an important reevaluation of the Women’s movement seen from the perspectives of class and economics. Between them, To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction and The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews, collect many of the key essays that made Russ into one of the most important science fiction critics of the early 1970s, and contain topics of interest to readers outside the genre, such as gothic horror and North American women’s writing.

  • Russ, Joanna. Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts: Feminist Essays. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1985.

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    A selection of Russ’s essays on feminism, gender, and sexuality, including her defense of the uses of pornography by women.

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  • Russ, Joanna. To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.

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    Edited by Sarah Lefanu, with additional notes by Russ, this anthology is divided into two parts. The first part offers important essays on the aesthetics of science fiction, including “The Subjunctivity of Science Fiction” (1973) and “Amor Vincit Foeminam” (1980), while the second part offers considerations of writers important to Russ, such as Willa Cather and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as reflections on genres outside science fiction.

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  • Russ, Joanna. What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

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    Russ’s important late work of feminist thought, in which she offers a critical reevaluation of second- and third-wave feminism, with a fresh emphasis upon race and class. In retrospect, the book prefigures the increasing intersectionality of feminist thought in the 21st century.

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  • Russ, Joanna. The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews. Liverpool, UK: University of Liverpool Press, 2007.

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    A compilation of Russ’s book reviews, essays such as “The Images of Women in Science Fiction” and “The Wearing Out of Genre Materials” (both published in 1971), and letters to fanzines and fellow authors such as James M. Tiptree (Alice Sheldon). Each section not only reveals personal insights into Russ’s thinking (aided by her retrospective commentaries) but also demonstrates her investment in fandom and in science fiction as a means of critical dialogue.

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  • Russ, Joanna. How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018.

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    Originally published in 1983, this remains Russ’s most influential work of literary criticism. Written in the form of an instruction manual, Russ presents an insightful, often scathing and sometimes harrowing, account of how the literary canon is constructed at the expense of women writers, and the means or excuses by which women have been marginalized or erased altogether from literary history.

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Interviews

Russ’s wit and eloquence made her into a fine interviewee. Some of her most important insights into her fiction and beliefs are to be found in interviews. What follows is a selection of some of the most significant. Platt 1983 offers an introduction to the author, useful to be read alongside the works cited in General Overview. “Reflections on Science Fiction: An Interview with Joanna Russ” and McCaffrey 1990 consider Russ’s contribution to the science fiction genre. Perry 1993 and Francis and Piepmeier 2011 offer more-detailed insights into Russ’s role within feminist thought and practice, including the place of fan fiction. Johnson 1984 is a conversation that also involves Samuel R. Delany and relates issues of gender and genre to race.

Secondary Texts

Although Russ’s fictional oeuvre is not huge, the indeterminacy of its meaning and its centrality to feminist science fiction, as well as to subsequent developments such as cyberpunk, have resulted in several critical approaches to her work. The following summary of secondary criticism on Russ’s fiction groups these approaches according to genre criticism, feminism, gender and sexuality, conflict and violence, utopia, and postmodernism. In practice, readers should be aware that these categories will often overlap with one another.

Reading Genre

Genre analysis is an important first step for understanding Russ, since, as a woman writer, she was actively intervening in a male-dominated literary genre. Furthermore, the hybrid and protean nature of her writing raises inherent questions about what readers expect from a piece of so-called genre fiction. Delany 2009 and Delany 2004 emphasize the importance of Russ’s fiction, specifically the stories of Alyx, to an understanding of his own structuralist analysis of science fiction’s reading protocols. Wolfe 2009 also uses the character of Alyx to explore the ways in which Russ’s work slips between genres. Kelso 1996 expands upon this approach by looking specifically at how Russ’s fiction breaks with its own narrative framing. Following Delany, Calvin 2010 and McClenahan 1982 apply various post-structural approaches to a reading of Russ’s masterwork, The Female Man (cited under Novels). Cortiel 2005 offers a useful overview of this novel’s place within the science fiction genre while Cortiel 2009 looks more specifically at the novel in terms of postmodernism. By contrast, Gardiner 1994 takes a more skeptical approach by dating the novel to a radical feminist moment within the 1970s. Approaches steeped more within the science fiction genre are exemplified in James 2009, which assesses Russ’s aesthetic development through her role as a reviewer; and Newell and Tallentire 2009, which considers Russ’s fraught relationship with an important female predecessor, the science fiction writer and critic Judith Merril.

