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Archive for the ‘female archetypes’ Category


Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) and Henry Tilney (J.J. Feilds) entering the realm of the ancient Abbey, crossing the bridge (2007 Granada/WBGH Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: 4 Thursdays midday, 11:50-1:15 pm online,
F405Z: The Heroine’s Journey
Office located at 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va 22032
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course:

We will explore the archetypal heroine’s journey across genres and centuries in the western Eurocentric tradition, from classical times to our 21st century female detectives. Our foundational books will be Maria Tatar’s The Heroine with 1001 Faces (written as a counterpart to Joseph Campbell’s famous and influential The Hero with a Thousand Faces), and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey. Our four books will be Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Tales; Elena Ferrante’s Lost Daughter; and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. We will discuss what are journeys, the central experiences, typical plot-designs, characterizations, and events of the lives of our heroines of classical myth, fairy & folk tales (and connected to this historical romance and time-traveling tales), realistic fiction, and the gothic (and connected to this mystery/thrillers, detective stories). There are two recommended films as part of our terrain to be discussed: Outlander, S1E1 (Caitriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp transported), and Prime Suspect S1E1 (Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison). I will supply some poetry (Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, Marge Piercy), two scripts (for the serial episode of Outlander and the 2022 film adaptation of The Lost Daughter by Maggie Gyllenhaal), and one parodic modern short story (“Rape Fantasies” by Atwood), all as attachments.


Leda (Olivia Colman) stopping off to look at the sea sometime during her journey there and back (Lost Daughter, 2021)

Required Books (these are the editions I will be using but the class members may choose any edition they want):

Margaret Atwood. The Penelopiad. NY: Grove Press (originally O. W. Toad), 2005, ISBN 978-1-84195-798-2
Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales. NY: Harper and Row, 1981. ISBN 0-06-090836X (reprinted with new codes many times)
Elena Ferrante. The Lost Daughter, trans. Ann Goldstein. NY: Europa, 2008.
Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey, ed. Susan Fraiman. NY: Norton Critical Edition, 2004. ISBN 978-0-393-097850-6. Another excellent (good introduction, good materials at the back of the book) modern edition is the Longman Cultural text, ed. Marilyn Gaull. NY: Longman (Pearson Educational), 2005. ISBN 0-321-20208-2

Strongly suggested films:

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 1, called “Sassenach” Written Roger Moore, directed John Dahl. Featuring: Caitronia Balfe, Sam Heughan, and Tobias Menzies. Available on Netflix (and Starz), also as a DVD. I can supply a script for this one.
Prime Suspect, Season 1, Episode 1, called “Price to Pay 1 & 2.” Written Lynda La Plante, Directed Christoper Menaul. Featuring Helen Mirren, John Benfield, Tom Bell. Available on BritBox, YouTube and also as a DVD


Kauffmann, Angelica: Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses (18th century fine painting)

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion

Jan 26th: Introduction, Atwood’s Penelopiad, with a few of her Circe poems, and Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Big O” (from The World’s Wife)

Feb 2nd: From Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales read “The Bloody Chamber” (Bluebeard), “The Courtship of Mr Lyon,” (Beauty and the Beast)”Puss-in-Boots,” “The Lady of the House of Love” (Sleeping Beauty plus), “The Company of Wolves” (Little Red Riding Hood). Please have seen Outlander S1, E1. Another movie you could see is the 1984 Company of Wolves, an extravagant fantasy bringing together a number of Carter’s fairy tales and fables; she is one of the scriptwriters. It’s available on Amazon Prime.

Feb 9th: Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, with Marge Piercy’s “Morning Athletes” If you are interested, see the film adaptation, The Lost Daughter, scripted & directed Maggie Gryllenhaal; while much is changed, it is absorbing and explains the book (Netflix film, also available as a DVD to buy); it features Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, and Jack Farthing (as Leda’s husband). I can supply a script for this one too.

Feb 16th: Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with discussion that links the gothic to modern mystery-thriller and detective stories. I will send by attachment Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies” (a very short story). Please have seen Prime Suspect S1, E1-2. If you are interested, see the film adaptation, Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies, directed by Jon Jones; while much is changed, this one is also absorbing and adds to the book (available as a YouTube and DVD); it features beyond the two principals, Carey Mulligan, Liam Cunningham (General Tilney) and Sylvestre Le Touzel (Mrs Allen)


First still of Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, late arrival at crime scene, driving herself (Prime Suspect, aired 6 & 9 April 1991, “Price to Pay”)

Select bibliography (beyond Tatar’s Heroine with a Thousand Faces):

Beard, Mary. Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations. Liveright, 2013. Early refreshingly jargon-free feminist readings of documents left to us.
Bojar, Karen. In Search of Elena Ferrante: The Novels and the Question of Authorship. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.
Carter, Angela. Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings [non-fiction, essays, sketches, journalism], ed Jenny Uglow, introd. Joan Smith. NY: Penguin, 1998
Cavender, Gray and Nancy C. Jurik, Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. Urbana: Univ of Illinois Press, 2012.
Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 2004.
Frankel, Valier Estelle. 3 books: Symbolism & Sources of Outlander: Adoring Outlander: On Fandom, Genre, and Female Audience; Outlander’s Sassenachs: Gender, Race, Orientation, and the Other in the TV series. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015-17
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. 1983; rep, rev Harvard UP, 1993.
Gordon, Edmund. The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. London: Chatto & Windus, 2016.
Klein, Kathleen Gregory. The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre. 2nd Edition. Chicago: Univ of Illinois, 1995.
Moody, Ellen, “People that marry can never part: A Reading of Northanger Abbey, Persuasions Online, 3:1 (Winter 2010): https://jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol31no1/moody.html ; The Gothic Northanger: A Psyche Paradigm, Paper delivered at a EC/ASECS conference, November 8, 2008 online: http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/gothicna.html ; The Three Northanger Films [includes Ruby in Paradise], Jane Austen’s World (Vic Sandborn, April 6, 2008: online: https://janeaustensworld.com/2008/04/06/the-three-northanger-abbey-films/
Pratt, Annis. Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981.
Southam, B.C., ed. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion: A Casebook. London: Routledge, 1968.
Sullivan, Rosemary. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood, Starting Out. Canada: Harper Flamingo, 1998.
Tomalin, Clair. Jane Austen: A Life. NY: Vintage, 1997.
Williams, Anne. The Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. Chicago: Univ Chicago P, 1995.


Claire (Caitronia Balfe) among the stones, just arrived in 1743 (Outlander S1, E1, 2015)

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Amelia Workman as Jane Anger


Talene Monahan as Anne Hathaway

Gentle friends and readers,

Talene Monahan’s Jane Anger is not a great play; after an initial superbly delivered monologue by Workman as Anger in front of a stage-size title page (Jane Anger), we (or I) was puzzled to be confronted by a farcical and static treatment of an apparently arrogant callow Shakespeare (Michael Urie) and his newly hired servant, Francis (Ryan Spahn) acting out a (to me) senseless comic routine worthy Jack Benny and his valet, Rochester (Eddie Anderson).  Remember him? Rochester was superb in his way and so too in this same raunchy sycophantic yet self-assertive way Spahn.  We learn that poor Will is experiencing writer’s block over an apparently plagiarized King Lear, that there is a previous version of this Celtic legend in a book Will is copying from. Perhaps we were to surmise Francis is gay.  This play makes great visual hay with Shakespeare’s sonnets which are addressed to a young man Will is in love with and a dark lady.

