On Utopia and the loss of our privacy

I really can’t apologise enough on my appalling dedication to my blog recently. The usual justifications of job, exams, essays and just too much core reading has really eaten away at my time and I know they are not acceptable but I am truly sorry. Despite not posting anything I have been making notes on pieces of literature that I have studied that I have found particularly engaging and interesting so hopefully I will have quite a few posts to upload over the next couple of weeks – although, yes, I am sorry, I still have two essays and two presentations looming on the horizon, before March is out I should be liberated from work for a while.

In a Utopian world I would have all the time I could possibly desire to keep my blog updated and interesting, but sadly contemporary England is far from the case. Similarly the England Thomas More lived through with Henry VIII and his multitude of women is far from the Utopian one he has imagined in his pioneering book Utopia. 

What really took me back when I read this novel (if it can be classified as a novel I am not entirely sure; it seems to be a hybrid of the essay format that was popular in Fifteenth Century Europe and extended prose) was how distinctly modern More’s ideas are. Living in a post-Marxist and post-Communist world it is difficult to separate from our current mindset. Plans to educate women as well as men, the introduction of limited work time and leisure time to encourage the creation of moral citizens. The rotation of labour to ensure that nobody is left having to tend the fields their whole life while others sit and glory at their unjustly inherited wealth.

I don’t want this to turn into a discussion on inequality and poverty because although Utopia does raise substantial questions and problems on this topic I feel that it is not that interesting. Moreover it is also a subject that is so current and seems to underpin human nature that dwelling on it is only likely to inspire us to want to change the world, and then upon realising that this is unlikely to happen, to become depressed, demoralised and hate all of humanity.

Social media constitutes our private and public selves

Our private and public selves are constructed by social media

However, I would like to offer a comment on the treatment of gender in this fictional society. More has created a world in which gender is fairly imaginary and only recognised for practicality. For example, men and women are ordered to appear naked to each other before they consent to marriage to ensure that they are both satisfactorily pleased with their partner. Although this seems highly obtrusive to our modern ideas of physical privacy, in contemporary England this would have been practical. I guess it is comparable to the use of social media in our lives today, the role that instagram and tumblr play in keeping the world aware of their everyday activities act in a similar way to the penetrative communal society More has imagined. Not through the mediums that More would have predicted, but modern day society is effectively and rapidly reducing the scope of our inner lives by making it easier for us to display everything about ourselves. What is more, it is making it an inherent and compulsive element of our lives – if we don’t upload the latest photos from last nights dinner then the world will somehow cataclysmically implode from the lack of photos on instagram with the hashtag #food.

More’s penetrative society is entirely public, the separate spheres theory is rendered useless in Utopia because there is no sense of the domestic. Men and women are on display for their entire lives and they have no choice but to conform. The performative nature of our society is removed in More’s which is essentially what makes it equal and deserving of the name Utopian. Benjamin Richardson in 1876 claimed that “Utopia is nothing but another word for time,” perhaps at some point in the development of the world we will reach the stage in the fictional Utopia where everything is public that it no longer ceases to be public and the notion of public itself disappears. With the removal of the public is also the removal of the private, and perhaps this is the path we are already headed down…

Birdsong – an epic?

I apologise for my lack of posts recently, but I was working at the Wimbledon Championships which was an amazing experience, especially with Murray winning! I feel unbelievably proud to have been part of such an historic event and so I hope you can forgive me for not keeping up to date with my blog. The good news is however that I was able to do a large amount of reading across the fortnight – there was rather a lot of travel involved as well as waiting around in queues for various things.

I managed to tackle a rather voluminous work: Birdsong. This is one of those everyone-must-read-before-they-die books or everyone-must-read-in-order-to-know-our-past-better books. Truly amazing. The first world war is often a very difficult subject to talk about, with the vast amount of lives lost, and the destruction it caused not to just to humanity but to the countries involved, the world economy and international relations. Sebastian Faulks has very cleverly built up characters that we not only sympathise with and back to survive through the war, but we are also able to see them change.

The non-linear narrative enables Faulks to jump around with the plot, revealing sections about Wraysford’s life before the war, then during, then skipping ahead to his granddaughter’s path of historical discovery – which moments before we had been living through his eyes. This style effectively reveals subtle layers of the characters’ personalities and histories without being blunt and direct. It gives depth. They become real characters, with lineages with future possibilities. It also allows the reader to subconsciously compare the decisions of Isabelle and Elizabeth, who live extremely different lifestyles, France 1910 and then England 1978 both find themselves unmarried and pregnant.

Men at war.

Men at war.