  • Calvin, Ritch. “This Shapeless Book: Reception and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man.” Femspec 10.2 (2010): 24–34.

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    Calvin not only considers the critical reception of Russ’s most important work but also responds to its querying of genre conventions in terms of reader-response theory.

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  • Cortiel, Jeanne. “Joanna Russ: The Female Man.” In A Companion to Science Fiction. Edited by David Seed, 500–511. Malden MA: Blackwell, 2005.

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    An excellent overview of Russ’s novel as a landmark text within the history and development of the genre.

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  • Cortiel, Jeanne. “Reading Joanna Russ in Context: Science, Utopia and Postmodernity.” In Reading Science Fiction. Edited by James Gunn, Marleen S. Barr, and Matthew Candelaria, 168–180. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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    A slightly later piece than Cortiel 2005, within the overall pedagogic aims of the essay collection, thinks through The Female Man in relation to three thematic concerns—science, utopia, and postmodernism.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. “Joanna Russ and D. W. Griffith.” PMLA 119.3 (2004): 500–508.

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    Subsequently reprinted in Mendlesohn 2009 (cited under General Overview), this playful essay posits a number of intertextual references between Russ’s work and D. W. Griffith’s film Intolerance (1916) which, although unconscious at best, nevertheless highlight themes of race, gender, and violence in Russ’s fiction.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Delany’s highly influential work of science fiction criticism, originally published in 1977, includes an important early essay on Russ’s recurring heroine, Alyx.

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  • Gardiner, Judith K. “Empathic Ways of Reading: Narcissism, Cultural Politics, and Russ’s Female Man.” Feminist Studies 20.1 (1994): 87–111.

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    A problematic yet useful analysis of The Female Man. Gardiner regards the novel as a now dated reminder of radical feminism in the 1970s. She reads the protagonists’ storylines as the attempt to reintegrate a “narcissistic personality.” Gardiner’s analysis leaves much to be desired in terms of close reading, yet readers can still profit from Gardiner’s article by reading it against the grain of its own “postfeminist” moment.

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  • James, Edward. “Russ on Writing Science Fiction and Reviewing It.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 19–30. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    A thorough account of Russ’s work as a book reviewer, and the insights her reviews afford in terms of how she reformulated the genre in terms of her likes and dislikes. A surprising revelation is that her tastes as a reader are more conservative than her work as a writer.

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  • Kelso, Sylvia. “Breaking Frames: The Elusive Science Fiction of Joanna Russ.” Colloquy 1 (1996): 56–68.

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    A fine structuralist account that explores the ways in which the shifting narrative frames of her fiction contribute to its ambiguity.

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  • McClenahan, Catherine L. “Textual Politics: The Uses of Imagination in Joanna Russ’s The Female Man.” Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters 70 (1982): 114–125.

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    An important, pathfinding article which, drawing upon French feminist theory, explores the relationship between sexuality and textuality in The Female Man.

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  • Newell, Dianne, and Jenea Tallentire. “Learning the Prophet Business: The Merril-Russ Intersection.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 64–80. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    This chapter explores the ambivalent relationship between Russ and her immediate precursor, Judith Merril, in order to examine not only how Russ negotiated the influence of her predecessor but also how the two authors contributed to the rethinking of the genre.

