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March 22, 2011
Postcolonial Project News: Book on the Grotesque and "Indias" Conference.
I recently joined a research project titled Globalized Cultural Markets: the Production, Circulation and Reception of Difference (Reference FFI2010-17282). This international group of European scholars is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and directed by Dr. Belén Martín-Lucas at University of Vigo, Spain. My main contribution to the project is in two areas: a specific study of the fetishization and commodification of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; and a wider project considering the circulation of postcolonial poets in global cultural markets.
News Item 1: A new book on Postcolonial and Feminist Grotesque
We are happy to announce that our fellow project member Sofia Pimentel Biscaia has recently published her book Postcolonial and Feminist Grotesque: Texts of Contemporary Excess. Please check the info on Peter Lang website: http://www.peterlang.net/
Congratulations to Sofia!
New Item 2: Conference on “Other” Indias: The Richness of Indian Multiplicity
Belén Martín-Lucas is involved in organizing the following conference:
II AEEII Conference, November 23-26, 2011.
II Biennial Conference of the Spanish Association for Interdisciplinary India Studies
November 23-26, 2011: Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife, Canaries,
The Spanish Association for Interdisciplinary India Studies holds its second International Conference in 2011, and welcomes papers from a variety of fields (including politics, literary criticism, sociology, philosophy, history, ecology, anthropology, technology, economics, and others) which consider the multiplicity of the Indian mosaic. We invite proposals that look into the ways in which India (and the Indian subcontinent) is represented and explored, with special emphasis on difference in plurality, and diversity in unity. Other topics may include cultural assimilation –shadows of India in the Western world and vice versa— the rewriting of the Indian canon, the
problematization of Indian idiosyncrasy and the narration of the various Indian diasporas in the world, among other possibilities. We will also include parallel sessions with miscellaneous papers not strictly related to the topic.
The Conference will be hosted by the University of La Laguna (Facultadde Filología & Dept of English and German Studies) at the Canary Island of Tenerife, Spain, during November 23 (starting Weds Afternoon) till November 26 (ending Sat Morning), 2011.
Complete affiliation of author(s), and paper title, as well as telephone, fax, mail and e-mail addresses, should be submitted before June 30, 2011. Abstracts (around 250 words) will be evaluated by the Conference Academic Committee and authors will be informed of their acceptance by end-July 2011.
Papers should not exceed 10 pages (2,500-3,000 words; 20 minutes’ delivery) and they can be presented either in English or Spanish. A peer-reviewed selection of the conference papers (in the English version) will be considered for publication under the format of a book.
Please, email abstract and bio-note to the organizing committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) by the end of June. Conference details, including list of plenary speakers, will follow shortly at: http://www.aeeii.org/
August 06, 2010
Poetry Papers at the CWWN Conference
Writing about web page http://cwwn.sdsu.edu/
A paper that I really enjoyed during the conference was by Jane Dowson , who was one of my external examiners for my PhD. We have many interests in common and I was pleased to see Dowson presenting on Kate Clanchy , Pascale Petit and Gwyneth Lewis . Dowson described these poets as inhabiting a New Confessionalism, which needs to be negotiated carefully. Dowson quoted Clare Pollard who suggested that ‘To revert to confessional mode now might be to reaffirm the cultural image of the “Mad Poetess”,’ and she commented on the hostile critical reception faced by Kate Clanchy on the publication of her collection about motherhood Newborn. Dowson condemns the dismissal of confessional poets and uses her ‘new critical grammar’ to discuss Pascale Petit and Gwyneth Lewis. This means:
• paying attention to ‘the unsayable via symbolism, typography, rhythm, self-reflexivity’;
• ‘building alliance with the reader as eavesdropper, confidant/e, listener-subject’;
• being aware of ‘the pleasure and healing of recognition, shared intimacy, community, imaginative expansion’;
• and paying particular attention to intertextuality.
