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Posts Tagged ‘women’s life-writing’


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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Ghazaleh Hedayat (2008)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m honored today to have as a guest blogger M. Mansur Hashemi’s essay, “‘Do you hear their hair?’: About a piece of conceptual art” as translated by Fatemeh Minaei

Three months ago, a protest movement began in Iran. It was instigated by the tragic death of a young girl (Mahsa-Zhina Amini) while detained by the “morality police” who arrested her for not dressing according to the rules of compulsory hijab. The media echoed the event that moved the nation in the name of “woman, life, freedom”.

The following is a translation of a Persian writing that reflects some debates over hijab. It was written about nine years ago highlighting the problem through an interpretation of a work created by an Iranian female artist. The author has written other detailed articles criticizing the mandatory hijab, in which he has predicted the present situation in Iran. But this short poetic writing on an artwork (created by Ghazaleh Hedayat) extracts the essence of the matter. Naturally, the discussed conceptual art can be interpreted in various ways. The author has put it in the context of two bans in Iran, trying to emphasize the complexities of a social conflict. A conflict manifested now in the violent confrontations between the government and persevering teens and youth who fight for their freedom.­ Fatemeh Minaei, 2022 December.

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Imagine the broad plane of a wall. From a distance, you might miss it. But if you look closely, you will see nails. Eight nails, to be exact. Getting closer, you will see the eight iron nails connected by four strands of hair. You feel a tension between the stiffness of the nails against the tender strands of hair. It looks as if the strands are chained to the wall. You hear the daunting sound of a hammer that heightens that feeling. But, with all their fragility, the strands of hair are there. They are not destroyed, despite the collusion between the hammer and nails. They are stretched on the hard surface and this tautness on the broad area, this being tied to the iron nails, enhances their presence.

The strings on a musical instrument are stretched on it and tied to its body, just as those hair strands are tied to the wall. Nevertheless, the very tied-up strings make the unrestricted sound of the music. Those four strands of hair are like strings on the wall. We do not even need to hear any sound those imaginary strings would make. We’ll hear them as soon as we take a look. Apparently, the strands of hair are not supposed to be visible. But they are. Just as for a while, under the new Islamic regime in Iran, musical instruments were not supposed to be seen. Showcases got cleared from any musical instrument. Yet the sound kept on coming out from behind the veils the government ordered. Music survived. It survived until one day the musical instruments came back to the windows and now the only place the musical instruments are not seen is on the Islamic regime’s TV. However, musical instruments are not for watching; they are to be heard. And their sound, the music they create, is now filling up even the official broadcastings of the regime. So seems to be the state for the sound of the locks that were supposed to not be heard. Now the sound that sneaks out from under the slipping scarves can no longer be ignored. The sound of the objecting strands of hair that display themselves despite the morality police, despite the violent surroundings. The veil is no longer working.

A piece of conceptual art sometimes represents a situation not easy to express otherwise. “The Sound of My Hair” by Ghazaleh Hedayat (pictured below) can be interpreted as a representation of a situation. A metaphorical visual translation of a conflict.

I grew up in a pious family and spent my childhood mostly in mosques and Islamic schools. So, I understand how much symbolic that ‘sound’ can become. I feel the taboos and their dreadful power. The imposed patriarchal mentality puts unbearable pressure on a religious man. His mind gets overwhelmed by obsessions that are extremely hard to overcome.

People raised outside the religious stratum of Islamic societies would never comprehend the Hijab issue. Just like the issue of music being impermissible (Haram), sounds being sinful, or musical instruments being devices of ‘libidinous pleasure’, makes no sense to them. The hair of Iranian girls and women not raised in religious families is covered by the force of the regime rules. Just as decades ago, a patriarchal government (ruled by Reza Shah) unveiled the hair of religious Iranian women by force because of a shallow understanding of modernity. The value of individual freedom is missed in both cases. And since the logic of force is not convincing, it was and is doomed to fail.

Now the times are changing. Besides women forced to have hijab or those who chose hijab for a while under the influence of the Zeitgeist, nowadays, even many Iranian girls from religious families prefer not to cover their hair. In an ironic turn of events that can be called, in the words of Hegel, “die List der Vernunft” (the cunning of reason), those girls participated in civic life because the Islamic regime prepared the circumstances their families required, and now they do not see the need for veils.

