Reconstructing Desire

The Role of the Unconscious in Women's Reading and Writing

By Jean Wyatt

Reconstructing Desire

284 pp., 6 x 9

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4285-0
    Published: December 1990

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This provocative study explores the function of the unconscious in reading and creative processes. The book asks if reading can change the reader and if women, through reading, can change the unconscious fantasy structures that govern desire. Using models of the unconscious developed by Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, Cixous, Nay, and Chodorow, Wyatt explores the complex interactions between a text and a reader's unconscious. She theorizes specific processes whereby young readers can assimilate dynamic images of female autonomy in Heidi, The Wizard of Oz, and Little Women.

By tracing the imprint of father-daughter relations on women's unconscious fantasy life, Wyatt seeks to explain the hold of romantic love fantasies like Jane Eyre over many female readers. She looks to contemporary novels for alternative fantasies: to female artist novels by Lessing, Drabble, and Walker for fantasies of sexuality nurturing creativity; and to the flexible family circles of Beloved and The Color Purple for alternatives to patriarchal family arrangements. Wyatt argues that novels like The Awakening and Housekeeping that reflect and transform readers preoedipal fantasies offer women radical alternatives to dominant cognitive and social structures.

About the Author

Jean Wyatt is professor of English and comparative literary studies at Occidental College.
For more information about Jean Wyatt, visit the Author Page.


"This challenging and beautifully written book will be useful to readers interested in issues of female creativity and in the family. It will be of particular interest to scholars who are seeking a way to reconcile their feminist desire for social change with psychoanalytic theory, which can seem intractable on the issue of changing our minds."--Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature

"Challenging and exciting. The exploration of female sexuality and creativity is a distinguished contribution to feminist scholarship. . . . A stimulating and well-researched work."--Margaret Drabble

"A fascinating meditation on the psychodynamics of reading, Jean Wyatt's Reconstructing Desire will be essential reading for anyone interested in language theory, gender studies, and women's literature."--Sandra M. Gilbert, University of California, Davis, and Susan Gubar, Indiana University

"Reconstructing Desire is a very fine book--bold, original, informative, and persuasive. The subject is central and significant, not only to feminist scholars and literary critics, but to anyone who reads novels."--Gayle Greene, Scripps College

"Should be indispensable reading for anyone interested in reader-response theory or in nineteenth- and twentieth- century women's literature."--South Atlantic Review