Monday, April 7, 2014

In the Words of Geoffery Chaucer...

"...Better late than never!" - The Canterbury Tales

Disclaimer: I loved reading this. But unfortunately--although there is so much that could be said or discussed--with the limited time (and attention span) I have, I will only touch briefly on an example of the changing condition of women that Woolf highlights.

The genius of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929), is that it asks as many questions (p. 25) as it gives answers. The book, which springs out of the narrator's epistemological journey to produce a response to the topic "Women and Fiction," is the perfect example of reader response theory--in that it forces the reader to give meaning to the text through their own interpretation of the writing. From the beginning, the narrator establishes the novel as a "train of thought" and attempt to lay out how she came to her conclusion that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" (p. 4). The narrator then provokes the reader to search her words for truths, admitting that her thoughts may be riddled with lies and bias. Yet instead of undermining her credibility, this helps the narrator, whose real name is supposedly "not a matter of any importance," (p. 5) by adding honesty and skepticism to the topic of women which "is highly controversial--and any question about sex is that" (p. 4).

With that as background, I offer here a train-of-thought response to A Room of One's Own by Romy Franks, Romy Fulton, or Romy Fulmer (the name is of little consequence). May you, too, scour it for potential seeds of truth amidst my own personal biased opinions.

As Woolf's narrator ponders over the unequal and impoverished condition of women (whether socially, economically, legally, etc.), she often touches on the historical circumstances of women as subjects to the confines of tradition. In reviewing universities and the education of women, Woolf notes that the likelihood of a woman amassing a wealth with which to support a school was considerably low. This is because of an unbreakable, paradoxical cycle of women working and also being mothers:
"Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children--no human being could stand it. Consider the facts.... in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to posses what moeny they earned.... For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband's property.... Every penny I earn, they may have said, will be takne from me and disposed of according to my husband's wisdom.... so that to earn money, even if I could earn money, is not a matter that interest me very greatly. I had better leave it to my husband." 
Woolf's brilliance as a feminist emerges as she begins to write of the women whose actions changed the status-quo for women as a fiction. Women, who had for so long in history been seen as above or below culture (inferior to men, and yet the heroine in their imaginations), began to make the idea of supporting themselves a reality. One example of this that I wanted to touch on is Woolf's opinion of the seventeenth-century author, Aphra Behn. Though several centuries before time (and her example did not necessarily take off when she was living) the reason I wish to talk about Behn is primarily because of a comment that I left on Melanie's earlier post about whether Mrs. Behn was in fact a feminist. Initially, I was not sure she was. After reading what Woolf had to say, I think that I might stand corrected (or not?). You see, Virginia Woolf speaks highly of the contributions -- however controversial -- of Aphra Behn to women's standing, particularly the status of women as workers for their own gain. This was quite pioneering for her time (the 1600s!) as well as Woolf's. Here is an excerpt (a rather lengthy one at that) from what Woolf wrote:
 "...with Mrs. Behn we turn a very important corner on the road. We leave behind, shut up int heir parks among their folios, those solitary grade ladies who wrote without audience or criticism, for their own delight alone. We come to town and rub shoulders with ordinary people int eh streets. Mrs. Behn was a middle-class woman with all the plebeian virtues of humour, vitality and courage; a woman forced by the death of her husband and some unfortunate adventures of her own to make her living by her wits. She had to work on equal terms with men. She made, by working very hard, enough to live on. The importance of that fact outweighs anything that she actually wrote... for here begins the freedom of the mind, or rather the possibility that in the course of time the mind will be free to write what it likes. For now that Aphra Behn had done it, girls could go to their parents and say, You need not give me an allowance; I can make money by my pen. Of course the answer for many years to come was, Yes, by living the life of Aphra Behn! Death would be better! and the door was slammed faster than ever.... But to return. Aphra Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind, but was of practical importance. A husband might die, or some disaster overtake the family." (p. 63-64)
What can we take away from this? I would say that, given my previous comment on Melanie's post and what I have read now, it still remains questionable whether Behn's writings themselves were inherently feminist (though I'm open to discussion on the matter). Rather, I posit that the key point here is that Behn was writing for a living, an action that was (up until then) unprecedented for women.

