Looking Back…

Standard

Well, I guess this blog is dedicated to the discussion of Woolf’s notion of ‘women’s writing tradition’ and Audrey’s concept of ‘the master’s tools.’

In response to Woolf’s notion I think women do indeed have a writing tradition and it is not anything to be ashamed of or held in contempt.  Women, it seems to me, have traditionally published work that falls into one of two categories: “appropriate” subject matter that will not tarnish their repuation as a chaste lady, or non-conformists who were looking to create controversy by writing about “worthy” topics (such as Behn and her play The Rover). 

The traditional women wrote journals, translations, poems relating to religion, and so on.  I use the word ‘traditional’ in the nicest sense and do not mean that because they stayed within the constrains of feminism of the time that they are any less of a writer.  On the contrary, I believe these women basically created the tradition of women as writers because they demonstrate what it was like to be good,appropriate women during the time which they lived.  This is so important because it gives modern readers a sense of what they were like as human beings not just writers.  And, it creates tradition because as we look back over the material we covered we can see that these types of work keep appearing; women have always wanted to be seen as upstanding citizens for centuries.  On that note, I think it could be argued men have a writing tradition too.  Perhaps their topics cover more range of subjects but that is only because it has always been appropriate for them to do so. 

Women who fall into the second category I mentioned seem to be present in the latter half of the course, from the 17th century onward.  Now, I believe it entirely probable that there were women before this time who wrote non-conformist material but I will strictly follow the works we explored throughout this course.  So, although these controversial women writers appear a bit later I think that they contribute to tradition too.  They contribute because they show that women do not all play by the rules and think solely about religion, family and uprighteousness.  They show that women are capable of thinking for themselves and challenging the norms of society and how women are/should be viewed.

Basically, when I think of women writers these two justapositions come to my mind and to me that means that women have a tradition.  This is because when I pick up a piece of work by a woman writer from any of the time periods we have studied in this class I know pretty much what to expect.  That is tradition isn’t it?

Regarding Audrey’s concept I think that women most certainly affected the writing world!  Usually, when women published a piece of work it got talked about, ripped apart (literally?), condemned, and puzzled over by men.  This is polarity.  These works did not just go un-noticed; no one was just neutral.  Therefore, even if it was bad attention women writers received (and we know this is not the case) they caused discussion and therefore impacted the writing world they lived in.  So, perhaps women did not use writing the same way men did and it’s true some women writers are no where near as good as some men writers but, they learned to use the tools and create something in their own image.  This image has obviously lasted throughout the centuries so I would say women most definitely affected the literate world.

“…was raised to that creditable situation, without money, friends, or connections, from the low beginning of a parish apprentice, by sobriety, industry, the fear of God, and an obedience to the divine principles of the Christian religion”

Standard

I read the first three parts of Hannah More’s “The Two Shoemakers” and I was happy to discover how readable this text was.  After reading “Part I” I wanted to find out more of the story, so I had to keep reading!  Since More released the continuations every month (at least that is how I understood it) I can only imagine that during that time people were also anxious to find out what was going to happen to the shoemakers.  If More was, and is, able to keep her audience wanting more, then it is in this way that I think More is a successful writer.  Even though I do not relate to the Christian elements throughout the story More was able to create characters that I wanted to know more about. 

I found More’s characters to be reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s characters: embodiments of extreme personalities.  There is Jack Brown who is idle, vain and proud, his mother who “valued herself on being proud”, Williams was an idle drunk, and then there is James Stock who is a “modest, industrious, pious youth”, just to mention a few.  All of these characters are true to their description and, as far as I can tell, serve to be examples of what happens to people who live by/with these traits.  Jack ends up in jail, his mother ends up dead without getting to see Jack one last time because he was gambling and lost the horse, Williams ends up dead from a drunken fit wishing he had lived by James’ example, and James becomes a prosperous, charitable, exemplary man.  I think it is interesting that More wrote her characters like this because instead of showing how complex human beings are she decided to stick with giving them either good or bad traits.  Obviously in real life people are not all good or all bad, but I think it certainly serves her purpose to create characters who the audience either wants to see succeed or have their come-upance.

Essentially, More writes a fariy-tale; a cautionary tale, just like “Hansel and Gretel” or “Little Red Riding Hood”.  She is trying to give people lessons on how to live a better, Christian life, and through this they will succeed (as far as the story goes anyway).  Also, she is living up to propriety as a woman writer during the time because she writes about topics that would have been acceptable.  I also like the fact that every once in a while she stops telling the story and throws in her own opinion or advice, and again, the opinions and advice she gives would have been respectable for a lady during that time.

I was trying to think of what fairy-tale this story could be connected to and I came up with “The Three Little Pigs”, if you work hard you’ll triumph over the big bad wolf (a.k.a poverty and being eaten alive by society because you’re a nobody).  Clearly, during More’s time it was the norm for people to be God-fearing Christians so that element is certainly different.  In the end though, her message is timeless because it’s true that anything worth having is worth working hard for.