This took a lot of time, but somehow I felt this play wasn’t going anywhere and couldn’t figure out what we the audience were there for, even if (as we were reminded) below the room through a window we were made to feel a mob in the streets experiencing plague, and remember many doors were X’d.  Then suddenly climbs up and over the window sill, Jane. She is dressed wholly in black with a Venetian style bird mask.

The character, Jane Anger (her pseudonym) is modelled on a woman who lived and wrote one of the earliest feminist defenses of women. Monahan wrote the play during time of plague, our own, Covid-19, in 2020 (see Thomas Floyd’s story of the origins of the play).  The central life of the play is provided by the extraordinary performance of Amelia Workman who presents herself as a survivor in the “soft power” working class mode, laundress, prostitute, barmaid, whatever fell to hand (cook?), and has come to Will to ask him to sign her pamphlet, for without his signature she will never be able to persuade any printer to print her polemic. It quickly emerges she and Will have been sexual partners; she has a kind of rival in Francis (so my speculation about the sonnets has some evidence), and these three proceed to squabble until interrupted by drama’s fourth player, Anne Hathaway, also seemingly climbing up and over the window sill. Monahan plays the part in a stylized “bright comic” mode.

Colleen Kennedy has done justice to the tone and quality of the dialogue. Though it’s not quite as hilarious as Kennedy makes out, the characters discuss the plague (with obviously modern allusions thrown out), play-making, and become physically aggressive.  It is in the mode of other more brilliant crude riffs on masterpieces, history (as told seriously), and issues of the day. We witness how the men treat the women with contempt, and how they and Francis take out an almost embarrassing revenge on a thoroughly dislikable Will: he shows himself to be idle, lazy, a plagiarist who sneers at his long-suffering wife (left at home to cope with the children, one of whom died at age 11 or so). There was hearty spontaneous laughter at the slapstick, of which there is a good deal more; the use of sprayed blood all over a supposed painting of Shakespeare as backdrop especially.  Both Will’s arms are hacked off, as his penis (mockingly), which is thrown about. So the old banana routine really works. The language was as demotic as I have seen it in crude costume dramas on Starz (lots of reiterations of the word “fucking”) but this did not seem to bother the audience. Of course all the old rumors and printed words are rehearsed, including how Will left Anne the second best bed. Early on we had heard a lot about the dark lady; now the question is, was she Anne?  Anne claims this.  Spahn managed to dominate the stage and for that matter the whole theater when the actors turn to include the audience in their conscious antics. Spahn gave out photos of himself and told us that he was looking for an agent.

I admit to feeling disconcerted by this utterly irreverent emasculating of someone all of whose plays I have read, as well as the poetry (the sonnets form part of what is quoted from Shakespeare’s works) – and loved and respected very much.


The pair of men as morons

I like to remember John Heminge and Henry Condell, the friends who worked so magnificently to produce the astonishing first folio and professed themselves worried lest we not understand and appreciate their beloved noble-hearted colleague. So this was a low point in the proceedings for me.

But the play picked up when Will leaves the room in order to work for real on his coming play (I don’t remember what happened to Francis), and we were left with Hathaway and Anger. Why it took so long and was in comparison with the rest of the play so short I know not but the last twenty or so moments of this play had these two women telling each other of their lives. The death of Hamnet brought in earlier to point out how Shakespeare has not come home to see them die was now recounted. The friend whom I was with told me some of the lines were taken from Maggie O’Farrell’s sequel historical novel, Hamnet.  So now maybe I should buy that and read it.  And finally Anne reads aloud Jane’s pamphlet and (I was once, still am, an early modern literature scholar) it seemed to a real Elizabethan text was being read:

This was (I felt) the high point in the proceedings; the men did return, inexplicably chastened, and a quiet mood of respect for the previously silent and dismissed women ended the play.

It has been played elsewhere and I gather there is hope for other stage productions. This one is directed by Jess Chaynes. Other people could choose to do it differently. So I’d say if you are living near this or another production, or there is a video made of the play and it is eventually streamed on the Internet, Monahan’s play is very much worth sitting through.

Ellen

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Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) — self portrait of herself as a painter

Dear friends and readers,

Although I have only a few sessions to describe out of the many that the RSA presented online for a few days, that is, from November 30th, to December 1st, I want to record what I heard and participated in. The primary reason is in two of the sessions I heard ideas and information which will help me the next time I want to write and deliver at a conference a paper on Anne Finch. But I also want to record some sense of how wonderful in tone and content the conference seemed to me — and perhaps therefore will be of interest to others outside the early modern scholars who attended it.

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I can no longer take stenography the way I once did, and spare my reader my attempts in other sessions than those on women studies which is the aspect of the Renaissance I’ve been most interested in. Here I do provide longer synopses because both of the panels taken together will provide me with a new perspective for a new paper on Anne Finch. These two panels are on Women Leaders and Their Political Behavior, and Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voice. for the second blog I’ll be reviewing: the depiction of women in the era; dance, gender and sexuality; women on the stage, women during plague time, and creative approaches to telling the lives of women. For the second I will keep the synopses short, giving the gist of the talk and omitting details. I have enough material for two not overlong blog reports.

There were three presentations in the session on Women Leaders and their Political Behavior.


Elizabeth I when a princess (attributed to William Scrots, 1564)

Yafit Shachar talked about Elizabeth I, and how since she was a woman and ceaselessly regarded from the point of view of her literal woman’s body, during the early years of her reign she was under severe pressure to marry. Parliament made every attempt to exclude her from knowing about their talk on other issues! They regarded her refusal to marry as an attempt to ungender herself. Her female body was seen as a conduit for continuing the Tudor regime (and all the people in place staying in their places). At the same time a foreign man could potentially lead the country into wars. She responded in words by insisting they should see her body metaphysically (the queen’s two bodies) and that paradoxically her not marrying was their safety. She would protect the kingdom by bodily staying outside the world of matter. As time went on and she was not able to conceive, and her astute political behavior, especially during the threatened invasion by Spain, the pressure gave way.


An imagined statue for Anne Murray, Lady Halkett at Abbot House, Dunfermline — she was a spy!

Caroline Fish discussed the transterritorial power of Costanza Dora del Carretto, a widow. When her son died, and her grandson was still a young child, she was given the legal authority (power of attorney) to administer the family’s estates. Women were apparently usually disenfranchised, but she was very effective also in provisioning and maintained squadrons of ships (that included enslaved people working in the galleys). She also appointed governors wisely. Andrea Bergaz discussed Anna Colonna, a marquise (first in Madrid?). During her seven years in Vienna she initiated and ran public mostly musical events at court, became an active patron of the arts. The idea was to show how a woman could use the spaces of allowed sociability to contribute to the arts. There was much interesting general talk from inferences the speakers made from their material; among the most interesting to me was the assertion that women did act as spies far more than we realize (lacking documents).

