heart_in_the_margins: (Counterproductive)
I have way more issues with this novel than I thought I was going to. Triggers for sexual assault and victim blaming as well as pervasive misogyny and all the worst parts of rape culture behind the cut.

And also spoilers. )

And now the brief list of things I should probably also talk about in my orals meeting:
-- loss of rural ways of life and livelihood (especially with the advent of more mechanized farming) 
-- nature vs. culture as Pagan vs. Christian (+ convention)
-- science, history, and "deep time" (both the d'Urberville lineage and the temporal span of nature)
heart_in_the_margins: (Hardworking)
For one of my classes this semester, I get to write two short (10-page) papers instead of one long paper, and I'm taking this option even though it means that I have houseguests in the week leading up to the paper deadline and really need to write it over spring break.

The first paper I plan to write started out as something of an inquiry. There's a lot of research on the emergence of public social spaces in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in Great Britain (and to a lesser extent on the Continent), specifically places like the coffee house, which was essentially (if research and contemporary reporters are to be believed) a space where intelligent men would go to partake in civil debates over the major issues of the day. Most coffee houses subscribed to periodicals, and some even had small lending libraries. Reports suggest that the coffee house leveled the playing field between members of different ranks; though most of the people who frequented them were at least in what we might now think of as the upper middle class, petty bourgeois could effectively argue with minor nobility and if the nobility complained or tried to pull rank, they were teased for not following the unspoken rules of the coffee house, where the man with the best argument won.

The thing is, these spaces -- along with the emerging periodical culture that both described them and gave them material for their debates -- were intensely male homosocial spaces. The papers like the Tatler and the Spectator that often set their proceedings in coffee houses were obviously not restricted to a male readership, but they address their audience through a form that ties them very closely to this masculine space that no respectable women would dare to enter. (The only women allowed were the ones who sold the coffee.) The emerging public sphere and the critical debate that it fosters leaves women out.

This on itself isn't surprising -- hello, patriarchy! -- but in conjunction with some of the readings I've been doing for this class, it got me thinking about the ways in which women writers in this period (1690-1720ish?) see it as a problem that they have no access to a comparable female homosocial space. The rooms of their houses won't do, since those are rooms that on other days at other times might have male occupants, might bear the lingering traces of heterosociality like the coffee house (or like men's clubs) never would. Right now, I'm planning to write about the way in which women writers figure imagined or virtual spheres of female-only sociability, and consider in particular one writer who argues for the need to make these safe spaces a literal reality.

Overview of texts I want to cover:

--Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest (1696): Astell proposes creating a "female monastery" where women would be secluded from the world in a pastoral retreat where they would gain religious and intellectual instruction from other women. Perhaps most interesting to me is her insistence on the need for a physical retreat from the world. Though she gives many reasons for it, the one that strikes me most forcefully is essentially an argument that it will preserve women from sexual assault: "here Heiresses and Persons of Fortune may be kept secure from the rude attempts of designing Men; And she who has more Money than Discretion, need not curse her stars for being expos'd a prey to bold importunate and rapacious Vultures" (Astell 165). I imagine that in many ways this text will be at the center of the argument I begin to build, though it will likely be the last text I cover in my paper, because it's the one that suggests why a virtual or imagined space of sociability isn't enough; women need the physical protection offered by real-world female homosociality.

--Female-directed periodicals: I haven't read any of these yet, but I suspect I should. The ones I've been able to find so far include Delariviere Manley's The Female Tatler (1709-10), useful for its contemporaneity with the periodicals that were really shaping and defining the male social sphere, and Eliza Haywood's The Female Spectator (1744-6), which is published much later than its namesake but might be interesting as an endpoint of this paper. 

--Margaret Cavendish, Sociable Letters (1664): I've only read one of these letters so far, but it's a fascinating one. I think Cavendish will end up fitting into my paper as a representative of the argument that letter-writing (which if I'm not mistaken does have a specifically feminine valence at this point) presents a virtual community of women, which is not only sufficient to the needs of women but perhaps even superior to men's gatherings in the public sphere. This is a hypothesis that will need to be tested, but the one letter I have read suggests that the Civil War is entirely the cause and concern of men, whereas women are somehow safely removed from it: "though there hath been a Civil War in the Kingdom, and a general War amongst the Men, yet there hath been none amongst the Women, they have not fought pitch'd battels" (Cavendish 61). This suggests to me the possibility that it is the very virtuality of the female social sphere that makes it a valuable place, and specifically a place where friendship can be maintained despite differences (in contrast to the male social sphere, which emphasizes debate and disagreement). 

