Pyschology and the Body as Currency in To Bed with Grand Music (Spoilers!)–Meghan

I found To Bed with Grand Music to be a delightfully disturbing read. Deborah’s character frustrated the heck out of me, but I could not stop turning the pages. I kept thinking to myself “what shitty thing is she going to do next?” At the end of the novel, I literally cringed because I felt so bad for the young woman that Deborah sunk her slutty claws into  to turn her into another man-hunter. I love books that evoke this kind of emotion in the reader!

There are many rich ideas to discuss about To Bed with Grand Music. For this blog post, I would like to touch on psychology and the idea of body as currency.

When I first started reading To Bed with Grand Music, postpartum depression crossed my mind, since Deborah didn’t show much interest in or was always frustrated with Timmy and she felt like she was not cut-out for motherhood. Then I realized this probably wouldn’t be the case since Timmy was about two years old when the novel started and, as far as I know, postpartum depression doesn’t last that long and is usually right after birth (though I could be wrong, I am not very familiar with the topic). So, then, I pondered other things that could be wrong with Deborah psychologically. In the beginning of the novel, Deborah spends time justifying her sexual relationships in her head and coming up with moral reasons why it is acceptable for her to sleep with men other than her husband. She appears to know her actions are wrong, but she justifies them with the need to be happy and avoid being “nervy.” So, the next psychological disorder that popped into my mind was borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by a multitude of episodes of mood swings, anxiety, changing self-image, etc. Deborah certainly has a varying self-image of herself and she goes from being extremely upset with herself to extremely happy with her exciting life. However, I am no psychologist and I will stop trying to diagnose Deborah. I just thought this could offer some interesting fodder for conversation.

Anyway, what I would really like to focus on is Deborah’s transactions with men. It appears that Deborah’s body becomes a currency to pay for her lifestyle. Let me tell you how…

At first, Deborah’s exchanges with men seemed to be fulfilling a physical need and a “husband replacement,” for lack of a better term. However, as the novel progresses, it is quite clear that Deborah becomes addicted to her lifestyle and manipulating men. The more and more she gets involved as a mistress, the less and less she is worried about justifying her actions. She also thinks less and less of Graham and Timmy because they are boring and “second best” to her life in London. Thus, her “mistressness” becomes her job in order to afford her expensive lifestyle. Deborah completely reduces her body to currency in exchange for fancy accouterments, drinks, and meals.

My initial inclination was to discuss the commodification of Deborah’s body. For example, she seems to be no more than a body–or object–to the men, a mere distraction. On the surface it may appear that Deborah’s body is the commodity that the men desire; or, it may appear that Deborah makes herself a commodity through her appearance and desirability. However, upon closer examination, it is really Deborah who is objectifying herself (and even men–but I am not going to discuss that in this post) and creating a currency out of her body. Deborah could have easily stayed in her country home and remained a faithful, domestic housewife, but she decided to move to London and make herself available to men. This was her choice in which she had full agency. Not only does she simply make herself available to men, but she creates a business of it and uses her body to pay the men for extravagant things. The transaction is simple: men buy her fancy food/things and give her attention and she gives them her body in return. In other words, Deborah’s body is simply the means in which she uses to get what she wants. The reason I think her body is the currency instead of the items she receives is because she puts more value on the fancy things than she does on herself/her body. Her body becomes easily exchangeable for her appearance and social status. In addition, her body is the only thing she has to exchange for the lifestyle that she desires.

I think this can easily be seen at the end of the novel when Deborah is walking home with Graham’s friend, Ken Matthews, and she points out the crocodile purse that she absolutely must have. After they sleep together, Ken sends her the crocodile purse with a note that says, “I hope I interpreted yours hints correctly. I have no experience of proper payment for this sort of thing” (176). To the men in the novel, their currency is the items that they give to Deborah, and their desired commodity is her body. However, from Deborah’s perspective, her body is the currency for the items the men give her, which are her desired commodities. Both sides of the spectrum (the men and Deborah) are more then willing to give up a seemingly small price for their desires.

Laski, Marghanita. To Bed with Grand Music. Persephone Books Ltd., 2012.

