Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Vinegar Tom and the Feminist Revolution

It is Churchill’s feminist play that we see a harsh mistreatment of the woman of the witch hunts of Britain. In 1976, Caryl Churchill’s release of her famous play Vinegar Tom comes to the forefront of critics of Britain and examines the gender and power relationships from the perspective of women accused of being witches in the 17th century.

The play follows Alice, a woman living in a small village in her twenties. Alice and her mother have been accused of witchcraft after an argument with their neighbors and explores the path of both Alice and her mother through their trials and their inability to conform to society at the time. The play acts are filled with songs that discuss aspects of conformity and diversity surrounding any culture.

“In Vinegar Tom, Churchill attempts to not only deconstruct the subjugation of women, especially with respect of class issues, but also create a psychological realism and multiple subjectivities for her female characters. One of the ways she does this is through the structural manipulation of time frames.” She recognizes the structuring of time as a symbolic social act, where the perpetuation of linearity and causality mystifies the authorship of history and gender. This manipulation serves to alienate the spectator.”(
Khozaei, Gender Politics and Deconstruction of Patriarchy in Caryl Churchill’s Selected Plays, Pg.575)

The playwright Churchill, an influential feminist author who writes this from inspiration from the Women’s Right Act of 1970, writing this as a social critic of inequality at the time. It is in Churchill’s writing that we see this as a moment in time capturing on the cusp of a feminism revolution.

In a world where momentum is advancement for all genders and races, we see that the 1970’s was the start of a revolution for a feminist revolution in England and the world. Culturally, America can relate to this movement of advancement from the 1970’s following this ideal of a 1950’s “Nuclear Family” in America and England and the turbulent 1960’s of a revolution in America the 1970’s was a time of civil unrest for our own cultural reference.

The world itself was becoming smaller, with advancing relations, technology, and culture from America and England we see a world beginning to become smaller. Vinegar Tom was important in capturing the sentiment of this 70’s revolution in England. The 1970’s Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 that worked to establish equal treatment between both men and women for Pay and conditions for working. It was passed as a reaction to the Ford Sewing Machinist Strike of 1968. The Machinist strike was a major impact within the UK as women sewing machinist stopped creating essential seat covers which eventually lead to a major production shut down of cars. This was the start of the feminist revolution for the UK. Later influencing legislation for equal pay, this was a culture shock for a stricter Europe at the time.

Churchill’s song in her play were set in a modern setting and allowed the audience to relate to the plight of the characters in the 17th century. The songs dealt with conformity, struggles to be different, and to stand alone from each other.  The importance of these songs are a way of displaying the problems with conformity in a society and gender relations between men and women and the structure of inferiority for many women in England.


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Poets and Women of Color

Poets have been a unique position in any culture, they move people with their sentiments and drive them to understand their own society and the people around them. A female poet has at the same time a very different role than male authors. We can see parables to this event through specific events in time such as female poets involved with many black power movements who would be suppressed by their male counter parts for writing about violence within the community. It is within a community that the voice of the women writers can speak to a more diverse understanding of that society to outsiders.

It has been a prevailing theme throughout our course on women writers to discuss not only the women writers who stood out, or writers who defined the genre, we discussed a number of varying degrees of women writers. The periods we discuss give us the background and precedent in understanding the history of women writing. However, it is through the many stories of women of color that we can discover personal experiences for different culture and the diverse nature of culture. Women poet’s of color allow us to have a better understanding of the people around us, they speak to new stories and tales and expands a person’s personal background. It was important for our class to go into this idea of women of color because without understanding the difference would be selling this tale short.

 

Lucille Clifton, an African American writer has been a defining leader as a “Woman of Color”, her pieces were celebrations of her heritage, the role of woman in society, and the female body. To Clifton her background changed her and not just defined her but influenced her as a woman and as a human.

The excerpt below speaks to Clifton’s discussion of the female body titled “Homage to My Hips” creates a sexual, physical, and social perspective to a woman and her hips.

these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top

 

Jamiaca Kincaid was born in the Caribbean, on the island of Antigua. She however moves to Vermont at a young age and talks of the her heritage and the influence of her mother. She has been important to the role of woman of color as a writer who early on wrote about the heritage of living back home on the island, but pushed aside often from a young age. Below is an excerpt from the poem “Girl” and in writing about her tales from back home she talks about the importance of her life growing up and the details that follows her.

  “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don’t walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum on it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash”

Toni Cade Bambara, an African American poet, social activist, and social activist she wrote as someone who never had a voice. An African American woman fighting for her own rights, she is a minority that stands alone in many ranks. Bambara was a writer who stood alone in social activists groups. In one of her most famous writings “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird” a short story that held up the point of view of a young black woman from the south. It is one of social, and political struggle and the divide between races.