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  • Wolfe, Gary K. “Alyx among the Genres.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 3–18. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Wolfe focuses upon the early stories involving Alyx in order to show how Russ transgressed generic boundaries so as to establish a distinctive feminist viewpoint within both science fiction and fantasy.

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Feminism

In both her fiction and nonfiction, Russ was one of the most radical and outspoken feminist voices in the science fiction genre. It is almost inevitable, then, that feminism is one of the key areas within secondary criticism on her work. Boulter 1999 reevaluates The Female Man (cited under Novels) in terms of its wider, more problematic place within the Women’s movement, especially in relation to its lesbian content. A pioneering piece, DuPlessis 1979, reads Russ alongside other women writers such as Doris Lessing and Marge Piercy, who are awkwardly placed in relation to the science fiction genre. Barr 1993 interprets such tensions in terms of a politicized metafiction, while Rosinsky 1982, similarly, turns to the post-structural feminism of Hélène Cixous as a way of resolving these dilemmas. Cortiel 2000, the only monograph so far to be published on Russ’s fiction, reads these tensions in terms of how Russ intersects different waves within feminist theory and practice. In this respect, Cortiel builds upon Lefanu 1988, an influential reading of science fiction and feminism. Sheldon 2009 and Vint 2009 both relate Russ to more recent developments in critical theory, respectively, queer theory and postcolonialism. By contrast, both Merrick 2009 and Yaszek 2009 take a more historicist approach by reading Russ’s development as a feminist writer, respectively, in relation to the growth of fandom and her immediate predecessors within the science fiction genre.

  • Barr, Marleen S. Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

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    A compilation of thirteen of Barr’s essays in which she explores her concept of “feminist fabulation.” Chapter 5 offers a comparative analysis of “When It Changed” with James M. Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See”, while chapter 13 looks at the motif of the rescued child in Russ’s fiction alongside that of Margaret Atwood and (somewhat unexpectedly) of Saul Bellow.

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  • Boulter, Amanda. “Unnatural Acts: American Feminism and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man.” Women: A Cultural Review 10.2 (1999): 151–166.

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    A very useful article in which Boulter situates the radicalism of Russ’s novel, especially its lesbian content, in relation to the heterosexist assumptions of mainstream feminism at the time of the book’s publication.

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  • Cortiel, Jeanne. Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ/Feminism/Science Fiction. Liverpool, UK: University of Liverpool Press, 2000.

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    An essential point of reference, Cortiel divides her analysis into three sections, looking at issues of agency, violence, and indeterminacy. Through this approach, Cortiel argues that Russ simultaneously portrays overlapping yet incompatible feminist positions so that, although an indisputably feminist writer, Russ is impossible to pigeonhole one way or another. It is the intersectionality of her writing that contributes to its unresolved ambiguity.

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  • DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. “The Feminist Apologues of Lessing, Piercy, and Russ.” Frontiers 4.1 (1979): 1–8.

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    An intriguing, if contentious, article by a major feminist writer and academic from outside the science fiction genre. DuPlessis sees Doris Lessing, Marge Piercy, and Joanna Russ as offering moral fables in their nonrealistic texts. Crucially, however, DuPlessis does not consider this claim in relation to the science-fictionality of their respective works.

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  • Lefanu, Sarah. In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction. London: Women’s Press, 1988.

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    A pioneering work of feminist science fiction criticism. After a series of historical and thematic chapters, Lefanu focuses upon four case studies, among them, Russ. As a pathfinding analysis of Russ’s fiction from a feminist perspective, it remains an indispensable read.

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  • Merrick, Helen. “The Female Atlas of Science Fiction? Russ, Feminism, and the SF Community.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 48–63. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    An important analysis of Russ’s involvement in fandom and, in particular, her correspondence to fanzines. Merrick demonstrates how Russ’s feminist reimagining of science fiction emerged from her deep understanding of how science fiction worked as a community.

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  • Rosinsky, Natalie M. “A Female Man? The ‘Medusan’ Humor of Joanna Russ.” Extrapolation 23.1 (1982): 31–36.