--Anne Finch, "The Petition for an Absolute Retreat" (1713): This pastoral poem is written to one of the poet's female friends, and celebrates a pastoral retreat as the space that makes female friendship possible. Definitely something to read in conjunction with the Astell, with which it has a lot in common. Interesting to me because it does mention Finch's husband and invites him to be present in the pastoral retreat space, but spends much more time talking about her friend, addressed in the poem as Arminda. **Also look into the other poems published in the same volume as this one?

--Mary Leapor, "Complaining Daphne. A Pastoral." (1751): Not actually sure if I would use this, since it might be smarter to stick to a tighter time period and I might want it to be an earlier one -- but it's interesting in that it ends with Daphne's call to her "Sylvan Sisters" and a promise to "bid the lordly Race Adieu" (ll. 108, 111) for their sake. Also interesting in that it's a self-consciously pastoral poem, which would help connect with Astell's pastoral retreat. (I also think it could be argued that Leapor chooses to name this nymph "Daphne" as a reference to the myth of Daphne and Apollo -- but here the girl is the pursuer, not the pursued, and when her love leaves, she decides to retreat to a society of women, and the poem supports her choice. Unlike the mythological Daphne, she is free from sexual violence.)
heart_in_the_margins: (Regency reader)
I'm a woman in academia so naturally sometimes I think about what, exactly, that means.

One of the other women in my cohort, N, has been working to put together some kind of women's forum within our department that would provide a safe space for informal discussion between grad students and professors about how gender figures both in our scholarly works and in or day-to-day lives. I don't think that the academic culture of my university is such that there are glaring problems with the way women are treated (as cis- and hetero-identified, I won't venture to attest to the way the atmosphere seems for any queer or trans* members, but I haven't heard any complaints), but even in the absence of glaring misogyny the patriarchy is real and a thing whose assumptions need to be challenged, even if only on a small level, on a daily basis. And sometimes that gets exhausting, and it's useful to talk with other people -- professors and peers -- who are engaged in the same sort of daily grind. I don't have time in my schedule to head up this thing myself, but I told N that I don't mind at all taking on a second-in-command role and I'm excited to see where this goes.

At any rate, we had a sort of trial meeting for this potential forum today and my current romanticism professor, A, spoke about her own experience as a woman in graduate school, particularly in classroom situations; she brought up a few interesting situations and scenarios that got me thinking, and that I want to record.

-- She made what I think is an interesting point about the relationship between pedagogy and privilege. A is a cis, hetero married woman who is also a member of an ethnic minority. She said that, especially in undergraduate classrooms, she tries to keep her sexuality her own business -- to the extent that she refers to her husband exclusively as her "partner" in the presence of students, because she doesn't want to be a glaring example of her own privilege as part of one type of majority; let her students assume what they will. On the other hand, she's typically more open about her status as a member of an ethnic minority. I really appreciated this because I've been thinking for a while about how a) I want gender-neutral relational words to become more popular as a way of unsettling or at least making apparent the gendering of language itself, and b) I don't want to "be" my sexuality to my students -- I want to be myself, which includes sexuality but isn't only sexuality, and I certainly don't want my students to think that, because I do identify as a cis hetero woman, I am unsympathetic to the concerns of people with different identities. 

-- We talked a bit about strategies for dealing with everything from small daily doses of patriarchy to outright in-your-face misogyny, and A related a story about a man in her grad school cohort who often used literary theory as a crutch for making horrendously misogynist statements. When certain of A's profs did nothing about this, the female students took it upon themselves to create what A called an "alternative hierarchy of expertise": instead of responding with rage to this man's misogyny and the failure of their professors to correct it, A and her cohort developed methods for turning his misogynist contributions into starting-points from which to affirm the knowledge of the women in the room. For example, one of A's friends had read all of Foucault in the original French, so if Mr. Misogynist ever tried to use Foucault to make a point, A or a member of her cohort would redirect the conversation to that friend based on her position of superior knowledge; if he started to talk politics, other women would ask A for her input because she's well-read in 19th-c political thought. In some ways it is tiring to always have to deflect, but I like this strategy because while it does work by deflection, it redirects power rather than changing the subject.