This really is not just a love story. It is an epic love story. It is in itself and epic. The novel covers such a vast period of time and lives and people that it isn’t really a novel. It has the important historical element to it too, the war is the crux of the plot, it holds the story all together. The opening in 1910 is foreshadowed by the readers knowledge that the war will follow four years later and then all the characters are directly affected by it. As I have said it is an epic, but sometimes it does go on and drag a little. The descriptions of the war scenes and the life of the men in the trenches is often times repetitive and full of similarities – but I guess trench life was mundane and repetitive.

I cannot recommend this more highly, for those who dislike historical fiction, this is also a romance and for those of you who don’t like romance, there is so much death, destruction and loss that it counterbalances any love affairs early on. And for those of you who like the sound of it but don’t like the length, I really recommend the BBC adaptation that came out last year with Eddie Redmayne. Amazing.

On surviving revision with creepy children and the world of Disney

Finishing exam season is just one of the best feelings. I now have so much free time on my hands, not that I was ridiculously rushed of me feet before; but now I am even less busy. Which means I can stop neglecting the blog and all the other activities I used to do for fun. I can read…FOR FUN!

This post doesn’t really have a known destination, it is more of a waffle/ramble of my ponderings. I did see a great article on the metro during the week that I wanted to bring to light on here however. It was the 10 creepiest things that children have said.

Creepy children

While I was in my darkest hour of revision this really brightened up my day. There really are some shockers on here though, ranging from a 7 year old giving dating advice, to a 3 year old threatening to throw her new baby brother in the fire. Images of the Omen and Sixth Sense are interspersed with the quotes the public sent in, just to add that extra touch of creepy.

I would also like to share this youtube video that really saved my sanity. I had never really thought about what would have happened realistically to the Disney characters after the films were over, and if, of course they were real. Being a huge Disney fan all my life, and probably for the rest of my life (I have won many Disney quizzes, my knowledge of the songs is pretty unmatched I would like to point out!) it just hadn’t occurred to me that anything bad could happen in their utopia’s.

Not only are the lyrics nothing short of pure genius, the harmonies are pretty spot on too, the choice of Disney princesses were perfect. Belle being accused of bestiality, Aladdin captured by the CIA as a terrorist. This song only gets better the more you listen, not to mention the catchy lyrics, just like the Disney songs themselves.

"I'd like her better if she'd lose at cards"

“I’d like her better if she’d lose at cards”

While I am on the topic of favourite childhood films that have stayed with us till now, although not DIsney, The Swan Princess will forever be important. The songs are amazing, although a typical love story that doesn’t particularly bend any social conventions, or is new or original in any other respect, it is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways I can think of spending an hour and a half – as long as people around me can put up with my singing…otherwise I will be made to watch it on my own. Although I am corrupting my youngest brother, he too now loves the film which proves it is not just for the females.

My review of the Gatsby film will be out very soon now that I will finally have the time to go and watch it!

Feminism and The Yellow Wallpaper

Women. Females. Men. Males. What really is the difference between them. Gender and sex, another two words that seem to be pretty interchangeable in our society, and yet they both mean completely different things. But that one word, that word that has so much negativity attached to it, needs to be corrected.

Feminism.

A status was posted onto facebook about Angelina Jolie’s recent operation: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad Pitt today after the news about Angelina Jolie”. I like to hope that this was just an inconsiderate and poorly worded post and that the painfully obvious sexist undertone was a mistake. Sadly, I doubt it. The double mastectomy was to decrease her risk in getting breast cancer. If anyone was able to prevent a potentially painful, horrific, upsetting and stressful event, they would. This post also follows on from the lecture by Jackson Katz I wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is the problem is that sexism is embedded so deeply within our society, due to years of patriarchy that it almost acts incognito. Often going unrecognised and with an invisibility cloak.

Feminism is not bad. It is not a movement of bra-burning, hairy misandristic’s who would do anything to see men pay for what they have made women suffer over the years. No. Simply no. Ok, that is a fairly exaggerated statement, and I am sure that most men understand that feminists just want equality. But what also seems apparent is that there are a lot of women who are unaware of what feminists want. That is the problem. A woman who is not a feminist is like saying they are happy to be second best. When in fact there is no best, because there is no competition. Or at least there should not be.

In Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ short story The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist, narrator (possibly called Jane, although it is not explicitly stated, so for all intents and purposes she is not given a name), is locked in the attic of her house as a treatment for her hysteria, which turns out to be nothing more than post-natal depression. She is prevented from writing because it tires her out too much, and so her only pleasure is taken away in order to help her recover. Her husband John is also her physician. He has prevented her from using her imagination as he fears that it will only cause her condition to deteriorate, but it does so because she is not allowed to use it, and so does it in secrecy. The story is written in the form of her diary entries and so skips around a bit, is rushed in places when she can hear her husband approaching.