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    In a now slightly dated formulation, Rosinsky reads The Female Man alongside Hélène Cixous’s essay, “The Laugh of the Medusa”, and in particular her notion of écriture feminine.

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  • Sheldon, Rebekah. “Reproductive Futurism and Feminist Rhetoric: Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To . . .” . Femspec 10.1 (2009): 19–34.

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    Sheldon explores how Russ’s novel resists biologically essentialist notions of womanhood and, in particular, the state’s equation between motherhood and the longevity and purity of the community.

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  • Vint, Sherryl. “Joanna Russ’s The Two of Them in an Age of Third-World Feminism.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 83–96. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    An important analysis in which Vint debates the seeming Islamophobia of Russ’s novel in the wake of postcolonial and subaltern revisionings of Western feminist thought.

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  • Yaszek, Lisa. “A History of One’s Own: Joanna Russ and the Creation of a Feminist SF Tradition.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 31–47. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Yaszek picks up on Russ’s pejorative use of the term galactic suburbia to describe the work of many of her female predecessors, so as to explore how Russ was attempting to reimagine a tradition of science fiction by women, and to then resituate Russ’s work in relation to writers in and out of this self-invented tradition.

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Gender and Sexuality

As a radical feminist, Russ was alert to how gender is performed through language and appearance. Furthermore, as a lesbian and advocate for pornography, Russ was not only preoccupied with issues of sexual orientation but also the expression of sexual desire. Alongside her feminist politics, these themes, too, have been explored in the secondary criticism on her work. Both Ayres 1995 and Butler 2009 relate Russ’s fiction to French feminist theory, respectively, to the works of Monique Wittig and Hélène Cixous. Following Ayres, Hollinger 1999 and Hollinger 2008 also use queer theory to explore the ambiguous structures of Russ’s fiction. Like Hollinger 2008, and Yaszek 2002 utilizes the figure of the cyborg to examine The Female Man (cited under Novels). Donawerth 1997 and Williams 2009 both assess We Who Are About To . . . . (cited under Novels) as a subversion of the gendered implications of the Robinsonade. Spencer 1990 looks at the recurring motif of the lost child in Russ’s fiction while Lindow 2009 looks specifically at Russ’s only foray into writing for children. The landmark study, Larbalestier 2002, is not only inspired by Russ’s criticism but also places Russ’s intervention into context with the gendered history of the science fiction genre.

  • Ayres, Susan. “The Straight Mind in Russ’s The Female Man.” Science Fiction Studies 22.1 (1995): 22–34.

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    An excellent analysis in which Ayres explores Russ’s depiction of lesbian desire through the terms established by the French feminist academic and author of Les Guérillières (London: Peter Owen, 1971), Monique Wittig.

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  • Butler, Andrew M. “Medusa Laughs: Birds, Thieves, and Other Unruly Women.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 143–156. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Like Natalie Rosinsky, Butler turns to the work of Hélène Cixous as a means of understanding the role of humor in Russ’s fiction but does so in a more sophisticated fashion and in an approach that is sensitive to the science-fictionality of Russ’s text.

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  • Donawerth, Jane. Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

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    In a wide-ranging analysis of how female science fiction writers have negotiated the legacy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Donawerth often draws upon Russ as a reference point and, in particular, examines We Who Are About To . . . . as a questioning and a subversion of the male-dominated narrative of the Robinsonade.

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  • Hollinger, Veronica. “(Re)reading Queerly: Science Fiction, Feminism and the Defamiliarization of Gender.” Science Fiction Studies 26.1 (1999): 23–40.

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    A superb reading of Russ’s short story, “The Mystery of the Young Gentleman,” in which Hollinger argues that Russ prefigures Judith Butler’s influential notion of gender as a performative act.

