Archive for the 'art' Category
Barbara Sicherman offers some interesting thoughts about Little Women on the occasion of Louisa May Alcott’s 180th birthday (yesterday) and its influence on generations of women around the world (h/t to reader LKK for this.) She says that the book’s durability is due to its surprisingly modern sensibilities, perhaps most memorably in the person of Jo March, Alcott’s alter-ego:
Perhaps the most important reason for the novel’s survival is a heroine with unusual appeal. Some readers have identified with the other March sisters, but it is Jo March, the rambunctious tomboy and bookworm who is unladylike and careless of her appearance, who carries the story. The vast majority of readers, past and present, have identified with her. Jo’s presumed flaws are precisely the characteristics that speak to preadolescent and adolescent readers, themselves struggling with issues of growing up.
Alcott, who modeled Jo in her own image, created a character that continues to appeal. As J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books and herself a “Jo,” observed: “It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a bad temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.”
For readers on the threshold of adulthood, the book’s embrace of female ambition has been a significant counterweight to more habitual gender prescriptions. For years there were few alternative models, although in my generation, the Nancy Drew books helped. Even today, some girls still respond to the portrait of Jo, the enthralled and enthralling writer.
It’s a good time of the year to consider Little Women, as the novel opens with Marmee and the March girls cooking Christmas breakfast. I think I read LW when I was eleven, in the sixth grade. I remember being so moved by the idea of Jo reading a pile of books while eating “russetts” in her “garrett” as to climb a tree with an apple in my teeth and the novel under my arm in order to re-enact Jo’s escape as best I could. Continue Reading »
Last week, we lost a powerful voice in the queer academic and dog-friendly blogosphere: Roxie Smith Lindemann of Roxie’s World announced her final departure from the blogosphere, only a little less than three years after her death. However, her typist Moose has decided bravely to carry on blogging under a human pseudonym at a new blog called The Madwoman with a Laptop.
The Madwoman at MWAL, otherwise known as noted Willa Cather scholar Marilee Lindeman, describes herself on the new blog as “English prof, blogger, queer, feminist, non-geek fascinated by social media, making life up as it goes along. Play on. Tenure means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Her second post at the new blog is a thoughtful reflection on mid-career funks, the (corrupt) business of higher education, and the cardboard management-speak slogan of “rebranding.” She writes: Continue Reading »
Most of the book I wrote while watching music videos on MTV. Yes, that’s how old I am. Back then MTV still played videos. Now, now doubt, you picture me wearing high-button shoes and rolling a hoop down a dirt road in, I don’t know, ancient Thebes?
Nobody ever had so much fun writing a book. I’d be couch surfing with Alexander Graham Bell and Dolley Madison and watching Echo and the Bunnymen videos. Abraham Lincoln would order us a pizza, and Bell would offer everyone hits of MDA. That’s how far back this happened. We didn’t call ecstasy “E.” We didn’t even call it “X.” Louisa May Alcott would be rolling us a fattie. I’d shake my head no. I’d whine, “Guys, I can’t get high! I need to write my novel.” And Harriet Beecher Stowe would say, “Dude, why can’t you do both?”
The producer Scott Rudin recalled that less than two weeks before her death, he had a long phone session with her from the hospital while she was undergoing treatment, going over notes for a pilot she was writing for a TV series about a bank compliance officer. Afterward she told him, “If I could just get a hairdresser in here, we could have a meeting.”
Ms. Ephron’s collection “I Remember Nothing” concludes with two lists, one of things she says she won’t miss and one of things she will. Among the “won’t miss” items are dry skin, Clarence Thomas, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and panels on “Women in Film.” The other list, of the things she will miss, begins with “my kids” and “Nick” and ends this way: Continue Reading »
Howdy, friends. Since I’ve been living in the long eighteenth century for the past week or so, at least in my own head, I haven’t been consuming either print or electronic news as I usually do. But several of you have written to ask my opinions on the unexpected and untimely cashiering of the President of the University of Virginia, Teresa A. Sullivan, last week. As many of you know much better than I, Sullivan had been prez for only two years, and was the first woman chosen to lead Mr. Jefferson’s university. This morning, I read something that several of you (in person and via e-mail) had already suggested to me, namely that forces on the university’s Board of Visitors against Sullivan were peeved at her resistance to online education. (Earlier this week, other reporting suggested that Sullivan was perceived as reluctant to cut low enrollment programs such as German and Classics.)