One of my favourite panels from the conference was “Sexuality, Danger and Money in Three Women Poets”. I went along to this panel because it was on three poets that I do not know quite so well; I had never come across Arielle Greenberg or Katy Lederer but I had read a few books by Anne Carson (e.g. Decreation). Unfortunately, I had a farcical moment in this panel where all of my pens ran out of ink at once, so these notes are just from memory and are not quite as detailed as usual.
Darcy L. Brandel discussed Arielle Greeberg’s negotiations of language and violation. She focussed in particular of Greenberg’s interpretation of Marcel Duchamp’s art installation Étant donnés, which presents the viewer with a wooden door that has a peephole for each eye. Through the peepholes can be seen a naked mannequin and a lush landscape. Brandel discussed the ambiguity of this image: is the naked woman/mannequin powerful or powerless? Is she offering an invitation to the viewer or is she being violated? In her analysis of Greenburg’s poem ‘Given’, Brandel offered detailed analysis of the poet’s experimental use of language and outlined the poet’s condemnation of the artwork’s voyeurism: ‘in the afterlife—-is so accommodating a gift / of gaslight murdered by air’.
Next Paul Crossthwaite spoke about Katy Lederer’s collection The Heaven-sent Leaf, a collection of 45 almost-sonnets. Crossthwaite focussed on how Lederer brings together money and poetry comparing the two as systems with economies, values and currencies. Lederer worked as a “brainworker” at a hedge fund in midtown Manhattan, and the book was published at the beginning of the downturn in the world economy. Crossthwaite talked (among other things) about how bringing the language of finance into poetry lends it at times a prosiness that is in tension with the sprung and musical lines elsewhere in the poems.
The final paper was presented by Maya Linden on desire, danger and ambivalence in Anne Carson’s poetic form. Linden talked particularly about Carson’s collection Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband focussing on how Carson approaches femininity, masochism and self-destructiveness. Linden seemed to be suggesting that the ambivalence in Carson’s writing is a problem for more conventional feminisms and that there needs to be a more expansive kind of politics to understand Carson’s work.
CWWN Conference Pictures.
Writing about web page http://cwwn.sdsu.edu/
Sonya Andermahr (Northampton University), Sorcha Gunne (Warwick University), Katsura Sako (Japan)
Lara Buxbaum (University of Witwatersrand, South Africa), me, Sorcha Gunne (Warwick University), Jago Morrison (Brunel University)
CWWN Conference Panel: ďConstellations of Home GroundĒ.
Writing about web page http://cwwn.sdsu.edu/
Here are my notes on a panel on ideas of home at the CWWN conference . If you were there and I missed something, don’t be afraid to add a comment. It’s hard to remember all the details and I have terrible hand-writing in my notes!
The first speaker on this panel was Bonnie Kime Scott who discussed home as a domesticating term. The most memorable part of the talk for me was where Kime-Scott discussed Barbara Kingsolver’s book of non-fiction essays High Tide in Tucson, the title of which refers to a hermit crab that Kingsolver accidentally brings back with her from the Bahamas to her desert home. Kime Scott suggests that in writing about the transplanted crab, Kingsolver is articulating an ethics of care. Kime Scott also discussed a writer that I hadn’t come across before: Mary Lou Awiakta. Awiakta is a Native American author of the Cherokee tribe and Kime Scott explains that Awiakta presnts in her writing a sacred respect for the earth and for the “Earth mother”. Kime-Scott focuses though on an essay by Awiakta titled Baring the Atom’s Mother Heart , in which a history of Cherokee women is articulated through science: the quark, the atom’s mother heart, the eternal life-force that drives all human beings.
Nuclear energy is the nurturing energy of the universe. Except for stellar explosions, this energy works not by fission (splitting) but by fusion—attraction and melding. With the relational process, the atom creates and transforms life. Women are part of this life force. One of our natural and chosen purposes is to create sustain life—biological, mental and spiritual. (Nantahala Review )
This positive view of nuclear energy contrasts with the attitudes of many American writers, for example Terry Tempest Williams from Utah who wrote about the prevalence of cancer in her family after they were exposed to radiation during the nuclear testing in the Utah desert between 1951 and 1962. See her moving essay: The Clan of the One-Breasted Women .
Next was Pauline Newton who discussed home in relation to ideas of transplantation. Newton mentioned a few writers, but mainly talked about Jamaica Kincaid and her relationship with Wordsworth. Newton began though by discussing the symbolism of gardens in colonialism, noting the colonialist ideal of the garden/colony as a bounteous Eden. In her essay ‘Dances with Daffodils’ and her novel Lucy, Kincaid has described her feelings of disquiet about Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, in part because she associates the poem with the colonial education system. Reconciling herself to the poem, however, Kincaid describes how her own garden has thousands of daffodils and she uses that garden to think carefully and deeply about troubling moments or aspects in history.
Finally Nancy Srebro spoke about Gurinder Chadha and her film Bride and Prejudice focussing on the different spaces that appear in the movie, including Amritsar in India, Britain and LA in the States. Chadha works out of the heritage film tradition and its sentiment for countryside spaces (especially England). Chadha, however, uses the visual style of the heritage film to focus on India and Indian women. So, in reworking Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family become the Bakshi family and Bollywood meets Hollywood. Srebro notes that in this meeting, a lush and visual India is contrasted against the homogeneity of LA, yet the India presented is a ‘Disneyland India’, which makes it all the more ironic that discovering an authentic India is one of the themes of the film.
August 03, 2010
CWWN Conference: Panel on Chicana/Latina Writers.
Title: “Chicana/Latina Writers Decolonizing Spirituality, the Body, and the Self
This was a very entertaining panel. The first paper from Christina Grijalva was on the performance artists Elia Arce and Grijalva talked about Arce’s use of inbetween spaces and places of transition in her performances. Born in LA, Arce lived from the age of two in Costa Rica and spoke Spanish. Returning to the US, Arce felt more like a resident than a native, but from this space of detachment, Arce is able to critique US institutions. This is the purpose of the performance The Fifth Commandment which riffs on the dictum ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in order to challenge the assumptions and routines at the heart of the US army.
Next Irene Lara’s talk discussed the mythical “Goddess” of the Americas, seeking to discover a Latina womanhood beyond the virgen or the puta. Lara focussed on writings in the anthology Goddess of the Americas edited by Ana Castillo. This book collects together the writings of women on Our Lady of Guadalupe, a mythic figure that has become in Central America not so much a counterpart of the Virgin Mary as a symbolic avatar of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin. The Virgin of Guadalupe is, as Lara Medina paraphrases:
Tequatlanopeuh (She Whose Origins Were in the Rocky Summit), Tlecuauhtlaupeuh (She Who Comes Flying from the Light Like an Eagle of Fire), Tequantlaxopeuh (She Who Banishes Those That Ate Us), Coatlaxopeuh (She Who Crushed the Serpent’s Head), Mother of Mexico, Mother of Orphans, Our Lady of Tepeyac, la Santa Patrona de los Mexicanos, Empress of the Americas, Mother of the True God, Mother of the Giver of Life, Mother of the Lord of Near and Far, Mother of the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Mother Who Never Turns Her Back, Sister in Suffering, Subversive Virgin, Undocumented Virgin, la tele Virgen, “the sustainer of life, the one who protects us against danger, the one who comforts our sorrows,” she who “understands everything,” Our Lady of the Cannery Workers, Vessel of the Indigenous Spirit, Madrecita, la madre querida, la Morenita, la Diosa, Guadalupe-Tonantzin, Ms. Lupe, la Virgencita, la Virgencita tan bella, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Irene Lara discussed in detail the story ‘Virgencita, Give Us a Chance’ by Liliana Valenzuela and ‘Guadelupe the Sex Goddess’ by Sandra Cisneros . In both texts, women’s sexuality is reframed, so that desire is possible beyond the dichotomy of the whore and virgin. As Valenzuela writes:
La Virgencita swims, Venus in the water, her light robes appear and disappear. ... The monks in their white habits pray, raise banners, the miracle of the vulva is back.
