That’s a wrap!

Last post of the semester!

This was an interesting class I found, and not only because it focused on women in writing during times that women has such distinct guidelines to follow in order to be considered socially acceptable, but because these women, who fought through the discrimination of their sex, wrote wonderful pieces!

Lorde states in The Masters Tools that “As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change”, which in the context of her work relates mostly to women of colour and sexual orientation, but I feel that this quote pertains to all of the women that we studied this semester. These women, who were expected to fit into an ideal image of a woman, were not able to ignore their differences, but rather used them as forces for change. They had interest in academics and wrote, despite the qualms that society had against women and writing; they pushed through their stereotypes and have transcended the ages and their works are still read and studied today! Many women, such as Elizabeth Montagu, refused to place themselves into the mold that society expected them to shape to, and instead persevered in spite of society’s expectations. Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own, also discusses the idea that women were forced to hold positions of inferiority in all aspects of their lives, and although we might like to think of “genius as transcendent”, that is not always the case. Many of the women that we looked at this semester, if not all of them, were able to transcend the very distinct gender line, and have their works widely read or published, and that is why I found this course to be quite inspiring!

It is impossible for me to imagine living in a time when men and women were so distinctly unequal, and we have come a long way. But even today, equality between the sexes even in Canada is not completely diminished; just the other day on my internet homepage was an article about the different wages between men and women across the provinces; men on average earning quite a deal more than women in the same fields. I was astonished. Perseverance is the key however, and “

It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths” that has made a difference in society, and will continue to do so. C’mon women. Clearly we are all genius. And that can transcend about anything.

Like I said. Women are the genius'.

Frankly, I love Frances.

I love Frances Burney. She began publishing her works anonymously (as Dr. Jones mentioned) by getting her brother (in a fake moustache I believe) to bring her works to a publisher, and then revelling in the discussions she heard about her writings when no-one knew that she was the one behind the pen.

Burney’s works are quite comedic because she was aware of the ridiculous aspects of society, and recreated them in her works. When people read her novels what people were (often) reading was about the blunderings of their very own society. In Burney’s novel Evelina, she portrays a comic view of wealthy English society. The novel is written from the perspective of a seventeen year old woman who has reached marriageable age, and the novel plays on the oppressive values that were held of women in the eighteenth century, and the hypocrisy that was ever present in society.

Burney’s plays did the same things as her novels, except the blunderings of society were being dramatized on stage for society to see. What is interesting about Burney’s plays is that her father did not wish her to publish her plays because he felt that it was inappropriate for a young woman such as herself to do so; especially due to the comic with and nature of the plays. This censorship of Burney’s plays from her father, from centuries back, STILL affects us today because most of her plays are very difficult to get a hold of (some almost impossible for the average person to do so)!

Burney is also very well known for her very large and very intricately detailed collection of letters and journal entries that she kept from the younger years of her life onwards. One journal entry, that I will NEVER forget, is the one that Burney wrote on her mastectomy. The journal entry describes her operation in great detail (because she was still conscious and not under any anaesthetics). She describes “the knife tackling against the breast bone, – scraping it!”  and “when the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast – cutting through veins – arteries – flesh – nerves – [she] needed no injunctions not to restrain [her] cries. [She] began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision”- the very thought of which makes me cringe every time I read it. The strength and courage that Burney would have had to had to survive the surgery is incredible, and then to go on to write about it is amazing.

(read some of it here– — if you’re interested)

I have not read a large extent of Burney’s works, but from what I have read, I always find myself lost in her writing. I would love to read more of her works on my own time though, so I can thoroughly enjoy them!

so much more than blue socks- an homage!

Originally, the presentation that Bryan and I were going to do was “Women in Publishing”. The topic sounded like it would be interesting to research and learn about….well. EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT: there is nothing written about women in publishing K (at least not from the pre-18th century in England). I was disappointed to learn that so little information is available on the topic! So as an alternative to our presentation on Women in Publishing- my wonderfully amazing partner and I decided to tackle The Bluestockings!

