Rogers, Katherine M(unzer)

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ROGERS, Katherine M(unzer)

Born 6 June 1932, New York, New York

Daughter of Martin and Jean Thompson Munzer; married Kenneth C. Rogers, 1956; children: Margaret, Christopher, Thomas

The daughter of a business executive and a psychiatrist, Katherine M. Rogers was educated at Barnard College (B.A., 1952) and Columbia University (Ph.D., 1957). Rogers was a Fulbright fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge University, from 1952-53. After instructorships at Skidmore College and Cornell University, she joined the English Department at Brooklyn College in 1958, becoming a full professor in 1974. Rogers' major fields are Restoration and 18th-century literature and 19th-century fiction; her special interest is the status of women as subjects and as writers in these periods. A "committed but not extreme feminist," her view is that courses on women and literature should "never…reduce their texts to mere springboards for political theorizing or proselytizing."

The Troublesome Helpmate: A Study of Misogyny in Literature (1966) was inspired by the events of Rogers' life. During the 1960s, regulations at Brooklyn College forced pregnant women to take leaves of absence. Since uninterrupted years of teaching were required for tenure, these regulations prevented Rogers from obtaining tenure at the end of the usual period of probationary service. She writes: "I managed to sublimate my indignation by applying my mind to a scholarly study of misogyny."

The Troublesome Helpmate defines misogyny not as the almost universal view that women are inferior to men and should therefore be subordinated to them, but as the fear, dislike, or contempt expressed by a writer who "insists on this view to an extent unusually harsh for his period." Rogers traces misogyny back to its origins in Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures. She then proceeds in an encyclopedic fashion through English literature, concentrating on historical variations in the literary expression of misogyny and on several important authors. Rogers offers various social, historical, and psychological causes of misogyny, suggesting that the most basic of these is the need to rationalize "the wish to keep women subject to men."

Rogers has continued her analysis of male writers in William Wycherley (1972) and in essays on Richardson, Fielding, Thackeray, Ibsen, and others. In "The Feminism of Daniel Defoe" (in Woman in the 18th Century, and Other Essays, edited by P. Fritz and R. Morton, 1976), Rogers analyzes carefully Defoe's treatment of marriage, love, sex, adultery, economic survival, and female psychology in both his journalism and fiction. Of Arnold's plea for birth control in Culture and Anarchy, she suggests that its motivation was social progress rather than sexual freedom (Dalhousie Review, Winter 1971-72).

Like other feminist critics, Rogers has gradually moved from images of women in literature by men to women writers, some once well known but now forgotten. She shows how late 18th-century conventions of "feminine" writing inhibited Charlotte Smith, who centered her novels on insipid heroines, although her real skill lay in revealing political abuses and social pretensions, and Elizabeth Inchbald, who ignored conventions in the first half of her best novel but followed them "to the destruction of interest and plausibility in the second part" (Eighteenth-Century Studies, 1977). In Feminism in Eighteenth-Century England, Rogers continues analyzing the historical circumstances of women's lives, their subjective position as defined by ideology, the literary developments that helped to encourage the feminism of the period, and the influence of that feminism on the work of women writers in various genres.

The Cat and the Human Imagination: Feline Images from Bast to Garfield (1998) is a historical assessment of the shifting cultural perspectives on cats and the countless ways they have been portrayed in literature and art. The status of cats has changed significantly since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and the book explores the varying visions and examines the situations in which cats lived. The analysis includes the parallel evolution between human attitudes towards cats and towards animals, authority, and gender. Bloomsbury Review noted, "Scholarly but never stuffy, Rogers presents a fascinating parade of cats in art and literature, with many surprises for cat lovers who think they know their cat history…The author cites from classical literature, folklore, and popular culture in an endless stream of interesting excerpts and stories, peppered with her own dry wit. A wonderful resource for writers and researchers."

Rogers told Contemporary Authors in 1999: "My intense concern with the status of women (spurred by some deplorable experiences in my professional life—e.g., being deprived of academic tenure with each pregnancy) provided a driving motive for writing my first book. Lately, I have been concerned with how women of the past perceived themselves and their situations. To a surprising extent, they anticipated the insights of the Women's Liberation Movement of today." She continues to publish scholarly articles in professional journals and her forthcoming book, The Popish Midwife, studies the life of Elizabeth Cellier.

Other Works:

Selected Poems of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1979). Meridian Classic Book of Eighteenth-and Nineteenth-Century British Drama (editor, 1979). Selected Writings of Samuel Johnson (editor, 1981). Meridian Anthology of Early Women Writers (editor, 1987). Frances Burney: The World of "Female Difficulties" (1990). Meridian Anthology of Early American Women Writers (editor, 1991). Meridian Anthology of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Plays by Women (editor, 1994).


Reference works:

CA (Online, 1999).

Other references:

Books Abroad (Autumn 1967). Johnsonian News Letter (Dec. 1966). Journal of Marriage and the Family (May 1972). PQ (July 1973). Review of English Studies (1993). The Year's Work in English Studies (1967).

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Rogers, Katherine M(unzer)

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