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?
Since I frequently share the TV with someone who loves NFL football, I've been watching a completely different set of offensive commercials as of late. (Typically I see the offensive ads directed at women, you know, the ones that make us feel like even even our armpits aren't pretty enough? Football ads are much dudelier but make me just as stabby, as it turns out.) Though ads during NFL games run the hypermasculine gamut, from objectifying women to implying that junk food is the only reason men have to get up in the morning, the campaign that prompts me to throw the most stuff at the television is Miller Lite's "Man Up" series.
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.
Here is the semi-embarrassing circumstance that resulted in the more-than-semi-embarrassing-realization that I haven't yet written about Maya Angelou for this blog: I was watching the first day of OWN's (Oprah Winfrey Network, duh) new programming with my mom, (...nope. Can't even come up with a sarcastic parenthetical. I just was.) and saw that Dr. Angelou would be featured on an upcoming series called "Master Class." Actually, I saw that a new show on OWN would feature Maya Ang—, which is all I saw before I bolted off the couch to my computer and yelled back to my mom that we needed to figure out DVR recording before Sunday night at 10. She was surprised by my new enthusiasm for the Winfrey gospel, needless to say. And I'm surprised I haven't yet waxed adoring on this writer, this poet, this actress, director, dancer, professor, activist, this woman who more than any other artist makes me glad to be American, to be female, to be human at the same time as her.
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.
It seems only fitting that I'm able to help Bitchtapes ring in the new year. For me, the '00s (I still haven't figured out what I want to call this decade) started with an actual mixed tape from a new friend, who has since been through the ringer with me. And in thinking about it today, I've realized that my very favorite people have won me over with mixes, even recently. So, here is my little gift for all of you to help start off something good.
Rather than do any kind of decade retrospective or theme here, this one is kind of all over the map...a little bit sparkly, a little dark, a little sloppy, with a trumpet here and there. Just what I would hope for in the new year. Friends new and old, cheers to what the next decade will bring...
Discuss the women of crime, that is. Crime fiction is still seen as very much a gentleman's genre, something at which fans of Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith, for a start, scoff vigorously (if scoffing can be performed vigorously). It isn't all Arthur Conan Doyle or hardboiled detectives with endless contempt for women (hi there, Raymond Chandler), however—no, indeed. What does it mean for women to be writing crime fiction, in a world where women are subject to so much crime? Writing in a genre, furthermore, in which women characters are often cardboard floozies, or victims, or temptations, or unremarkable?