There were three presentations on Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voices, and one respondent (Anne Larsen).

Giulia Andreoni spoke of how women’s association with elements of nature, specifically trees, enabled women to assert their identities. Her main stories were derived from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. We see heroines dress up as shepherds, mark up trees which become a kind of containing vessel for the female characters’ bodies (women turn into trees to escape rape). Trees protect the women, are pleasant places to dwell in, and become the woman’s tomb after she dies. She showed illustrations of pregnant trees, trees with female imagery. Some of the women are sorceresses whom the impassive hero refuses to pity. Julia Varesewski told of the mother daughter team Madeleine (1520-87) and Catherine des Roches (1542-87). They wrote within Renaissance poetic genres, e.g., the blazon. The poetry they produce is lyrical, ecstatic, erotic (women are touching, touchable) and their virtue is never questioned. In one story the women behave reciprocally and restore one another’s health and beauty. They adapted a literary tradition from men and made it serve a community of women. The style fits the kind of writing Helene Cixous describes as l’ecriture-femme and very aggressively through women’s collaboration. The mother and daughter invented a textual space within which women were seen to converse and live.


A modern Echo and Narcissus (David Revoy) — the early modern & beautiful Victorian ones might be taken for or responded to as soft-core porn and Revoy has imagined the relationship between these two: the man loving his image, the woman compelled to hang on his every gesture or sound …

Nancy Frelick discussed male and female writers of the French Renaissance (Louise Labe, Marguerite de Navarre), their motives for writing and the reception of their work. She dwelt especially on the figure of the disembodied echo. Echo stands for the sorry state of a desiring subject or poetic persona where women repeat male forms: Echo was cursed and could repeat only the last sounds she hears; she haunts places and then dissolves away. Her predicament can be read as women’s powerlessness, but also make visible or felt a poignant poetic inner struggle, a divided self. She quoted playful poetry; and a critic talking about male poets as capable of inspiring stones (Orpheus?). She went through poems by men, e.g., Donne, and then went on to the Des Roches women, showing the daughter using this figure to echo her mother’s voice with a sense of deference and respect. They were creating a poetry of mutual support which gained prestige. There were contests as to who was a muse, seeking immortality, but they turned back to Sappho. The daughter stayed single, so she does not become someone’s property and does not support the patriarchy. And they get away with their subversion. In a poem called “Echo” (1586) in response forms the characters show how to find comfort; in a poem of a Sybil reads, writes and is simply herself. Frelick argues the figure of Echo is multifaceted and used to evoke different aspects of subjectivity; Echo is not unidimensional.

In the talk afterwards the women talked of landscape poetry of the era where we see gender and concerns over environment mingle. One woman was much interested in Gaspara Stampa; another what women do with epic genres. I brought up how Anne Finch read Tasso (and Ovid too), translated Tasso, wrote poems on trees, and one on Echo, aligned herself for immortality with Sappho. It seemed to me their way of talking could give new perspectives to Anne’s so-called romantic lyrics by moving backwards to the early modern women poets. They spoke of a Tasso poem where trees were cut down, reminding me again of Finch. The tree is creative, alive, beauty in itself. They seemed to appreciate what I had to say.

So I bring forward from a blog I wrote in 2020, Finch’s poem to a “Fair Tree,” in an early form not in print (so it’s a text you will not read in the new standard edition), from one of the minor manuscripts:

Fair Tree! for thy delightfull shade
‘Tis just that some return be made;
Sure some return, is due from me
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds doest shelter give,
Thou musick doest from them receive;
If Travellers beneath thee stay
‘Till storms have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee, they spend
And thy protecting pow’r, commend.
The Shepheard here, from scorching freed,
Tunes to thy daancing leaves, his reed;
Whilst his lov’d nymph, in thanks bestows
Here flow’ry Chaplets on thy boughs.
Shall I then, only silent be,
And no return be made by me?
No, lett this wish upon thee waite,
And still to florish, be thy fate.
To future ages may’st thou stand
Untoutch’d by the rash workmans hand,
Till that large stock of sap is spent,
Which gives thy somers ornament;
Till the feirce winds, that vainly strive
To shock thy greatnesse, whilst alive,
Shall on thy lifelesse hour attend,
Prevent the axe, and grace thy end,
Their scatter’d strength together call,
And to the clouds proclaim thy fall,
Who then their evening dews, may spare
When thou no longer art their care,
But shalt, like Ancient Hero’s, burn,
And some bright hearth be made thy Urn.

Here it is, read aloud accompanied by “Epping Forest” from John Playford’s “The English Dancing Master 1670, 11th Edition,” the painting which emerges, “The Oak Tree”, is by Joseph Farrington, 1747-1821.

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My header includes the phrase “the first I’ve attended in many years.” In the later 1980s my husband wanting me to return to my Renaissance world, partly because I had embarked on a many year project to learn Italian and translate the poetry of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, and continued during that decade to keep up reading about the early modern period, its poetry, drama, and doing research at the Folger Shakespeare Library an Library of Congress on my own. I was what’s called an Independent Scholar. He meant very well. He took care of our two children while I went. I had been writing reviews that were published in the Renaissance Quarterly by that time; I had gone to Renaissance sessions at the MLA and published a paper on Katherine Philips in Philological Quarterly. Well for me to go to that conference by myself was a disaster for me. I knew no one any more, and when I talked to a few people, I was greeted with silent stares. I will not tell the social faux pas I made; suffice to say I refused to go to another early modern conference for many years. The trauma of what had happened remained with me.

Then one year after I had returned to scholarship and conferences through my work on the 18th century and Austen after 1999 (2000 I published my first book, Trollope on the ‘Net), gone to and delivered a talk on Trollope in London at the Reform Club. Also gone to a Virginia Woolf session and then party at one MLA. Jim said we should go to Florence one April (during spring break). There was another early modern conference there. He thought we could have good time in that city during the times I was not at the conference. I now feel very bad that I refused to go to an early modern conference in Florence in 1998 or so. He never went to Florence and is now dead and will never go. I now realize what I should have done is ask him to come with me to the conference proper (we could have paid) and I would have recovered. Rien à faire. Irretrievable.


Antonio Canaletto (1867-1786), Northumberland House

I just got off a zoom where I told friends how getting on the Internet in 1995 had transformed my life beyond what I’ve written above: it had enabled me to make friends without having to cross official thresholds: I began by writing on listservs, and that eventually brought me friends, respect, an invitation to write my book, and to write reviews regularly, to attend small regional conferences. The pandemic caused events to occur online which I could never have gone to even with Jim. Online you are welcomed as the image of someone in a tile and if you behave conventionally, no one questions you.  For example, I’ve now attended two virtual Virginia Woolf conferences in isolated obscure places in the mid- and Northwest USA — and joined in during the talks after the papers — I read and study Woolf a lot, have written a number of blogs on her here.