I had heard of The Bluestockings previously, but I think that I only understood their clichéd image of a feminist group of female writers, and as I began to research I discovered that they are much more than that!

The Bluestockings were more than simply a group of women, but rather a collection of men and women who gathered and exchanged intellectual conversation. There was no discrimination against the sexes at meetings; the only thing that was required was a strong desire to discuss, analyze, and examine the social and educational problems of the time. The group showed a re-evaluation of gender roles, and they set the stage for groups and movements to make a difference in society because they were not hesitant to step outside of the ordinary.

Many of the members of the Bluestocking Society were in fact published writers such as: Sarah Fielding, Hannah More, Catherine Talbot and Elizabeth Carter. It was not mandatory however to be a well accomplished author, as the dubbed Queen of the Bluestockings, Elizabeth Montagu had to be convinced by Lyttleton to write for publication; An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare. The essay defended Shakespeare against the attacks of foreign critics such as Voltaire, and attacked Samuel Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare; this attack on Johnson’s work ended with the injury of a friendship between Montagu and Johnson, but ultimately her work was praised by a number of reviewers and translated into other languages. This however (I believe), was the only thing that Montagu published, even as the Queen of the Bluestockings.

Learning about the Bluestockings was something that I actually enjoyed because although they might not have viewed themselves as revolutionary in their time, they set themselves apart as participating and educated members of their society, and ended up making a mark in history.

I now wear my (fluffly) bluestockings as an homage to the Bluestocking Society and their accomplishments!

Women providing an education on women’s education

Women and education. Today, this is a topic that doesn’t get much conversation time because it is so normal for women to be educated (well in some parts of the world anyways- but that’s a whole other topic). Back in the 18th century, women had standards and ideals that they were expected to live up to, and sadly, education was not a part of this. Some women at the time viewed their roles in the private sphere and their responsibly to their image as not only normal, but mandatory for all women. Women were enforcing prejudice over other women; if you can believe it. There were women however, who were able to see through the façade that women put on for society and Mart Astell and Mary Wollstonescraft are two prime examples of this. These women were able to see that they deserved the same rights as men, and that those women who felt that they should remain within their roles and the private sphere only think so because they know no differently- they were raised to believe that a woman should not step outside of her role, so why would they think or argue any differently?

In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft rebuts the idea that women should not be entitled to an education, and argues that women are in fact an important and essential part in society. The argument stems somewhat from the fact that women raise their children, sons and daughters, and therefore contribute to their children’s education. The argument also makes claim that an education would allow women to be more than a simple wife, but a companion in their marriage. Mary Astell and A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest was an interesting read. Astell was well ahead of her time (published in 1697) on the topic of women and education.

I love reading works from women who were so ahead of their time on topics such as education because I find it so interesting that despite what they were being told time and time again-they knew what was right. That women deserve all of the same opportunities as men; as equals.

Aphra Behn Spice? Girl Power.

“The Unfortunate Happy Lady- A True Story” by Aphra Behn is an interesting read. Through the first bit of the story Philadelphia is treated awful by her brother who wishes to be rid of her rather than give her the share of money that was intended for her after her fathers death. It is not long before we realize that Lady Beldam (who appears to be a kind older lady who has offered to care for Philadelphia) is actually the owner of a “naughty House, and that old Beldam is a rank Procuress, to whom [Gracelove] [is] to give Two hundred Guineas for [Philadelhpia’s] Maidenhead” (I googled Maidenhead by the way- and it means virginity…in case you were curious). Things seem terrible for Philadelphia until she informs Gracelove of the terrible circumstances of how she unknowingly ended up at a naughty house, and ironically, the man who attempted to take her ‘maidenhead’, is the man who saves her from that very thing. Gracelove sneaks Philadelphia away from Lady Beldam and puts her in the safe hands of the Fairlaws; a move that ultimately changes her life. As she denies to marry Gracelove because of her social position, he gives her a ring that he wishes she wear anyways and goes off, for what he says will be a couple of months; he however goes through a number of troubles and is thought dead. Philadelphia ends up marrying the widowed Counsellor under the wish that old Lady Fairlaw makes on her deathbed, and after he too passes, Philadelphia is left a wealthy widow with the responsibility of caring for Eugenia. What is interesting is this large shift in the story where Philadelphia goes from having absolutely nothing, to becoming the most powerful character in the story. She digs her idiotic brother out of debt and saves his life, as well as saves Gravelove’s life after she finds him wandering the streets, and has the final say about marriage and money for all characters. The woman in this story becomes the most powerful character, and the men are basically at her mercy. This kind of power being held by a female would have been a baffling thought at the time, and Behn has no qualms about making the power of a female (Philadelphia) known to the readers.

