Wisdom Teeth

by Simon Cropp

In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, we are told stories of the histories of people under the terminology of root canals. The important formation of who characters are in this novel, such as Archie and Samad, Irie, and Clara, is linked to the metaphor of teeth and how possibly the procedure of removing decay from the roots of their heritage.

Allow me a digression:

And this reminds me of my own uprooting, when my wisdom teeth had to be removed. Wisdom teeth are the last sets of teeth to grow in, and they’re often impacted, so later in life, almost all of us have to have the dreaded procedure.

I was 22 years old and didn’t have insurance that covered procedures;, so for me, the removal of wisdom teeth had to be a budgetary affair. My dentist said he knew a guy. Oral surgeon in training. Had to get a number of contact hours in to meet the requirements of his program, and removing wisdom teeth was considered something he could do unsupervised. I remember there was a rule he had to follow: no an anesthesia. I had to be awake for the procedure. But people do it this way I was told. He’d give me a Valium, I’d feel like I was asleep, all would be right in the world.

I showed up for the day of the procedure with my friend Mike–as the Valium would render me likely incapable of driving. I remember now, the receptionist at the dental office had captured my withered, blackened heart at that time. She would look at me with these big blue eyes, smile, and I never heard a thing she said. Well, when I checked in, she said something like: “The doctor is running late. Run and get something to eat. Blue eyes, beautiful smile, blue eyes,” or something like that.

Mike took me to McDonalds and we pounded down a couple of McDoubles, because, you know, I was 22 and could do that.

We returned to the office, met the surgeon in training, and he asked where we’d been. I said, “Oh, since you were running late, the receptionist said to run and get a bite to eat or something. So we ate some cheeseburgers.”

The surgeon in training didn’t take this well. Began rubbing his balding head. He said, “Oh no, no, no, this won’t do at all. Not at all. We must reschedule.”

“Sir,” I said. “I am a manager at Blockbuster video–to get this time off–today and three more days in a row for recover–that was a feat, I tell you! Why must we reschedule?”

“You ate! You can’t eat before this. The Valium won’t work. You can take it, but it won’t work. Your cheeseburgers might get tranquilized, but you, my friend, will not.”

“But she said…” my friend Mike said gesturing to the receptionist.

“I said something like bread,” she said from behind the counter. Blue eyes, smile, blue eyes. Anger too! Oh no.

My mind scrambled. “I’ll take the pill. It’ll work. You’ll see.”

Despite his hesitation, the oral surgeon agreed. And we were off. I took the pill, went back to the room, rested in the chair, and sure enough, I began to feel something. A stirring in my brain. A numbing in my body. I knew it would work.

The procedure began. And all that something I had felt before, that numbing? It fled. Ran away. As the surgeon jacked my mouth open with some device that wouldn’t allow me to clamp down–after he numbed me–he began digging in my gums. And wisdom teeth, it turns out, don’t just come out a tooth. They come out in pieces. They are cracked and broken and jackhammered, and pieces of teeth and blood sprayed on his mask. Sweat formed on his brow.

All effects of the Valium gone, I suppose he saw something reflecting in my eyes. Horror? He brought in a second assistant. She sat down in a chair beside me and just held my hand. He brought in a woman to hold my hand! I didn’t flinch, though. I let him work. For two hours he removed slivers and chunks of gigantic teeth, but it was the roots, he said, the roots were the biggest he’d ever seen. Like the roots of a horse tooth. He brought in the beautiful receptionist and my friend Mike to look at my impressive roots.

So much pain, black smoke pouring from my mouth, but I continued on, wondering what it would be like to have real insurance.

Finally, he stopped. He took off his tooth and blood-soaked mask and said, “There is one tooth left. Upper right. I cannot do this anymore. It is too much. That tooth is not impacted. So it will remain. I cannot subject you to this anymore.”

“I can handle it,” I said around the mouth apparatus.

“You are stitched and sewn, here are two subscriptions for Vicodin. You will need them. Don’t talk or the stitching will break. Keep gauze in your mouth so clots can form. I will be here the rest of the day before returning to Denver. Call if you need anything.”

