"We think back through our mothers if we are women," wrote Virginia Woolf. In this groundbreaking series of essays, Sandra M. Gilbert explores how our literary mothers have influenced us in our writing and in life. She considers the effects of these literary mothers by examining her own history and the work of such luminaries as Charlotte Brontë, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath. In the course of the book, she charts her own development as a feminist, demonstrates ways of understanding the dynamics of gender and genre, and traces the redefinitions of maternity reflected in texts by authors such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.Throughout, Gilbert asks major questions about feminism in the twentieth century: Why and how did its ideas become so necessary to women in the sixties and seventies? What have those feminist concepts come to mean in the new century? And above all, how have our intellectual mothers shaped our thoughts today?