This powerful figure of a woman reminds me of the strong female character in Marie De France’s “Lanval”; where she holds the reign of power and the man is essentially at her mercy as she rescues him. Even though women were seen as lesser than men when these two works were written, and that (as Cavendish wrote) “through the careless neglects and decipherments of the masculine sex to the female, thinking it impossible that we [women] should have either learning or understanding, wit or judgement, as if we [women] had not rational soul as well as men, and we [women] out of a custom of dejectedness think so too”; not ALL women were susceptible to this thought, because both Behn and Marie De France  wrote stories where women held positions of power over the men. After being previously familiarized with conduct literature for women (in 18th Century Literature last semester), I find it liberating to read stories where women are so empowered!

Girl Power anyone?

Okay so maybe the image of the Spice Girls isn't exactly a liberating one for women; but they were all for "Girl Power" in the 90's (insert famous peace sign here).


Caven-dishing it out.

Margaret Lucas Cavendish, otherwise known as the Duchess of Newcastle, was an author whose works stands out to me for a number of reasons. The descriptions of Cavendish’s eccentricities put her works into perspective, as she wrote a wide range of things; from science fiction, to essays, to letters, to plays, to poems, and the list goes on. The first work of hers that we read was From “Philosophical and Physical Opinions” where she addresses the fact that “wise school men and industrious laborious students” will probably not value her philosophical work with any worth, but instead hopes that they will at least “receive it without scorn”. She is aware of the fact that men are not likely to value the works of a female author and the one sentence that I highlighted in this work (because it stood out to me so much) was that ;“through the careless neglects and decipherments of the masculine sex to the female, thinking it impossible that we [women] should have either learning or understanding, wit or judgement, as if we [women] had not rational soul as well as men, and we [women] out of a custom of dejectedness think so too, which makes us quit all industry towards profitable knowledge, being employed only in low and petty employments, which take away not only our Abilities towards arts, but higher capacities in speculations…” (on a side note- this sentence continues for some time; a run on sentence I believe). What Cavendish is stating in the above sentence is incredibly insightful for her time, as she is not only aware of the fact that women come to believe the standards set in place for them by society for what they can and cannot do, but she is stating it very publicly; a feminist thought in a time before feminist theory.

Moving on with Cavendish, we read “Natures Cook”, which I might add, should not be read by those with a weak stomach; I personally almost heaved my lunch. The comparison of food with disease is enough to make a person reconsider their dietary habits, that’s for sure. In the poem, Cavendish is using the domestic sphere to comment on larger concerns in the public sphere such as suffering and disease. A number of (stomach turning) conceits are used to make the connection between the two; for example “Death is the cook of Nature” and “Some meats she roasts with fevers, burning hot,/ And some she boils with dropsies in a pot” . I’m sure this poem would have caused a few jaw drops because it connects the two spheres and makes the domestic sphere sound simply disgusting.

Cavendish was not only insightful on the level of feminism, but she was also quite insightful on a scientific level as she wrote poetry about atoms. One idea that she presented was the idea that “What severall Worls might in an Eare-ing be…/ And if thus small, then Ladies well may weare/ A World of Worlds, as Pendents in each Eare”. That she was able to come up with this idea that atoms are so small, that there could be tiny worlds sitting within a woman’s earring is just amazing to me; her level of insight that was often scoffed at during her time, I can’t help but appreciate.