Angellica Bianca

Standard

Even though I’ve previously discussed this I thought that it was just as relevent when going over “The Rover” for a second time.

Whilst reading “The Rover”; or “The banished Cavaliers” I was intrigued by the character Angellica Bianca.  There were points throughout the play where I felt sorry for the circumstances she found herself in as it was probably not her first choice to enter into the profession of a whore.  So my question is: is she a good or bad character? To be more specific, does she vountarily or knowingly commit the acts she does or is she caught in a life that is not meant for her?  The following will explore these questions and attempt to come to a conclusion.

Women in seventeenth century Europe had few options in terms of marriage and courtship. They could not initiate relations with men, often their father and/ or their brother would decide whom they would marry. Once a rich and respectable suitor was found a dowry payment was invested in the hope of an advantageous marriage. The youngest of daughters were often sent to convents in an attempt to reduce expenses, while at the same time remaining religious and contributing to the church. Yet, in poorer families, prostitution was an inevitable choice of life for some young women. Although, we do not know the background of our courtesan we can almost assume she has come from a poor background. It is with this thought in mind that we must analyze Angelica; yet not with a bias view.

The socio-historic context of this play was at a time when there was a sexual reawakening after years of Puritan rule. This second ‘renaissance’ of sex therefore made prostitution a reliable business for any woman who had not come from a well to do background. Angellica is not a common whore though, in the play she is a very beautiful and famous courtesan:

‘How wondrous fair she is’

Being of this position she can therefore exercise her ability to seduce men and gain financial benefit. One such example of her underlying power over the men in this play is when Willmore and Antonio start a fight and it is her who breaks them up by ‘commanding them to stop’. This is particularly important to the play as a whole as she is the only female in this play who has any power in a seemingly evident patriarchal society further emphasizing its unusualness. Yet it is here that her real power stops. She has beauty, men adore her sexuality and she can command them like dogs but as the play progresses we get to see more and more of how she is a victim and how she is only a body for men to conquer.

The men straight away see her as a product they could buy and depersonalize. Belvile shows great concern to her ‘price’, blunt refers to her as a ‘commodity’ and Willmore speaks of his need to ‘purchase’ her beauty. Although Angellica makes clear the workings of the market place for her body; curiosity feeds her credit and price. Her credit is balanced upon the continued titillation of the men’s desire, through the displaying of her pictures. This shows her dependence on this financial system and her clever manipulation of it. She is wanton of men who have power and wealth; she clearly thinks Pedro will adjust her status for the better and remarks

“a slave that can add little to the triumph of the conqueror”

We see this again for Antonio another man of influence:

“tis for him, Don Antonio the viceroys son, that I have spread my nets.”

Behn ultimately suggests that sexual slavery is both the inevitable conclusion and choice for women like Angellica.

Yet she faces sadness and anger as the play draws to an end, she is played false by the rover that is Willmore. He has played her falsely and given her a real impression that he wants her deeply.

“By heaven, bright creature, I would not for the world, thy fame were half so fair as is thy face”

But as we know Willmore scouts out Hellena his ‘gypsy’ and attempts to bed her right in front of Angellica

“Come then, for a beginning, show me thy dear face”

It is only at the finale that we see the desperate Angellica almost kill Willmore out of love.

Therefore in conclusion these two statements work together to explain our courtesan. She unknowingly controls men and has a false heart and claims only gold shall charm it. In contrast she is a victim of circumstance and is never really loved for who she is, but for what she is.

Works Cited:

Aphra Bhen. The Rover; or, The Banished Cavaliers. Edited by Anne Russell.  The Broadview Anthology of Restoration & Early Eighteenth Century Drama. J. Douglas Canfield. Broadview Press: 2004.

O’Brien, Karen, Dr. Women and enlightenment in eighteenth-century Britain. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Better Late Than Never [Part II]

Standard

When I read Margaret Cavendish’s poem, “Nature’s Cook,” a couple of weeks ago I remember being struck by how she was able to write about something so morbid yet make it acceptable because Death is doing a ‘woman’s’ job. I also enjoyed/was revolted by her sensual writing style throughout this poem.

Through the entirety of the poem Cavendish describes some of the most horrible and unpleasant ways to die, but, the whole time she states that Death is a woman and is doing a ‘woman’s’ job by ‘cooking’ death for humans, “in Sweat she stues with savoury smell,/A Hodge-Podge of Diseases tasteth well” (this is the kind of sensual engagment I’m talking about!) And, from what I know about women writers during this period, I believe that if she had decided to write about these kinds of gruesome deaths without making Death female then it probably would have been criticized, especially by the male population, for being ‘unladylike.’ This is because the disgusting scenarios Cavendish discusses would have most likely been considered ‘masculine,’ therefore, it would have been improper for a woman to even imagine such things let alone write and publish those thoughts. Therefore, it seems very clever and strategic on Cavendish’s part to portray Death as a female and have her doing a ‘woman’s’ job in order to discuss the ways in which people can perish.