“The puddle had frozen over, and me and Cathy went stompin in it. The twins from next door, Tyrone and Terry, were swingin so high out of sight we forgot we were waitin our turn on the tire. Cathy jumped up and came down hard on her heels and started tapdancin. And the frozen patch splinterin every which way underneath kinda spooky. “Looks like a plastic spider web,” she said. “A sort of weird spider, I guess, with many mental problems.”

From the opening paragraph of her story, we see the culture and liveliness that follows her family and writing style. This prolific piece is something that creates a new sorted ideas and values for many family, order, and race.


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Clifton and the Bible

Lucille-Clifton_784x0

 

A poet’s writing is sometimes undefined even by the author themselves. Meanings are relative to the people who read them and the poet himself who creates the piece. It is the undefined pieces that creates the most controversy and illusions. A poet’s writing can be a personal piece or it can be a broad stroke written for everyone and a message for a generation.

Poet Lucille Clifton, an African American writer and author of many well known poems such as “Generations”, “Daughters”, and “Sarah’s promise” writes about her family, her life, and the influence of her family on her.

It is the writer’s ability to translate other writing into their writing that allows their stories to become relatable and their message to become prominent in their writing.

In Clifton’s poem “Daughters” she describes the generations of her family, the passage of time and the gift that her matriarchal lineage gave her.

Woman, I am Lucille, which stands for light, daughter of Thelma, daughter of Georgia, daughter of dazzling you”(Daughters)

This line is almost an exact break up of the line from the bible, Abraham begate Isaac, and Isaac begate Iacob, and Iacob begate Iudas and his brethren.” (King James Bible).  It is in the writing that the author can create a relatable context for the people to understand her relationship between her family and herself.

Within the author’s writing she discusses the idea of the gifts bestowed upon her. “I like to think you gave us extraordinary power and to protect us, you became the name we were cautioned to forget”(Daughters). This is the gift given to her from her family, something passed onto her from her family, a relatable content as a gift from god bestow upon us.

In Clifton’s poem, Sarah’s Promise it is a loosely veiled reference to the story of Sarah and Abraham, a woman who could not conceive until the ripe of old age of 90 years old having her first child. Clifton writes from the unwritten perspective of the bible that comes from possibly losing her only son. Clifton writes how Sarah would react striking god for asking for her son.

Jehovah, I march into the thicket of your need and promise you the children of young women, yours for a thousand years. Their faith will send them to you docile as Abraham. Now, speak to my husband. Spare me my one good boy”(Sarah’s Promise)

In a very demeaning tone she writes as someone who does not fear god, this strong powerful figure who isn’t afraid and promises the lives of others in return for the lives of her own son. This powerful statement is a rare perspective that comes from the a critic of the bible.

Clifton’s references to the bible has a very matriarchal message in her writings. She shows the perspective of women in the bible such as Sarah or almost rewrites it from the perspective of a female lineage as opposed to the male lineage written into the bible. Clifton’s piece’s writes from a female perspective who longs to bring up a new strength to a female perspective and write from an unwritten angle.


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Poems for a thought

A Poem by
Erik Coler, Mischelle Hole, Jacki Faliero, Liz Peters

“There’s no room for her if she’s not a he. If she’s a her-she, it’s in order to smash everything, to shatter the framework of institutions, to blow up the law, to break up the “truth” with laughter.” 1 “That’s because they need femininity to be associated with death” 2 “Consumed, as Freud and his followers note, by a fear of being a woman” 3

1. (pg.401, 3rd Paragraph)

2. (Pg. 399, 2nd Paragraph)

3. (pg.298, 3rd paragraph)


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Jane Austen, Irony, and Endings

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Humor has played an important role in culture and our society as a whole. The contradictory nature of humor in many ways can play an unseen hidden and divisive figures and themes that effect our society.

Jane Austen was a prophetic women writer understood that in writing you must creating characters and themes. Austen was great at creating subtitle irony and creating a whole aurora for endings. In many of Jane Austen’s writing she understood that in ending of the book led to many conclusions. However, Austen would take herself out of the equation and in writing a role for a character.

Austen effectively uses a sense of self-consciousness from the characters angle when discussing that creates a layer of self awareness for the reader to look at the character through.

Austen’s endings will often mock the traditional “canons of poetic justice” a plot that is important to a novel that holds a happy ending. In many of Austen’s works, she will have an ending that is seemingly happy but with her writing she really questions the role of the character. Instead what Austen will focus on is a natural and realistic view of the character. This is a focus that is more realistic to the “superfluously happy ending” that you might see in a fairy tale or novel at the time.