Come to our topic at hand: it was the second year of the pandemic and the RSA had its first virtual conference. I was brave enough to register, and tried to join in. I don’t know now why I didn’t manage but I found the site user-unfriendly, and managed at most to attend two sessions and gave up. Not this time. They have learned how to present the sessions and it’s now easy to get in and find things. I heard in the sessions that this year’s virtual conference had been set for Dublin, Ireland but now had added a virtual conference in November. People were lamenting they had decided to go virtual. I regret for them, they could not have the more fulfilling time they imagined (plus travel), but for me it was the first time since 1998 I was at an early modern conference, and for the first time successfully joined in.

So there we are. I broke the barrier at last. I finally also spoke during the talk afterwards in two of the sessions.

Ellen

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Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said (directed Maria Schrader, script Rebecca Lenkiewicz), telling of what happened 20+ years later


Young Zelda Perkins (Molly Windsor) and young Rowena Chiu (Ashley Chiu) in She Said (immediately afterwards)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m writing this in a spirit of mild indignation. It’s not that no reviews have acknowledged the excellence and power of She Said: Ryan Painter in a Salt Lake City news report not too long after beginning gets round to the power and importance of this film (and accompanies the review with stills that demonstrate what is meant by “stride”), Alexis Soliski of the New York Times gives strong praise (albeit warning the reader that the film is “discreet” and “stealthy” — nothing to trigger you here, potential viewer is part of the idea), but often they are curiously truncated (Ebert’s column). Nothing like damning something with faint praise, e.g, Molly Fischer of The New Yorker. I fail to see why it is a limitation of this film that our two intrepid reporters talk with compassion and understanding neither Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) found necessary when dealing with Deep Throat. We are made to fear for them as Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor receive death threats on the phone, are followed ominously by cars, find themselves confronted by an aggressively hostile husband who finds his honor about to be besmirched.

And then there is the vehemently insulting, to me a review all the more appalling because the New Statesman is a left-of-center publication, and the review by a woman, Ann Manov who labeled it “myopic, timid and trivial”. I almost didn’t go; I felt so angry at the review when I came home I almost cancelled my subscription

Like many perhaps most women I have a #MeToo story too. In my case it’s one I’ve yet to be able to put into coherent words. The experiences occurred over a period of time, between the ages of 13 and 15 when through hysteria and retreat I managed to put a stop to it. I know this time connects it o a suicide attempt I made at age 15, years of anorexia (ages 16 to 21), and my attempt to shape my existence into a safe retreat. I tried once on my original political Sylvia I blog.  But I can no longer reach it by googling for it as I wrote it so long ago. I am cheered to see the outstanding performances of Samantha Morton (whom I have so long admired and now finally subscribed to Starz just to see her in The Serpent Queen — alas she is the only element in the serial worth watching) and Jennifer Ehle (as Laura Madden) singled out. I cannot find a still online (available to public of her telling of her experience) only this one of her as first seen with her children living in a small village in Cornwall.

Ashley Judd plays herself. We hear Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice on the phone. Patricia Clarkson is the female supervisor, with Andre Braugher as the tough male “the buck stops here” impressive deep voice on the phone and presence in group discussions

Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Here is Angela Yeoh (as Rowena Chiu) many years later: it is this woman’s husband who stands as a threatening wall between her and Jodi Kantor

It’s not discreet — I agree we don’t have the scene where Harvey Weinstein actually bullied Laura Madden into agreeing to squalid sordid sexual activity with him, but as in Greek tragedy, a brilliant messenger conjures up the scene for us. I’d like to see the film again because I found myself remembering and reliving fragments of what happened to me so not taking everything in — as in most recent films, this one moves very quickly, with epitomizing dialogues (the lawyers for Weinstein, two of them importantly ex-lawyers, played by Zach Grenier and Peter Friedman) for many of the scenes. Not all. Not the descriptions of what these women endured. It was for me at times painful, especially when Ehle as Laura Madden confessed she had allowed Weinstein to rape her — she did not say no exactly; the anguish ever after was that she felt she had consented. She blamed herself. Much is brought forward to show why women are unwilling to go on record and what is won at the end is this team of women, and these stories eventually brought in over 80 women. There is now a law before Congress which would make illegal some of these silencing contracts employees sign before they are allowed on jobs.

As The New Yorker and New York Times reviewers state early on, the model for this film is All the King’s Men: with Twohey (who has a baby during the early phase) and Kantor (who has a family of children she must care for) we are seeking verifiable documents, women willing to be named on the record, with the difference that this time many of them have signed “settlement” agreements whereby they agreed never to tell anything and hand over all evidence upon being given a huge sum of money (the amount also kept secret). Deep Throat never was paid off, never was silenced by a court decision. There is also a bestselling book by Kantor and Towhey (She Said, available in several ways).


Megan Twohey


Jodi Kantor

So the emphasis is on the chase, and the turns are those of “thriller-mystery” formula: as in spy fiction, this kind of subgenre has come to be used for socially conscious TV serials (Sherwood) and films (Suffragette). Andrew Marr has talked in one show about how the spy thriller is a key political text for our time. The worst that can be said of it is what can be said of too many American-produced films: it’s suffused by a sentimentality at moments (particularly family scenes for our two heroines), is at moments unsubtle (again the family scenes seemingly exonerating our heroines from militant feminism), broad, with an insistence on upbeat feeling at the end.


Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison and Jonny Lee Miller as Anthony Field (“Keeper of Souls” — a sardonically ironic title)

One might compare the ending of many of the 1990s Prime Suspect episodes (Helen Mirren achieved broader fame here); I thought of episode 3 about a pedophile ring as I watched Samantha Morton and remembered a young Jonny Lee Miller in an unforgettable 10 minutes electrifying that season with his rendition of a young man remembering his years of being raped in prisons and “centers for boys”: at its end we are still not sure the key figure (played by Ciarhan Hinds) will actually be nailed down by evidence and sent to jail; all we know of the publication is that it will bring the horrible stories to the public eyes, and that is how She Said ends.

In Prime Suspect because another lower-level murderer-bully is also going to be put away for many years, we feel at least this ring of cruel ruthless males is going to be destroyed; granted Harvey Weinstein did get a sentence of 23 years. But there is nothing truly feel good about the ending, only relief that the intensely dangerous work done may be rewarded by justice (as people are exposed) and our heroine (Jane Tennison) getting promoted.

An interesting aspect about the art and plot-design of this movie is this movement back and forth between the time an assault/rape occurred and the time this investigation is taking place. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen no less than 4 serials where the film moves from past time at least 20 years ago to near now: Sherwood, Karen Pirie, Magpie Murders, and now She Said. In all of these two sets of actors do the roles, in some cases more successfully because the actors playing the younger parts really look like the older actors (the first film I saw of this type was Last Orders, with J. J. Feilds playing the Michael Caine role and Kelly Reilly the Helen Mirren role). Magpie Murders, as befits am Anthony Horowitz product adds a level of complexity and dwells also on using the same actors as characters in a novel occurring 40 years ago and characters in present time (but only some of them so our credulity is not asked too much of).