I also can’t help but wonder if Cavendish was the inspiration for Dr. Seuss when he wrote “Horton Hears a Who”…you think?

Perhaphs Seuss Read a Cavendish?


Women: The Lovers or the Beloved?

I give Lady Mary Wroth an applause; her sonnets (or at least the ones that I read and that we discussed in class) were very intriguing! Sonnet 1 was interesting because it started the whole roller coaster of emotions that Wroth takes us through, beginning with love, and the idea that she is a lover (which would usually be the role of the man) and not the beloved. I did not notice this upon my first read, but when Dr. Jones pointed it out, it helped to put the entire work into perspective because she is trying to convince her beloved to commit to her. Her masculine role makes her the active one in the relationship, the one doing the pursuing, and the very fact that she wrote about being the lover would have been quite shocking for some at the time- this could still apply today (perhaps not as much)…but women still seem to be expected to be the “beloved” and not the “lover”.  How many woman these days do you hear about making the first move, or proposing?

Sonnet 35 takes the readers to a low point in her relationship, where she personifies false hope and describes it as “false hope, which feeds to destroy, and spill/ What it first breeds, unnatural to the birth/ of thing own womb; conceiving but to kill”. Wow. What an incredibly disturbing image. One that I will probably always remember and relate to Wroths name because it is so strong and gets the point across directly to the readers; false hope feeds something perversely, with nothing but the intent of destroying it. From the idea of false hope, her final sonnet informs us that her “Must now happy lay thy selfe to rest/ Sleepe in the quiet of a faithfull love”; in other words, her muse can rest now that she is happy and moving on from the ups and downs of love, and that the crazy chasing and courtship of being a lover eventually lead to a time where things are settled. I think that one day I might like to read the entire play-by-play of sonnets by Mary Wroth (when I have time) as these three have peaked my interest in her.

For “The Description of Cooke-Ham”…Cabin porn…what an interesting conversation starter!.

Happy Valentines Day!

Religion gone Askew

I had never heard of Anne Askew before, and I am surprised that I have not encountered her before this class; however, I am thankful that I did. Askew’s life was very interesting as she is thought to have been the only woman on record to have been tortured in the Tower of London and burnt at the stake; and for what?  She was put through horrible torture and a cruel death all because she was preaching against the doctrine of transubstantiation (which I had also never heard about)…I have heard of the bread and wine representing the body and blood of Christ, but I never knew that people believed that they would actually turn into the literal flesh and blood of Christ…maybe I’m naïve or close-minded, but it sounds like Anne Askew was preaching…well…common sense. The fact that she died for her beliefs is amazing- she stood by them all the way to the stake, and the video clip that was shown during the presentation was chilling. The very thought of inducing such torture and such a death is terrifying, and the description given of her that “she did not scream until the flames reached her chest” made me cringe. Anne Askew’s “Ballad that she made and sang while she was at Newgate” is interesting to read because it is so simply worded, but yet powerful. She talks about faith as her shield and her weapon, and what I find interesting about this is that those who punished her for preaching against the doctrine of transubstantiation did so on the grounds that she was going against the faith, but for her, this was her faith. I just find it interesting how both sides would have used faith as their argument.

Claiming Religion

I am very naïve when it comes to religion; on all aspects. When I think Nuns- I think about the kind from the movies…Whoopi in The Sister Act anyone? The presentation on nunneries was rather eye opening for me as I was given a new perspective on Nuns and Nunneries, and what they were really like in the Medieval days. I found myself more interested in the reasons that women joined the Nunneries then the ways that the Nunneries were actually run. I thought that in order to join a Nunnery that you would have to be really committed to religion in order to lock yourself up, but I was stunned to hear that joining a Nunnery was actually a means of escape and freedom from the conventions of society. I suppose that to step inside the position of a woman in the middle ages, society could be a very cruel place with a lot of limitations, so to be within a Nunnery would allow you freedom, in a sense anyways… (from men and conventions). Life was even longer for those women who had the opportunity to join Nunneries as well because they were not exposed to such stresses as child bearing and marriages (and ultimately std’s which were rampant from what I understand). With all of these factors contributing, I’m sure that I might have wished to join a Nunnery as well!