When you wander in the streets of Iranian cities now, it will be strange if you don’t hear the sound of the strands of hair that want to get free. To get their voice heard despite the repressive surroundings. That reminds me of the interpretable work of Ghazaleh Hedayat. She has visualized a situation that I am sure will continue to cause a stir in our society for a long time. The issue is as complicated and intricate as that work of art: The Sound of My Hair.

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Women’s Rights Activist on Protests Sweeping Iran, the Intensifying Gov’t Crackdown & Executions:

https://www.democracynow.org/2022/12/15/iran_protests_sussan_tahmasebi

Sussan Tahmahsebi:

Over nearly 500 people have been killed — 480, I think, is the last figure that the Human Rights Activists Network reported. Sixty-eight of them are children who have been killed. And the majority of those who have been killed — I mean, at least 50% of those who have been killed are from ethnic minority regions, Kurdish areas and Balochi areas. In Balochistan, just in one day, on Black Friday, which was September 30th, 103 people were shot dead. These were peaceful protesters leaving Friday prayers. And most of them were shot in the back, running away from bullets that the police were shooting at them.

Now, as you mentioned, the violence has reached a new level, where protesters are being sentenced to death. They’re being charged with enmity with God or waging war against God, and they’re being sentenced to death in these sham trials that, you know, don’t take very long, where people are not afforded — allowed to have access to their lawyers. And it’s extremely concerning …

On the women’s reproductive rights front: “How quickly anti-abortion activists abandon plans never to be punitive: demand jail time for “pill trafficking:”

https://tinyurl.com/2fzsvd6a

But it is true that the democrats’ solid wins in many states and for many offices, and putting into state constitutions women’s rights to autonomy, care, and choices over their bodies show who in the US are also in the majority

Posted by 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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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).

Posted by Ellen

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Headley Thorne — Elizabeth, Paddington Bear, and a Corgis (on the model of Phiz’s drawing of Mr Micawber in David Copperfield)

Dear Friends and readers,

I feel this blog should observe the passing of Queen Elizabeth. I’ve spent my life as a student and teacher and writing upon British literature. and Elizabeth Windsor stood for a group of values and norms imbricated across British art, books, music, craft. John Major, a high member of the board of the present Trollope Society issued an eloquent statement about her death, which I link in here: she devoted herself to the service of our nation and its well-being.

If I may, in simpler language, I’d put it Elizabeth II was an embodiment of duty. She obeyed and expressed moral norms, e.g., her speeches on the commonwealth were all for respect and equality (even if what was done was far from that). She can be taken to symbolize an era, including especially the time of World War Two, but she was also a modernizer. The coronation on TV started a tradition of TV and radio & other “ordinary person” appearances. She kept up a fairly busy schedule of public duties enabling worthy causes, and she did meet with PMs perhaps with more effect when she was younger (though what her political views were exactly on any particular issue I know not).

I find tears coming to my eyes when I see and listen to some of what is being said about her, or old tapes and photos. Among my first memories of a larger world was watching TV when I was about 7 and seeing on the TV the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. So she’s wrapped up in my life story. A friend, Diana Birchalls, another lover of Jane Austen tells me she too remembers as a very early memory watching the coronation on TV. She was a central media figure across many many countries and touched the lives of all those who participate in public life (as we all do, will we nill we) at some point.

I watched and very much enjoyed the Netflix series, The Crown, twice through, writing blogs faithfully On Seasons 1 & 2, Elizabeth and Philip, 1947-1955, and then Seasons 3 (1964-74) & 4 (1975-90), The Price of the Crown (1) and A Story of Charles and Diana (2).

While I preferred Claire Foy as Elizabeth to Olivia Coleman, now that over the last two days I’ve been seeing all sorts of photos of Elizabeth herself, I have to say she looks herself best. I like her smile here during her Silver Jubilee, smiling and listening to people lined up along a parade-way

Reading amid flowers (a photo opportunity):

And here she is with her dogs:

She’s not what people might think of when they want to imagine a feminist figure, but she was a women who held onto power for 70 years, wearing it gracefully, with gravitas, and intelligence and as much humanity as was allowed her and she understood.

I’ll end this brief tribute with an essay by Maya Jasanoff, professor of history at Harvard, who contextualizes Elizabeth’s life with what actually happened across the British empire (not so much within the states of English, Scotland, Wales and Ireland), that also needs to be remembered: Mourn the queen, not her empire [on colonialization].