Austen’s conclusion, while similar to a novel in many ways are meant to be held with irony and will allow the reader to decide for themselves whether they have a true happy ending or not.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen breaks the 4th wall in her book by speaking directly to the reader and asks the question of happiness between Catherine and Henry Tilney’s love.

“Can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell- tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity. The means by which their early marriage was effected can be the only doubt” (p. 250, The Novels of Jane Austen).

Austen’s sense of irony and satire can be seen in this sentence, her writing mocks the “traditional happy ending” in a way that asks that you create a mocking image of traditional novels and such.

We see this same sort of tone in her novel persuasion describing the same happy ending in kind. This is a conscious choice by the author to make a different sort of novel in her writing to describe the perfect ending in a mocking sense

“Who can be in doubt of what followed? When .any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they  are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other’s ultimate comfort” (p. 248, The Novels of Jane Austen).

This isn’t a coincidence, this mocking theme is noted in a letter to Caroline Austen as she writes of her characters “happy” endings.

“I hope he hung himself, or took the surname of Bone or underwent some direful penance or other.”2 But on the whole her letters are highly critical of the unrealistic extremes of sentimental and didactic fiction. She derides “the common Novel style” of “handsome, amiable, unexceptionable” heroes, confesses that “pictures of per- fection” make her “sick & wicked,” and compliments Anna Austen onthe portrayal of a character that is neither “very Good” nor very Bad.” (Brown, 1582)

 

Austen’s angry letter to Caroline give us a rare insight on the disguised endings of her novels and her feelings towards the characters perfect features written in novels. It is interesting to see the perspective come to an ending in Austen’s novel as she writes an almost contradictory statement towards the endings of her novel. This ironic tone is a clear flag to the reader to not except perfection from your reading but to understand the complex nature of man and relationships.


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The Woman of Genius

“That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius. But for my part, I agree with the deceased bishop, if such he was- it is unthinkable that any woman in Shakespeare’s day should have had Shakespeare’s genius. For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among laboring, uneducated, servile people. It was not born in England among the Saxons and the Britons. It is not born today among the working classes.” (pg. 39)

It is among the middle class that we cannot find a genius, all the greatest geniuses have been the top of the world, it is about opportunity and privilege and those who have it can be wasted by the day to day work holding down. The thought of the privilege can have the luxury to be genius isn’t unique to times.

What is a genius?

The easiest answer, someone who has exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality to a point that goes beyond anyone else’s perception of capabilities. It is a luxury and a curse. It serves as something that we aspire to be seen as, the people we look to better our society. It is a gift and a curse that people fight for, but what is a genius? What defines someone? Can you be defined by it? When Virginia Woolf wrote about Genius what did she mean by it?

How can you become a genius? Are you born with it? Theories by psychologist argue over nurture versus nature. This becomes the idea of can you learn to become many people including the experiment of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in an article published by Psychologytoday.com, Carlin Flora writes about the experiment Garry Kasparov turns his daughters Judith and Sophia into an experiment for study, he teaches them advance tactics and daily rotations of art, science and music from a young age, both daughters become grandmasters at prodigious ages.

A woman genius is rare to find, not because woman cannot be as smart as women suggest as Virginia Woolf suggests sarcastically. Socially, a woman is confined to a home life often suggested as putting their career aside for family life, it is a contradictory role that a woman has to play in society and when we look back in history, we find an impossibly high ratio that of recognized genius of men and the number of female geniuses.

“Choices made for family reasons are intensely personal and often admirable,” Sci Am writes, “but they are not conducive to genius-level accomplishment.” Female geniuses, like all women, can’t have it all.”

For women, they must deal with the social norm as they deal with their own gifts of genius, it becomes a denial of their own mind, and powerless in many ways by societies conformation.

Women who have had to deal with their genius, women like Virginia Woolf, Marie Curie and Franklin Rosalind that come from influential background. These are women who sought to defy normal social norms and work to the fullest extend of their genius.

What happens to the many who work within? Authors who come about and fight for their own battle? It becomes the greatest battle for many and at the same time it is a social
A Woman of Genius . . . says no to men and conventional marriage and yes to living and productive work. Far from simply promoting female self-determination, however, or celebrating the romantic right of genius to overrun all obstacles, including the human ones”
A quote from Nancy Porter a feminist writer and influential mind who realizes the qualms and suppression of many “women of genius”. It is for the woman who often must choose between their family life and career is where it becomes difficult for people to decide. We see great female “genius” who must choose from one or another and for them to decide is indistinguishable.

To be a woman genius is to decide your place in society.