The idea that women were transcending barriers and crossing over into previously barred spheres is one of the ideas cherished by Woolf and her contemporary first-wave feminists, which I have come to love. I find it fascinating that Woolf predicted, "... in a hundred years, I thought, reaching my own doorstep, women will have ceased to be the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them... Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation..." (p. 40). Although the nursemaid does not necessarily "heave coal" and men do not say, "'I saw a woman today,' as one used to say, ' I saw an aeroplane.'..." (p. 40) the century that followed the writings of Virginia Woolf--particularly the post-modern world that was shaped by the complete upheaval of society caused by the Great War (which, I unfortunately will not touch on much here, but is clearly of influence in Woolf's writings; see page 15)--was one characterized by dramatic change. As Woolf predicted, I think it is safe to say that over time, Woman has come to break the binds of traditions that bound he. to what Woman could do and her ability to earn the money necessary to provide for herself a room that she might call her own.

A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf and the Necessity of Material Wealth

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf proves her merit as not only an educated woman, but a philosopher of her age.  To set the background for her argument, she imagines Shakespeare had a sister of equal talent and merit, but because of her situation, and without a room of her own or the money properly support her writing, she dwindled as the invisible and “inferior” sibling to the famous playwright.  She argues that women need to be educated, have financial support, and privacy in order to flourish and attain genius. Through writing, she says, women can achieve freedom, but they can only write if they have material indulgences.  Woolf takes the reader on a historic journey of women writers and their own strengths, but mostly, their shortcomings, because they lacked what Woolf considers to be of most value to a writer. Her tone is effective as it is simultaneously witty and lovely, and simple to read.

A Room of One’s Own reminded me of a movie I once viewed titled Mozart’s Sister, which I can’t help but think was inspired by Virginia Woolf.  Although its main purpose seems to be for entertainment, the movie took liberties describing the life of Maria Anne Mozart, depicting her as a very promising musician who faded into obscurity because of her sex.  In the film, she was a very daring woman who went as far as to cross dress in order to play for the dauphin. The introduction to this book states that “[she] is concerned with the fate of women of genius, not with that of ordinary women…not for universal justice.”  Even in this sense, the film appears to reiterate Woolf’s theme.  Had I not read the book, I would, and had, missed the relation entirely.  I have to pause and wonder how many other stories or works I have observed were inspired by this intelligent feminist. While I would not necessarily recommend the film because of some questionable material, I find it interesting the parallels it used in relation to A Room of one’s Own, and how Woolf continues to inspire and fascinate audiences more than eighty years after its publication.

From her writing, I have found that Woolf is not a radical feminist.  She is conservative, in many respects.  One, in her adamant belief that men and women are intrinsically different. This is not to say that she considers them unequal, but merely unique.  However, she states that the greatest writers must find a way to be androgynous in order to get their creative expression across without devolving too much of the personal in their writing voice.  I find it fascinating that she brought up the point that women, without any precedence except for male writers before them, were confined to writing about and in the manner of men, which caused their writing to suffer because they had not had the opportunity to share in those experiences in which they were writing about.  I am impressed by her manner of speaking, and her recognition of the subjectiveness of her viewpoint even while she attempts to paint a very convincing argument.  “At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial – and any question about sex is that – one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.”  To me, it is endearing, although her mild wordiness that tended to appear whenever she was trying to make a point slightly got on my nerves.  Overall, however, I found her work to be enlightening and very suitably cast as a classic in feminist literature. The theme to which I would ascribe this work is most certainly feminism, as that is the focus point of the essay.  Although other themes are brought up, including gender as a role (or non-role) in writing, the overarching theme was freedom for women. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Persuasion by Jane Austen

The Elliot family (Sir Walter, a widow and 3 daughters; Elizabeth, Anne and Mary) are a respected, titled landowning family.  Mary is married to a wealthy man (Charles Musgrove) and Elizabeth and Anne are single.  Sir Walter loves his lavish lifestyle and has brought his family into massive debt with his overabundant spending. A friend convinces him that he must rent out his estate and relocate to a less expensive town (Bath) and a smaller house where his expenses will be less in order to save the financial situation of his family. Sir Walter rents his house to Admiral and Mrs. Croft, wealthy Navy people who earned their wealth rather than inherited it unlike Sir Walter.  Mrs. Croft is the sister of Anne’s former love.  Anne, now 27 was in love at age 19 with Captain Wentworth. They were engaged, but Anne was persuaded by family and friends that the Captain was not of “high enough consequence” and not rich which lead to Anne breaking off the engagement and regretted the decision for 9 years.  During that time, Captain Wentworth worked hard in the Navy and growing in both status and wealth.  After several meetings and finally discovering that they both still loved each other, Anne and Captain Wentworth renew their engagement.