Nevertheless, I found Charles’s speech very beautiful and hope it augurs a future for the UK with a good king:

Ellen

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Cassandra’s drawing of Jane Austen (I’m sure this is accurate)

When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal! …
— from Written at Winchester on Tuesday, the 15th July 1817

Friends and readers,

Mid-summer and the anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. The least I can do is return to Austen blogging: for this somber occasion, Vic Sanborn has written a new blog, and I can refer the reader back to one where I link Austen’s very last poem, offering a different take on Austen’s experience of life as shown us over her books, a tone different from Vic’s, but just as earnest in my sorrow that Austen died so young. I’ve just watched the new Netflix Persuasion, featuring, as I’m sure you are tired of hearing, Dakota Johnson as a re-made Anne Elliot (more on that and the current state of Jane Austen movies in the next blog).


Dakota Johnson (Anne Elliot) and Cosmo Jarvis (Wentworth, apparently a rock star) are the latest couple

And I’ve been perusing Persuasions, the JASNA journal No 43 (Summer 2022), and while most of the papers show the usual careful conventionality of approach to Austen (ever balanced, conservative in outlook, almost apolitical), and an underlying hagiography which undermines or shapes what is on offer, there is also the usual feast of information and insight if you care to study the whole issue. So for this blog I’ve singled out four essays I thought of immediate interest to us today: countering the dishonesty and complacency of the Austen world has been guilty of (me too).

The first part is a gathering of essays on the subject of Jane Austen and the arts, only the perspective isn’t that of the anthology I reviewed on this topic a while back:


Charles Austen, thought to have been painted around 1810, in the uniform of a captain

Credit where credit is due: the perspective is much more non-traditional: the authors go to places you might not expect and treat as serious art or politics what you might not think of as art or a document to be read politically (philosophically) in the first place. For example, draftsmanship training the Austen brothers had in the Naval Academy: what is left is treated as serious art. This perspective turns up stuff that is overlooked.

So first up I call attention to Devoney Looser’s essay, whose content is repeated more briefly in a recent Times Literary Supplement for July 8, 2022, “Heroics at Sea,” p 5.. Charles Austen has been presented as acting to “crush” slavery during his career as a captain aboard a British ship bound to capture any ship with enslaved people on it, free them, and punish the perpetrators. The “honest” truth (Looser is calling for honesty) is not quite what has been implied.

In 1826 the Aurora captured and boarded the Nuevo Campeador, and a brief paragraph was printed (and reprinted, went viral insofar as one could in 1826) to suggest that Charles Austen as captain was actively “crushing” the slave trade. The devil (as they say) is in the details. A group of lines indicate 250 people in chains, closely kept in filth and starvation. Someone threw a yam and it’s remarked how the enslaved people behaved over this like angry maddened dogs. Well who would throw a yam? It reminds me of how Trump throw a roll of toilet paper at an audience of Puerto Rican people after that first horrific hurricane during his regime. Then what happened to these people? papers of emancipation were handed out but what else. Looser’s research (based on that of others) finds that most of the time such enslaved people ended re-enslaved or in conditions nearly as bad as the one they were headed for — the mortality rate very high. Nothing whatever done for them. Tellingly the most interesting detail is how the captain was allowed to escape. He had some excuse of his dangerously ill wife — of course he must be allowed off the ship. Surprise, surprise. He never returned. Nor was there any attempt to capture and punish him legally for his crime. Captain Austen probably got his prize money when the ship was finally brought to port; Looser doesn’t mention this so I wouldn’t be so sure. The key to so many written documents about slavery or state-sponsored piracy at sea is how evasive the content usually is.

It is significant that Looser was able to be much clearer and more emphatic in the TLS than Persuasions.

The first essay in the volume, Julienne Gehrer’s “Martha Lloyd and the Culinary Arts at Chawton cottage, a long piece on Martha Lloyd’s cookery book teaches us a lot about the intense closeness of Martha Lloyd to Jane (and Cassandra Austen). Written with more “honesty” (I’ll call it) we read here much evidence of Jane and Martha’s close (lesbian dare I say) attachment, which I have written about elsewhere on this blog.