Unfortunately, in this movie some of the actors playing the younger selves do not look enough like the older actors but I can quite see that Jennifer Ehle does look much older and am glad no computer tricks were played upon her present face. And sometimes the younger actress, Lola Petticrew, is so immediately vivid in her terror, shock, and shame:


Lola Petticrew as Young Laura Madden in She Said

What more can I say? read the book, see the movie. I will be identified as an over-the-top feminist if I say I think some of these lukewarm and uncomfortable reviews derive from the reality that the patriarchy is still firmly in place (capitalism reinforced by male hegemony and male-derived values), that a female aesthetic such as is found in this thriller (the stories are cyclical with the woman repeating roles as mothers and wives they anticipated as girlfriends), with female imagery and females playing subordinate roles when it comes to some final decision as to what to print does not yield visceral consent from male critics and women primed to want male structures. Helen Mirren managed to become a central dominant presence in her series because the series had 5 years plus a 2 year reprise (1991-96, 2003, 2006) for us to see her rise to become boss, and she did play the role as (apart from her private life where we see her cry, have an abortion [very daring], lose partners stoically) as hard, unemotional, and as one of the “guys” who uses alliances with women (prostitutes to reporters) rather than becoming one of them which Mulligan and Kazan do.

But in this film our heroines are not aging mature women (like Patricia Clarkson is — about whose private life we know nothing) but presented as young women reporters themselves with a career to make — and courageously chancing it and their private lives. It is telling that this film’s norms are such that we believe they have good lives because they have supportive husbands.


Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in She Said — chasing down people as far away as Cornwall


Carey Mulligan — filmed in Bryant Park, her career is studded (as gems) with important feminist films

Ellen

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Click to make it larger and see her face close up — look at her complex expression

Friends and readers,

Heather Cox Richardson offers immediate context and Nancy’s history in the house: very few women there when she first arrived:

And from her speech:

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced she is stepping down from party leadership, although she will continue to serve in the House. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I so deeply respect,” she told her colleagues. Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is also stepping away from a leadership position. Both of them are over 80.

Pelosi was elected to Congress in a special election in 1987, becoming one of 12 Democratic women (now there are more than 90). She was first elected speaker in 2007, the first woman ever to hold that role. She was speaker until the Democrats lost the House in 2011, then was reelected to the position in 2019, and has held it since. Jackie Calmes of the Los Angeles Times tweeted: “As an ex–Congress reporter, I can speak to the records of 8 of the 55 House speakers, 4 Dem[ocrat]s & 4 R[epublican]s back to Tip O’Neill. I’m not alone in counting Pelosi as the best of the bunch. 2 Dem[ocratic] presidents owe their leg[islati]v[e] successes to her; 2 GOP presidents were repeatedly foiled by her.”

Pelosi began her speech to her colleagues by remembering her first sight of the U.S. Capitol when her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was sworn in for his fifth congressional term representing Baltimore. She was six.

She called attention to the Capitol in which they stood: “the most beautiful building in the world—because of what it represents. The Capitol is a temple of our Democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals.”

“In this room, our colleagues across history have abolished slavery; granted women the right to vote; established Social Security and Medicare; offered a hand to the weak, care to the sick, education to the young, and hope to the many,” she reminded them, doing “the People’s work.”

“American Democracy is majestic—but it is fragile. Many of us here have witnessed its fragility firsthand—tragically, in this Chamber. And so, Democracy must be forever defended from forces that wish it harm,” she said, and she praised the voters last week who “resoundingly rejected violence and insurrection” and “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Despite our disagreements on policy, she said, “we must remain fully committed to our shared, fundamental mission: to hold strong to our most treasured Democratic ideals, to cherish the spark of divinity in each and every one of us, and to always put our Country first.”

She said it had been her “privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people,” and noted pointedly—because she worked with four presidents—“I have enjoyed working with three Presidents, achieving: Historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush. Transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama. And forging the future—from infrastructure to health care to climate action—with President Joe Biden. Now, we must move boldly into the future….”

“A new day is dawning on the horizon,” she said, “And I look forward—always forward—to the unfolding story of our nation. A story of light and love. Of patriotism and progress. Of many becoming one. And, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.”

The rhetoric is cliched and as such (to me) meaningless, but behind it and around it, Pelosi knew how gain (by alliances), use and keep power.

Two stories: Robin Givhan about how uniquely she dressed: yes and no, he or she was not alive in the 1950s: Pelosi was a modified 1950s style

Monica Hesse: how she held it together during the deadly insurrection instigated by Trump

She is hated by the GOP and many men because it was she who put together and passed the Affordable Care Act and many other similar umbrella pieces of legislation to help the American people do what they want and need.

And from The Intercept, Ryan Grim, the “real story” of the background, early career and first successes of Pelosi

She was active in politics well before her children grew up, and before she held office; she was the daughter of a strategic democrat, and joined forces with conservative democrats to head off the intensely aggressive threat and destruction of the New Deal (all its policies begun by Reagan. Her mentor was Phil Burton ….


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington on Dec. 11, 2018 — having bested Trump on and off TV within

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She announced this briefly last night as a last news item:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/judy-woodruff-stepping-aside-from-pbs-newshour-anchor-desk-at-end-of-2022

I shall miss her badly. Tears come to my eyes as I write this. I know I watch the show many even most nights to feel a little of her presence (as presented by herself) in my life. She projects kindness, genuine concern for the vulnerable, seeks stories that can comfort intelligent people, and in general is part of the shaping force of the choices of what to run, where to place it, as well as what is said in the segments. Over the course of the pandemic at the end of many of her hours I felt better.

I’m not going to over-praise. To categorize PBS as left of center is too generous because in many of the central interview and some secondary political segments our “correspondents” consistently avoid asking tough questions to reactionary and also (occasionally) fascist (if when on the show seeming courteous) types, do not truly challenge important lies; their even-handedness is the old mainstream liberal-social but conservative=economic (1950s style) republicanism. Some of the people there are harsher than that, bringing in blaming culture: Amna Navaz and Amiche Alcindor to me would be a fatal choices for anchor. Once I watched Judy sit before Mark Shields and David Brooks spout disguised misogyny. Not a peep out of her. The show omits stories, gives slack to where they should not. I concede many of the “human interest” and cultural segments are probing, humanitarian, egalitarian, and useful. The best of these are done regularly by Fred de Sam Lazaro, Jane Ferguson (what a courageous woman), Malcolm Brabant, Miles O’Brien (Paul Solomon is too far a compromiser). Recently Stephanie Sy has been improving: she actually said to one election denier candidate he was not answering her question! Indeed probably I might stop watching it; it does depend on who is the leading shaping force. William Branagh who would be my choice for anchor but I worry he has a slight nervousness in delivery and of course that won’t do.