Marriage and family
Having a historical setting of early 1800’s England, the plot involving an early marriage society perfectly coincides with the themes discussed in the class this semester. The theme of marriage and family is ever present in the novel, specially encompassing the issue of influence between marriage and family members. A potential spouse with a title and money was deemed superior to a mate without these things and family members felt an obligation to ensure their daughters, sisters, son, etc would marry someone of equal status. Sir Walter did not feel that traits such as; good character, hard work, good sense, or independence that Captain Wentworth possessed and dismissed him as a husband for his daughter Anne, even though they loved each other.  It was not until Captain Wentworth came back a wealthy Navy man that Sir Walter considered him and gave Anne his blessing.  Another facet is how much weight should a person give to others opinions when deciding who to marry in the early marriage society.  In 19th-century England, Anne followed the norm of the day and broke off her engagement to the Captain whom she loved because family and friends persuaded her to do so.  She was raised in the traditions of the wealthy titled family and though it was difficult because she loved the Captain, she followed her sense of duty, allowing herself to be influenced by her family and friends, rather than to her heart.  This leads to another facet of marriage and family—that of the plight of a single woman in 19th century England.  Women of the upper middle class didn’t have many choices---marry an approved man or become a spinster.  Anne, still single at age 27 was considered unlikely to marry due to her age.  She would not inherit from her father because she was a woman and therefore was doomed to a dismal future. Another facet of the marriage and family theme of the book is looking at an unconventional marriage that Admiral Croft and his wife had.  Typically the man would be responsible for things outside the home with the woman taking care of running the household and taking care of the children.  The Admiral and Mrs. Croft did things differently with Mrs. Croft sailing with her husband and the Admiral sharing the chores when they were home. 

In Persuasion, Jane Austen examines the topic of marriage and family through the looking glass of the upper middle class in Old England.  We see that tradition and the way in which a person was raised greatly affected the decision that Anne made to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth. She sees in the 9 years until she meets him again examples of marriages that work and don’t work—her sister’s difficult marriage, the good example of marriage in the Croft’s, the unsavory nature of marriages made for social gain in the events involving Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay, the Musgrove sister and Anne herself when she is pursued by her cousin William Elliot the heir to Sir Walter’s estate and title.  By the time she reconnects with the Captain at age 27, she is wiser, more mature, knows what she wants even though she may not have the approval of her friends and family, but she knows that her heart is the most important factor.  

"Think Pink"

Here's a fun fluff article from Yahoo! I found about the history of the color pink and its relation to gender.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

While conducting research for my paper, I found an article written by Karen Offen entitled A Brief History of Marriage Marriage Laws and Women's Financial Independence which can be accessed at the following web address.

I thought it was a wonderful article. At the end of the article are some reader comments. One in particular caught my eye and I thought I would share it with you. After reading the comment I was surprised someone would take this attitude about coverture. The commentor suggests that Offen's views are one sided in that they only see the situation of women under coverture as constricting. Well, weren't they? This commentor does not think so. My immediate reaction was "this has got to be a man." Maybe that is sexist in itself, and maybe we are not as enlightened as we think we are. What do you think about the comment? 

The comment:
A couple of points, regarding the framing of details:

1) "A series of other acts made it possible for mothers to obtain custody of their children in case of divorce; formerly the children "belonged" to the husband-fathers."

Actually, that's not quite true. It was perfectly possible for a mother to obtain custody of their children, providing they could demonstrate a superior ability to provide for them than their father. Since it was the 19th Century, this was almost never the case. What "belonged" to the father was not the child itself, but the de facto obligation to provide for it. 

Men did not 'own their wives', or their children, in the way you're framing it. Men were obligated to provide for them, instead, as executive of the family's communal wealth. They were his dependents, in much the same way as you register your dependents today on your tax return.

2) "Under Spanish law, married women could actively control their own property, and all of a married couple's assets acquired following marriage became community property. Ultimately in the West, this system triumphed over the retrograde English common law, though not without a struggle."

Yes, but what you're leaving out is that this was a triumph for women, and women alone. Men had no such liberation under the law as wives did.

See, the dissolution of personal property into communal property worked BOTH ways. Whatever wealth and property a man took into his marriage because the property of the marriage every bit as much as a woman's did; he had de jure (and yes, in some cases de facto) control over the use of such property, but it did not belong to HIM. It belonged to both of them. Of course, that's still an inequity, and still needed to be addressed, but the way in which it was addressed was not an elevation of women's rights to match men's right; in fact it elevated a woman's rights above that of her husband.

See, after the acts in question, husbands no longer had any claim upon the property of their wives, true enough, which was the purpose of the legislation. BUT. A wife STILL had claim upon her husband's property, as was her right as the wife of the household he was responsible for.