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


A contemporary illustration of a stage production of High Life Below Stairs: a coachman, cook, and household servant all drunk refuse to open the doors of their quarters to their employers

Moving right along to the Miscellany: there are two items of note. One developing further Looser’s call for honesty on a farcical drama often misrepresented in effect; and the other breaking with a conventional conclusion about Miss Bates, but as in the manner of most of the Persuasion articles, doing it without disquieting us, and in a sense re-asserting a conventional value: how useful is social networking.

Lesley Peterson’s “Race and Redirection: Facing Up to Blackface” is absurdly prefaced by a black letter warning: This essay contains language and images that may be disturbing or harmful to some readers. It’s such thinking that leads to banning books and essays like this from schools. The usual over-interpretation frames the honest content. Peterson believes that Austen’s thin, short play, The Visit, owes a great deal to a popular farce by James Townley, High Life Below Stairs. There is a single simple allusion to the Townley play and the Austen family (this is what is interesting) acted High Life Below Stairs as amateurs at Steventon. Peterson’s whole outlook comes out of studies like Penny Gay’s and Paula Byrne’s which have Austen as knowing just about every play ever acted on the 18th century theater, with a phenomenal memory, and inspired to write her novels by details in many of them. The person wanting to write a book called Jane Austen and the Theater is certainly in good luck.

What is new here and so dreadfully distressing is Peterson actually read Townley’s play, and, unlike those who have written about it before (e.g., Byrne), brings out how two of the servants below stairs are black. Probably enslaved people because the white servants resent them for not having salaries. What’s more insult them. I hope I need not repeat the ugly stigmatizing of these black servants’ looks and clothes, and a humiliating ritual (presented as comic) they go through on stage. The story of the farce is about how two “masters” (employers) decide to infiltrate (like moles) below stairs in order to see if their servants are as lazy and over-fed as they surmise. Surprise, surprise, they are. As lazy and overfed. The sneers here are just shameless — the play’s content reminds me of people in my neighborhood who are home-owners talking of tenants as if tenants were an ontologically untrustworthy inferior species.

Full disclosure: I read the text in Garrick’s abridged version in a 5 volume 1805 collection of plays I once (every so luckily) picked up in a Chichester book shop (The British Drama, comprehending the best plays in the English language published by William Miller, Bond Street, printed by James Ballantyne, Edinburgh, 1804 — 2 volumes of comedies, 2 of tragedies, 1 of operettas and farces, with 3 prefaces telling the history of the genres). I confess I never read High Life Below Stairs until last night. I was content to read other people’s descriptions of it. So I am grateful to Peterson.

Peterson of course absolves Austen of all snobbery: she claims The Visit shows Austen would have been very alienated by the masters’ plot: alas, The Visit has a very different story (a very slender one). Basically we can’t say what Austen thought of the story matter of High Life, nor do we know if the Austens played the servants’ parts in blackface. For myself I venture to suppose they did not as it would have been great trouble to blacken two people’s faces and then clean the material off. An illustration from the era printed by Peterson suggests an actual black person (negroid) playing KIngsston, the male black servant. The female, Chloe, is given hardly any lines. OTOH, I remember Jane Austen in her letters referring to musical performers as hirelings. In fact because of the apparently necessary hagiography towards Austen, her essay only somewhat faces up to its content.


Of the at least six actresses playing Miss Bates, for me Sophie Thompkins was the most moving even if in he candied 1996 Miramax Emma: here she is at the moment of realizing Emma’s humiliating mockery of her (1996 Emma, scripted McGrath)

The last essay I have room to report on here (I am trying to keep these blogs shorter), is Diane Reynolds’s “‘I am not helpless:’ Miss Bates as the Hidden Queen of Highbury.” It makes it into the printed edition (there is a hierarchy here, and those essays online are paradoxically often by “lesser” people. Reynolds treats Miss Bates being treated with full respect, hardly any qualifications. That’s unusual. Amanda Vickery is one of the voices who does. Reynolds argues that Miss Bates’s “logorrhea” (Tony Tanner’s word and I cannot resist it for its force and felt accuracy) are in part a conscious put-up job, and cover-up.

I’ve written postings and blogs to argue Miss Bates knows about Frank and Jane’s engagement (how could she not?) and if you read this logorrhea in place (at the ball, at the alphabet game, when the piano comes, and especially towards the end when Jane has been physically sick from Frank’s punishing treatment and Mrs Elton’s unbearable needling and pressure), Miss Bate’s words & stance protect Jane – one stance comes to mind of so many – when Jane is seen to not be able to find her wrap. Frank comes over and so it’s a moment very like the one where Miss Bates declares she is not helpless. Arguably, says Diane, Jane Fairfax is “the novel’s true heroine.”