Here is her rightly proud resume:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judy_Woodruff

I remember her when she was very young, one of the people on the McNeil-Lehrer hour, telling Washington DC news. There was a brief foray into commercial news broadcasts, about which my father said “she won’t last.” He meant the cut-throat politics and subrisively mean tone of some of the networks would cut her out; she was also no Leslie Stahl, a genuine left-liberal newscaster, daring too — so that made Stahl viable on the ABC of those days. Judy was ever a lady.

Who but her could have done all those end-of-shows obituaries during the height of the pandemic. I know nowadays she has a badly crippled son who cannot get about without a super-engineered walker and also about how unscrupulously and callously such people and their wheelchairs are treated at that most abominable of places, airports, where human rights are thrown away.

I remember her crying when Gwen Ifill died. How relieved Fauci was to talk to her. I shall miss her and her show.


A 1981 photograph of her working for NBC

Ellen

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Said to be a portrait (miniature) of Anne Finch; the portrait resembles in features a miniature of her father …

Friends and readers,

Here is the second paper that connects to the EC/ASECS meeting this year which I didn’t go to. It is a review-essay which I worked on and off for 2 years or so, and was published in the Intelligencer that was published just before the meeting, NS Volume 35, No 2, September 2022, pp 25-35. It’s obviously too long and complicated for a blog, so here too go over to academia.edu to read it:

Editing the Writings of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea


Digital photo from Northamptonshire MS

Ellen

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Amanda Vickery expatiating on a group of 18th century letters and what they reveal

Dear Friends and Readers,

Last May I announced that I would be going (once again) to the East Central region meeting of the American 18th century Society and that a proposal for a paper I was going to write over the summer had been accepted. Well I did write said paper this past August, but as bad luck would have it — and my own inabilities in the area of driving and traveling — I was prevented from going. This is not the first time this has happened since Jim died. See my Jane Austen and the Arts blog, the paper Ekphrastic Patterns in Austen

So this evening I’m going to share the paper that came to be called Jane Austen and Anne Finch in Manuscript and Manuscript Culture Today.

It’s on academia.edu under Conference Presentations as too long to put into a blog.

I know that central to the fun of delivering a paper is conveying to living people one’s work, seeing their responses on their faces and the conversation afterwards. I’ve had a sort of substitute. A good friend, Rory O’Farrell, read the paper and this is part of the conversation we had via email letters:

Your Anne Finch paper was interesting. I quite agree with the necessity of reverting to the original documents wherever possible. In the case of the Calendar of medieval documents I was recently using, I examined some of the online images of specific documents in the calendar, and noted minor occasional omissions on the part of the preparer of the calendar (done pre 1950), often on partially legible or earlier erased entries. It occurs to me that, with modern lighting (ultra-violet and or infra red) and modern high resolution cameras, that document should be re-assessed, as some of the 1950 indecipherable comments/entries might easily resolve using such modern equipment and add a little to the story therein set out.

Thank you on the Anne Finch paper. I don’t know what people might have discussed; but one is the distance between the electronic facsimile and the actual manuscript. I’m willing to say little is lost because it’s so hard to reach real manuscripts, but modern publications or editions of these ms’s (like the one published by Cambridge of AF, or these new Cambridge volumes of Austen ms’s) won’t do — for the reasons I outline. Thank you for this.

Then the other day in one of my classes on Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset and Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir (Barsetshire Then and Now), I brought into class my very ancient-looking and battered 1867 pirated American copy of The Last Chronicle, which contains almost all George Housman Thomas’s original illustrations. They asked me had I ever seen a manuscript of Trollope’s and what did it look like? did he make many corrections? I said I had never seen any of Trollope’s manuscripts, only read descriptions of them, and it would seem that we mostly have fair copies his wife created from his working papers; those more immediate copies we have show he did change his plans as to who would be central or a secondary character, and the manuscript of the 4 volume version of The Duke’s Children (now at Yale) showed many revisions as he cut it down. But in general from what we can see, it would seem that Trollope trained himself to write quickly a copy that would not be all that changed the next day and then add on to that at the rate of 250 new words a day.

But over my life I had seen many manuscripts from early modern women (Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara), and worked specifically with Anne Murray, Lady Halkett (17th century Scots royalist spy), editions of the journals and letters of Fanny Burney (I wrote reviews) and seen the manuscripts or manuscript facsimiles of all the work of Anne Finch and much of Jane Austen. I told them about some of what is in this paper, and much to my surprise they asked questions about manuscripts authors left. I told them the story of Walter Scott’s manuscripts and how around the time of the Regency period, attitudes towards manuscripts changed: before then, writers tended to destroy them. They were in effect devoured in the printing process. After, they were documents whereby you could trace the original intentions of the author, get near to the author in the most close way possible.

Thinking about this, the people’s interest in manuscripts should not have surprised me. It’s part of this change of attitude begun in the 19th century and going stronger than ever so that we have exhibits in museums of artists’ first and continuing sketches, stages in the process, leading towards the final great item seen as the finished work.


A later 20th century edition of the Wellesley manuscript


The Sanditon manuscript

It was great fun doing this paper as it was many of the others I’ve done over the years, most recently, A Woman and Her Box: Space and Identity in Austen. While the early ones are on my website, since Jim’s death I’ve put a number of those on academia.edu and all since his death there (conference papers; reviews).

It is sad not to have gone as these were people whom I’ve regarded as genuine friends, but I know my ability to drive continues to diminish:  I cannot drive in the night was part of the reason I decided not to go. The aggressive and dictatorial social and political world of the US grows more restrictive and punitive: I don’t know that I could get through the computer machines in airports where there are so few hired employees to help people and customs is overtly hostile: I have actually been pulled over 3 times by TSA people who act as silent tyrants. So I will have to go less and less. With inflation, the cost begins to bite into my income and savings more.

It is an ill wind that does nobody any good: I am looking forward to more sheerly pleasurable reading, projects where I would not produce a paper (Italian studies, Anglo-Indian studies) and eventually a book-length study (at long last) of the Poldark and Outlander romance fiction and films.


Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) walking back from vase gazing in Inverness, Halloween time (Outlander S1, E1)


Our first look at Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) as by coach he rides towards Nampara, Cornwall (Poldark 1:1)

Ellen

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Forough Farrokhzad (1934-1967)

“If my poems, as you say, have an aspect of femininity, it is of course quite natural. After all, fortunately, I am a woman. But if you speak of artistic merits, I think gender cannot play a role. In fact to even voice such a suggestion is unethical. It is natural that a woman, because of her physical, emotional, and spiritual inclinations, may give certain issues greater attention, issues that men may not normally address. I believe that if those who choose art to express their inner self, feel they have to do so with their gender in mind, they would never progress in their art — and that is not right. So when I write, if I keep thinking, oh I’m a woman and I must address feminine issues rather than human issues, then that is a kind of stopping and self-destruction. Because what matters, is to cultivate and nourish one’s own positive characteristics until one reaches a level worthy of being a human. What is important is the work produced by a human being and not one labelled as a man or a woman. When a poem reaches a certain level of maturation, it separates itself from its creator and connects to a world where it is valid based on its own merits.”[10][11] Emphasizing human issues, she also calls for a recognition of women’s abilities that goes beyond the traditional binary oppositions …” Forough Farrokhzad (from an interview)

I am delighted and honored to say that tonight we have a guest blogger who sent to Wompo (a list for and about women’s poetry) and now has given me permission to put here an (in effect) foremother poet posting.