So, in other words, she could conduct private business to her heart's content, for herself only, whereas he was obligated to conduct business that provided for both himself, his wife, and any children they had. In fact, if his wife or his children ran up any debts, it was the wealth of the family that was legally demanded (y'know, 'his money') to pay for them, as he was obligated to such provision.

This has never, ever, been actually undone. This is why, when a woman divorces a man, unless there is a pre-nuptial agreement stating otherwise, she gets half of his wealth, WHETHER OR NOT IT WAS GARNERED DURING THEIR MARRIAGE.

If he divorces her, does he get the same deal? Not at all. Her wealth, is, after all, HER wealth, and no-one else's.

Kinda puts the whole 'equality' thing in a different light, no? ;)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Virginia Woolf and her Search for Feminism

In her essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf weaves her own life experiences with a little bit of fiction to create a work that explores women as authors and the role of female characters in fiction.  The setting begins with Woolf presenting a lecture to a group of women in college.  She explains how the original intent of her lecture was to discuss the role of women in fiction, but while researching this topic, however, Woolf formed “an opinion upon one minor point” stating “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Wolf suggests this is the “greatest problem” of women authors, thus leaving the “true nature of fiction unsolved.” Next, the scene moves to Oxbridge College where Woolf contemplates the differences between the opportunities provided to men and women in society.  She expresses frustration at how she is unable to enter the library because she is a woman.  She suggests that a woman’s educational opportunities have always been less than men, and this makes her angry.  At a luncheon and dinner later that day she also suggests that men have had more opportunities to be materially satisfied and taken care of.  Woolf suggests that in order to have a mind that can think critically and intelligently, a person must be well fed and taken care of.  She begins to see how many women do not have their own money and are unable to live comfortably due to inheritance laws or from a lack of independence from their family.  Woolf researches the literary history to see what has been written about women and finds that most of it has been written by men and very little of it has been complimentary.   Woolf then examines the nineteenth century authors to determine the context women were writing in and how they used their circumstances to become authors.  It is here that she argues that in order for women to be authors and to write good literature, they must “have money and a room of her own.” They must be cared for materially so they do not have to worry about survival, and they must have peace and quiet to write. To end her book, Woolf examines the literature of the 1920s—the time period in which she was writing—to determine how women were dealing with the problems of women writing fiction. She challenges women to take up the literary quest, regardless of the challenges they find in their lives.

The major theme that Woolf is writing about is feminism.  Her definition of feminism, however, is what Karen Offen refers to as “individualist” feminism, or that individuals have equal rights to eliminate class privileges or gender privileges.  Woolf argues that women should seek basic human rights and to celebrate the “quest for personal independence (or autonomy) in all aspects of life.” Even to the point of “downplaying…all socially defined roles.”  Woolf accomplishes this theme through her quest to identify the challenges associated with women writing fiction and the role women play in fiction. She articulates that because many women have not been able to attain the same status as men in our society, whether educationally or materially, women may be hampered in their literary journey. For instance, she creates Judith Shakespeare, William Shakespeare’s fictional sister, to illustrate how due to her position as a woman in the household, she would never have been able to become the same literary giant as her brother, even though she had the same parents and the same gifts and talent as her brother.  Woolf explains that this literary genius would never have been recognized for her literary pursuits simply because of her gender.  Woolf argues that these women were unable to be independent and to have the much needed resources and support due to societal structures.  Within this context of women struggling to enter the literary world, Woolf makes her own discovery of how women need independence in society if they are ever to be successful in their literary pursuits. They need their own money, resources, and their own space or room to concentrate on writing.  However, much of this was unavailable to women at the time. Thus, Woolf begins her search for independent female writers to make her case for individualist feminism.  

In her search for these successful female authors, Woolf focuses on the nineteenth century. In particular, she focuses on Jane Austen and her contribution to the literary world.  As she studies Jane Austen, Woolf realizes that Austen overcame the inherent problems within society to become an incredible writer.  It is through this examination that Woolf realizes how important it is for women to find their own way and not to rely on society for what they deserve.   For instance, Austen did not have a room of her own.  In fact, Austen wrote in her sitting room “subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.” Austen also had very little “literary training” but used the training that she had been provided to write. In addition, she had very little material positions for “it was impossible for a woman to go about alone” and make something of themselves.  And through this all, Woolf points out that she “could not find any signs that her circumstances had harmed her work in the slightest.”  Even without room, support, and education, female authors can still persevere.  Woolf finds a woman who overcame the limitations projected on her and instead used her individualist feminist mindset to become a prolific writer anyway, regardless of the fact that she had so much going against her.  Austen had, as Offen explained, “downplayed” all social roles to find her own journey and experience. At the end of the book, Woolf challenges other women to do the same. She challenges women to “have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.” Despite the “poverty and obscurity” that society might give to the woman, it is still “worth while” to find the feminism within to be a good writer.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1957.