So Mike and I left. I felt particularly strong that day. Like I had done something most people hadn’t done. So I continued to play that role. I acted as if there were no pain. Of course, I filled the prescriptions. I b.s.’d with Mike, told him that’s how a man does an operation. Mike told me to stop talking. At the time I thought he was concerned I would break my stitching, in retrospect, I think he didn’t want to hear what I was saying.

I did break my stitching from talking too much. We had to go back to the oral surgeon in training that Friday afternoon. We caught him in the parking lot as he was loading up his car to head back to Denver.

“You may have to go the emergency room,” he said. “I can’t numb you. All my equipment is loaded…”

I looked at him, looked at Mike, imagine blue eyes looking at me from somewhere, and I said, “Just do it. Just stitch it. No numbing.”

He did it. And it hurt. But whatever.

I learned something that day–a fundamental lesson to my own self, to my own sense of being and history. I learned to never eat McDonalds again.

But then, these painful extractions, these lessons and formations of who we are in distinct moments, is this not what Smith meant with her epigraph: “What is past is prologue.”

What I did not know that day cost me.

The F Word – Naomi

For much of my adult life, I have been very independent. After graduating from high school in Hawaii, I moved to Kentucky for my undergraduate work (yes, I know this sounds crazy on many levels). After I got my degree I moved to Colorado, because, why not? I made these choices on my own and I paid for it on my own. I have worked continuously from the time I was 16 until I turned 34 when I quit the career I obtained a Masters Degree for, the career I worked in for 12 years and was objectively good at. I quit this career which I had dedicated almost half of my life in pursuit of to be a housewife and stay at home mom. And when I made this announcement to my friends and family I heard a resounding intake of breath followed by the somewhat insulting question, “But I thought you were a feminist?”

Yes. I thought so too. And I am. But it depends on who you ask, I guess. In her essay “Feminism with a Small f”, Buchi Emecheta discusses some of her philosophy surrounding the concepts of feminism and what they mean to her. She writes, “Being a woman, and African born, I see things through an African woman’s eyes. I chronicle the little happenings in the lives of the African women I know. I did not know that by doing so I was going to be called a feminist. But if I am now a feminist then I am an African feminist with a small f” (175). So, maybe I am a white middle-class feminist with a medium f? Can feminism really be only one thing and does it matter who provides the definition?

This essay resonated with me, particularly the passage where she states, “We need more Golda Meirs, we need more Indira Gandhis, we even need more Margaret Thatchers. But those who wish to control and influence the future by giving birth and nurturing the young should not be looked down upon. It is not a degrading job” (180). Making the choice to stay home with my children was an incredible privilege and I recognize that. And that does not make my contribution to society any less than if I had stayed in the workforce and put my children in daycare. I have struggled with feeling like I’m doing a great thing for my kids while at the same time feeling like I’ve been subordinating myself and degrading the work women have done for years to create equality with men.

I could continue rambling on about my fears surrounding what I’m doing to and for my three daughters. But I will end by saying that Emecheta confirmed in me that I am neither doing something extraordinary, nor am I doing something derogatory by choosing to nurture my children at home.

Emecheta, Buchi. “Feminism With A Small ‘f’!.” African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory. 173-185. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

Breaking the Chains of Domesticity

Something that struck me in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, is the way the protagonist Adah used domesticity as a form of strength instead of a crutch. In class this semester we often discussed the norms of society within twentieth century Britain, and a lot of those norms discussed are oppressive to women. The sphere of women that we discussed is in the realm of the home where she is usually wife, mother, and homemaker. We have seen women who have fallen into this norm and lost their individual identity, such as Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway, and women who have rebelled against the norm, but disgusted readers, like Deborah from To Bed with Grand Music. Adah is a different type of woman. She remains in the domestic sphere, but she uses that to empower and motivate herself.