Also, I think that Cavendish is doing something else by making Death female. Death is inevitable for all, therefore, Death is king; Death rules all people’s lives. So, by making Death female Cavendish is putting women in charge of everyone’s lives, including men’s. Perhaps she found a way to avoid being criticized for her topic but, she could very well have been frowned upon for this aspect of the poem. Anyway, I thought that her strategy of making Death a woman is very interesting.

Better Late Than Never

Standard

I found Dorothy Osborne’s letters quite amusing because, although the language is not exactly what we would use today her messages to Temple seem to coincide with messages in our modern relationships. 

Obviously, they are love letters (as the title suggests) but yet in her first letter to Temple she discusses her numerous engagements, break-ups and ‘flings’. But then she goes on to talk about her mother’s death and her “scurvy spleen”. She’s so nonchalant about relaying her relationships in her love letters but, at the same time (as a female) I just know she wanted him to know. So, the message I got fromt the first letter was “see, I’m not waiting around for you so you better come get me! P.S sorry I guessed your age wrong”.

Then, in her second letter she confesses there are “very few persons in the world I am more concerned in” and tells Temple how happy she is they are close enough to see each other. But then, judging by her third letter he pulled a typical guy move and did not go to visit her. I really loved the third letter because I thought that it was exactly the kind of thing a girl/woman would say even now, maybe not so eloquently but the message would be the same! I got such a kick out of reading it because at first she forgets she is mad at him, then she remembers and (excuse my language) busts his balls for his obvious oversight and finally, by the end, she wants to be with him again, “Yet I think to be in London in the next term, and am sure I shall desire it because you are there”. It’s just so classic! I’m sure I’ve done this wih a boyfriend before. It’s just too bad Dorothy lived in a time without text messaging, I’m sure she would have had A LOT of fun!

Aside

After reading some of the works by Elizabeth I, I was particularly struck by two of the pieces: “Response to Parliament’s Request She Marry” and, “Speech to the Parliament, April 1563, on marriage and succession”.

I find it quite amazing that Elizabeth I remained unmarried, virgin queen her entire life. Her arguments against not being married throughout “Response to Parliament’s Request She Marry” are so thoughtful and seemingly genuine that it’s easy to believe she actually did consider England to be her spouse. But, and maybe it’s my modern day view, throughout all her works (and her actions!) there is a shrewdness; a way of bending and manipulating to get what she wants. Therefore, I think it is quite possible that Elizabeth I truly believed in the arguments she gave parliament but, also, that she did not want to have a husband to get in the way of what she wanted to accomplish.  

I don’t know much about Elizabeth I but, from what I do know, she seemed to be the upitamy of strong, independent woman. It is because of this knowledge that I think Elizabeth I did not just say to parliament, “I’m not getting married because I don’t want to share power” and decide to be defiant against their wishes. Instead, she uses her persuasion and manipulation (I mean to use this word in the best sense) tactics to show the people that she is a better queen on her own. And, she brings god into it by saying he decided she was to rule the country and, because he leads her by the hand she is never really alone in leading. I just find all her arguments to be quite brilliant and, in the end she gets what she wants: England all to herself.

After reading s…

The Woman’s Righteous Path to Freedom

Standard

I thought that the comment Dr. Jones made about women potentially using God and the church as a means of escape and freedom was very interesting.  I’d never thought about it from that perspective before, I mean that religion really was women’s only acceptable chance at freedom.  Also, it never occured to me that women might choose this path to freedom even if they did not fully believe in the cause.

I know after today’s presentation I felt totally different about life in a convent. Now, I’m not about to go running off and sign myself up but, it doesn’t seem like it was such a bad option for women during the medieval age, especially after hearing the projected age for women outside the convent. Dr. Jones was right when she said women within the convent wouldn’t have to deal with family affairs such as a husband and childbearing. And, from what I know about marriages during ancient times, having a husband usually meant a woman could never be free unless he died. Also, if I’m not mistaken, part of the reason women’s life expectancy was so low was because of childbearing. Personally, I think those are two good reasons women might of wanted to live in convents and devote their lives to God.

Although, I should note that I do not believe all, or maybe even any, women had ulterior motives for entering a convent or, if they were already married (like Margery Kemp) choosing a religious life. I know that the middle ages were a very religious time and, probably, many people actually did believe what the bible has to say. But, I enjoyed the comment Dr. Jones made and, I like to now think, that perhaps some women did choose God as a way to find their earthly freedom, even if they believed in it only a little.