Offen, Karen. "Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach." Signs 14, no. 1 (Autumn 1988): 136.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jane Austen Game Theory

Dr. Chwe is a professor at UCLA who has taken an interesting perspective of Jane Austen's writings.

"The Angel in the House" Optional Reading Blog Post (Arica Roberts)

The poem “The Angel in the House” was written in the mid-nineteenth century and was popularized throughout the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, especially for the middle class. Written by Coventry Patmore, it was an account in which he idealized his courtship with his idea of the perfect woman, his first wife, Emily.

The first part of the poem is written in which a husband tells his wife he is writing a long poem about her. He tells of when he met a woman, Honoria Churchill who became his wife. He declares her ideal of femininity. The lyrics from Honoria’s point of view talk about when her cousin becomes the favorable suitor over Frederick, the husband-poet.

The next part, is written from the perspective of the husband-poet, Frederick, who marries Jane after Honoria’s marriage to her cousin. Each poem is written like a letter, between Frederick and his mother in which he tells her his dissatisfactions with his wife Jane, especially after seeing his first love, Honoria, with her husband. He struggles to have complete devotion to his wife and expresses doubt. Other characters in the letters also express their doubts, but Honoria helps Jane find the way to act with ideal femininity to help Frederick overcome his struggle of doubt.

In Patmore’s poem it is found that the ideal wife should show complete devotion and submission to her husband and that this should bring her pleasure found in the lines,

“Man must be pleased; but him to please, Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf, Of his condoled necessities, She casts her best, she flings herself.”

She must also be graceful, self-sacrificing, pious, and pure. This idea is exemplified in the following lines,

“While she, too gentle even to force His penitence by kind replies, Waits by, expecting his remorse, With pardon in her pitying eyes;

And if he once, by shame oppress'd, A comfortable word confers, She leans and weeps against his breast, And seems to think the sin was hers;

Or any eye to see her charms, At any time, she's still his wife, Dearly devoted to his arms; She loves with love that cannot tire;

And when, ah woe, she loves alone, Through passionate duty love springs higher, As grass grows taller round a stone.”

Patmore holds his diseased and beloved angel-wife, Emily, as a model for all women.

Feminist scholars have written much about “The Angel in the House” being used as a tool to show the ideal Victorian female expectation of domesticity and sexual purity. They criticize Queen Victoria for conforming and promoting these ideas, which is why it has been heavily associated with her name. They also bring up how other writers have shown the problems with this ideal and how it ultimately leads not only to chaos and destruction, such as Kate Chopin who wrote “The Awakening”, used the character, Adèle Ratignolle, as an angel in the house who boisterously reminds Edna, the main character, of her duties as a wife and mother. Edna, in the end, drowns herself in the ocean out of realizing her misery and inability to meet up the expectations of these ideals of femininity. ("An Extinct Angel." Kate Field's Washington 23 September 1891:199-200. "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Other Stories. Ed. Robert Shulman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. 48-50.)

Other female writers, such as Virginia Wolf, wrote in 1931, “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.” (“Professions for Women” is an abbreviated version of the speech Virginia Woolf delivered before a branch of the National Society for Women’s Service on January 21, 1931.) These writers who commentated and rejected the notion that the selfless, sacrificial woman of the nineteenth century had the idea taught to them that their sole purpose in life was to flatter and comfort males created the change in dialogue about the Victorian ideals of femininity.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I attended the lecture given by Nicholas Mason entitled “Can Women be as Funny as Men? Caroline Bowles & Women’s Satire in the Age of Austen. It was an excellent lecture. Mason talked about what women had to do when they expressed satire and humor in society.
He began with an explanation of early modern England definition of humor. Humor showed advanced intelligence and creativity, and was highly valued in men, even essential for men during courtship to impress women. Mason explained that when women said a man was funny was the same as when a man said a women was pretty. Men valued women’s receptivity to their humor. If humor was a high sign of intelligence, then women displaying humor were a threat to men when they displayed humor, if it was to clever or satirical.