For the readings Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, I had a hard time understanding them. When Kempe was talking about “this creature”, I had an image of something evil in my head; that is until I read the subtext that stated what she meant by “this creature” was herself, so my original reading was completely off. I found the first article posted by Jenna Tynan was great in offering extra insight into the readings that I would not have picked up on myself, but ultimately I still had some trouble understanding them fully. Something that I did find interesting was how Julian of Norwich looked at “motherhood in God” and all of the female traits that God must possess; “This fair lovely word “mother” is so sweet and so kind in itself, that it can not truly be said of anyone nor to anyone except of Him and to Him who is true Mother of life and of all”. I have never heard God talked about with any sort of femininity so I found this new view to be quite enthralling. I wonder how, in a time when women were considered as lesser to men, people would have received this view of God with so many feminine (and ultimately ‘lesser’) traits?

Despite my lack of knowledge and understanding of religion, the readings did turn out to be interesting on a level; perhaps because the entire concept is so new to me? As for the presentation, it offered great insight into the lives of those within the Nunneries.

from powerless to powerful-

“The Wife’s Lament” is an interesting little poem- I think because it is dated so far back and remains anonymous is what makes the mystery behind the poem so intriguing. In class when we discussed this poem, Dr. Jones brought up the idea that if we were to find out that this poem was in fact written by a woman, should she remove it from the reading list because it is a “writing by women” course. This question is rather hard to answer because the poem is told from such a strong female perspective with such emotion and angst around the separation of her and her beloved. The poem very well could have been written by a man, as Woolf had suggested in “A Room of One’s Own” that when you are writing you should not hold your gender into account; but with a poem so blatantly written from the perspective of a woman in a strange land missing her husband at sea, left to feel exiled and alone, it is hard to imagine a man writing it (it doesn’t make it impossible though). Woolf had also mentioned that when a piece of writing has been left anonymous from an earlier time period, it is very likely that it was written by a woman because the idea of women writing was so taboo and frowned upon, so to write it and leave it anonymous would allow a woman to bypass the discrimination. Even if we were to discover that the poem was indeed written by a man (who would have to be seriously in touch with is feminine side) I do not feel as though it should be removed from the reading list; reason being that the poem has been examined for such a long period of time as though it was written by a woman that it should still be given a place in women’s writing.

“Lanval” was also quite an interesting read as the story line developed quite nicely for a poem and held my interest when other longer poems tend to lose me early on in the read. I loved the story line of the poem and the idea that this man met this love in the forest and he is forbidden to tell anyone of her existence or else she would disappear from his life entirely. For a poem that was written in a time when women were considered to be inferior to men, the forbidden lover in the poem, who is the woman, appears to hold all of the power. She appears as she wishes, she is clearly of a higher class as is  apparent in the description of her tent and its belongings, she has the power to disappear if he disobeys her wish for him to keep her secret (as she does when he blabs her existence to the queen), and then is able to re-appear as she pleases (to save him in the end). The roles are even reversed at the end of the poem when she is riding the horse, and he jumps onto the back of it and she rides off having just saved his life; usually it is the damsel that is in distress and requires rescuing from a handsome man, but in this case it is the man in distress who needs rescuing from a beautiful woman…interesting!

To look at “The Wife’s Lament” and “Lanval” side-by-side is quite interesting as in “The Wife’s Lament” the woman is distressed having been left behind by her husband where as in “Lanval” there is no woman in distress or lament in this poem; the woman is in the standing of power, and for a poem written so long ago, I find this fact intriguing!