Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reading Madwoman for the first time.

This book is giving my complacent understanding some serious knocks. I've never read anything like it. My thoughts and reactions are not nearly formed enough to give voice to with any coherence, I am afraid, but I will definitely have more to say about this.

For the nonce, I will content myself with saying thank you to the women here who have introduced me to this book, and given me the opportunity of a community with which to discuss it. Melanie, Caitlin, Paula - everyone else whom I do not know so well - thank you.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

HouseHold Management ~ An art or Opression?

So I first heard tell of Mrs. Beeton through a knitting pattern. I had never heard of her and it peaked my interest. But with kids and life I didn't put too much effort in researching her. Less than a year later I watched a program on PBS entitled The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton. Then I was sold ~ I needed to get her book and hold it in my hands - the thing that this woman worked so hard and diligently on through so much heartache and trouble.
Finally this month I ordered the original unabridged edition and I also splurged bit and bought The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton by Kathryn Hughes.
I find myself while reading both books amazed to how our opinion of the homemaker has changed over the years. During the Victorian era is was a highly prized thing to have wife that cooked, knitted and kept the house functioning and today we have fallen so far from that. In some ways its positive. I do believe woman have the right to vote and I think they should have every right that is afforded to a man. As well as the option to either seek employment or run the house. But I think Women today are pressured to do both and because of it I think they feel a sort of guilt - our families, friends, and society today want us to be "successful" in the business fields and they also want us to run our homes and make sure we have healthy happy families. I think its very very hard to do both and any one that has a couple of toddlers running around their house knows why. I wonder why we have put ourselves into that cage? Because I really believe that women really are the hardest to each other. The house Wife feels guilty over not seeking a successful career and the Working mother/wife feels guilt over not being at home enough.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I'm interested to hear your opinions.

Oddly enough woman have taken up knitting and other "female arts" once again. But I still think there is such a low opinion of the " Stay at home Mom". I myself a knitter am constantly confronted with women who see the needles and go "Cool! You knit?!?!" and then the women who look down their nose at you and say, "Your knitting - " blah.
In my opinion I think its sad that we have formed that notion that to be a stay at home mom is nothing. I mean we say its everything but how many people really believe it. I myself get it a lot unintentionally from my husband. If I ask him to help me with something after he's back from work I get the - "I've been at work all day...." To which I respond with - " And I haven't!" I am a stay at home mom and I think one way to get rid of that " your only a homemaker" idea is for our government to start giving some sort of support. I think that children who have a mother or father that is at home helps children succeed and I think that it makes for better stronger families.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The madwoman and a heart of glass

This book is way too huge to talk or think about as a whole. So here are some of my reading notes for the first few chapters. Pardon incoherence --

I'm fascinated by fairy tales, so the use of "Snow White" as an example of how men view powerful or/and creative women is a delight. I never connected the Queen's mirror to Snow White's glass coffin, but - of course!

The evil stepmother Queen needs to shine, literally, to keep her power. One of the ways that the tale illustrates her evil is to show her being creative, making up stories to entrap Snow White. That kind of creativity, in that context, is considered male, so not only is her intent evil, but the stories' transgression goes beyond intent. Snow White has become the ideal that Coventry Patmore describes as "the angel in the house," a domestic, serene presence serving a house-full of men.

Virginia Woolf's injunction to kill the Angel in the House is enacted here, almost, when Snow White is in her glass coffin - a looking-glass, but a transparent one, designed for the vision of others. We know how she is rescued - but what becomes of her? Will she, in turn, become frightened of the threat posed by a beautiful girl-child? Will she lie and scheme to preserve her power? Will she also die a fiery death on the dance floor?

I wonder. .. And while I was reading this chapter, I wondered also why, in another culture, a woman who could tell story after story to her all-powerful man was considered a heroine and a role model. Scheherazade not only saved her own life and her sister's, but her stories live on in 1001 Nights. It would be interesting to compare the images of storytelling women in other cultures.

If artists have women muses (Dante, Rossetti, innumerable others), who would be a literary woman's muse? Would it be another woman? Who is mine - who is yours?

Is Renoir the only artist who said he painted with his prick? (p. 6) I'm sure Hemingway thought he wrote with his. (I vaguely remember someone - Cynthia Ozick, I think - asking Norman Mailer what color he dipped his ... well, I'll stop here.)