I loved her characterization of Emma “uphold[ing] a hierarchy,” “pour[ing] out her uncensored venom.” Yes she has a “horror” of “being in danger of falling in with the second rate and third rate of Highbury who were calling on them forever” (we are to see that we see only a sliver of those who come and leave their cards or whatever).

By contrast to Emma, who is isolated except for those she choses to come under her domination (Harriet in the novel), Miss Bates is “continually in company” and we are told today and many believe that networking is power – to know a lot about neighbors and others is a kind of power.” Emma emerges as pathetic by your account. But I would qualify here that from what we see of Emma’s thoughts, just about everyone Emma meets she despises, she is bored by or can’t stand. It’s interesting whom Emma befriends, since she so little understands them. That suggests they are objects to her and she cares little about them (Harriet she drops with no problem, Frank too). Reynolds uses Rilke to justify her use of sub-textual matter (invisible) kept hidden, in the background and her reading against the grain.

The unconventionality here is the non-complacent depiction of Emma. The way some at JASNA talk of Emma has sickened me. Yet we must acknowledge Emma is super-rewarded at the lengthy end of the book – by contrast and similarity Jane Fairfax shows an inability to take too much company; she too loathes it but it of course susceptible to outrageous intrusive comments the way Emma is not. Myself I find a good deal of Jane Austen in both heroines. I also like the looking askance at the supposed deep understanding friendship of Austen and her niece Fanny Knight. In one of her letters to Fanny I feel Austen gives away she looks at Fanny as an amusing object for scrutinizing ironic study.

There is or could be a problem in claiming so much power for Miss Bates, except that Reynolds calls Emma a “magical” world and in that paragraph remind me of Trilling’s now old once well-known introduction to Emma where he declares it an idyllic or pastoral world where reality is sufficiently put aside so that we can laugh at or love these “imbecile” characters because in such an environment they don’t come to harm. What I mean to say is Miss Bates’s is what is nowadays called “soft power,” and soft power doesn’t go very far when you are ejected from your dwelling and have nowhere to live. Emma may mock, but Miss Bates, pace Mr Knightley’s justified worried sympathy (or maybe he is right), does not end up homeless because the marriage comes off. Highbury is not an Indian village and its financial customs and laws work very differently.

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Honesty is the new aegis in some of this collection. But honesty about Jane Austen, given the constituents of her fan-clubs, and the need for academics to sustain a position at their US universities (not exactly over-funded or bastions of anything near economic liberalism in the mid-20th century sense), and sceptical, well-informed (on Martha Lloyd’s movements), candid and against the grain looks at the plays and novels involved can go only so far.

Ellen

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Virginia, Leonard and Pinka Woolf


One of Virginia Woolf’s desks

Dear friends and readers,

Here am I to tell you about the second two days of the virtual Virginia Woolf conference held a few weeks ago now (for Thursday and Friday). Saturday, the first session I could make was “Flush: Canine Relations.” Having taught Flush twice (and read much of and by Elizabeth Barrett Browning), “Gypsey, the mongrel (short story in Woolf’s Complete Short Fiction), and myself loving animals and read a number of adult books with animal consciousness at the center (see “A literature of cats” and “Dogs: a Bloomsbury take”), I was alert to details in the papers on this panel.

Saturday. First up was Diana Royer: “A dog has a character just as we have.” Ms Royer talked about “Gypsey, the mongrel,” Flush, The Voyage Out, and Between the Acts. in the first animals are shown to be self-aware creatures, and this one gets angry at another dog, Hector. The real Flush was kidnapped and three times, and it was due to EBB’s bravery (and that of her maid) that she was able to rescue the dog the first time; thereafter she paid the ransom almost immediately. She valued the dog. Rachel Vinrace watches an old woman cut a chicken’s head off. A cow loses her calf in the pageant and bellows in grief.