Adah is often called a second class citizen, and not just in that she is black, but also that she is a woman. Adah does not let this discourage her though. Instead, her status as a mother, a homemaker, and a provider for her children empowers her. Perhaps Adah’s resilience can be attributed to the “Presence” that she felt so strongly in her when she was seeking an education. This “Presence” helped Adah overcome her own doubts about her limitations and her abilities; “’You are going, you must go and to one of the very best schools; not only are you going, you’re going to do well there,’ Adah heard the Presence telling her” (Emecheta 20). This “Presence” becomes synonymous with Adah’s will, and it refuses to let her give up despite her situation. Adah is also different from other female protagonists because she does not let her children act as a burden to her. She recognizes that by having children that doing simple things like working and finding an apartment are going to be more difficult, but she does not condemn or blame her children for that. Adah often tells the reader that her children are the only thing of worth that Francis ever gave her, and she sees potential in her children.

Adah’s character offers a new and refreshing way to look at women. Instead of being held prisoner by domesticity Adah uses it to her advantage.

Emecheta, Buchi. Second Class Citizen. George Braziller Inc., 1974.

Samantha Hudspeth

 

To Bed Without Shame

Simon Cropp

In Marghanita Laski’s To Bed With Grand Music, the reader is likely to ask significant questions about the moral quality of Deborah. Here resides a married woman that not only sleeps around, but she seemingly has no true interest in her child except as a tool to further her conquests.

to-bed

The issue with demonizing a character like Deborah comes from a very real place of shaming those who are not in line with society’s modern moral views. And morals, while often believed to be divinely inspired, are more often self-imposed, culturally created constructs used to control.

The woman who cheats on her deployed husband.. Women still have been assigned terrible labels and stereotypes if they play to this trope. Just scroll down and read some of the [warning: explicit] comments at the bottom of that linked post. The responses to the person who wrote that post aren’t, I can’t think, truly protecting a divinely inspired sense of morality.

But a culturally imparted morality used to keep certain segments of our population in control.

I wonder then if Friedrich Nietzsche, when he writes in Geneology of Morals, “Morality seems bound up with obligation, with codes and rules, and somehow I don’t see the ‘blond beasts of prey’ kowtowing to rules (any more than to a social contract),” speaks of how the blond beast of prey, is that next step is breaking free from moral contracts. How women like Deborah are treated in real life, in the novel, is cruel and sickening, and to say it comes from a place of morality is merely a perversion of morality. If Deborah sees herself as unfit to be a mother, a Wife, then she has that right to be who she is without the constructs of a puritanical society shaming her into a place of isolation. Isolation, namely, from all relationships except those of a sexual nature.thou_shalt_vs_i_will_by_shton-d853mhw

Morality is a cultural code. And I wonder, looking at Nietzsche’s quote again, if he believed in not morals (or better morals), but this evolution of the metaphor of the lion (the blond headed beast), and ultimately the child–which makes us better people. Not better moral constructs.

Mrs. Chalmers

Mrs. Chalmers, one of the many interesting characters in Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music, is a widow whose husband died while serving in the navy. When we discussed the various categories of women in the novel (mother, wife, mistress, and widow), the only widow we discussed was Mrs. Betts. I think it is important to consider the role Mrs. Chalmers plays as well. She is a widow without children of her own, that would seem to make her redundant (in this society) since she cannot fill either of the two roles Mrs. Betts prescribes to women—wife and mother. Mrs. Chalmers, one might guess, is free. She appears to be a woman outside of the strict categories imposed on her by society. Mrs. Chalmers, however, desperately tries to be a mother to Timmy. There are several moments throughout the text where Mrs. Chalmers feelings about Timmy are clear. Quite early in the text, though, Mrs. Chalmers agrees to Deborah going to London to look for a job. The narrator informs us that she would have agreed to anything “so long as it would bring closer her ultimate possession of Timmy” (Laski 20). Mrs. Chalmers doesn’t simply care for Timmy; she wants to possess him. Her desire to own Timmy reflects a desire to go back and fill the role she missed, the role of mother. Despite her opportunity to escape, Mrs. Chalmers tries desperately to fill one of the two roles, as if there is nothing else for women at this time. Mrs. Chalmers does not know what to do or be if she cannot be either wife or mother. Interestingly, Deborah, who is both a wife and a mother, is the one who is able to escape these strict female roles. Deborah can escape her role as mother because Mrs. Chalmers is there to be mother to Timmy.