Like the French feminists, the women writers discussed speak from the banocha to find a new language for women’s desire.
Last to speak was William A. Nerricio who also drew on the French feminists beginning his talk with a quotation from Luce Irigaray. He presented an entertaining paper on mirroring in the paintings of Remedios Varo , the diaries of Frida Kahlo and the novels of Cristina Rivera-Garcia . I’ll be excited and interested to read the final version of this when it is written up.
Keynotes at the Third Biennial International Conference of the Contemporary Women's Writing Network.
Writing about web page http://cwwn.sdsu.edu/
In San Diego in July, I attended the Third Biennial International Conference of the Contemporary Women’s Writing Network. Organized by Edith Frampton and Anne Donadey , the conference was titled New Texts, Approaches, and Technologies .
Keynote by Susan Stanford Friedman
The conference began with a fascinating keynote speech by Susan Stanford Friedman from University of Wisconsin-Madison. The talk was titled ‘Riding the Waves: Women’s Writing and Feminist Literary Studies for the Twenty-first Century’, and Stanford Friedman began by questioning why there is still a need to look at women’s writing specifically. She noted that feminist literary studies no longer claims commonality between all women. Instead we have turned to Woolf and De Beauvoir, because they insist on a full humanity for women not restricted by the categories of gender. Stanford Friedman suggests that we must be ‘attuned to oppression but not limited to it’.
Thinking about new directions in feminist literary studies, Stanford Friedman lists the following areas:
• biocultures and the posthuman;
• digital and visual cultures;
• environmental studies;
• and the movement from the national to the transnational.
In all of these areas, the focus is on diversity rather than commonality.
In the second part of Stanford Friedman’s lecture, she moved on to talk specifically about religion and women’s writing. Stanford Friedman contended that religious oppression does exist, but affirmed that representations of religion by women do not always condemn religion. Our analysis should not begin in assuming that religion is always negative in women’s writing. Instead, three factors were suggested as the basis of effective analysis, considering women’s negotiations with:
1. the theological,
2. the institutional and
3. the cultural aspects of religion.
Engaging with these three areas, women writers explore their faith, their relation to religious authorities (often men) and their identities as transnational subjects. Fundamentalism is an issue too because it creates strict and exacting boundaries between those who are inside or outside accepted traditions: those who are believers or those who are infidels. Opposed to such boundaries, however, is another aspect of religion which is mystical, spiritual or personal.
To illuminate her explorations of women and religion, Stanford Friedman provides a detailed reading of two fascinating books: The Translator by Leila Aboulela and A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar . She also mentions Adhaf Soueif’s novel The Map of Love, in which an Edwardian war widow has less freedom than Islamic women under the veil. Like The Map of Love, The Translator and A Map of Home consider the relation between Islam and the west, but they do so by depicting a love affair between an Islamic women and a Western man. Both novels are in the category of the bildungsroman, but Aboulela presents a more orthodox muslim view much like that of Zainah Anwar , while Jarrar is a secular Islamic writer in the vein of Irshad Manji’s The Trouble with Islam Today . The comparison of the lyrical poetry in Aboulela’s The Translator and the graphic style of Jarrar’s A Map of Home was fascinating, and Stanford Friedman was convincing in showing how each writer engaged in their own way with Islamic thought.
(Personal Note: What impressed me about this keynote was Stanford Friedman’s demand that more attention be brought to women’s representations of and dialogues with religion. She talked about how religion has been rather sidelined by feminism, and this made me recall my own work on the Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis and her unique fusing of non-Conformist Christian beliefs and Zen Buddhist practices. Approaching Lewis via a detailed understanding of her religious beliefs has not been popular. It’s almost as though some critics want to ignore the fact that Lewis is religious.)