I’m really grateful to you readers for the e-mails and the prodding on this, but since I’m actually making some research and writing progress this week on my own irrelevant and self-indulgent intellectual work, I’d like to turn the conversation over to you. Some of you who have written to me have UVA connections, so feel free to discuss the Sullivan firing and its causes and consequences. Continue Reading »
In the latest Journal of Women’s History, eminent biographer Susan Ware reflects on the biography that got away after a year of full-time research in “The Book I Couldn’t Write: Alice Paul and the Challenge of Feminist Biography:”
In theory Alice Paul [1885-1977] and I were a perfect match. She was one of America’s most intrepid, albeit polarizing, feminists, whose career spanned practically the entire twentieth century from suffrage militancy to second-wave feminism; no major biography of her had ever been completed. I had spent almost my entire career as a women’s historian writing about the fortunes of feminism through the lens of feminist biography. As an independent scholar unencumbered by regular teaching responsibilities, I had the time and energy to put in the years of research that it would likely take to complete the project. An added bonus: Paul’s papers were at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, practically across the street from where I live.
So, what was the problem?
After almost a year of sustained research, I finally had to admit that Alice Paul did not speak to me as a subject. In a profound failure of my historical imagination, I found myself at a total loss when searching for an overarching theme or hypothesis to make her life story compelling and relevant to contemporary readers. In other words, that spark of connection just wasn’t there. And yet lurking in my decision to abandon the project were questions beyond my personal failure to make the topic come alive. How can you write a feminist biography when your subject has left no trail of breadcrumbs (as a friend called them) to recreate any kind of interior or personal life? How do you make fifty years of laying the groundwork for [the Equal Rights Amendment] that ultimately failed seem accessible and interesting to readers? More fundamentally, what if some lives are not in fact suited to a full-bore, cradle-to-grave biography in the first place? I offer my story as Alice Paul’s would-be biographer to shed light both on the process of doing feminist biography and on why Alice Paul remains such a complicated, indeed elusive biographical subject.
At the heart of Ware’s frustration with Paul is the fact that she was all business, and never developed much of a personal or interior life that’s accessible to biographers and historians. Continue Reading »
Courtesy of blog reader JM, we hear that Anna Platypus, Daniel Striped Tiger, and Prince Tuesday are debating whether they want to learn via a fabulous new educational technology, The Learning Machine, or whether they want to have teachers and field trips. “Lady Elaine was telling people that all they needed to learn anything” is the Learning Machine! Henrietta Pussycat is hoping for “Meow Meow Meow Field Trip Meow?” Scroll up to about 15:15 to the Neighborhood of Make Believe to see what they decide:
They must attend some kind of Quaker school or a Montessori, because the students are permitted such a large role in pedagogical decisions. (Then again, it is the Neighborhood School of Make Believe!) Continue Reading »
In “Why the Right Hates English,” Stephen J. Mexal analyzes why right-wingers have targeted college English classes and professors since at least William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, when by his lights the curriculum remains focused on American and British literature in the main, and on uncontroversial authors to boot:
Every English literature class I have ever taken, taught, or observed has spent the vast majority of its time on exactly what all these writers claim is missing: the study of literature. In my experience, English classes do pretty much what they’ve always done. Students read literature closely, and then talk about how it works and what it means. The courses I teach in American literature today contain pretty much the same authors you would have expected 20 or 30 years ago: Twain, Emerson, Dickinson, Douglass, Melville, Wharton, and so on. Of course, people teach some newer authors, too (Toni Morrison and Don DeLillo tend to show up often), and some authors are not taught quite as frequently (D.H. Lawrence, for instance), but English departments are not eternal guardians of a frozen literary heritage. They change a little over time, sure, but they still do what you’d expect.
For that matter, [Andrew] Breitbart’s English departments did pretty much what you’d expect, too. He had to take two semesters of American literature at Tulane University, and as Mark Howard and Alexander Zaitchik have reported, students in those courses were assigned to read Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, Hawthorne, Stowe, and so on. Not much “cultural Marxist theory,” in other words.
What do all of the bolded names have in common, friends? They’re all liberals! Continue Reading »