There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.
"Great" books, as defined by the Western canon, didn’t contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all."
I came of age without a literary soulmate. Growing up, I read every book recommended to me. Nick Carraway’s lucid account of the 1920’s seduced me. Huck Finn’s journey up the river showed me the close link between maturity and youth, and Ray Bradbury taught me to be wary of big government as well as the burning temperature of paper. While the male characters of literature built countries, waged wars, and traveled while smoking plenty of illicit substances, the women were utterly boring.
The assigned, award-winning, cannon-qualified books about women were about women I didn’t want to be. Jane Eyre was too blinded by her love for Mr. Rochester, as were all of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter was too maternal, and no one wants to grow up to be Anna Karenina. These women wanted to get married and have kids. They wanted to whine for 300 pages about a man who didn’t want to be with them. They wanted, it seemed, to be supporting actresses in their own stories. Their stories were equally about the men who shaped them as what they themselves wanted.
These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery.
Read more. [Image: BBC]
In a note to Fitzgerald, Hemingway shows he was better at being aggressive than passive-aggressive.
For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.
“So lasting they are, the rivers!” Only think. Sources somewhere in the mountains pulsate and springs seep from a rock, join in a stream, in the current of a river, and the river flows through centuries, millennia. Tribes, nations pass, and the river is still there, and yet it is not, for water does not stay the same, only the place and the name persist, as a metaphor for a permanent form and changing matter. The same rivers flowed in Europe when none of today’s countries existed and no languages known to us were spoken. It is in the names of rivers that traces of lost tribes survive. They lived, though, so long ago that nothing is certain and scholars make guesses which to other scholars seem unfounded. It is not even known how many of these names come from before the Indo-European invasion, which is estimated to have taken place two thousand to three thousand years B. C. Our civilization poisoned river waters, and their contamination acquires a powerful emotional meaning. As the course of a river is a symbol of time, we are inclined to think of a poisoned time. And yet the sources continue to gush and we believe time will be purified one day. I am a worshipper of flowing and would like to entrust my sins to the waters, let them be carried to the sea.
Gatsby and Daisy in this film are doomed and tragic, and when he eventually dies and she doesn’t attend his funeral, the sense is that she has given in to her sense of trapped misery, that she wasn’t brave enough to leave her terrible husband for the man she really loved. What doesn’t come through is the book’s clear sense of Daisy’s flighty irresponsibility, her entitled emptiness, and her ultimate willingness to walk away from all she’s done and keep dancing.
In the film, the only real villain is Tom, Daisy’s husband: he’s the cheating, spiteful bully who sends his lover’s spouse to kill his spouse’s lover, not out of grief, but out of expediency. He hovers menacingly over Daisy’s exit from the story in a way that drains her of blame and underscores the notion that Gatsby and Daisy are doomed victims of the same cruelties.
Luhrmann bestows upon actress Carey Mulligan such cinematographical adoration — he seems at times to be worshipping her every mole — that Daisy becomes paradoxically too genuine, too alive. At one critical juncture, where the book’s Daisy simply says that she’s crying because she’s never seen such beautiful shirts and the interpretation is left to the reader, the movie’s Daisy is allowed to suffer and stammer and extravagantly feel, while Nick explains how she’s weighted down by her love of Gatsby, before she makes that rather silly statement about the shirts. Daisy in the book is a figure of vexing remove, which is part of what makes her so hard to get right in a film. And while Mulligan plays some pained, tormented woman quite beautifully at times, it isn’t really Daisy Buchanan."
from Linda Holmes’ review of Luhrmann’s Gatsby, on her NPR Monkey See Monkey Do Blog
Precisely how I felt about this film, too. I know a lot of people scoff at the book, but each time I read it, I devour it, and I always interpret Daisy the same way that Holmes does.
I love love loved the film’s music and costume and party scenes though.
I’m an English major. It is a language of conquest.
What does it say that I’m mastering the same language that was used to make my mother feel inferior? Growing up, I had a white friend who used to laugh whenever my mother spoke English, amused by the way she rolled her r’s. My sister and I tease Mami about her accent too, but it’s different when we do it, or is it? The echoes of colonization linger in my voice. The weapons of the death squads that pushed my mother out of El Salvador were U.S.-funded. When Nixon promised, “We’re going to smash him!” it was said in his native tongue, and when the Chilean president he smashed used his last words to promise, “Long live Chile!” it was said in his. And when my family told me the story of my grandfather’s arrest by the dictatorship that followed, my grandfather stayed silent, and meeting his eyes, I cried, understanding that there were no words big enough for loss.
English is a language of conquest. I benefit from its richness, but I’m not exempt from its limitations. I am ‘that girl’ in your English classes, the one who is tired of talking about dead white dudes. But I’m still complicit with the system, reading nineteenth-century British literature to graduate.
Diversity in my high school and college English literature courses is too often reduced to a month, week, or day where the author of the book is seen as the narrator of the novel. The multiplicity of U.S. minority voices is palatably packaged into a singular representation for our consumption. I read Junot Díaz and now I understand not only the Dominican-American experience, but what it means to be Latina/o in America. Jhumpa Lahiri inspired me to study abroad in India. Sherman Alexie calls himself an Indian, so now it’s ok for me to call all Indians that, too. We will read Toni Morrison’s Beloved to understand the horrors of slavery, but we won’t watch her takedowns on white supremacy.
Even the English courses that analyze race and diasporas in meaningful ways are still limited by the time constraints of the semester. Reading Shakespeare is required, but reading Paolo Javier and Mónica de la Torre is extra credit. My Experimental Minority Writing class is cross-listed at the most difficult level, as a 400-level course in the Africana Studies, Latina/o Studies, and American Studies departments, but in my English department, it is listed as a 300-level. I am reminded of Orwellian democracy: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
In honor of Chinua Achebe (R.I.P.), I thought I’d post a couple of contesting quotes here, each so intriguing that I just had to write a dissertation over the power dynamics of politics and writing.
"Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever." - Chinua Achebe, from Anthills of the Savannah
"What is it with Dictators and Writers, anyway?…Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that’s too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like.” - Junot Diaz, from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao