Between high school English and having spent half my life treading one set of boards or another, a large chunk of my brain is devoted to Shakespeare. For whom isn't that the case, really? There's the deep horror of Macbeth, the lovely gender mix-ups of Twelfth Night, the… no, I really didn't like The Taming of the Shrew. But the thing is that Shakespeare's plays are largely about the men. My having gone to drama school has to be good for something, so let me take you through the theatrical manipulations rendering so many Shakespearian women more silent than they could be (and, arguably, more silent than the stories could do with).
Romance novels: generally not the sort of thing we might discuss as a vehicle for feminist literary icons. Many are the faces I have pulled at the quality of some of the novels supposedly aimed at me. I think, however, that writing romance novels off entirely is leaving a lot outside in the cold. Romance is, after all, the most popular literary genre in all the world. More than that, it's a genre dominated by women writers and readers, and you've got to put down some of the contempt for romance to misogyny. Accusations of silliness and inconsequentiality are, of course, some of the most insidious tools in the patriarchy's toolbox. Let's share some love for the love story, shall we?
I wanted to write about at least one writer from the Southern Hemisphere for you. (I was going to also write about New Zealand's Katherine Mansfield, but then Lindsay pipped me to the blog post!) I thought to myself, I've never read My Brilliant Career (1901), and that's supposed to be one of the best feminist works to ever come out of Australia. An excellent topic on which to write, I surmised! This plan did not quite work out as I had expected. So let me tell you a little bit about Miles Franklin, and some other Australian women writers you, readers, may find of interest.
A piece of advice for those who are interested in reading Am I Blue?, an anthology of YA short stories about gay, lesbian, and questioning characters: don't read it on the bus. I tried several times, and always missed my stop by many blocks without fail. The collection is engrossing to a plan-canceling degree; editor Marion Dane Bauer has put together funny, poignant, compassionate, impassioned stories about teenagers supporting each other, by authors dedicated to both advocacy and entertainment.
One of the world's most enduring literary traditions has to be the Arthurian legend, which gives us the most intriguing figure of Morgan le Fay. Mother, sister, lover, healer, and witch, she's had to be extremely flexible to fit the changing requirements of Arthurian narratives. She's been an ally to Arthur, the wicked witch, and she's presently popular as an object of feminist reclamation. Let's take a trip with the various incarnations of Morgan le Fay, and discern how such a malleable character has sustained the kind of power she has over imaginations across the centuries.
We're going to leave the 19th century soon, but not before we've covered a certain breed of independent woman literary icon. At a time when divorce was the height of scandal, Louise Mallard and Nora Helmer were literary characters who looked to a better life without their husbands. And they suffered terribly for it. Let's explore the rise of representations of women learning to live their lives far from being under a man's thumb.
I'm super excited for Of Lamb, the new book from poet Matthea Harvey and artist Amy Jean Porter, so although it hasn't been published yet I thought I'd share a sneak peek. The book is one long erasure poem by Harvey accompanied by beautiful and weirdly funny illustrations by Porter. More about erasure, plus illustrations from the book, after the jump!
Jane Austen has quite the hold over the contemporary imagination. Not only are her books still bestsellers almost 200 years after her death, but there's a veritable industry around adapting and appropriating her work. From The Jane Austen Book Club to Jane Austen's Fight Club, Miss Austen's influence reaches more widely than ever. So how did these books about young women searching for eligible gentlemen in the English countryside get to be so popular?
Elizabeth Gaskell's North & South (1855) and George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1876) are two of my favorite novels. They're both set in 19th century England, and written by women, so those are two big ticks right there. But one of the main reasons I like them both so much is that they're not about navigating comfortable worlds of privilege so much as they are about the clash of experiences. 19th century England wasn't all garden parties and precisely angled fans, after all, but a context full of religious and political turmoil, the beginning of the end for a particular vision of England. In the minds of Gaskell and Eliot, those clashes sent up some sparks of brilliance.
It's time to head back to the nineteenth century, and one Miss Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre (1847) is, of course, one of the most widely-read books in the English language. But I wonder about the kinds of readings that are to be had here. And I wonder what I'm getting out of this book that would have gone over the head of Brontë, as a white woman from a colonising nation. These are sensibilities supplied by Jean Rhys' parallel novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), as we will see.