Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Carol Ann Duffy and the Aesop’s

“Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in Staffordshire” (333). She wrote a poem that we read in class called Mrs. Aesop. In the poem she satirizes the life of Mrs. Aesop. She was so annoyed with her husband always telling fables that she begins to degrade him in the poem. It was a very funny poem and relates to other women who have been recreated by poems that we have read in class.

Aesop was an ancient Greek storyteller who lived around 550 BCE. He was a slave who lived in ancient Rome in the home of a wealthy family. Supposedly Aesop’s master was so pleased by his stories that he granted Aesop his freedom. “Little is known about the ancient Greek writer Aesop (c. 620 B.C.E.–c. 560 B.C.E.), whose stories of clever animals and foolish humans are considered Western civilization’s first morality tales. He was said to have been a slave who earned his freedom through his storytelling and went on to serve as advisor to a king. Both his name and the animist tone of his tales have led some scholars to believe he may have been Ethiopian in origin.”

It is interesting to me the way that she recreates Mrs. Aesop. When I read this poem I laughed and I thought that it was very clever. I love the modern way that Carol Ann Duffy writes. “Mrs. Aesop… loses all patience with her husbands witless clichés” (334). In the poem she mentions some of his famous fables including The Fox and the Grapes. She says “What race? What sour Grapes” (336). This line in the poem refers to The Fox and the Grapes and The Tortoise and the Hare; two very famous fables.


The Fox and the Grapes

One hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the thing to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”

Moral: It is easy to despise what you cannot get. (from: AesopFables.com)

I have included a very funny video that tells this story in a modern cartoon.

WORK CITED:

Aesop. “AesopFables.com – – General Fable Collection.” AesopFables.com – – General Fable Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2013.

“Aesop.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 8 May. 2013 .


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Native American Identity – Pass it on through Writing

We have been reading a lot about identity in the past few weeks. Identity is what a person can relate to, what makes them who they are. In most of our readings we have dealt with personal identity and with cultural identity. Cultural identity is the identity of a person’s heritage and how they express that identity. Many of our authors have come from mixed heritages, sometimes having the heritage they grew up with stripped away and replaced with one that the government feels is more appropriate, as is the case with many Native American’s identities and other tribal people. Assimilation into American society nearly killed the identity of all Native Americans. It was taken away strikingly and violently and left a hole in Native American’s which may never be filled. Many of the writers we looked at shared the loss of their culture through writing so that it may never be forgotten. Gertrude Simmons Bonnin who goes by Zitkala-Sa shared a Native American tale which would have been passed down orally within the tribes. Beth Brant gave us insight into the loss of a child during assimilation when the children were taken from the Native’s home. Paula Gunn Allen expresses her anger and resentment in a poem titled Molly Brant, Iroquois Matron, Speaks.

The oral tradition was very important to Native American’s. They would pass down stories to their people as well as history orally. These stories would be told by a storyteller in the tribe and this person was very well respected amongst others in a tribe. Zitkala-Sa wanted to share the stories of her childhood so that she could spread understanding about her people. “Later essays….pieces frought with tension between her anger at the government’s maltreatment of Indians and her desire to promote cross-cultural understanding” (976). The story The Tree Bound is filled with cultural references, especially the native’s love for animals and the Earth. She shared these and other stories so that others might relate to her people. She wanted people to understand the Indians so that they might treat them better.

Beth Brant talked about a more serious issue in A Long Story. She pairs the loss of a child during assimilation with the loss of a child in a more modern sense. Both of the stories, told in pieces one after the other, reflect how certain classes of people are judged harshly by society and how those judgments turn into maltreatment. The native woman in this story loses her child to the government. The government, and a lot of society’s citizens at the time, thought that Native Americans would be better off being educated. During education they assimilated the Native’s children. This included teaching them to be ‘proper’ or ‘civilized’, in other words stealing them from their homes and beating their own culture into these poor children. The children were not allowed to see their parents for a long time. They were taught to speak English and to lose their own Native tongue and all the other culture that went with their birth.

Paula Gunn Allen expresses her grief and anger about the loss of her culture in Molly Brant, Iroquois Matron, Speaks. She uses graphic language to show her disgust saying “the carrion birds that flew upon the winds of Revolution to feed upon our scarred and frozed flesh” (1028). She talks about the destruction of the tribes across the United States when the land was stolen from the Native’s. The end of the poem is angry and vengeful, as the woman in the poem is angry and vengeful. She waits for the end of the Earth so she can laugh at the people who destroyed it. “Maybe when the last blast goes up you will hear me screaming with glee, wildly drunk at last on vindication, trilling ecstatically my longed for revenge” (1030). Many Native American’s are angry about the loss of their people, their culture, and the way that that loss came about. Their land was stolen, their people murdered, and their culture diminished to a fraction of what it once was.


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Dancing In Northhanger Abbey

      Dances play an important part in the Victorian Era. They symbolize relationships in Northhanger Abbey. There are many points in the story where dancing shows the relationships between people in the story. Jane Austen uses the dances to show the true face of others that the heroine of the story must eventually see through her growing up. The dancing is also a symbol of status, along with the clothes that those attending these social rituals would wear.

            Our heroine, Catherine Morland, is sent to Bath to find herself a husband. This was usual for young ladies at a time. She meets two young men during her time in bath. One is a pretentious and slightly overbearing man by the name of John. The other man, Henry, ends up being a much kinder man, although at first is shrouded in mystery.