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  • Hollinger, Veronica. “‘Something Like a Fiction’: Speculative Intersections of Sexuality and Technology.” In Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction. Edited by Wendy Gay Pearson, Veronica Hollinger, and Joan Gordon, 140–160. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2008.

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    Hollinger examines a selection of stories from the 1930s to the contemporary era in which sexuality intersects with the role of technology. As part of her discussion, she looks at the cyborg body in The Female Man and equates its hybrid form with a queering of binary classifications.

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  • Larbalestier, Justine. The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

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    Larbalestier takes Russ’s article, “Amor Vincit Foeminam,” as the starting point for her important historical study of the sexual antagonisms between men and women in genre science fiction and the science fiction community. She also pays particular attention to Russ’s fiction and criticism in her later assessment of the influence of the Women’s movement on science fiction in the 1960s and 1970s.

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  • Lindow, Sandra. “Kittens Who Run with Wolves: Healthy Girl Development in Joanna Russ’s Kittatinny.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 131–142. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Lindow examines Russ’s bildungsroman in terms of child psychology, socialization, and sexual development.

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  • Spencer, Kathleen L. “Rescuing the Female Child: The Fiction of Joanna Russ.” Science Fiction Studies 17.2 (1990): 167–187.

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    A fine examination of a recurring motif in Russ’s fiction in relation to issues of female identity and female solidarity.

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  • Williams, Tess. “Castaway: Carnival and Sociobiological Satire in We Who Are About To . . .” . In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 210–224. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Williams focuses upon the central character’s rejection of her maternal role in the context of a Bakhtinian critique that both satirizes and travesties the social and sexual assumptions of patriarchy.

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  • Yaszek, Lisa. The Self Wired: Technology and Subjectivity in Contemporary Narrative. Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory: Outstanding Dissertations. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    In the context of a wide-ranging study upon the changing relationship between technology and selfhood in science fiction, Yaszek (like Hollinger 2008) focuses upon the cyborg body in The Female Man, but does so in order to draw out the implications in Russ’s portrayal for feminist notions of identity.

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Conflict and Violence

For Russ, sexual liberation could only come at the expense of patriarchy. The expression of desire is also constituted in a release of violence. Conflict and the articulation of female anger were key elements in Russ’s fiction and so, alongside issues of gender and sexuality, have also been explored. Spector 1983, Vest 2009, and Wheeler 2009 each explore violence as a symptom of women’s subjugation under patriarchy. Murphy 1992 and Sheldon 2010 both explore this theme in relation to We Who Are About To . . . . (cited under Novels), the latter with a focus upon the role of the child. Freedman 2000, to some extent, sidesteps the problematic issue of race in The Two of Them (cited under Novels) to concentrate upon violence as a symptom of gendered power relations.

  • Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

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    Freedman’s important reevaluation of Darko Suvin’s definition of science fiction as cognitive estrangement includes a chapter on The Two of Them in which he considers the role of violence in Russ’s novel and its estranging effect upon normative depictions of gender.

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  • Murphy, Patrick D. “Suicide, Murder, Culture, and Catastrophe: Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To . . .” . In State of the Fantastic. Edited by Nicholas Ruddick, 121–132. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992.

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    Murphy considers the destructive and apocalyptic aspects in Russ’s novel, not least the central character’s decision to murder her companions as a means of terminating the inherent destructiveness at the heart of the colonial mission.

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  • Sheldon, Rebekah. “Joanna Russ and the Murder of the Female Child: We Who Are About To . . .” . In Practicing Science Fiction: Critical Essays on Writing, Reading and Teaching Genre. Edited by Karen Hellekson, Craig B. Jacobsen, Patrick B. Sharp, and Lisa Yaszek, 183–196. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

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    Sheldon returns to the motif of the lost child in Russ’s fiction but this time dwells upon the figure of the spirit-child, Kennedy, in Russ’s novel.