Laski, Marghanita. To Bed with Grand Music. Persephone Books, London.

-Rebecca

 

Sleeping Around

Something that made me uncomfortable reading To Bed with Grand Music is the way that readers respond to Deborah. I am including myself in on this, because despite all of my reasoning and all of the class discussion, I still can’t get behind the character. I know somewhere in my mind that Deborah is not an awful person, but there is always still something nagging at me and telling me that I can’t support a protagonist like her. I don’t agree with all of the choices that Deborah makes, but sometimes I forget that Grant gives Deborah permission to cheat on him when he says “I don’t want to promise to you I’ll be physically faithful to you . . . I’ll never let myself fall in love with anyone else . . . Darling will you promise me the same” (Laski 2). Grant is just as much to blame as Deborah for the situation, and he is probably doing the same thing as Deborah, but the blame still falls on her. Even so, Deborah’s character doesn’t seem like a good person to me, and I think that it is because we have been conditioned to think that way.

There are so many double standards when it comes to sex in regards to men and women. If a man sleeps around he is a legend, but if a woman sleeps around she is a slut. Growing up I always heard “If a key unlocks multiple locks you call it a master key. But if a lock opens for any key it is useless.” This is such an unfair way to think about sex, and it puts women in such a tough position. This way of thinking tells women that even though sex is natural they aren’t meant to enjoy it because they don’t have a penis. I grew up in a world where I was conditioned to look down on women who slept around, and I think that is why I have the underlying problem with Deborah. Society is moving in the right direction in terms of gender equality, but I think that we still have a long way to go if the issues of women having sex are still prevalent today.

Laski, Marghanita. To Bed with Grand Music. 1946. Persephone Books, 2009

Samantha Hudspeth

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.

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.

 

The Biggest Lie?

I feel that I have to start out by praising Swastika Night. This is by far my favorite of all the books that we have read so far in class. There is so much depth in this book that I am sad that we only have one class period to cover it.

One of the things that interested me most about this novel is the ideas about religions that are present. As I was reading the novel I looked up some of the names associated with the deity figure of Hitler. One of his associates who I found most intriguing was Goebbels, who had also been recorded as a legend among the Germans. Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, and his policy (I found debate about whether this was actually his policy or someone else’s), was that a lie repeated often and forcibly gains legitimacy as truth. This was fascinating to me because it reminds me so much of religion. I don’t intend to persecute religion in this blog, but religion has severe impacts on people.

People look for something to believe in beyond themselves, and religion is a great way to control people. That is not to say that all religions are lies, but that people tend to use religion as a means to whatever end they see fit. That is why there are books that are not included in the Bible, why pagan mythology is integrated into the Christian religion, and why in the Hitlerian society women are only above worms and Christian women. The Germans wanted a society that was dominated by men and manliness and to do this, women are pushed out of the picture. The Germans then used religion to create a perfect deity who had no connections to femininity at all “Who was not begotten, not born of a woman, but exploded” (Burdekin 5). And by using this model of creation women became disposable to society. I imagine that anyone who openly opposed the myth of Hitler in this tyrannical society is forced to correct themselves after being severely punished. After a time it seems only natural that this would become truth, and I think it works this way with many religions.

Something else that struck me in terms of religion was the way that the Hitlerian religion borrowed so heavily from the Christian mythology that they despised so much. In the Hitler Bible Roehm is a traitor, and von Hess describes him as a “Judas” saying, “Judas is in the Christian religion. The friend of Jesus who betrayed him.Roehm was a man who either did rebel against Hitler soon after he came to power, or did not rebel and was killed for some other reason” (Burdekin 137). There are so many areas of overlap between the two religions, yet there is so much hate between the two. This is present in the real world in terms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of whom incorporate the Abraham arc into their religion. I found looking at the Hitlerian religion comparatively with Christianity was fascinating because it parallels so much with religious conflict in society, and I think this is intentional.

Burdekin’s novel has so much to say about society, and I find it amazing that some of what she is critiquing or commenting on, like religion, still is so relevant today.

Burdekin, Katharine. Swastika Night. The Feminist Press, 1985.

Samantha Hudspeth

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.