I'm keeping a reading list - books mentioned that I have not read and that I think I might, reasonably - so far it includes Aurora Leigh (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) and Lady Oracle (Margaret Atwood). I'm ashamed and startled at how many of the women writers are utterly unknown to me. Is anyone else having that reaction? Are you keeping lists, too?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dudley's theme song.

Going Back to Alabama, as performed by the Siegal-Schwall Band.

I heard this on Cast On this morning. I'm slowly listening through the back episodes.

Coda - I am considering taking Madwoman to my psych appointment this morning.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The kindness of strangers

"The geranium" - Flannery O'Connor

Old Dudley, the fish out of water, the displaced southern soul, has seen everything in his life fall away. Would his diminished life have remained sturdy had his daughter not opened her home to him? She had seized on an opportunity when he wished, fleetingly, to see New York City, and he could not forgive her for her generosity.

O'Connor is brilliant in her portrayal of a stolid southern man whose ego and sense of manliness (are they different?) have been undermined by the move. In the south, Dudley had done the things he considered manly - utilitarian things, like catching fish, not womanish things, like appreciating the nuances of the river. He had been a personage, useful and dominant in his little boarding-house world of silly women and subservient black people.

Anna wonders why he was crying. I wish I thought that something in the sympathy and assistance he received on the stairs had awakened an emotion that might grow into something less toxic than the impotence and rage of an old tyrant. Perhaps I'm the one who is trapped, but I have no sympathy for a man so lacking in simple gratitude.

So we have Dudley, failing to be grateful for the kindness of his daughter, or for the kindness of a stranger, and attributing base underpinnings to their behaviours. Is it any wonder that the owner of the pale geranium he had watched and enjoyed from across the alley is a white alpha male whose baseness is expressed by sneering disrespect for both Dudley and the fragile flower?

Everything in Dudley's life has fallen, and fallen away, from his own physical strength and sense of manly purpose to the lovely geranium that lies "at the bottom of the alley with its roots in the air." Dudley, too, has no further purpose, but neither he, nor the culture he embodies, will receive or deserve a reprieve.

This is a merciless story, probably based on people O'Connor had observed closely. As Anna said, it is "penetrating."

I haven't read any other of O'Connor's stories. I'd love to know what we all think of her, and why we think she isn't better-read. (This might be my northern bias - perhaps she is well-read elsewhere in the country.)

Why is he crying?

I read Flannery O'Connor's short story "The Geranium" over the weekend. It is one of her earliest published stories, dating to 1946, and opens a window into the mind and a little of the life of an elderly southern man who has been moved to NYC to live with one of his daughters.

In the pivotal scene of the story, the man - Old Dudley - is returning from a busywork errand his daughter has asked him to do. The ascent up the tenement stairs reminds him of a hunting trip he took once, and he is caught play-acting at hunting by a well-dressed black man whom he has previously thought of insultingly. The well-dressed man is polite and friendly, and helps him back up the stairs, which Dudley is obviously struggling with, chatting about guns and hunting.

Once having delivered him back to the tenement rooms , Flannery writes of Dudley, "The pain in his throat was all over his face now, leaking out his eyes."

Is he crying because - as he thinks to himself - he is "...trapped in this place where niggers could call you 'old-timer'." ? Or is he crying because the sudden and unexpected kindess and companionship and kindness of a stranger unleashes his longing for his home in the south? Or is it some combination of the two - that the homelike conversation is coming from a person who Dudley's social values do not allow him to respect?

Either way you read it, 'The Geranium' is a penetrating story.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Traveling Journal

When Melanie and I dreamed up this blog the emphasis was definitely on the idea of a collective, a group of equals, a roundtable experience.

Reading and discussing on the blog was part of the intellectual side, but we also wanted to do some things to bring out the creative side.

One of the things we decided we would like to do is launch a traveling journal. This would start out as a blank book which would be sent from member to member in an endless journey, each person adding their own contribution along the way. It could be anything you like - art work, swatches, a book review, musings on life the universe and everything, a journal entry about your day, photographs...etc...

Melanie and I thought this would be a great way for all of us to get to know each other better, and a perfect expression of the Bluestocking Roundtable ideal, individual parts that come together to make up a whole...

Of course it's up to you guys though so what do you think? Shall we do it?