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  • Spector, J. A. “Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde: Gender-Related Conflict in the Science Fiction of Joanna Russ.” Extrapolation 24.4 (1983): 370–379.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.1983.24.4.370Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Spector analyzes the cause of violence to be found in Russ’s fiction as symptomatic of a tension between what it means to be “human” (the universalization of a central male ego) and what it means to be “female” (other than male and therefore less than human). Violence becomes the necessary by-product when Russ’s female protagonists realize that their desires will not be met by societal values that are conventionally human.

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  • Vest, Jason P. “Violent Women, Womanly Violence: Joanna Russ’s Femmes Fatales.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 157–167. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    A sympathetic analysis of Russ’s female protagonists as femmes fatales; their characterization as such is itself an exposé of how women’s actions are constricted and defined by patriarchy.

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  • Wheeler, Pat. “This Is Not Me, I Am Not That: Anger and the Will to Action in Joanna Russ’s Fiction.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 99–113. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Like Spector 1983 and Vest 2009, Wheeler examines the source of female anger and the motivation toward agency in Russ’s fiction to be a product of the frustration of female desires under patriarchal norms and values.

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Utopia

For Russ, the communication of desire and anger was intimately connected to a utopian politics. Russ’s feminism sought to create a new social and sexual order at the expense of patriarchy, but she was wary of utopian solutions that she considered to be naive or overoptimistic. Utopia had to be fought for, and so this struggle has been closely explored, especially in relation to Russ’s masterwork, The Female Man (cited under Novels). Albinski 1988, Bartkowski 1989, and Teslenko 2003 offer capable introductions to Russ’s novel in terms of its utopian content and historical context. More-sophisticated analyses are offered by Armitt 2000 and Moylan 2014. Andermahr 1992 and Cortiel 2015 present comparative readings with Russ’s fellow utopianists, Sally Miller Gearhart and Marge Piercy. Shelton 1993 relates the novel’s utopianism to the emerging discourse of the medical humanities, Wagner-Lawlor 2002 to its performativity, and March-Russell 2009 to its deconstructive practice, prefigured in the work of the avant-garde poet Mina Loy.

  • Albinski, Nan Bowman. Women’s Utopias in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Fiction. London: Routledge, 1988.

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    A solid account of women’s utopian fiction which, almost inevitably, features a discussion of The Female Man that pays attention to both theory and praxis.

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  • Andermahr, Sonya. “The Politics of Separatism and Lesbian Utopian Fiction.” In New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Readings. Edited by Sally Munt, 133–152. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992.

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    A useful comparative analysis of The Female Man and Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground (London: The Women’s Press, 1985). Whereas, according to Andermahr, Gearhart’s novel tends toward a feminine ideal of harmonious interdependence, the disjunctures in Russ’s narrative point toward a more radical political aesthetic.

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  • Armitt, Lucie. Contemporary Women’s Fiction and the Fantastic. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230598997Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Armitt offers a consideration of The Female Man as an example, alongside such other writers as Angela Carter and Jeannette Winterson, of what she terms grotesque utopia. It is the grotesquerie—the exaggeration, excess and disproportion—of Russ’s narrative that breaks with social realism and, by its negation, points toward a utopian critique.

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  • Bartkowski, Frances. Feminist Utopias. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

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    A solid account of The Female Man, in particular, Bartkowski emphasizes the influence of Brecht upon both the politics and the aesthetic form of the novel.

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  • Cortiel, Jeanne. “Feminist Utopia/Dystopia: Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975) and Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976).” In Dystopia, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse: Classic—New Tendencies—Model Interpretations. Edited by Alessandra Boiler and Eckart Voigts, 155–170. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2015.

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    A piece from one of Russ’s most frequent advocates in which Cortiel compares and contrasts the utopian and dystopian elements in two key novels by Russ and her contemporary, Marge Piercy.