How are we to regard the suffering of animals. Oliver Case, “Cross-Species Translations,” made the point others did on the panel and the people at the conference who contributed in the Q&A. Our emphasis on and reverence for our ability to speak stands in the way of our communicating with animals. In one scene Flush and another dog gaze at one another and “an intimacy beyond words is understood.” If you will imagine the animal’s thought, you can more easily love them. Accuracy of understanding precise meanings does not matter. There is a deep communal exchange of awareness was part of Sabrina Nacci’s presentation. With animals you can escape patriarchal norms. She shows that Flush gains agency outside EBB’s room. Body language and smell are ways of interacting. Ms Nacci said Woolf attends to violence and alluded to Paul Auster’s Timbuktoo.


One of the Woolfs’s cats, Sappho (there was more than one Sappho)

Everyone who spoke gave Woolf credit for a real relationship with her dogs — from the letters. I was surprised because in Woolf’s letters I have noticed her not that bothered when a dog runs off (gets lost) and too non-protective. I knew that with people about cats vocalize a lot more


A photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1926 by Ottoline Morrell

At this point I had a conflict. I had signed up and paid to participate in a zoom, one of the Virginia Woolf Cambridge lecture series — this one with Clair Nicolson, on the role of clothing and fashion in Woolf’s life and writing. Nicolson’s coming book is based on her dissertation “Woolf’s Clothing: An Exploration of Clothes and Fashion in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction.” She has curated exhibits on clothing, and pays close attention to fashion changes. Her talk was about the power of clothing, you place an exterior image in public between the world and your hidden self. Clothes can be a shield. She said that Leonard Woolf destroyed most or all Virginia’s clothing after her death – what he saved and gradually published brilliantly was the enormous body of life-writing left in manuscripts. A pair of her spectacles have survived. I was therefore not able to participate in any of the mid-day round tables (2 hours each), and have not yet viewed the video recordings. I intend to do that and perhaps add a few words about them in the comments to this blog.

On Blogging Woolf Alice Lowe provides the gist of the roundtable on Woolf and biofiction. The blogger lists a number of the biofictions discussed as well as a couple of recent brilliant biographies. I’ve gotten for myself Mark Hussey’s remarkable book on Clive Bell (and I listened to his brief talk on it during the conference) and

Peter Stansky spoke for a second time, now interestingly on the Dreadnought Hoax and (separately) Julian Bell (the third plenary, 4:00-5:30 pm). Prof Stansky wrote and revised recently a brilliant well researched biography: Julian Bell: From Bloomsbury to the Spanish Civil war: Julian, the son of Vanessa and Clive was killed very quickly upon going to Spain; he was an ambulance driver.

Horace DeVere Cole, was the organizer of the hoax: he enjoyed practical jokes that much (it’s said). Prof Stansky seemed to see the hoax as a protest against militarism. Julian Bell’s life is a tragic story. The book asks what does Julian’s life mean now. Stansky now a candid speaker (and can be very amusing), had to be discreet when writing about Julian’s love life. 40 years after the first version of the biography was published, much much new material has been gathered, sorted and published. He closed with one of William Faulkner’s sayings: “the past is continually changing. The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”


Vanessa Bell, The Bell Nursery — Vanessa Bell never recovered from, never got over her son’s death; she had not wanted him to go; Clive Bell was strongly pacifist

Saturday ended for me on that sentiment, since I did not join in on a Salon.

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The latest cover for SCUM Manifesto

Sunday I began with the “Feminist Resistance” panel at 9:00-10:30 am. Rasha Aljararwa is under the impression that silence is useful form of resistance. It provides a space for someone to exist within, she said. The merit of Loren Agaloos’s was her subject matter, Woolf’s caustic short satire, “A Society” (1921). Read it here as a pdf. Here is a coherent reasoned account of this allegorical short story. I’ve read the story and it is a passionately honest, rawly truthful, unusually direct (for Woolf) hard satire. There is an excellent account in Mark Hussey’s VW encyclopedia. Cassandra is one of the characters included (as a neutral spectator).

Kimberly Coates ““‘Daddy’s Girl’: Fathers, Daughters, and Female Resistance in Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas and Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto” was one of the best short papers in the conference. Solanos’ manifesto contrasts strongly with Woolf’s Three Guineas. Solanos writes in crude demotic English, short paragraphs, lots of large letter headings. She was once famous for having tried to kill Andy Warhol. Originally she was rich, pretty and well-connected and sexually abused by a male relative; she spent her short (1936-88) uncompromising life attacking capitalism and misogyny; she spent 3 years in prison for attempted murder, and ended on the street as a prostitute.