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From Segmented Bodies to Categorizing Mass Groups: Enhancing the Collector’s Set

 

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The Thunderer

 

by Simon Cropp

In her novel Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin explores the thoughts of a Knight serving in an alternate world where Hitler’s armies have won and continued to reign far into the future. The Knight thinks to himself, “Women’s only reason for existence, to bear boys and nurse them to eighteen months. But if women cease to exist themselves? The world will be rid of an intolerable ugliness” (11). When considering Knight Von Hess’ thoughts about the role women play in this futuristic world, a conclusion can be drawn: women are rendered mere objects. Women function only as wombs to continue the Hitlerian Empire of men, though these objects must exist or the entire empire would collapse.

When we think of objectification in modern society, Von Hess’ thoughts are perhaps a reflection of the most extreme scenario. From breast exploitation to the segmented body, American culture seems aware of the fact that women are sexually objectified, yet despite this awareness, progress seems sickeningly slow.

Browsing through headlines about sexual objectification of women, the focus seems to be laid at the feet of the media. Advertising, television, and movies all have a role to play in the fetishizing of women as things instead of people, pieces instead of whole entities. But then, women were certainly objectified before the onslaught of mass media to the degree these articles discuss. In fact, Burdekin’s vision of a world where women were reduced to a single function occurs in a time and space without all the terrible vices modern media warns is the cause of sexual objectification.

Consider the recently discovered words of presidential candidate Donald Trump. “When you’re a star they let you do it.” This sentence was uttered nearly a decade ago when Trump explained to another man how much sexual leeway he has with women. In his view: he has all of the leeways because he is a star. A star created through the massive media machine of television. His claims that he can do most of what he wants to a woman because he is rich, he is a star, obviously, this behavior reduces a woman to an object that can only be acted upon. But because women are not objects, this video has given rise to another discussion surrounding the presidential candidate–one of sexual assault. In Burdekin’s world, recourse does not exist for women, but in America, the citizenry want to believe there is justice for this kind of behavior–whether or not Trump’s actions were real or locker room talk.

Leaders found themselves at odds with their party’s representative after this video surfaced, but I am not cynical about their motives in defending the count noun “women” from Trump’s statements. I am cynical about the objectification that continues to occur in their defense of “count noun women.”

House speaker Paul Ryan said, “I am sickened by what I heard today.” As were many of us, I hope. He also said, “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” And here is the ugly other side of objectification. The collecting of objects. The protecting of objects. Championing that which cannot protect itself because it lacks agency. To revere, to show deep respect for someone or something, to show profound regard for this thing or person. Because the count noun women all must be revered, because they are things worthy of being collected. They are not individuals, they are mothers, daughters, sisters, etc. We must revere that, I think, because we revere that collectible mass thing with not a single unique quality among its individual parts. It is strange that scientific studies show how men see a woman as a collection of parts instead of her whole self, but then so quickly, to fix this, a woman cannot be rendered into a single person, but only a mass collection of things easily categorized into two or three roles. Mother, sister, daughter, caretaker, etc.

Burdekin shows the complex, dark depths to which sexual objectification can take us, but our modern reality shows us the other side–the equally problematic issue of objectifying with the eyes of a collector protecting his prize.

 

It Suits Me: The Importance of Naming – Stacy

In her Novel on Yellow Paper, Stevie Smith had to choose her character names and attributes with care to avoid offending those who served as models those characters. By selecting to use events from her actual life, she risked the threat of libel. Smith had to learn to refashion and blend fiction with fact to create alternate tellings of her real life stories and events. In showing so much care to protect herself from those who would sue her, Smith shows she would go to the same amount of care in crafting for her alter ego, her semi-autobiographical self, an interesting and provocative name to suit not only herself but the events she’s recreated in her novel. Smith created for herself a name to hide behind and create subtle and not so subtle differences in real life events and fictional events, and in a way, she treated herself as a character within her own novel, protecting her own name and life events against libeling herself. In creating her own likeness, Smith is able to show those aspects of Pompey’s life which matter the most to both the author and character.