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  • March-Russell, Paul. “Art and Amity: The ‘Opposed Aesthetic’ in Mina Loy and Joanna Russ.” In On Joanna Russ. Edited by Farah Mendlesohn, 168–184. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    This chapter utilizes the prose and poetry of Russ’s modernist precursor, Mina Loy, as a critical framework through which to examine the textual disruptions in three of Russ’s fictions (The Female Man, We Who Are About To . . . ., and “Everyday Depressions”). These disruptions not only impede linear narration but also gesture toward an idealized notion of friendship that would transcend preexisting modes of social and romantic conduct.

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  • Moylan, Tom. Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination. Edited by Raffaella Baccolini. Ralahine Utopian Studies 14. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2014.

    DOI: 10.3726/978-3-0353-0610-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1986, this important study of utopian science fiction analyzes, amongst others, The Female Man as an instance of what Moylan terms a “critical utopia”: a work that dispenses with social harmony and collective consensus in favor of conflict and tension as a way of dramatizing its critical understanding of utopia.

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  • Shelton, Robert. “The Social Text as Body: Images of Health and Disease in Three Recent Feminist Utopias.” Literature and Medicine 12.2 (1993): 161–177.

    DOI: 10.1353/lm.2011.0071Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shelton offers a comparative analysis of The Female Man alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (London: Vintage, 2017) and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1976). Following Krishan Kumar, Shelton sees utopia and dystopia as symbiotic concepts. By focusing upon the function that health and disease perform in the three novels, Shelton also assesses the ways in which they each complicate the mutual utopianism and dystopianism of the genre.

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  • Teslenko, Tatiana. Feminist Utopian Novels of the 1970s: Joanna Russ and Dorothy Bryant. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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    Teslenko considers feminism of the 1970s to be a radical, utopian movement. In the first half of her book, she offers a historical overview of utopian literature and the intersection between utopianism and feminism. In the second half, Teslenko supplies separate chapters on Bryant and Russ as two exemplary figures from the 1970s. Her analysis of Russ is concerned primarily with The Female Man and there is only minor consideration of the novel in terms of science fiction.

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  • Wagner-Lawlor, Jennifer A. “The Play of Irony: Theatricality and Utopian Transformation in Contemporary Women’s Speculative Fiction.” Utopian Studies 13.1 (2002): 114–134.

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    A comparative analysis of The Female Man alongside Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country (London: Gollancz, 2013). Wagner-Lawlor focuses on the extent to which the central characters have to perform both their private and public identities. This emphasis upon performance is integral to how the novels ironize the construction of women’s self-identity under patriarchy and point to ways in which sociopolitical conditions can be transformed.

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Postmodernism

Russ herself was wary of the postmodern label although she admired writers such as her former tutor, Vladimir Nabokov, and contemporaries both within the science fiction genre (Samuel R. Delany) and outside (Donald Barthelme). Russ’s fragmented and dissonant narratives, allied to an equally fractured depiction of identity, have led to her work often being read in terms of postmodernism, especially, in discussions around culture, metafiction, and the cyborg body. Law 1984 offers an important early reading of Russ in relation to John Barth’s essay, “The Literature of Exhaustion” (pp. 62–76), which is successively built upon by Barr 2002 and Malmgren 2002. Waugh 1989, although also indebted to theories of metafiction, focuses specifically upon romance and draws out postmodernism’s effectiveness for a feminist critique. This approach is, in turn, built upon by Wills 1995 in relation to gothic romance. Haraway 1991 takes an important intervention into postmodern and feminist philosophy, via the figure of the cyborg, which has inspired several Russ scholars, including Hicks 1999 and Wolmark 1993. Both Cortiel 2000 and March-Russell 2015 focus on Russ’s short fiction, respectively arguing that the indeterminacy and liminality of the form are especially useful for a postmodern critique of gender and identity.

  • Barr, Marleen S. Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002.

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    Barr builds upon her earlier concept of “feminist fabulation” by expanding it into the arena of postmodernism as a metacriticism of what she regards as the male domination of postmodern fiction. Almost inevitably, The Female Man is an exemplary text for this line of critique.