There were many other interesting keynotes during the conference. Caroline Bergvall gave a fascinating talk on her own poetic and artistic practice titled ‘Middling English: Nodalities of Writing’, which was interrupted by an earthquake, though Bergvall bravely went on with her talk. Thadious Davis gave an interesting keynote titled ‘Enfoldments: Natasha Trethewey’s Racial-Spatial Phototexting’, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni gave a talk titled ‘One Writer’s Journey’ on her creative practice. In addition, there was a remarkable experimental poetry reading, featuring Rae Armantrout , Cristina Rivera-Garza , Anna Joy Springer and Elizabeth Willis .
April 10, 2010
Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore
Writing about web page http://www2.northampton.ac.uk/arts/home/AlanMoore
The University of Northampton is pleased to announce the first international academic conference dedicated to appraising the work of perhaps the most influential figure to emerge from the comics medium, Northampton’s own Alan Moore.
Moore has consistently been at the forefront of the graphic novel medium for almost thirty years, being the iconic figure behind such pioneering works as Marvelman and V for Vendetta, the revolutionary Watchmen, to From Hell, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and, most recently, Lost Girls to name but a few. Alongside his work in the comic medium he has written one novel, Voices from the Fire, and is subsequently working on the ambitious Jerusalem project. He has also worked as a graphic artist, performed and recorded a series of musical collaborations largely related to site-specific events, and in recent years has become a magician.
While Moore’s contribution to the comic medium is undisputed, academic appraisals of his work have been fragmentary and there have been no dedicated scholarly events to date that seek to give an overview of his oeuvre. As such The University of Northampton is pleased to announce Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore, an interdisciplinary conference that will bring together not only appraisals of Moore’s comic works, but also his wider cultural manifestations and their significance at the start of the 21st century. Given his burgeoning literary and cultural importance, Moore’s significant profile in the wake of several recent Hollywood adaptations of his work (despite his own antipathy towards those adaptations and their place within the culture industries), and the relationship to Northampton’s cultural landscape (both physical and psychic) that recurs throughout his work, both the time and location are fitting for a dedicated appraisal of his cultural legacy thus far.
The conference takes place over Friday 28th May and Saturday 29th May 2010.
The cost of registration is £60 (£45 for students or the unwaged) which includes registration for both days of the conference, lunch for both days and refreshments throughout. Delegates are invited to attend a dinner on the Friday night at a local restaurant, however the cost of this is not included in the registration fee.
To register for the conference please download and complete the Registration Form and send it with payment to:
The School of the Arts,
The University of Northampton,
St George’s Avenue,
The Centre of Contemporary Fiction & Narrative (CCFN)
To contact the conference organisers please email: email@example.com
March 24, 2010
Five Decades of Innocence and Experience: The Work of Eva Figes.
Writing about web page http://www2.northampton.ac.uk/portal/page/portal/Arts/home/research/ccfn
CALL FOR PAPERS
An International Conference co-organised by:
Division of Media, English and Culture, School of the Arts, University of Northampton (UK), & Departamento de Filología Inglesa y Alemana, Universidad de Zaragoza (Spain)
To be held at the School of the Arts, University of Northampton (UK)
10th-11th September 2010
Almost five decades have elapsed since the British writer Eva Figes began her literary career. Born in Berlin in 1932 into a family of assimilated German Jews and forced to emigrate to Great Britain in 1939 due to the outbreak of the Second World War, Eva Figes has contributed to the corpus of contemporary literature in English thanks to her prodigious output as both critic and novelist. In 2009 the British Library decided to acquire the rights to her personal archives, and so we think that this is the moment to give Eva Figes the place she deserves in the contemporary literary canon by organising an international conference on her work.