For women to express humor, and thus their intelligence, they had to do it within the bounds of what was considered proper for a women. They had to “tone it down” and not appear either to funny or too sarcastic. Satirical humor displayed aggression, intelligence, lewdness, political savvy, physical punishment, all couched in a tough world, thus unsuitable for women.
Women could exhibit humor, but they had to put a “face” on it, to soften the edges. Their realm was love, not satire. Their humor was moderated, they had to be careful about when they were funny, how far they could push the joke, and know when they needed to retrench. This is illustrated in Jane Austen’s novel, Emma. At a picnic at Boxhill, Frank Churchill decides they need to play a game; each person will say one thing very clever, or two things moderately clever, or three things very dull. Miss Bates said “then I need not be uneasy. Three things very dull indeed. That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth.” Emma says, “but there may be a difficulty, you will be limited as to number - only three at once.” When Miss Bates catches Emma’s meaning she is embarrassed and hurt. In private, Mr. Knightley censures Emma and asks “How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character, age, and situation?Clearly, Emma overstepped the bounds of propriety when she expressed her humor.

So, women could be funny, but only within the proper bounds allotted them. This seems to be a theme through women’s history. They could be religious, they could be educated, they could be employed, they could fill a social and political role, but only in the “domestic” realm and in ways deemed proper for women. The degree women displayed patience, perseverance, and tenacity throughout history as they embraced each new change or shift in society is inspiring. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

LDS Women at NY TImes

It's not really about women's history, but many of you will probably be interested in what LDS women are saying over at the NY Times.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Persuasion was Jane Austen's final novel and was not published until after her death. The story revolves around Anne Elliot and her engagement to Frederick Wentworth. The two had met during a summer near her family’s estate at Kellynch hall and fallen in love. Anne’s friend, mentor and mother figure, Lady Russell, advised her (on account of her young age) to break off the relationship. Flash forward eight years and Anne is still a single on her way to spinsterhood. Her father, Sir Walter, has mismanaged the family's affairs and must retrench to get out of debt. He relocates to Bath and sends Anne to be with her younger sister Mary at Upper-cross. Sir Walter rents Kellynch Hall to the Crofts, a retired admiral and his wife. Mrs. Croft happens to be Frederick's sister, and Mr. Wentworth soon comes to visit his brother-in-law. Anne and Frederick have a few awkward encounters, but they soon rediscover their passion for one another, though neither is sure how to reconcile. While Frederick appears to be courting Mary's sister-in-laws, Anne is approached by the family heir, Mr. Elliot. He courts her, but Anne is split between her love for Mr. Wentworth and the possibility of marrying Mr. Elliot. Her decision is made however, when she discovers through a friend that Mr. Elliot just wants to use her to gain prestige and regain Kellynch Hall. She reconciles with Mr. Wentworth and the two go sailing off into the sunset together.
           I would like to discuss the importance of persuasion to Anne's decision to marry Mr. Wentworth at the end of the novel. This would fall under the classification of marriage and the family, but I would like to add the concept of relationship dynamics both within marriage and society for the sake of this post. One of the most prevalent themes of this work is the use of persuasion. Whether it is Mr. Shepherd (an advisor and friend of Sir Walter) convincing the Elliots to retrench or Lady Russell urging Anne to break off her engagement, the entire novel uses character sketches to illustrate various methods of persuasion. Mr. Shepherd appeals to Sir Walter’s vanity by telling him how prosperous he will appear in Bath, while Lady Russel appeals to Anne’s compassionate reason by telling her to pursue more socially acceptable options and allow Mr. Wentworth to do the same. Anne also tries her hands at persuasion by attempting to show her sister Elizabeth that Mrs. Smith is after their father. She fails to convince her, but her skills in persuasion grow over the course of the book until she is able to convince her father and Lady Russell that she should be able to marry Mr. Wentworth. These and other cases of socially acceptable manipulation provide readers with an entertaining case study of women in society and how they could act and be acted upon.

The women of Austen’s novels are hardly the victims of their society; rather they are strong characters that exercise their agency in persuading more often than being persuaded. Whether these women actually possessed this influence is difficult to say. Austen certainly portrays her heroines as independent and intelligent, but her own situation in life and hopes for the future may have colored her representation of the generally divided 19th century household where equality was merely rhetoric and men (save Queen Victoria) ruled British affairs. Despite these misgivings, it is certainly possible that women had as much if not more of a role in society than Austen describes. I for one am not yet persuaded.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Persuasion – Jane Austen
Mallory Hutchings

Like many of Austen’s classic novels, Persuasion is a well-written account of a family of girls whose life goal is to marry well in society. The Elliot family is headed by Sir Walter, the sole parent of Anne, Elizabeth and Mary (after their mother passed away years prior). The Elliot family needed to relocate from their home estate of Kellynch Hall to a more affordable one in Bath due to low funds and the poor spending habits of Sir Walter. The couple that rent out Kellynch Hall from Sir Walter are related to Captain Frederick Wentworth, the ex-fiance of Anne Elliot. There was a lot of typical love triangles and what not, centered around Anne who is distraught after she believes her Frederick is no longer in love with her and she missed her chance. She then is pursued by her cousin who has alternate motives, and eventually ends up with Frederick when he confesses his love to her –much to the dismay of her cousin.

