P R E F A C E
Previous versions of this preface narrated how emotionally thorny
it was to write this book. I wrote of myself and of women in my
particular family—from Lena and Sadie to Mara and Cindy—
who entered femaleness at different historical moments and yet
whose styles of being in femininity have contained uncanny simi-
larities. As you can imagine, such resonances raised intensities of
attachment, love, protectiveness, gratitude, disappointment, de-
spair, anger, and resentment that created obstacles to lithesome
Then a friend not from the humanities asked me, “Why are
you airing your personal business here? Isn’t your knowledge the
point?” Right, I responded—well, in the humanities we try to
foreground what motivates and shapes our knowledge, and a per-
sonal story can telegraph a perspective efficiently and humanly.
I wasn’t happy with this somewhat canned response, although I
also believe it. Yet the autobiographical isn’t the personal. This
nonintuitive phrase is a major presupposition of The Female Com-
plaint. In the contemporary consumer public, and in the longue
durée that I’m tracking, all sorts of narratives are read as autobi-
ographies of collective experience. The personal is the general.
Publics presume intimacy.