Use of Attics in Literature Essay

4376 Words 18 Pages
The Phenomenology of Space--Attic Memories and Secrets

Since Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic, critics have assumed that attics house madwomen. But they use that concept as a metaphor for their thesis, that women writers were isolated and treated with approbation. In most literature, attics are dark, dusty, seldom-visited storage areas, like that of the Tulliver house in The Mill on the Floss--a "great attic under the old high-pitched roof," with "worm-eaten floors," "worm-eaten shelves," and "dark rafters festooned with cobwebs"--a place thought to be "weird and ghostly." Attics do not house humans (not even mad ones) they warehouse artifacts that carry personal and familial history--often a history that has been
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Attics make us think of history, interesting artifacts, old toys, books, clothes, linens, jewelry, and other treasures—but, most of all, of deep, dark, and significant family secrets. It was in the attic of the house that I grew up in that, as a snooping teenager, I found the packet of letters from my mother to her first husband. Her FIRST husband. I had never dreamed that she had had but one husband--my father. And had I not ferreted out those letters, I probably still would not know. Then, that night, my father took me aside–I'm sure at my mother's urging–and confessed that he too had been married and divorced before he met my mother. Whether particular attics hide such secrets hardly matters. What matters is that psychologically we believe that they do. In fact, attics frequently house just the sort of information I unearthed–facts that one is too attached to to throw away, but which one very much wants to remain secret.

Before a discussion of attics can begin, it is essential to define what is meant by "attic" and to distinguish attics from upper rooms. Not all third floor spaces are attics, because many larger houses have and had third floor rooms that were normal living spaces, sometimeshaving bedrooms and sometimes having a huge, finished room used for balls and other parties. Such rooms were furnished, and comfortably habitable. Such is the case with a room that is often cited as an "attic" that incarcerates a "madwoman," the upper room in "The…