-- Then A shared a story that made me angry. Yes, the other ones made me angry, but in this case, I felt like the response she described -- and with which she seemed to agree -- was utterly inadequate. Mr. Misogynist gave a fairly phallocentric presentation on a Dickens novel; one of A's cohort-mates asked him a question which called him out on his failure to mediate this view, bringing up a couple of examples in the novel that contradicted it; his response was to turn to the professor of the course and say to her, sarcastically, "I thought you only let in smart people."

When I heard this retold I literally shuddered. What kind of idiot thinks he has the right to say that? To interact with the professor instead of the peer who's asked the question, to dismiss her body of knowledge outright, and to do it to her face and in front of a colloquy of her peers?! If I had been that professor, my response would have been some variation on, "Apparently not, since we let you in. Now get out of my classroom and don't come back until you can respect the intellectual validity of your peers." In A's retelling, however, the professor responded calmly, did not kick the student out of the class, and instead told him that his comment wasn't contributing to any kind of pedagogy and that he shouldn't speak if he couldn't contribute something of value to others.

I understand that rage typically isn't the kind of thing you want to present in a classroom. I understand that more respect is accorded to professors -- male or female -- who can deftly handle a situation. But I promise you, if I were in a similar position, I would have been furious and I would have let some of that anger show by critiquing this student to his face, since he felt it was alright for him to do the same to his fellow student.
heart_in_the_margins: (Regency reader)
I'm interested in Jane Austen's strange status with regards to literary period. Her life (1775-1818) straddles the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and although all of her published novels were released between 1811-1819, I'm always tempted to see her as the pinnacle of the eighteenth-century novelist, rather than the progenitor of the nineteenth-century novelist (though of course she can be both!). Yet the period that, like Austen, straddles these centuries and seems nicely to encompass her dates of birth and death -- namely, English Romanticism -- is one in which she isn't necessarily "at home." In this semester's course on romanticism and method, I'm hoping to write a seminar paper that will examine Austen's relationship to romanticism via a reading of Persuasion, which in many ways is her most obviously "romantic" novel.

One thing I think this reading would have to implicitly do is contrast the position of Austen as "romantic novelist" with that of Sir Walter Scott, who is far more often treated under this rubric, but this seems like a difficult task considering I still haven't read any Scott yet. (Oh, the joys of orals list writing...) And I'm actually more interested in thinking about the way Austen contrasts the mode of authorship she employs as a (female) novelist with the modes of authorship employed by famous (male) poets -- especially Wordsworth and Byron, with whom she's obviously in some kind of oblique conversation during Persuasion (both are discussed and/or quoted by Anne in the novel). Scott actually becomes interesting again in this context because Austen's references to Scott in Persuasion are to his poetry, not to his prose! There isn't ever a suggestion that Austen disliked Scott or thought of him as a competitor -- in fact I seem to remember her rather enjoying his novels? will need to check her letters -- but the fact that he's represented he by his poetry and not by his prose suggests that Austen is interested in differentiating authorship across genres.

Sources to consult:

James Chandler, England in 1819: Why does Scott have such a large position when Austen is thoroughly absent? What does this say about the priorities of romanticism and/or romantic studies?

Mary Favret, War at a Distance: read the chapter on Persuasion; although this brings Austen into a history of romanticism, Favret's notion of romanticism is a bit stretchy and stretches into the modern period; when reading Persuasion as romantic because of its thematic treatment of war, what other modes for reading the novel as romantic (or potentially refusing to term the novel romantic?) are lost?

Adela Pinch, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion from Locke to Hume: read chapter on Persuasion and the emotional insulation of books and quotation

General questions:

What kinds of definitions of romanticism are likely to involve Austen and which aren't? Do romanticisms which include Austen seem to still possess a kind of internal integrity? How do they do that if they do, and why not if they don't?

Is Austen's interest in modes of authorship and authorial presentation romantic, or novelistic, or both? Where do we draw those boundary lines? What might we learn from drawing them differently?

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