Despite being an established writer and having won some important literary prizes and titles in England (The Guardian Prize in 1967, the Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by Brunel University in 2002), her work has received relatively limited critical attention. Figes’ life experiences – her childhood experience of the Holocaust; emigration to a foreign country; being a woman trying to forge a literary career – have left significant traces in all her works. Moreover, Figes’ own writing career which spans the 1960s to the present in many ways reflects the evolution of British fiction in the post-war period. Her work resists classification within a single, unifying category. Whether seen as a feminist inheritor of Virginia Woolf, analysed as an Anglo-Jewish writer, or regarded as part of a postmodernist literary aesthetic, Figes’ work represents a unique contribution to English literature. We welcome approaches to her work from any perspective which provides insight into Eva Figes’ wide-ranging and impressive oeuvre.
Plenary speakers to include:
• Dr. David Brauner (University of Reading, UK)
• Prof. Thomas Michael Stein (University of Mainz, Germany)
• Dr. Julia Tofantšuk (University of Tallinn, Estonia)
•A Guest appearance from Eva Figes to be confirmed
Suggested topics to explore include, but are not limited to:
•Eva Figes in relation to Contemporary British Fiction and the literary canon
•The feminist agenda and the construction of female identities in Figes’ works
•The question of Jewishness and the presence of the Holocaust in Eva Figes’ literary world
•The construction of identity in Figes’ fictions
•The persistence of modernism in Figes’ works
•Eva Figes as a literary critic
•Eva Figes’ relation to postmodernism
•Eva Figes as inheritor of Virginia Woolf
•Eva Figes and Trauma Studies
•The autobiographical aspect in Figes’ novels
•Formal experimentalism in Figes’ novels
•The ethical dimension of Figes’ literary production
•The evolution of Figes’ literary career
•Narrative and story-telling in Figes’ works
•The experience of motherhood in Figes’ writing
•The experience of war in Figes’ works
•Writing as self-healing in Figes’ literary career
Please submit paper proposals (abstracts of 300 words and short bio) to both conference organisers by 1st April 2010:
Dr. Sonya Andermahr (University of Northampton, UK): firstname.lastname@example.org
Miss Silvia Pellicer-Ortín (Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain): email@example.com
DEPARTAMENTO DE FILOLOGÍA INGLESA Y ALEMANA
CONTEMPORARY NARRATIVE IN ENGLISH RESEARCH GROUP
UNIVERSIDAD DE ZARAGOZA
Download cfp in Adobe Acrobat here: call_for_papers_figes_conference.doc sonya.pdf
July 10, 2008
FWSA Seminar: Welsh Women's Writing: Katie Gramich's Keynote Speech
Writing about web page http://www.fwsa.org.uk/pgseminars.htm
Katie Gramich’s keynote speech was titled ‘“When I came hither, a stranger”: Women Writers and Elective Identities.’ The starting point of her talk is a definition by Mike Savage in Globalization and Belonging of what elective belonging is. This mode is ‘belonging not to a fixed community, with the implication of closed boundaries, but is more fluid, seeing places as sites for performing identities’ (Savage 2005: 29). According to Savage, elective belonging is ‘critically dependent on people’s relational sense of place, their ability to relate their area of residence against other[s]’ (Ibid.). Responding to this idea, Gramich’s project is to foreground the notion of national identity as constructed or imagined. Her paper considers four women writers who are not originally from Wales: the nineteenth century poet, Anne Beale ; the novelist, Kate Bosse-Griffiths ; the poet and prose writer, Jan Morris ; and the poet, Christine Evans . I don’t want to say too much about Gramich’s talk as she is writing it up into a paper, but some interesting questions came up in outlining the concerns of these four writers. A sense of hospitality was a common theme with Wales or specific places within Wales (such as Bardsey Island for Christine Evans) hosting the writers’ political or artistic concerns. Gramich links this to Derrida’s description of hospitality in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness as an ethics rather than a culture (Derrida 2001: 17)). To what extent do these writers construct a vision of Wales as representing an ethics of hospitality?