I would classify Persuasion as supporting literary evidence for the marriage and family theme for our class. Throughout the entire story, the question of worth and provisions only comes for the women through their men –hopefully husbands, but if you didn’t get married, you were relying on brothers, fathers, cousins etc. The decision to marry and the pursuit of family were not usually based on love and desire, for practicality came before those things. Anne loved Captain Wentworth and was engaged to him, but her father saw the match unsuitable because the Captain was not wealthy enough or of high enough status. Anne continued to love Frederick throughout the years apart, and she was lucky enough to be able to marry her love in the end. That was less often the case, women married of necessity, whether or not love was involved. Late-marriage societies offered more choice in marriage selection for women, they were more independent and individually resourceful.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Anne Elliot is an intelligent, overlooked middle daughter of the vain Sir Walter Elliot, who cares only for good looks and rank, who over spends and forces the family into retrenching to Bath. Elizabeth, the self-involved older sister resembles her father in temperament. Anne’s younger sister, Mary, is a nervous, clinging woman who has made an unspectacular marriage to Charles Musgrove of Uppercross Hall, the heir to a rural but respected local squire.
Ann, at age 19, considered accepting a proposal of marriage from the handsome, young naval officer Frederick Wentworth. He was clever, confident, and ambitious, but poor and with no particular family connections to recommend him. Her older friend and mentor, Lady Russell, acting in place of Anne's late mother, persuaded her to break the engagement. Lady Russell questioned the wisdom of Anne marrying a penniless young naval officer without family or connections and whose prospects were so uncertain. Wentworth is left bitter at Lady Russell’s interference and Anne’s own want of fortitude.
Now 27, and still unmarried, Anne re-encounters her former love when his sister and brother-in-law, the Crofts, take out a lease on Kellynch. Wentworth is now a captain and wealthy from maritime victories in the Napoleonic wars. However, he has not forgiven Anne for rejecting him. While publicly declaring that he is ready to marry any suitable young woman who catches his fancy, he privately resolves that he is ready to become attached to any appealing young woman with the exception of Anne Elliot.
Through a series of events, Anne and Frederick realize they still admire and love each other, but neither is sure if their feelings are reciprocated. Sir Walter’s heir, William Elliot reunites with the family and everyone is delighted with the reunion, but Ann, who is suspicious of his motives and character. Mrs. Smith, an former school friend of Ann’s, warns Ann about William Elliot’s true character and self center motives. The Musgroves, Crofts, Captain Harville and Wentworth all converge on Bath. Wentworth overhears Ann and Captain Harville discussing the relative faithfulness of men and women in love. Wentworth writes a note to Anne detailing his feelings for her. In a tender scene, Anne and Wentworth reconcile and renew their engagement.
The match is now more palatable to Anne’s family — their waning fortunes and Wentworth’s waxing ones have made a considerable difference. Also, ever overvaluing good looks, Sir Walter is favorably impressed with his future son-in-law’s appearance. Lady Russell admits she has been completely wrong about Captain Wentworth, and she and Anne remain friends.
Prudence (privilege, disguised as wisdom, going by the rules) versus romance, in which prudence comes up against romance and its transformative capacities and possibilities. Ann had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older. This well describes the way in which Austen reverses the usual narrative associated of youth with romance and feeling and age with reason and wisdom.
The relationship between Ann and Frederick represents the avoidance of both cold alliance for social privilege and the moral risks of passion. As the novel brings the lovers together in its final chapters, their reunion is said to be better than the first love because it is “fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment” – in other works, in realism and mutuality (like the Crofts) which makes them more justified in acting. (p. 227)
Mrs. Croft reprimands Captain Wentworth because he speaks of women as if they “were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.” (p. 66) She is a woman willing to exert herself and bear discomfort rather than aim for the social status of the privileged fine lady. In this, she repudiates the fixed hierarchical idea of women as weak vessels who are unreasonable, delicate, and docile by nature.

Before the 19th century, marriage was a practical consideration viewed as an economic alliance and a guarantor of status in society. It was also potentially a source of emotional sustenance, although that was not the primary reason to enter into marriage. The marital relationship was the keystone of the early modern family economy. Only those who married had the opportunity to establish their own household, and many European states made economic viability a condition before permission to marry was granted. The financial and material contribution of both spouses was essential. (Simonton, p. 24). Social class was also an important consideration when deciding who was appropriate to marry; if both people were not of the same social class, there was not enough motivation to enter into married. Marriage, love, and romance were not the first considerations to get married before the late 18th century. The rise of individualism (a result of the French Revolution) together with a new respect for the individual pursuit of happiness in the late eighteenth centuries brought about the rise of a companionate marriage. (Class discussions). 