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  • Cortiel, Jeanne. “Determinate Politics of Indeterminacy: Reading Joanna Russ’s Recent Work in Light of Her Early Short Fiction.” In Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Edited by Marleen S. Barr, 219–236. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

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    Whereas Russ’s early short fiction is often seen as being more conventional and less experimental than her later work, Cortiel usefully bookends Russ’s career by drawing out continuities between her earlier and later phases. In particular, Cortiel emphasizes her constant determination to produce fictions whose meanings are open ended and ambiguous.

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  • Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

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    Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” originally published in 1985, has been hugely influential. In a pattern characteristic of other postmodern philosophers, Haraway turns to science fiction in order to think through her ideas. Among the authors she refers to are Octavia Butler, Angela Carter, and Joanna Russ. Although her comments on Russ’s The Female Man as a work of cyberfeminism are brief, reading the original source for these ideas is strongly recommended.

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  • Hicks, Heather J. “Automating Feminism: The Case of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man.” Postmodern Culture 9.3 (1999).

    DOI: 10.1353/pmc.1999.0020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hicks’s article is one such example of a literary critic responding to Donna Haraway’s intersection of gender and technology by offering a more detailed case study reading of The Female Man. Available online.

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  • Law, Richard G. “Joanna Russ and the ‘Literature of Exhaustion.’” Extrapolation 25 (1984): 146–156.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.1984.25.2.146Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In a move more characteristic of earlier postmodern responses, Law takes John Barth’s article, “The Literature of Exhaustion” (1967), as his template and reads Russ’s work as an extended exercise in metafiction. Law’s article remains a useful, if somewhat dated, piece.

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  • Malmgren, Carl. “Meta-SF: The Examples of Dick, Le Guin, and Russ.” Extrapolation 43.1 (2002): 22–35.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2002.43.1.04Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The influence of Law’s article (Law 1984) can be seen in Malmgren’s article. It has one advantage over his predecessor’s in that it pays more attention to science fiction itself, and so reads the work of Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joanna Russ as metacommentaries on the writing of the science fiction genre.

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  • March-Russell, Paul. “‘I Am Not That’: Liminality in the Writings of Joanna Russ.” In Liminality and the Short Story: Border Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing. Edited by Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann, 225–237. New York: Routledge, 2015.

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    March-Russell argues that Russ constitutes the liminal as a symptom of women’s subordination under patriarchy. Although the short story has often been read as a liminal form, being neither a novel nor a poem, Russ does not fetishize the form’s liminality but uses it as a means of social and political critique. This, March-Russell argues, gives the postmodernity of her fiction a much-needed political dimension.

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  • Waugh, Patricia. Feminine Fictions: Revisiting the Postmodern. London: Routledge, 1989.

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    In the course of a wide-ranging analysis of postmodernism, romance, and gender, Waugh offers a brief but highly suggestive reading of The Female Man in terms of how the novel plays with the fragmentation of the (gendered) subject.

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  • Wills, Deborah. “The Madwoman in the Matrix: Joanna Russ’s The Two of Them and the Psychiatric Postmodern.” In Modes of the Fantastic. Edited by Robert A. Latham and Robert A. Collins, 93–99. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

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    As her title indicates, Wills looks back to psychoanalytic readings of gothic romances such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a novel much admired by Russ, and applies such a reading to The Two of Them, but in the context of postmodernism’s reevaluation of concepts such as hysteria and schizophrenia.

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  • Wolmark, Jenny. Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.

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    An important critical study of gender, race, and otherness written in the wake of such burgeoning areas as cyberpunk and the New Space Opera. Wolmark pays attention, for example, to the intersection between postmodern and utopian feminist thought. In this regard, The Female Man, cited under Novels, is a key text, and Wolmark offers a thoughtful consideration of how utopianism and postmodernism operate jointly within Russ’s work.

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