FWSA Seminar: Welsh Women's Writing: Panel One
Writing about web page http://www.fwsa.org.uk/pgseminars.htm
The first panel included papers by Lucy Thomas of Cardiff University, Michelle Smith again from Cardiff University and Claire Flay from University of Glamorgan.
Lucy Thomas on Hilda Vaughan
Thomas’ paper was titled ‘“Wouldn’t my sisters say I was shocking?”: Spinsters, Lesbians, Heroines and the New Woman in Hilda Vaughan’s Novels’ and it focussed on Vaughan’s novels, The Battle to the Weak, Pardon and Peace, The Invader and The Curtain Rises. In these novels, Thomas identifies some stereotypical spinsters; certain female characters in The Battle to the Weak are described as being ‘gaunt and tall’ with faces ‘pale as parchment’ while being ‘clad in the black cloth of respectability’ along with the eponymous umbrella (Vaughan 1925: 84). In Pardon and Peace, a woman is seen by a male observer as the stereotypical ‘poor and ugly old maid with her social pretensions’ (Vaughan 1945: 16). Thomas argues that the spinster is ostracised in the society of Vaughan’s novels. She refers to The Invader in which one character comments that the spinster would be better off living ‘quiet and tidy in one of these cathedral cities I hear of, where old maids do mostly get together’ (Vaughan 1928:212). The spinster is only acceptable when far from Wales. Closely connected to the ostracised spinster is the suffragette who appears in Vaughan’s The Curtain Rises, and Thomas argues that the suffragette is closely linked to the figure of lesbian, who is Vaughan’s novels takes on the male gaze and becomes a sexual predator.
The real heroines of Vaughan’s novels are meshed in a dismissal of feminism as not suitable for Welsh women. In The Curtain Rises, one character is instructed that Mary Wollstonecraft’s suicide attempt was ‘weakness’ and is told how she ‘was pulled out and married’ even though it was ‘against her principles’ (Vaughan 1935: 199-200). Thomas recognises the dismissal of feminism here, but she is clear that where Vaughan’s writing is politically active is in portraying the social conditions of Welsh working class women e.g. the suffering of Annie Bevan in The Battle to the Weak along with its portrayal of tyrannical husband’s and women’s entrapment in sexual service. Thomas directs us to a review of Vaughan in Good Housekeeping in which the reviewer describes the power of Vaughan in her portrayal of ‘feminine strength, the strength that does not ape the masculine and is as simple and unselfconscious in its showing as the strength of those deceptive creatures, our grandmothers: the strength of Eve maternal, not of Ever enchantress.’ (Many questions could be posed about the use of language and the posing of the feminine here!) Thomas notes that one woman in The Battle to the Weak has arms that are ‘muscular as those of a man but more rounded’, possibly suggesting that aforementioned feminine strength (Vaughan 1925: 128). What Thomas is saying about Vaughan seems to be that although she is conservative and reactionary in her politics, there is a kind of feminism in her writing even if it is one that upholds tradition and the status quo. (The kind of feminism described here reminds me of some nineteenth century conservative feminists such as Hannah More, although Vaughan’s version is of course far more sympathetic to the working class woman).
Michelle Smith on Bertha Thomas
Michelle Smith gave a paper on Bertha Thomas’ short stories titled ‘“Out of your own country, your natural cycle, and your station”: Class, Gender and Displacement in the Fictions of Bertha Thomas’. Smith explains that Bertha Thomas was born and lived outside Wales, but much of her writing is concerned with or set in Wales. Her paper identifies the key themes and issues in Thomas’ work.
Firstly, Smith considers the story, ‘The Courtship of “Ragged Robin”,’ which tells the story of a ragged young man, Robert John David Morgan Lloyd, and his courtship with a lady of a different culture: the Londoner, Lois. Ragged Robin is of course a wild flower and Smith explains that the eccentricity of the young man is accepted in the rural, Welsh community. Lois however refuses to give in to the wild countryside and weather: ‘The mountain gales might blow the birds’ nests out of the bushes, but seemed powerless to rumple her edifice of hair’ (Thomas 2008: 147). Smith identifies a binary between civilisation and barbarity in the story, but she also highlights class as an important factor. When Robert travels to London, he is identified by a passer-by as a decayed gentleman in London. Smith suggests that this is Thomas’ way of indicating how class favours men. Consequently Lois intuites that their union would be wrong and relents.