At 11:00-12:30 I attended “Ethics and Archives. “Joshua Phillips described his experiences working in the archives with Woolf’s fragmentary drafts, especially the Berg collection in the New York Public Library in Manhattan. He sees Woolf as interested in the ethics of writing anonymously. Such a person still cannot escape pressure from an awareness of a scrutinizing or indifferent reader (“you can escape the shadow of the reader” is what he said). Because of publishers’ impositions, authors are pushed to be less subjective. Mr Phillips thinks Walter Benjamin’s work shows he was dogged by such tensions as ethical dilemmas. He found all sorts of interesting elements in the Woolf archives: experimental writing, asides, playfulness. Drew Shannon concentrated on a line written by Virginia to Leonard the day of her suicide: “will you destroy all my papers?” If it was a command, Leonard ignored it. Mr Shannon talked about the ethics of publishing what a writer did not want published; the gatekeepers of ms’s: owners, libraries, and (I’ll add) relatives, friends, professional & business associates. Mr Shannon pointed out that sometimes a diary can ruin a writer’s reputation. In the conversation afterwards I offered the idea that the line was a question: she wanted to know if Leonard would do that, and was suggesting he should not.


Here is Duncan Grant’s depiction of Virginia Woolf

Ana Quiring talked about fan fiction on the Internet based on Virginia Woolf’s writings and life, i.e., fantasies constructed from Mrs Dalloway and a distorted idea of Woolf’s life. (To me this is what the over-rated Michael Cunningham’s The Hours is.) So it seems that the sort of thing rained down on Austen’s writings and life is rained down on Woolf’s. I agreed with the speaker that sometimes these amateur fictions can rise (I’d put it) to insightful literary criticism. She urged us to keep an open mind towards these works, remember that Woolf herself lacked professional credentials. I know my blogs are (to use Quiring’s words) “unpaid and unsponsored.”

I sat through Beth Rigel Daugherty’s long “On the Ethics of Teaching Virginia Woolf.” She went through many of Woolf’s critical essays, bringing out the strongly pedagogical thrust of many of them, their strong valuing of literature for itself as an experience of life, their aestheticism, detachment, deeply anti-worldly perspective. Ruskin can be seen as an important voice for Woolf. Her plenary lecture was rightly very well received.


This is a beautifully read aloud rendition by Nadia May (the more common name for the reader)

This wonderful conference ended for me on the penultimate offering, a panel “celebration” of editors of editions of Jacob’s RoomI love this novel: for a while after I first read it, I thought it my favorite of Woolf’s longer fictions. I’ve rearranged the order of the talks and remarks.

Vara Neverow surveyed the original reception of the book and more recent attitudes. Original reviews were mixed; only a few scathing, but the initial positive reception faded. David Daiches rejected it (years later regretted his review); James Hafley — two narrators at least one clueless; Brewster was snarky (1962). Some saw it as a freakish; another critic said the minor characters have more inner life, and the narrator is a device; Kathleen Wall (? not sure that was the name) wrote on ekphrasis and elegy in Jacob’s Room (2002), and about how women have been denied access to private aesthetic experience. Christopher James (perhaps recently) talked of its center being bisexuality. I should make explicit that Jacob is partly a surrogate for Woolf’s dead brother, Thoby Stephens. In the conversation afterward someone remarked the Cambridge Edition of Jacob’s Room by Stuart Clerke can serve as an interpretive touchstone; someone else that it can be read and should be read as an historical novel (about the near past now beginning to repeat itself in war).

Suzanne Raitt did the Norton Critical Edition, talked of the many editions. She encountered Jacob’s Room at an older age (38, 40 when the edition was published). It’s an experimental novel; Woolf had had lengthy bouts of mental illness by this time; she told us of an article by Kate Flint in The Review of English Studies, 42:167? (1991):361-72, about the elderly women and young men in the novel. Kate Flint spoke of her edition, done early in her career, and about working at the Berg.

Ted Bishop (Canadian) said there are 10 named characters in the novel who never answer one another; it has no narrative drive, not much chronology; we have flash forwards to characters when older. The time element is all time is there all at once. There is a touch of the grotesque. He also said Alberta (which he retired from) is now demolishing its humanities center; how people used to be kicked out of the Berg collection. Maria Rita Dummond Viana who translated Jacob’s Room had held a translation workshop and suggested that translation is a mode of reading, the most intimate act of reading one can do. “I cannot help but translate what I love” (I thought of Madame de Chastenay’s translation of Anne Radcliffe’s Udolpho into French and Radcliffe made French, my own of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara.)