By Farideh Hassanzadeh.. For her poetry and more about her: she is also a translator and freelance journalist. On Poem Hunter

Farideh began with one of Farrokhzad’s poems (in translation)

It is Only Sound That Remains

Why should I stop, why?
the birds have gone in search
of the blue direction.
the horizon is vertical, vertical
and movement, fountain-like;
and at the limits of vision
shining planets spin.
the earth in elevation reaches repetition,
and air wells
changes into tunnels of connection;
and day is a vastness,
which does not fit into narrow mind
of newspaper worms.

why should I stop?
the road passes through the capillaries of life,
the quality of the environment
in the ship of the uterus of the moon
will kill the corrupt cells.
and in the chemical space after sunrise
there is only sound,
sound that will attract the particles of time.
why should I stop?

what can a swamp be?
what can a swamp be but the spawning ground
of corrupt insects?
swollen corpses scrawl the morgue’s thoughts,
the unmanly one has hidden
his lack of manliness in blackness,
and the bug… ah,
when the bug talks,
why should I stop?
Cooperation of lead letters is futile,
it will not save the lowly thought.
I am a descendant of the house of trees.
breathing stale air depresses me.
a bird which died advised me to
commit flight to memory.
the ultimate extent of powers is union,
joining with the bright principle of the sun
and pouring into the understanding of light.
it is natural for windmills to fall apart.

why should I stop?
I clasp to my breast
the unripe bunches of wheat
and breastfeed them

sound, sound, only sound,
the sound of the limpid wishes
of water to flow,
the sound of the falling of star light
on the wall of earth’s femininity
the sound of the binding of meaning’s sperm
and the expansion of the shared mind of love.
sound, sound, sound,
only sound remains.

in the land of dwarfs,
the criteria of comparison
have always traveled in the orbit of zero.
why should I stop?
I obey the four elements;
and the job of drawing up
the constitution of my heart
is not the business
of the local government of the blind.

what is the lengthy whimpering wildness
in animals sexual organs to me?
what to me is the worm’s humble movement
In its fleshy vacuum?
the bleeding ancestry of flowers
has committed me to life.
are you familiar with the bleeding
ancestry of the flowers?

Forough Farrokhzad was born in Tehran into a middle class family of seven children. She attended public schools through the ninth grade, thereafter received some training in sewing and painting, and married when she was seventeen. Her only child, the boy addressed in “A Poem for you,” was born a year later. Within less than two years after that, her marriage failed, and Farrokhzad relinquished her son to her ex-husband’s family in order to pursue her calling in poetry and independent life style. She clearly voices her feelings in the mid-1950s about conventional marriage, the plight of women in Iran, and her own situation as a wife and mother no longer able to live a conventional life in such poems as “The Captive,” “The Wedding Band,” “Call to Arms,” and “To My Sister.”

As a divorcee poet in Tehran, Farrokhzad attracted much attention and considerable disapproval. She had several short lived relationships with men-“The Sin” describes one of them,–, found some respite in a nine-month trip to Europe, and in 1958 met Ebrahim Golestan (b. 1922), a controversial film-maker and writer with whom she established a relationship that lasted until her death in an automobile accident at thirty-two years of age in February 1967.

Iranian Culture (A Persianist View), Michael C. Hillmann (translator, editor) page. From an Interview by Farideh of Larissa Shmailo (the translator), p 149

Dear Farideh:

Forrokhzad’s imagery is strong and uncompromising. I hear this poem aloud, spoken with force: “Why should I stop?” the poet queries, when around her is sound, the capillaries and cells and sperm become music in verse. Proclaiming “the bleeding ancestry of flowers,” the poet takes on the entire natural world and the cosmos, “shining planets” and the “uterus “of the moon and the human body. We follow her invitation to the motion of the horizon and the dead bird which taught her flight. Birds, worms, and “day is a vastness.”-this poem awakens us to the splendor of the variegated universe. This is an exciting voice which should not have been stopped at such an early age. Why should it have stopped?

Thanks so much for sharing!

Love,
Larissa

Here too Wendy Varaman’s interview with of Farideh:

When I first encountered the poems of Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad, I immediately thought of Sylvia Plath.

Here, for example, are the opening lines of “Let us believe in the beginning of the cold season” (trans., Michael C. Hillmann):

And this is I
a woman alone
at the threshold of a cold season
at the beginning of understanding
the polluted existence of the earth
and the simple and sad pessimism of the sky
and the incapacity of these concrete hands.

To what extent do you think it is useful to link these two women, both of whom died tragically in their early ۳۰’s during the cold month of February, each apparently still at the mercy of love and in a white-hot fervor of writing? Are women poets in Iran and the United States today more similar to each other or more different?

Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi:

Even Death in a cold season and at the peak of Forough’s creativity is not a good reason to find much resemblance between these two women poets. Sylvia killed herself because she was suffering from the betrayal of her husband. She was a faithful wife and a mother in love with her children. Forough left her husband and her little son to find her fate and mate in poetry. Regrettably, feminists and antireligious people in Iran and overseas, try to introduce Forough as a victim of a patriarchal religious society. It is not true. They claim she was forced by her father to marry in her teens, but now everybody knows that she threatened her parents to commit suicide if they don’t let her marry the man she loved. They introduce her husband as a dogmatic man who didn’t let Forough write poetry and deprived her from her right as a mother to see her son.

Forough’s letters to her husband, published thirty years after her death by her son, prove that even after divorce she was deeply supported by her kind, generous, and loyal husband who never married again and devoted all his life to their son. He was himself a writer and painter.

As for her poetry, Forough s poems could make themselves free from personal problems and pay attention to the world around her, while Sylvia Plath’s poems speak of “self,” even when she writes about others. “Lack of love” for Forough, was a universal wound, not a personal pain:

And my wounds are all the wounds of love
I have piloted this wondering island
Through raging tempests and volcanoes
And disintegration was the secret of that unique being
Each little particle of which gave birth to the sun

I see more resemblance between Forough and Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. Both women were more loyal to love than to the men of their life, and both of them were more devoted to the truth of poetry than to the reality of life. Yet let me admit that if Iran has one Forough Farrokhzad, America has many, many, many “Forough Farrokhzads.” As a translator of women’s poetry and world poetry, I can attest that North America and Latin America have the best women poets of the world” (Wendy Varaman)

**********************************************

To which I can add:


A photograph of Farrokhzad

Thank you Farideh. I also like that photo on the cover of the DVD (her poetry read aloud).