In Novel on Yellow Paper, great importance is placed on the name of protagonist Pompey Casmilus. In his article “Stevie Smith, ‘A Most Awful Twister’”, Stephen James call Smith’s moniker choice “a sheer oddity of using two male names for a female protagonist (a gender bending tendency that persists through the work of ‘Stevie’ nee Florence Margaret Smith)” (243). However, it’s not simply important that Smith chose for the protagonist two male names, but the names of two males whom Smith considered powerful through history and mythology. By selecting two powerful males, Smith is, in a way, harnessing for herself the power of not only the male gender, but that of the two individuals: Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, a respected Roman military general; and Casmilus, an obscure name for the Greek god Hermes, who a quick internet search informs us is the Greek god of boundaries, merchants, travelers, and thieves, served as a messenger of the gods, and acted as an intermediary between the divine and mortal. Armed with this knowledge, the first word in Novel on Yellow Paper, Casmilus, takes on deeper meaning. The name first comes to the reader in the form of one of Smith’s poems, and as such recalls the feeling of one invoking a Greek muse. The calling of Casmilus feels like a petition for intercession to that realm between fiction and reality.

In looking at the words of Smith’s poem, one can see the importance of the aspect of hiding one’s identity. Smith’s poem begins with the lines “Casmilus, whose great name I steal, / Whose name a greater doth conceal” (Smith 9). By admitting that she’s stealing the name, the speaker of the poem reveals a sense of dissatisfaction with her own name and an interest in hiding or concealing her own identity by sidling herself along with the “name a greater doth conceal”. In disguising her identity with Hermes, the god who travels between, we can see the importance of Pompey’s concealed identity and gender from the reader, and possibly from herself. Pompey conceals her identity through her clothing choices and through the words she uses to describe herself, a girl and a woman. Even Pompey’s choice to remain unmarried and immersed in the male-dominated corporate world could be seen as a screen to conceal her gender. Pompey clearly traverses the in between realm just as her namesake.

As important as the names are which serve as Pompey’s new suitable name, the name Pompey replaces (and conceals) is equally important: Patience. Pompey states, “Patience I was christened, but later of when I got grown up and out and about in London, I got called Pompey. And it suits me” (Smith 20). Not only does a refusal of the name Patience go against the very act of being patient, it goes against her christened name, and, therefore, against the patriarchy of religion. However, the name does show passivity in that she “got called Pompey” rather than the stealing of her surname as the beginning poem claims. In this instance, Pompey does not inform the reader of the circumstances of how she earned the nickname of Pompey and does not disclose the person who gave her the nickname. It may not seem important; however, if the giver of the nickname was a male, she could just as easily be falling under the rule of the patriarchy again by allowing one of its members to name her. However, in true Pompey fashion, she might have given up the virtue of patience in order to claim the name for all its meretricious decay and elegance that suits her just fine (20).

James, Stephen. “Stevie Smith, ‘A Most Awful Twister’”. Essays in Criticism, vol. 66, no. 2., 2016, pp. 242-259. Project Muse. www. http://eic.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/2/242.full.pdf+html.

Smith, Stevie. Novel on Yellow Paper. Virago Press Ltd. 1936.

 

The Witch and Lolly Willowes: Spoilers (Did I mention spoilers?)

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by Simon Cropp

Understanding modernity in a literary context becomes difficult as Rita Felski notes in “Modernity and Feminism” due to “a cacophony of different and often dissenting voices” (13) trying to explain exactly what the modern is. Felski writes, “To be modern is to be on the side of progress, reason, and democracy, or, by contrast to align oneself with ‘disorder, despair, and anarchy’” (13). But this is only a piece of what modernity can be for Feslki.

Felski explains that modernity for some “comprises an irreversible historical process that includes not only the repressive forces of bureaucratic and capitalist domination but also the emergence of a potentially emancipatory, . . . self-critical, ethics of communicative reason” (13). These concepts are important in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel Lolly Willow’s when Laura sheds the oppressive shackles of “repressive forces” to ultimately find a kind of emancipation from the life she lived under a dominating, patriarchal rule.