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Though Covid has brought such devastation and grief to so many people on this earth, the capability of zoom software to bring people together visually and aurally from across the globe, when used for that purpose, especially when it is hard, almost impossible for many to reach one another so apparently intimately any other way, has been a tremendous unexpected gift.  Although this is against my own interests (as someone who finds travel such an ordeal and has limited funds and hardly any helpful connections), I hope that zoom or online conferences and lectures will not replace in person get-togethers in more local areas, as there is a untranslatable-into-words difference between getting together in person and talking every which way to one another as genuine single group when the group is made up of more or less friends of the same tribe, with the same interests and ways of life.

One solution is to offer far-away conferences in both modes: in person and on-line. JASNA is now doing that; ASECS is planning to alternate in person and on-line conferences. The problem with hybrids for meetings of people who really live within say 40 minutes of one another is too many may opt for convenience, depleting the in person experience too much, while hybrid remains an uncomfortable mix, putting too much pressure or an impossible task on the teacher or lecturer (leader of the session). This said, I cannot drive at night, and with public transportation increasingly disappearing in the US (the very conservative and reactionary domineering substantial minority does not want middling and poorer people to be able to reach where they live or even go through), for me in N.Va the online classes at the bookstore Politics and Prose this summer are a needed rejuvenating time of pleasure with others.


Vanessa Bell’s Bird in a Cage

Ellen

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Marge Piercy

Friends and readers,

I’m pretty sure I’ve never written a blog on Piercy’s poetry, much less about her as a central foremother poet in English, though I’ve written blogs on her novels, memoirs, and blogs on feminist and other issues where I’ve quoted her poems. I love them — as well as those of her books I’ve read thus far. On her End of Days; on her Cat Poetry; “Sleeping with Cats.” Earlier blogging: Three Women (rescued from an attack by a virus).

I would like this evening to share as an interlude between my summaries of the Virginia Woolf virtual conference I joined in on, her

“Right to Life”

A woman is not a pear tree
thrusting her fruit into mindless fecundity
into the world. Even pear trees bear
heavily one year and rest and grow the next.
An orchard gone wild drops few warm rotting
fruit in the grass but the trees stretch
high and wiry gifting the birds forty
feet up among inch long thorns
broken atavistically from the smooth wood.

A woman is not a basket you place
your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood
hen you can slip duck eggs under.
Not the purse holding the coins of your
descendants till you spend them in wars.
Not a bank where your genes gather interest
and interesting mutations in the tainted
rain, any more than you are.
You plant corn and you harvest
it to eat or sell. You put the lamb
in the pasture to fatten and haul it in to
butcher for chops. You slice the mountain
in two for a road and gouge the high plains
for coal and the waters run muddy for
miles and years. Fish die but you do not
call them yours unless you wished to eat them.

Now you legislate mineral rights in a woman.
You lay claim to her pastures for grazing,
fields for growing babies like iceberg
lettuce. You value children so dearly
that none ever go hungry, none weep
with no one to tend them when mothers
work, none lack fresh fruit,
none chew lead or cough to death and your
orphanages are empty. Every noon the best
restaurants serve poor children steaks.

At this moment at nine o’clock a partera
is performing a table top abortion on an
unwed mother in Texas who can’t get
Medicaid any longer. In five days she will die
of tetanus and her little daughter will cry
and be taken away. Next door a husband
and wife are sticking pins in the son
they did not want. They will explain
for hours how wicked he is,
how he wants discipline.

We are all born of woman, in the rose
of the womb we suckled our mother’s blood
and every baby born has a right to love
like a seedling to sun. Every baby born
unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come
due in twenty years with interest, an anger
that must find a target, a pain that will
beget pain. A decade downstream a child
screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched,
a firing squad is summoned, a button
is pushed and the world burns.

I will choose what enters me, what becomes
of my flesh. Without choice, no politics,
no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine, not your calf
for fattening, not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators do not hold shares
in my womb or my mind.
This is my body. If I give it to you
I want it back. My life
is a non-negotiable demand.


Expectant, of all life might offer, a digital picture by Lida Ziruffo

Ellen

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