I own another book of her poetry, Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season, introduced and chosen and translated by Elizabeth Gray, Jr (ISBN 978-0-8112-3165-7)

This slender book contains a short life of the poet who died so young: Farrokhzad had a difficult life; she was brave and took off from conventional ways and traveled and wrote and published and made films and lived intensely at the same time as she must have been strapped for money and subject to lots of abuse in the media of her country. I can understand the content better om the book I own. I am thinking the tradition of being so inexplicit comes from inhibition, a desire not to let your private life be vulnerable to ugly public arenas, especially when you are a woman

Honestly, I have trouble understanding such allusive poetry where we are given metaphoric images but they have little concrete explanation or referents. Farideh, I am wondering if there is a tradition for this kind of imagery but I can think of “middle east” (I don’t have the right word for it) poetry where the referent is obvious, e.g., Constantine Cavafy (a male Greek poet). I also understand the content in general of the book I own. I am thinking the tradition of being so inexplicit comes from inhibition, a desire not to let your private life be vulnerable to ugly public arenas, especially when you are a woman. Perhaps candor and explicitness, which would make the poetry more accessible, understandable, might lead to a prison sentence or death.

Gray tells of her own education in the US at Stanford; that in the 1970s she learned Persian. Here’s her website where you are told all her credentials

Farideh replied that most of Farrokhzad’s poems were simple [in diction]; in her final days she was more than a poet: she became a thinker and philosopher, and her poetry departed from Iranian traditions.

Here is the poem from this volume which provides the volume’s title:

Let Us Believe in the Beginning of a Cold Season

And here I am
a lonely woman
at the threshold of a cold season
coming to understand the earth’s contamination
and the elemental, sad despair of the sky
and the impotence of these concrete hands.

Time passed,
time passed and the clock chimed four times,
it chimed four times.

Today is the first day of winter,
I know the secret of the seasons
and understand the moments well.

The savior is asleep in his grave
and earth, the kind acceptor, earth,
invites me to peace.

Perhaps those two young hands were true, those two young hands
buried below ¸in the never ending snow
And next year, when spring
sleeps with the sky beyond the window
and shoots thrust from her body
the green shoots of empty branches
will blossom O my dearest one, my dearest only one

Let us believe in the beginning of a cold season

Farrokhzad also painted; this is from the wikipedia website

A brief literary biography of Forough, Michael Hillmann’s A lonely woman: Forough Farrokhzad and her poetry, was published in 1987.[5] Farzaneh Milani’s work Veils and words: the emerging voices of Iranian women writers (1992) included a chapter about her. Abdolali Dastgheib, literary critic writer, published a critical review of Forough’s poems titled ‘The Little Mermaid’ (Farsi title پری کوچک دریا) (2006) in which he describes Forugh as a pioneer in modern Farsi poetry who symbolizes feminism in her work.[16] Nasser Saffarian has directed three documentaries about her life: The Mirror of the Soul (2000), The Green Cold (2003), and Summit of the Wave (2004), and Sholeh Wolpé has written a short biography of Farrokhzad’s life in “in: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad (2007).

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This photo is dated 2000 — Barbara Ehrenreich


Hilary Mantel, Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, April 1, 2017, Oxford, England.

Friends and readers,

I want to record the passing of two more important women in our era (Elizabeth Windsor was important for what she was), these two important for themselves as individuals:  Mantel for her masterly writing (fiction, non-fiction, life-writing), her accurate understanding of the nature of history, of social-psychological life, her polemics (especially when she exposed the inhumanity of many medical establishments), her feminism; she was a humane and truthful poet, thinker, creator; Ehrenreich for her political vision, her many books and political activity on behalf of the impoverished, vulnerable, her forays into historical realities, as writer and also as thinker. Both were strong feminists.

I first became aware of Mantel as writer of columns and diary entries for London Review of Books when she told of her agony and mistreatment at the hand of the British National Health, then the most insightful piece of writing I’ve ever come across about anorexia, “Girls Want Out.” These led me to her contemporary novels: I’ve still not forgotten Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, and I was so taken by her autobiography, I wrote my first blog about her, on Giving Up the Ghost. I’ve loved historical fiction since I was in my earliest teens and was bowled over by her Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Mantel was able to write such brilliant historical fiction because she had thought hard and deeply about history: see her The Reith Lectures. She delved the gothic, seances, mediums (Beyond Black). Her Catholic background (and breaking away from it altogether) lies behind some of the themes of her work and also her “take” on Sir Thomas More. She took unusual angles on life (from most people) and made us see earlier eras and movements from the point of view of people central to but before her ignored or misunderstood (e.g. A Place of Greater Safety). I admit that her work can be uneven; she can go over the top in comic highjinks and miss her target; she could write woodenly. But part of this was she dared to ignore conventions, norms of writing and what we are supposed to feel. She was original. I taught Wolf Hall twice. I like Larissa MacFarquar’s essay on her Life with Ghosts. Mary Robertson is the important early modern scholar who began the change in attitudes towards Cromwell; to Robertson Mantel dedicated Wolf Hall; here are her memories of Mantel.

I found Mantel’s tone of mind deeply appealing. I feel sad when I think how young she was and how much more she could have written.

Barbara Ehrenreich I read for the first time as a crucial voice in 2nd wave feminism, I saw her as a socialist feminist. She was active as a journalist in projects to encourage working women to tell their own stories. I found her Nickel and Dimed electrifying — really — and taught it twice.

Her Witches, Midwives and Nurses is an important book about misogynistic exploitative attitudes towards women. Like Mantel was consistently, when Ehrenpreis was interested, she was profound scholar. In her obituary essay on her, Katha Pollitt (The Nation) quotes Rebecca Solnit’s choice of a quotation from Nickel and Dimed, In Memoriam.

As a response to Pollitt’s obituary (published under her name), I confide today every other week at 7:10am in the morning pay for 3 Hispanic women to come to my house and industriously clean for 75 minutes.  Cards on the table.  Right now also I teach for free, and most of my life I worked for a wage (as an adjunct lecturer) that I could not have lived on.  I lived on my husband’s salary and mine made our lives together more comfortable, helped put my daughters through college and (for Izzy) graduate school.  I don’t think of myself as “an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else;” rather most of my life I was badly exploited, angry, and maimed in my self-esteem. I remember being put off now and again wonder if Ehrenpreis was a little too optimistic and assumed other women could be as strong as she was in some of her political rhetoric.

Nevertheless, Ehrenpreis wrote books like Bait and Switch, how the delusions of an American Dream as if this idyllically wealthy way of life were available to all destroyed people; Blood Rites is about (as the subtitle tells you) the origins and history of the passions of war She too (like Mantel) early on exposed the hypocrisy of the medical establishment. I remember somewhere she wrote about the hatred men and some women have towards allowing women access to contraception. There are numerous areas where she and Mantel write from the same perspective.

I find this wikipedia article very good. Here is a tribute from Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow.org/. Listen to Ehrenreich speak. The world needs people like her fighting for other people.

I’ve listed my blogs on Mantel in the comments.

Ellen

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