            At the dances the relationship between Catherine and her two suitors grows. She finds herself more drawn to Henry over time. At the dances Catherine is committed to one man at a time. The commitment between her and the suitors at the dances describes the relationship between them. Henry even says he sees the relationship of dancing just as the relationship of marriage. He says “that gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he staid with you a half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners and wives of their neighbors” (146). This is the first hint that Henry Tilney and Catherine will end up together.  Their relationship continues to develop at the dances. Catherine’s reputation and social status also raises as a product of the dances. She gets a reputation as a possible future person of wealth presumably because of her social company and her dress.

victorian dance

            Dancing was very important to people of the upper class in the Victorian Era. They met at dances to display social class and wealth. It was socially required to attend the dances and dress up in very fancy dresses. The dances often went on throughout hours of the night and partners were required to dance with each other. It was considered bad social grace to get a different partner during dancing, which explains why it was such a consideration for Henry.
“Typically, the dance began around sundown on Saturday, after the chores were all done, with the Grand March and the first waltz. Music would continue until around midnight when the revelers would break for supper. After eating a sumptuous meal, followed by sweets, and washed down with the libation of choice, it was back to the dance floor until dawn. Finally, the strains of the last waltz would echo into the hills just in time for folks to pack up the buggy and get to the Sunday morning church meeting. (Janowski)

Janowski, Diane. “Victorian Pride – Victorian Dances.” Victorian Pride – Victorian Dances. New York History Review, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is an important piece of literature when studying women and their writing. Woolf often wrote feminist pieces of literature, this one being “an important work of feminist literary criticism and a witty indictment of patriarchal restrictions on women’s creative agency “(Deshazer 14). Woolf’s focus in this essay is to explain to the audience, who are women attending a women’s college, the inequalities that women have experienced and the effect that it has had on their writing (or the lack of writing). She focuses on these barriers to elude that women need privacy and space in order to write, something that has been historically denied.

I think an important part of understanding literature comes by knowing a bit about the past of the author. Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882. She was born into a family that was well off, however experienced many trauma’s in life that shaped her writing and experiences. She spent her childhood summers vacationing in St. Ives, which she used as a setting for some of her books. Her father was a historian and author and the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography (Clarke). Her mother, Leslie Stephen, was also a writer. She was a Victorian critic and biographer. As a child her father educated her. She used her father’s library often to read and knew at an early age that she wanted to be a writer. She struggled with depression throughout her life experiencing a psychological break when her mother died in 1895; a death that would stay with her throughout her life. She also struggled with the death of her half-sister and father. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf and in 1917 founded the Hogarth Press (presumably to print the works that other publishers might not). She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement. When her brothers were in college she became acquainted with the Bloomsbury group, a group of intellectuals who shared a love for literature. Woolf became increasingly depressed perhaps because her husband was Jewish and risked being captured by the Nazi’s as well as having her home destroyed during the Blitz (WWII). She committed suicide in 1941 by filling her pockets with stones and wading into the River Ouse near her home in Sussex (TheBiographyChannel).

 

For more information visit: The Biography Channel and The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britan

 

          Virginia Woolf repeats throughout the essay that women need a room of their own to write in. This practical phrase acknowledges the need for women to have a quiet space where there is a lot of time to think and reflect and with that time produce a viable piece of artwork free of fear and which embodies truth to oneself. This need has been taken from women in many forms. Women throughout history have been expected to work in the home, care for children, and instill morality in that family. She says

“literature is impoverished by the doors that have been shut upon women. Married against their will, kept in one room, and to one occupation, how could a dramatist give a full or interesting or truthful account of them” (57).

           

Woolf also suggests that prejudices against women and their writing hindered their writing. This is one reason why a woman needs a room of her own, to be free from those who would criticize her for writing. “If we can show that the unequal relationship between the sexes came about through essentially historical processes rather than being a simple result of biological differences, then we can also show why that relationship can be changed.”(ibiblio.org). This unequal relationship, Woolf argues also produces a hindrance in women’s writing. Men thought that women’s writing was useless and could not produce a work that was interesting or viable. “The world said with a gaffaw, write? What’s the good of your writing” (41). The writing of women was seen as second-class, as was anything that was not a domestic task of women.  Due to the inequalities that women experience they have produced less works than men and because they are hindered by fear and anger toward society their work is flawed. In fact she is so impressed with Jane Austin because she feels that her work was unhindered, even calling it a miracle that Austin was able to accomplish this feet. “I could not find any signs that the circumstances had harmed her work in the slightest. That, perhaps, was the chief miracle about it” (49).

            Women need some independence, some education and some financial freedom to be writers. That is what a room of one’s own stands for, that freedom needed to cross the barriers of discrimination and the peace needed to reflect and write.

“Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poverty depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing” (69)

           

At the end of the essay Woolf implores the students to change the inequalities women have experienced by being writers of all subjects, even those considered for men, so that women can break free of stereotypes and find the truth and freedom needed to create true works of art. She notes the possibility of a new era where women have a chance at education, intellectual freedom and financial freedom. They have a chance at a room of their own, that spacial barrier from society where they can write truth without fear.

THE PICTURES

WORKS CITED:

“Appendix E.” A HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF WOMEN’S OPPRESSION. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013. <http://www.ibiblio.org/ahkitj/wscfap/arms1974/Regl_womens_prog/Women and Men in Partnership/05e Historical Analysis.htm>.

Clarke, Stuart N. “Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): A Short Biography.” The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britan. Virginia Woolf Society, 2000. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://www.virginiawoolfsociety.co.uk/vw_res.biography.htm&gt;.

“Virginia Woolf.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. Feb 06 2013, 05:24 <http://www.biography.com/people/virginia-woolf-9536773>.