Sunday, November 20, 2005

I'm going to try to catch up on my blog a bit today/this week. I know I have missed a whole lot of writers. It's been a really crazy few weeks. I had my wisdom teeth taken out on Monday (the 14th) so I lost this week, I spent it at my parents' place on atasol, which is a mean medication if you ask me. I took this opportunity to quit smoking which has been 50% okay. I was kind of stupid, because I went to my professors before this week and told them about my wisdom teeth, and asked them if I could hand everything that was due in their classes in to them a week early. I don't remember very much about that week now except that by the time I got to my paper for this class I was pretty strung out. It felt really good to get it in, though.

Speaking of my paper! I too just noticed that we were asked to blog about it, so I will do so briefly. I wrote about Aphra Behn's novel Oroonoko, and the novel as a women's form. Oroonoko is the first emancipatory novel, Behn's narrative revolves around the brutal treatment of a group of Indian slaves by the British imperialist system. She draws a lot of really neat parallels between the way the slaves are treated, and the way that women are treated in society. I discuss a pile of instances of this in the paper.

I talked about the novel and the politics of being a woman writer during the Restoration. By choosing to write professionally, women were challenging "men's claim to ownership of the realm of ideas and creativity." I leaned a fair bit on an article that I really liked by Heidi Hutner, called "Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: The Politics of Gender, Race, and Class," where she says: "Behn was among ther first women writers of her time to cross socio-political and gender boundaries, to raise the private female world into the public sphere. Behn's career in itself was a political act -- an assertion of female rights and power." After I talked about these things I talked briefly again about attitudes towards early novels by women, I quoted Adrienne Rich and argued that we can be progressive without making these women remote to us. I quoted T.S. Eliot, referring to the women as "that which we know," and then I concluded my paper with a barn burning finale featuring Virginia Woolf and The Royal Slave crying out for a new world, declaring that new world the novel as a form.

That about covers it. I am going to go start reading and will hopefully update this a few more times today. A bunch of you have done really well with your blogs, I am always impressed.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What is not a crime in men is scandalous and unpardonable in women... - Mary Manley, 1696.

I've been looking at some of the class blogs and I am seeing that I am not alone in having a rough time getting into the Manley text. This comes after a week of trying my darndest to get into a few of Aphra Behn's novels for my paper. It's been trying. In the introduction to the collection of Behn's novels that I have, the editor says something to the effect of "there isn't really any point in reprinting these" -- I suppose that had a substantial effect on my attitude going into them. But after I started trying to plow through Behn for the fifth or so time, and after reading The Adventures of Rivella for about an hour, I dropped everything to check out some of the books I borrowed from the library on early British women writers, hoping for something a little more compelling. These women were writing novels before novels existed. In an article by Heidi Hutner it says that "Behn may, in fact, be the initiator of 'the novel' in British literature." Yeah, these things are tough to read. Everything considered, that isn't so surprising -- this is unmarked territory. The novel was regarded as a women's form. Virginia Woolf suggests that "it was that the novel was the new form, and was, therefore, sufficiently malleable to be bent to women's purposes."

Some of the articles I read about Behn's novels blew me away. I guess I didn't really clue in to how infectious negativity can be when reading, maybe because I haven't read a lot of longer texts from this period (which I admittedly struggle with). I was completely won over by a dry, one-dimensional introduction that warned me that what I was about to try reading wasn't particularly worth my time. How embarrassing. It got me thinking about how much these women were really up against, and how impossible it would be to fight against such a huge wall of resistance. It's easy to type about and it almost seems cliche, oh yes it must have been very hard they were very brave and I'm glad etc. But honestly, what were these women made of? Continual dismissal and criticism, always fighting something. Who can really do that?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In the other half of this course I did my webpage and presentation on Mary Wollstonecraft. I'm going to quote myself right now, this is from my website:

...she is in many of the books written about her referred to as the "first feminist" and the "mother of feminism" -- Her most famous work is A Vindication of the rights of Women, which was published in 1792. This work is considered to be the first great written discourse of feminist thought. In this work Wollstonecraft works to "persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonimous [sic] with epithets of weakness." As Eleanor Flexnor points out, Wollstonecraft was taking a big step in arguing the intellectual capacity of women: "[...] she was arguing without precedent, at a time when the mere existence of a woman's mind not only was in question, but was of no interest to anyone, women included" (Flexnor, 60). Wollstonecraft argued that a woman must be an "intellectual equal [to her husband], a mature and educated being", otherwise she is not fulfilling the role of a human being. Without this symmetry, a woman is "not [her husband's] companion, but his mistress" (Flexnor, 150). She argued that intellect and reason will always govern, and that women must become equal to their male counterparts by exercising theirs.

She looks forward to a day when both men and women will be active citizens. [...] She thinks that 'women ought to have representatives instead of being arbitrarily governed without having any direct share allowed them in the deliberations of government.' She states, 'The few employments open to women, so far, from being liberal, are menial', and, expanding on what she said in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, she goes on to comment on those 'few employments'. Even in those, women are not treated equally with men; for instance, tutors and governesses do not have the same social status and are allocated different tasks. She then indicates what she thinks is appropriate work for women -- farm management, medecine, running a shop, the study of history and politics -- and criticizes government for not 'providing an honest, independent woman, by encouraging them to fill respectable stations'. (Lorch, 81).