Much can be said about the fact that Laura moves under the rule of another male authority– represented by Satan–when she becomes one of the witches of Great Mop. But it is also worth noting, the repressive order of Britain’s primarily male hegemonic structure no longer rules her, and Satan’s “rules” are easily understood to be much looser and more in line with Laura’s self-interests. Whatever rules he may have.

An interesting recuperation of the spirit of Warner’s story has recently occurred in thethe_witch_poster world of independent movies with the release of 2015’s horror film The Witch. Whether or not director Robert Eggers is a closet Lolly Willowes fan is not worth the debate, but the thematic core of his film is remarkably similar to Warner’s classic text. While vastly different in tone, Eggers presents his viewers with a young female protagonist named Thomasin who is the oldest daughter in a family run by a strict, puritan patriarch. Her father’s adherence to religious doctrine places Thomasin in the role of serving her family with no regard for herself. When her father decides the seventeenth-century puritan village they live in is not holy enough, he moves his small family deep into the woods to be closer to God. Instead, Thomasin and her family find themselves overcome by a series of tragic events that could be due to nature, madness, or perhaps a haunting by a witch who lives in the woods.

This concept of Puritan developments in the seventeenth-century becoming too big, too modern, is not something only believed by Thomasin’s father.

In her article “The Puritan Cosmopolis: A Covenantal View,” Nan Goodman writes about recent scholarship on Puritan globalism “that defined English sovereignty in this period and that characterized the colonization and imperialism inherent in the Puritans’ settlements in New England” (4). Compare this concept of Puritan globalism to Felski’s expanded notions on modernity. Feslki writes, “On the other hand, the idea of the modern was deeply implicated from its beginnings with a project of domination over those seen to lack this capacity for reflective reasoning. In the discourses of colonialism, for example, the historical distinction between the modern present and the primitive past was mapped onto the spatial relations between Western and non-Western societies” (14). Colonialism has a long history in the United States, and despite commonly held views that Puritans retreated from the modernizing of the world, the opposite is perhaps true in the sense that Puritans used the modernizing of the world for their own proselytizing.

eggers-witch-650So when The Witch begins with Thomasin’s father, William, delivering a speech before his friends, neighbors, and perhaps family, that he has presumably traveled from England with to start life anew, the meaning of the speech has particular relevance given Felski’s and Goodman’s context. William says in the opening of the film, “What went we out into this wilderness to find? Leaving our country, kindred, our fathers’ houses? We have travailed a vast ocean. For what? For what? What went we out into this wilderness to find? Leaving our country, kindred, our fathers’ houses? We have travailed a vast ocean. For what? For what? . . . Was it not for the pure and faithful dispensation of the Gospels, and the Kingdom of God?” Here seems to stand a man who does not understand the method and practice of those he thought he knew. So William takes his family and moves them deep into the New England countryside to find a more pure way toward “the Kingdom of God.”

Soon puritanical madness overtakes the family, and because Thomasin is on the verge of womanhood, the family turns on her and believes she has made a pact with Satan. That she has become a witch herself. As viewers, we know this to be untrue, and if the images on the screen are to be trusted, we know a witch in the woods is causing the family’s torment. Thomasin behaves exactly as a young woman of her time is supposed to behave. She takes care of children, cooks, cleans, prays, and does everything the hegemonic order of her community has asked.

At one point in the film, her father—who seems to be her only true ally in the family—suggests to her mother that they take her back to the village and marry her off. That her problems will be fixed by this solution.

The mother’s anger wins the father over though, and they decide Thomasin is a witch, though the film clearly depicts her as innocent. Dutiful, good-natured, kind-hearted. Everything she has been raised to be. It seems as if her fate will be to be burned as a witch though she clearly is not one at all.

Ultimately tragedy befalls the entire family, and Thomasin learns there is a witch in the woods, but worse, Satan has been on their property the entire time hiding amidst their livestock. He has been watching her suffer at the hands of her family, and in the end, he takes a human form and offers her freedom from the oppressive control of her community. All she has to do is sign his book, or consent to his rule, become a witch, like the other witches that have been in the woods all along.lucifer-renewed-season-2

Thomasin takes him up on his offer, and the film ends with her gleeful laughter as she leaves Satan behind and joins a coven of witches around a fire. Finally, she is free from the oppressive rule of her society.