To the kitchen.

To the kitchen.

To me, this novella is a criticism of the patriarchal society and the way it is organised. Jane, or the narrator, or just another Victorian woman notices a woman trapped in the yellow wallpaper that covers her room. It isn’t until she makes the connection between herself and the wallpaper woman that she realises that all women are trapped within their marriages and the societal conventions. That women have to creep around, avoid breaking the social rules, lurk in the corner. In order for the narrator to realise this, she has sadly lost herself. She no longer is just imagining these dark things, but is actually experiencing them, in some form of breakdown. She cannot return to the life she had before with her husband, she has noticed the cracks, the invisibility cloak has been removed.

Charlotte Gilman Perkins was a utopian feminist. Writing over 100 years ago she had her sights set high for the work that women could achieve. Granted there have been many improvements in most cultures around the world. But in no society has sexism been abolished, nowhere has sexual equality. Cultures have adapted to the reforms that feminists have pursued and forced into the public eye, but they are still very much controlled by men, for men.

Like the narrator in the novel, she was blind to the truth and then once it was discovered it completely altered the way she saw life. This is what we need. We all need the cloak to be revealed for us. Men and women together. Then we can deal with the changes together.

 

Losing my graphic novel virginity: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

Another one of the texts that will be making an appearance in my exam in a few weeks alongside The God of Small Things, Lunch Poems and various others is Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic novel. Surprisingly, I loved this book. I honestly cannot express how much I enjoyed reading it contrary to my expectations. Having never read a graphic novel before I didn’t know what to expect from it. I was unsure if the combination of images and writing would work effectively enough to portray the important issues that Bechdel was writing about.

But I could not have been more wrong. Not only did the form make the text simple and elegant to read but the images helped exaggerate what Alison was talking about in the text. My favourite example of this was at the end of the first chapter when Alison commented that the obelisk her father wanted instead of a headstone was ironic as it was a similar shape to a shape he enjoyed in real life…then just to make sure that all the readers picked up on the joke, the next page was dedicated to a single of image of a large obelisk, looking particularly phallic. Bechdel writes about pretty heavy-handed material. Death (or potential suicide), homosexuality, coming-out, growing up, a dysfunctional family. None of the subject matter is easy on the emotion. Yet expressing them through the medium of a graphic novel makes them more accessible and reader friendly.

The non-linear narrative means that we know her father is dead and that there were questionable circumstances around it, but we don’t know the full picture until the very end of the novel. Alison herself doesn’t seem to understand her father’s life until she has mapped it out for the reader, almost as if the text is her stream of consciousness. After his death she looks back and seems to evaluate her and her father’s lives, to try and notice if there were signs. Indications of what would follow. At the time she didn’t notice that her father would stare at the choir boys while they were in church. She didn’t notice that he had an overly friendly relationship with their gardener and babysitter. She also didn’t notice that her father wanted her to look pretty and dress up while all she wanted to do was wear boys clothes. I like this type of narrative. The kind that doesn’t make sense at the beginning, but it is interesting enough to draw you in and make you read on. Similar to The God of Small Things, it doesn’t make sense until you turn over the final page.

The eyes give everything away.

The eyes give everything away.

 

Perhaps I enjoyed this book more because it was my first graphic novel. In fact, although a thick book you could easily read it within a couple of hours because there is barely any text. After re-reading it I also discovered many other pieces of information, symbols and motifs that appear throughout which are not necessarily apparent the first time round. You may not even pay attention to the images whilst reading, or just look at the pictures and ignore the text. In fact, by  doing either you would still understand the plot of the text. Which is what just makes the book so fantastically clever. This could just be the medium acting here, and I being a graphic novel virgin I am unable to compare.

However after enjoying this so much I went ahead and ordered Bechdel’s follow up graphic novel Are you my mother? which I will be reading as soon as the exam season is over. Then perhaps I will be able to offer a less subjective opinion.

Dreams in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

I thought that it was about time that I tackled one of my favourites. I didn’t really want to review books that I unconditionally love because it leaves them open to attack, and I know that every book has its faults, none of them can be prefect because statistically speaking perfection cannot exist; but some of them are pretty darn close.

I recently wrote an essay on the function of dreams in Jane Eyre and it really got me thinking because there seems to be so much relevance, all the events in the novel are so perfectly interconnected and almost mystical that it seems like an obvious observation. Yet the first time I read the book, which has to be at least four years ago, I didn’t pick up on any of the uncanny elements of the text. To me it was just a romance, set in the my favourite time period. Jane was a strong-willed woman who was an inspiring character to both the reader and the other characters in the novel. She always followed her brain, often to the detriment of her heart, but she wanted independence – financially and socially. Once she had achieved this, she was able to wrap the story up with a marriage and happily ever after.

