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?

4 comments:

Carrie K said...

You're ashamed and startled you haven't read a list of two?

Tiny bites sounds like a good plan. I haven't picked it up at all, since I was waiting for that mythical period when I'd have enough time.

teabird said...

I didn't write down so many names... and I'm only on chapter 2!

Joshua said...
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Anna said...

I haven't been writing much about Madwoman, because I feel unjustified talking about it when I haven't read *any* of the books I've read about so far!

I need to either get reading, or to overcome my fear of talking about that which I know nothing about. *lol*