Why Not Vote for Her?

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by Simon Cropp

If I wanted to take a singular positive message from the film Strong Sisters, I could say I should be proud I come from a state that is so supportive of women’s rights, but then, I wonder, how misogynistic principles still guide principles of so many men, and I don’t mean an outright hatred of women, but instead a subconscious belief that women are inferior. I’ve always considered myself to have overcome to this belief of inferiority both consciously and subconsciously, but as I listened to the stories of Colorado’s women fighting to gain respect in the state government, an old fear gnaws at me.

What if those same, oppressive methods of thought still pervade my own subconscious views? I have tried to apply my thought processes to the decision-making processes involved specifically invoked by the film—how I deal with the concept of women in power.

It is certainly arguable if the Presidential seat in the United States is truly the highest level of singular power in our country when considering how capital influences every stage of the political process. So when a person like Bernie Sanders comes along and funds his campaign through grassroots organization and claims to only take donations from people, not groups or institutions, it is easy to get swept up in that momentum. And when Sanders was swept from the table leaving the first female nominee of a major political party ready to take the final steps towards the Presidential Office, it is also easy for me to hedge. Or to say: I don’t want to vote for a person supported by the corporate world. Our democracy is in trouble, and she represents exactly as what I see the problems to be.

Yet, what if I have voted in every election since 2000—every election since I was old enough to vote—when George W. Bush faced off against Al Gore, because those elections, I thought, had drastic implications for America.

I have to ask myself. What has really changed since 2000? Had Bernie Sanders ran his campaign in 2004 and failed to achieve the nomination of the Democratic Party, would I then have not, from the sweltering heat of Guantanamo Bay, cast my vote in that election? Would I have refused to vote during Barak Obama’s historic run?

I believe I would have voted in those elections, just the same, disillusioned or not. So again, I ask myself, what has changed? Hillary Clinton is what changed.

It is easy to sit and express voter apathy when things do not go exactly as I wish in an election. A time existed when I wouldn’t declare myself a Republican or a Democrat, but I do side with Democratic politics now. I have my entire life, to be honest, and I don’t mind sharing this. I don’t have any hatred or loathing for the other side, but I do know where my values are in terms of my political beliefs. And they have always aligned with the Democratic party.

Except this time. Why? Right. Hillary Clinton is what changed my mind.

Perhaps the problem rests with her scandal surrounding the emails. But then, I have to admit, as much as I have tried to parse out that scandal, as much as I have tried to fully understand it, I can’t. I had secret clearance during my time overseas in Guantanamo Bay, so I feel like I have some vague notion of protecting classified documents, but Clinton’s supposed lack of protection for a vast number of documents never made sense to me. Then, after a long FBI investigation, she was cleared of any wrong-doing. I’ve heard this is because she gets privileged treatment, but the more I think about how she is treated, the more I think: this is not how the privileged are treated.

Well, there is always Whitewater, right? The alleged charges that Clintons used campaign funds inappropriately. But ultimately, no evidence exists that these charges have any validity. And in the United States, the burden of proof is on the accuser, and after my year of working with “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay, who often turned out to be just men picked up and turned over with no evidence, then held against for years of their lives, I came home with a stalwart belief in the burden of proof. So why should that apply to everyone but Clinton?

She does take big donations from the evil Wall Street. Still, though, Wall Street manages the majority of Americans’ retirement plans. I suppose it makes sense to work with the people of Wall Street and not paint them as villains. They hold the collective, financial futures of America in their hands. I have a dark, angry spot in my heart for Wall Street, but I’m not a politician. I don’t need to work with them and protect the futures of my fellow citizens.

So what the hell is it? Her health? She apparently collapsed recently. But hasn’t she been endlessly campaigning? Is she the first potential candidate to have health problems? Andrew Jackson had bleeding lungs (and was a massive racist), FDR was partially paralyzed, Grover Cleveland was the textbook picture of poor health, John F. Kennedy had significant health issues, and Ronald Reagan’s health issues are widely known. So what is it about her health?