But Jane doesn’t have it easy. She is locked up by her aunts, attacked by her cousins, alienated for the entirety of the novel, even at times by the man she loves. Jane’s experience in the Red Room seems to establish her entire story and future, it is such an important part of her childhood that it influences her in later life. It pops up frequently throughout the novel, particularly involving the incidents with Bertha before her wedding. The Red Room symbolises Jane’s alienation and therefore warns her of her heart and her passions, it protects her from becoming dependent on other people. Jane wants to be independent and marry someone on equal terms, but being financially dependent on her husband is contrary to this.

On the search for independence

On the search for independence

Bertha is also an interesting dream-like character as for the majority of the novel she isn’t seen, isn’t even spoken about she is just heard and the consequences of her actions seen. She is entirely invisible, the madwoman in the attic, locked up because she is ‘crazy’. To some extent she is mad, setting the bed on fire and destroying Jane’s veil, but she is only this way because of her treatment. Abused, mistreated and confused. Jane relates to Bertha, she is the passionate side of her character, the side that let herself become dependent on Rochester, marry him and then be traded in for a younger model.

Of course I don’t read the book in such a cynical way, it is still a love story in my eyes – but something about Bertha and the haunting aspect of dreams has revealed the harshness of the text. Imperialism and the role that Britain played in the colonies is hinted at in the novel, with Bertha and Mason coming from Jamaica. The Lowood institution that Jane is sent to as a child is another example of Victorian cruelty and the expectations of children and orphans.

Yet despite all of that, the suggestions at a political agenda, the hauntings, dreams, deaths, the novel is still beautiful. It is written so eloquently, with Jane as a character dropping in and out of her opinions, talking to the reader as it makes the book personal. Jane is talking to you. Jane is in search for a man she can marry and live happily with, it just so happens that certain events have to get in their way before Edward Rochester is her man. The hauntings are only there to make the novel more realistic. Reading a romance is enjoyable regardless of the likeliness of the conclusion, but when one is so heavily soaked in truth and at the same time impossibility it seems impossible for such a thing to occur. Yet Charlotte Bronte has done it, and created a book that is pretty close to perfection in my eyes.

 

Review: Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife

I read this collection of poems a couple of years ago now, but the following two have always been more memorable to me. Remembering them while walking down the road, something I see triggers my memory. There are 30 poems in Duffy’s anthology, but these seem to really capture aspects of female life that are completely different and comparing them together offers . The poems are adaptations of famous historical male figures that have been changed to reveal a female opinion. Wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, goddesses and fariytale figures all feature in the poetry.

The Worlds Wife

The first is Little Red Cap, which is the first in the collection. I particularly liked this because of the reversal of roles, Little Red Cap is in control, she seeks out the wolf for her own pleasure. She uses him to help her become an adult, he buys her her first drink. At the end of the poem when she no longer needs him, she kills him. Instead of being the sweet little girl in the fable, she is empowered and she enjoys the appeal of an older wolf. Their sexual relationship  is one of exploration, she uses him to develop as a person, he teaches her about life, poetry and love; all things that she wanted as a child.

The poem seems to be a journey of love, her love of poetry allows her to find the wolf but it also helps to write the poem. The wolf’s lair is full of language, books and passion. Little Red Cap for me, seems to represent the curiosity of young girls on the cusp of adulthood. They are interested in experiences, in adventure, in all things that she should not have. Her love of adventure allows her to be brave and accept the wolfs first drink, then to follow him home. In comparison to the Brother Grimm’s tale however, she is not left helpless and powerless, she takes her life into her own hands when she realises that the wolf is no longer enough to satisfy her curiosity and appetite. She kills him “one chop, scrotum to throat” and in doing so she not only liberates herself but she also prevents the wolf from praying on other young girls.

In comparison to Little Red Cap is my favourite poem Mrs Darwin: 

7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

Th simplicity of this poem is what I love about it most. The suggestion that Charles Darwin’s most important work The Origin of Species is only a discussion of something that has always been noticeably apparent to others just seems to demean his work. Now I am a fan of Darwin and her theory of evolution, but in this poem the combination of the simple rhyme, short lines and form just seem to completely undermine his work. Also the poem written in the form of a diary entry relates to the main medium of communication Darwin used. He recorded all his findings in his diaries and journals while he was travelling on the Beagle and it makes sense that his wife would have too.