She states again and again that the vast difference in status of men and women is keeping the improvement of society at a standstill. She stresses that "if women are not educated to enable them to be 'affectionate wives and rational mothers' and the 'companion of man', then there will be no progress" (Lorch, 84).

I think that there are echoes of Bathsua Makin in Wollstonecraft's Vindication that I didn't notice before. Makin wrote her Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen to advertise the school that she ran. In some respects I think that this essay is a pretty decent example of what I was sayin in my post about Cavendish. She relies on her references to make her point, offering religious and classical examples of educated women to strengthen her stance. The aspect of it that I thought resonated with what Wollstonecraft wrote a hundred years later was the way she argued about the necessity of a woman's education in order for her to be a fit wife (a better conversational companion, someone a man could be proud of in social situations etc). All in all it is a pretty clever essay. She goes on to bring up numerous objections to her cause, and then she shoots down the objections with classical and religious examples. Nicely done.

I haven't read the Astell piece yet, I will do that tomorrow. I've got to go and make buttons. Boooo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

So my presentation is on Margaret Cavendish, so I will save most of what I have to say for tomorrow. She was definitely an interesting woman. I liked reading over the exerpts and poems that were linked in the course blog. Nature's Cook was interesting, I don't know much about poets using personification to illustrate death's cruelness but I am assuming it has occured frequently and it would be interesting to explore how she did it in comparison to others. Her language is certainly colourful. Something that strikes me when reading her work is the way she reasons. It seems that there was a certain formula that was followed in much of the literature written by Renaissance women, at least when they were pushing against societal boundaries. They used flattery to ease the blow of whatever point they were making, and they used God as a means to appear virtuous and reasonable. Cavendish is good at flattery, this praise is excessive:

"we have no reason to speak against men, who are our admirers and lovers; they are our protectors, defenders, and maintainers; they admire our beauties, and love our persons; they protect us from injuries, defend us from dangers, are industrious for our subsistence, and provide for our children; they swim great voyages by sea, travel long journeys by land, to get us rarities and curiosities; they dig to the center of the earth for gold for us; they dive to the bottom of the sea for jewels for us; they build to the skies houses for us; they hunt, fowl, fish, plant, and reap for food for us. All which, we could not do ourselves; and yet we complain of men, as if they were our enemies, whenas we could not possibly live without them, which shows we are as ungrateful as inconstant."

I don't, though, see much about God in any of her work. If God and science are conflicting, would the lack of religious reference have been something attributing to the conflicts in her reputation?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The virtual tour of the nunnery in Abby's presentation reminded me of something I saw this summer. I was on a camping trip up north, and in Caraquet there are remains of an old building. We weren't sure if it was a monastery, a school, or a nunnery -- we knew it was Catholic due to the statue in front, but we couldn't read the plaque because it was in french. Here are pics, click for the full size.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

"As in the 18th century, so in the 21st. Cognitive psychologists with their innatist views tell us that women work with a finer mesh of emotional understanding than men. The novel - by that view the most feminine of forms - answers to their biologically ordained skills. From other rooms in the teeming mansion of the social sciences, there are others who insist that it is all down to conditioning. But perhaps the causes are less interesting than the facts themselves. Reading groups, readings, breakdowns of book sales all tell the same story: when women stop reading, the novel will be dead."


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I missed class last week as I was en route to Montreal -- friends of mine and I planned this trip a while back and I was not expecting to miss any class time, but it was how our travel schedule worked out. We went up to see Sigur Ros -- an Icelandic post-rock band with shoegaze and minamalist elements. Or something. Their front man plays his guitar with a cello bow and has an intense falsetto -- it's hard to describe. They played at the Theatre Maisonneuve, and I have never experienced anything like it -- it was the most beautiful performance I have ever seen. Check out some of their videos here if you're interested, the top one is from the new album.

I took a peek at the Middle English text -- a peek is about all. Looks pretty heavy. I've been reading the exerpts posted on the schedule. I just wrapped up Julian of Norwich. I checked out Wikipedia to get a general overview of her. I found Julian on Sin pretty interesting. The greater the sin, the greater the glory in heaven? Am I reading that right?

"Our Lord God . . . is at the center of everything, and he does everything. And I was certain that he does no sin; and here I was certain that sin is no deed, for in all this sin was not shown to me . . . . For a man regards some deeds as well done and some as evil, and our Lord does not regard them so, for everything which exists in nature is of God's creation, so that everything which is done has the property of being God's doing."

This seems like a pretty radical view on sin, which is surprising to me to see in the first book published by a woman in the English language (according to wikipedia). The article by Maxine Clarke Beach is pretty eye opening, if you haven't had a look it's well worth it. This blew me away:

Julian was deeply devout and became an anchoress, a lifetime commitment to a solitary religious life spent in a room (or rooms to allow for a servant or two) called an anchorhold. The word "anchorite" (for a male) derives from the Greek verb "to retire" or to withdraw. In a solemn and dramatic rite of enclosure performed by a bishop and punctuated by the bolting of the outside door, the anchoress was declared "dead to the world"--that is, she remained in it, but not of it, never to leave the one-room cell. The strict simplicity of living was to focus on development of the interior life. A book of rules guided daily living and cautioned against worldly temptations. The anchorhold was built alongside one wall of a church and had one small window into the sanctuary to allow the anchoress to follow the daily service, and another window to a small parlor with a door for people to enter from outside."

I feel pretty clueless about most of this stuff, my knowledge on Catholocism is pretty limited as is my grasp on any of these traditions. I'm really looking forward to some of the upcoming presentations.