The answer has to be clear at this point: my change in political occurred, subconsciously, due to oppressive patterns of thought directed toward women in power. I have voted in every election since I was eighteen years old, and I know where my political values rest. Clinton’s record speaks for itself, and her values largely align with my own. That it took so much for me to see this is difficult for me.

The hillary_clinton_2016reason I didn’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton can only boil down to one, singular fact: she is a woman. While embarrassed, humiliated (and uncertain if I even want to share this horrible story) by this fact, I am glad I figured it out. I’m glad I’m over that oppressive line of thinking, and I hope this allows me to be more introspective in the future.

Female Affection – Naomi

I’m going to need some help developing this idea (if there is anything here at all). It seems as though there is allusion to or acknowledgement of sexual attraction or connection between female characters in each of the novels we’ve covered so far: The Return of the Soldier, Mrs. Dalloway, and Lolly Willowes.

It struck me that there was a brief moment of (perhaps) lesbian affection between Lolly Willowes and another witch with whom she was dancing at the Witches’ Sabbath. At the dance, Lolly is moving from partner to partner and finally connects with Emily. “Laura liked dancing with Emily … They whirled faster and faster, fused together like two suns that whirl and blaze in a single destruction. A strand of the red hair came undone and brushed across Laura’s face. The contact made her tingle from head to foot. She shut her eyes and dived into obliviousness …” (175). Previous to this interaction, Lolly does not have an intimate connection to anyone she comes across; even to the several men whom her brother tries to set her up with. Although, I understand that writing is not strictly autobiographical, knowing that the author herself found companionship with a woman makes me wonder if there is perhaps some nod to that in the text.

In Mrs. Dalloway, the title character also has a moment of self-reflection as she remembers her love of another woman, Sally Seton. While at first, Clarissa’s internal monologue reflects that “on looking back, was the purity, the integrity, of her feeling for Sally. It was not like one’s feeling for a man” (33), she goes on to describe how Sally “kissed her on the lips” (35). The feelings that stirred in her were profound: “The others disappeared; there she was alone with Sally. And she felt that she had been given a present, something infinitely precious, wrapped up, which, as they walked (up and down, up and down), she uncovered, or the radiance burnt through, the revelation, the religious feeling!” (35). Again, this writing is done by an author who had a female lover.

The female connection in The Return of the Soldier is very different. After concluding that the truth must be told to Chris, Jenny and Margaret share a kiss: “We kissed, not as women, but as lovers do” (116). This seemed to come out of nowhere as I read the book, and indeed did not come up again. In this instance, Jenny and Margaret both loved the same man, perhaps mirroring West’s love affair with a married H.G. Wells.

Most of my classical reading from this time period is by male authors, so this is some of the first exposure I’ve had to early twentieth century British female authors. This trend is interesting as it may connect other things going on socially (ie. women’s suffrage). I’m interested to see if others found this as well, or if it is coincidence.

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Lolly Willowes. 1926. The New York Review of Books, 1999.

West, Rebecca. The Return of the Soldier. 1918Broadview Editions, 2010.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. Harcourt, 2005.

What’s In A Name?

Everyone at some point or another is addressed by a title or a nickname that differs from our own birth name. This was something that I never really thought about before reading Lolly Willowes. In the novel, Laura was oppressed by her family and the societal expectations that were forced on her for years. This oppression came in many forms, especially in her nickname Aunt Lolly.

It might seem weird to think of a title, especially one as playful sounding as Aunt Lolly, as a form of oppression, but this name became a burden for Laura. “Aunt” is not a title that a person is born with, rather it is something that is placed upon them. It characterizes a person by being someone’s sister, and not necessarily being a separate person. In the OED Online, “aunt” is defined as “The sister of one’s father or mother” (def. 1a). This title, while it may be endearing, takes away the individuality of a person and essentially turns them into an object. I think that the same thing happens with Clarissa in Virginia Wolfe’s novel when she is called “Mrs. Dalloway.” These titles are used to see women as objects instead of people. And more importantly, they become objects belonging to specific people. In Laura’s case, this title ensures that she and everyone else knows her place. She is her brother’s sister. And this means that she was burdened with certain responsibilities. She was expected to be a caretaker of children that were not hers, pious, frugal, and obedient. These responsibilities were lifted from Laura she made her escape from London to Great Mop, but they were thrust onto her again immediately when Titus came to live there. In the novel, Laura showed great contempt for Titus being there because it forced her back into her old position, “When she was with him she came to heel and resumed her old employment of being Aunt Lolly” (Warner 149). Immediately this title of being “Aunt Lolly” thrust the dull and restricting responsibilities that Laura was trying to escape back onto her.