Sherry Measom

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Modest is Not Hottest

So I came across this blog post/article a little bit ago, and I think it is really great. It deals with some of the modern-day issues we discuss in class. I definitely recommend reading it!

Modest is Not Hottest - Rebecca A Moore

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Melanie Palsky on Jones, "Coquettes and Grisettes: Women Buying and Selling in Ancient Regime Paris"

Jenifer Jones' article elaborates on the cultural influences that influenced negative views of Marie Antoinette's relationship to her female dressmaker, Rose Bertin. The culture of this time period had experienced a shift of focus from men shopping for 'women', to women shopping for their own personal luxuries. Not only did this cause fear that women would become corrupted and swayed from their virtuous nature and calling of motherhood, but it also blended the class distinction lines; all women were interested in the newest fashions. These changes brought a flurry of arguments on the capabilities of women and what their role is and should be in fashion markets.
Jones argues that this shift in gender roles in the market changed the work place roles of women and men in stitching, sewing, and creating fashionable clothes. Men tried to restrict women’s occupations to sewing and stitching to preserve their virtuous natures and keep them out of prostitution. However, Jones appears to argue that this pay restriction might have actually forced some women to resort to this exact same solution to poverty.

This article should be classed under gender and employment and work. This article explains there was a shift in gender roles of women due to their employment and their work, along with the fashion trends and breakdown of class distinctions. 

Rebekah on Jennifer Jones "Coquettes and Grisettes: Women Buying and Selling in Ancient Regime Paris"

         This article begins by telling the story of Marie Antoinette's relationship with her dressmaker, Rose Bertin. Because "over half of Marie Antoinette's yearly expenditures on fashions were paid to Rose Bertin" people blamed her for the reckless spending that led to French bankruptcy and the downfall of the French  monarchy.
In the late 18th century many people in Paris were troubled by the "culture of shopping" that they saw developing in Paris. Women played a prominent role in this culture, and it was said that the  trade was born on the luxury of women and fed by their coquetry. Nicolas Desessarts described this phenomena as a danger to women. "In the realm of commerce, as in the realm of politics, when women ruled women, disorder, chaos, and folly inevitably reigned." In this culture (the Old Regime) it was still a belief that women could be seduced and had the power to seduce others.
This period, 1750-French Revolution, was a time when London and Paris began sharing goods and luxuries, making it possible for other classes (not just the aristocracy) to become consumers of finer products. "Fashionable dressing was no longer solely the privilege of the elite."
Until the late 19th century women were usually portrayed as the shopkeeper and men as the customer. This was because shopping was a highly visible past-time that was associated with "aristocratic pleasures." Because shops were so close together, it was easy for a person to go from buying luxury goods to drinking coffee or gambling. For much of the 17th and 18th centuries shopping was considered a form of male entertainment. In the middle of the 18th century though, things begin to change as the number of shoppers increased - including the number of female shoppers.
In the 1780s luxury shops became more permanent and elaborate, ready-made clothing was more common and prices were set beforehand. Though men were still shopping as much as women, they were not portrayed in the same way - irrational and easily seduced. New theories as to why women loved frivolities and novelties arose, seeking scientific explanations. By the end of the 18th century women's interest in clothing was viewed as normal and "necessary for marital harmony." However, it was believed that women's "consumer desires" should be channeled into domesticity, rather than coquetry.
As women consumers increased, to did women merchandisers. These women became the principal fashion merchants of their day. Fashion trades were believed to be suited towards women, and there was a difference between what was considered virtuous work for women and virtuous work for men. People worried about the morality of shop girls, who were surrounded by luxury. "They were risking their own moral ruin and that of others." The fashion boutiques of Paris were equated with harems and brothels.
Contemporaries feared that female "marchandes de modes" would corrupt young women who worked in them and the female customers - and ultimately imperil the economy. The relationship between Marie Antoinette and her dressmaker was a heightened version of broader cultural concerns.

        This article was interesting because it talked about the conflicting view of women being part of the consumer industry. Views of women as consumers and merchandisers often conflicted throughout the 18th century as the idea of women needing the distraction of luxury developed, but the fear of women being such a prominent part of the economy led to worries over morality.
        Gender and employment/work are the important themes relating to this article, as it discusses the complicated interaction that they have with each other.