Class is similarly at work in Thomas’ story, ‘The Madness of Winnifred Owen’. This story tells of Winnifred Owen’s love for a sailor in spite of the fact that she was already betrothed. Her father rejects her choice describing her as a betrayer of her own culture: ‘a girl who, for a passing fancy for a foreign vagabond, could be false to ties of home, country, kindred, religion’ (Thomas 2008: 10-11). However, it emerges that what Winnifred’s father really wants is the money and social advancement of the original suitor. She finally does manage to marry the sailor, but as a consequence she must move from Wales and her family is dispersed to Canada and other places.
‘The House that Was’ is another story that describes the loss of home and belonging as it describes the fate of the grey ghost, a woman haunting an abandoned house. Her story is that of a family on the margins of polite society and this marginal status means that the heroine is unable to meet her suitor, Frankie, at tea parties, but instead meets him alone. The heroine knows that ‘[o]nly farmers’ or labourers’ daughters did such things, and it was many generations since our husbandman ancestors had struggled up into the ranks of gentry’ (Thomas 2008: 137). When the heroine does marry, it represents a rejection and exile from home and family entering a poor and haphazard existence away from Wales. As a childless widow, the heroine returns to haunt the remains of her family home.
Class occurs again in ‘The Way He Went’ where Elwyn’s wife, Eileen is not tied down, but has money of her own. Elwyn’s mother disapproves of their relationship, suggesting that he has ‘some side motive’ for ‘rushing head-long and prematurely into this life connection, out of your country, your natural station and your station’ (Thomas 2008: 83). The act of marrying Eileen ignores the established network of power relations and class boundaries. The general feeling of these stories seems to be that going beyond one’s own class and culture can be dangerous.
Claire Flay on Dorothy Edwards
I particularly enjoyed Claire Flay’s paper on ‘Representations of Gender in Dorothy Edwards,’ as I didn’t know much about this writer beforehand. Flay explained that Edwards has often been overlooked and that a reading of her via feminist theory is long overdue. Flay gave us some background on Edwards explaining that her father. Edward Edwards, was a socialist and vegetarian and that he encouraged his daughter to question the nature of power. Edwards was an undergraduate at the University of Wales Cardiff studying Greek and Philosophy. She had been destined to take up teaching, but instead she became a full-time writer.
Flay notes that in the stories and novels that emerged, there is a notable absence of Edward’s own class, gender or Welshness. Her fiction is often narrated by male, middle or upper class characters and her stories are set in large country houses. However, Flay believes that Edwards still manages to challenge power imbalances in her fiction. Take for example ‘A Country House’ and its use of the male voice. The narrator is a middle-aged country gentleman who is damned by his own mouth for setting himself up as the possessor/owner of his wife. Similarly, ‘A Garland of Earth,’ the male narrator mistakenly believes that a female character is collecting flowers for pressing, rather than doing serious work.
In discussing Edward’s use of the male voice, Flay points out the contingency of masculinity and thinks about gender as a kind of impersonation in the mode of Butler’s performativity. There was some talk at the round table later on in the day about whether the masculinity was a kind of ventriloquism or a masquerade, but I think that in fact, Butler’s idea of performativity is far more interesting than either of these terms, since in her theorising, there is no true gender to begin with. It is not then perhaps that Edward’s is putting on a male façade or that she is only speaking her female concerns through a male puppet. What is more interesting is the idea that she might be adopting the ‘truth’ of masculinity to prove that it is constructed. (See my comments on Butler: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/zoebrigley/entry/bodily_inscriptions_performative/)
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