Escaping this oppression led Laura into the service of the Devil because she wanted to be free of a title that restricted her. Laura explained to the Devil that she did not become a witch because she was evil, but instead, she said: “It was to escape all that– to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others” (Warner 215). This novel is about a search for freedom, and to attain that freedom Laura, and other women, had to shed the titles and expectations that society placed on them. In Laura’s case this led to her becoming a witch, but in reality, this led to women becoming actual people instead of an assumed object.

 

“aunt, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 21 September     2016.

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Lolly Willowes. New York Review Books, 1999.

In Defense of Kitty

Over the course of the novel, it seems as though Jenny presents a very negative view of Kitty and of Kitty and Chris’s marriage. Kitty is presented as caring only of her appearance, looking down on Margaret when she calls, and practically vapid. Jenny criticizes Kitty’s time spent in the empty nursery and towards the end of the novel adopts the opinion that Kitty and Chris’s marriage is loveless.

At first, I was on board with this vilification. Kitty appeared as though she were a self-centered, high class woman who was only concerned with her image and personal desires. She has Jenny brush her hair for her and has rearranged and redecorated the entire Baldry estate. I practically cheered as Chris ran to the arms of an earlier love. But as I thought more about the historical time and the feelings that Kitty might have had, my opinion changed.

By all accounts, Kitty is a woman of some social substance prior to marrying into the Baldry family. As such, she would have been trained to be the lady of a household and to outwardly portray all that society demanded of her. Even while receiving guests at the start of the novel, she says, “I’m seeing [Margaret] because she may need something, and I specially want to be kind to people while Chris is away” (52). She is dutifully fulfilling the role that her station in life has thrust upon her. Kitty does all of this while pining for her husband who has gone off to a known bloody war. Additionally, she ensures that the house is running in proper order and that when Chris returns a meal is waiting for him.

When Chris does return, Kitty is faced with the fact that he has forgotten their entire marriage and is in love with a prior fiancé, whom she had no knowledge existed. This is further complicated by the telegram she reads which states that Chris said, “I don’t like little women and I hate everybody, male or female, who sings” (62). Not only has her husband forgotten her completely, but now she questions whether he ever really loved her or was lying about his fondness for her singing.

The final point that moved me to immense sympathy for Kitty is the death of Oliver and her inability to conceive further children. She clearly has trouble accepting the loss of her son as she sits in a furnished nursery that is complete save the child it housed. This grief is exacerbated by the knowledge that no other child will ever take up residence in that room.

At the end of the novel, Kitty is joyous at the “return” of her husband because it means some semblance of balance is returning to what truly appears to be an unhappy life.

–Naomi Johnson

 

Meninsky, Bernard. Study of a mother and a baby. 1918, gouache on card, private collection.

Some Big Picture Queries

  1. What is Britishness and how does it change or amalgamate over time? How do notions of Nation, Nationalism, and duty inform our comprehension of Britishness?
  2. What impact does Empire and Imperialism still have on our readings of British Literature? What implicit ideologies must we make ourselves aware?
  3. How do attitudes about and constructions of femininity and masculinity feature in the works we read? How do they change or stay the same across the decades?
  4. How does literary style change and what informs those changes?
  5. What themes/political issues/social concerns persist across the literature we read this semester? What becomes less important, de-emphasized? What becomes more vital?
  6. What needs to happen within the critical conversations (scholarly debates) to widen our understanding and interpretations of these works, especially those for which there is little critical attention?

Feel free to use these questions as starting points for your thinking about the content. You may use these questions to springboard your posts, response papers, and projects. You may also add to this list by contributing more questions and comments to this post, and I hope you will.