Week Thirty Four: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

highlonesome

Harper Perennial edition, 2007

“Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right . . .”

Thus begins “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” — a classic and often-anthologized short story by Joyce Carol Oates.

Is this fable? Allegory? Urban Legend? All three? Let us know your thoughts

Read Oates’ story HERE.

“The story first appeared in the Fall 1966 edition of Epoch magazine. It was inspired by four Tucson, Arizona murders committed by Charles Schmid, which were profiled in Life magazine in an article written by Don Moser on March 4, 1966.

Considerable academic analysis has been written about the story, with scholars divided on whether it is intended to be taken literally or as allegory. Several writers focus on the series of numbers written on Friend’s car, which he indicates are a code of some sort, but which is never explained:

“‘Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,’ Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn’t think much of it.” (p. 41)

Literary scholars have interpreted this series of numbers as different Biblical references, as an underlining of Friend’s sexual deviancy, or as a reference to the ages of Friend and his victims.

The narrative has also been viewed as an allegory for initiation into sexual adulthood,[5] an encounter with the devil, a critique of modern youth’s obsession with sexual themes in popular music, or as a dream sequence.”¹

Did you know that “Where Are You Going…” is dedicated Bob Dylan?

Says Oates:

“Baby Blue” didn’t directly influence my short story, which was inspired by a Life magazine article about a serial killer in Tucson, Ariz., but the song’s soul and poetic rhythm were very seductive.

I loved the song’s surreal quality and Dylan’s couplets: “The vagabond who’s rapping at your door / Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.” Or “Strike another match, go start anew,” which suggests renewal and beginning again, only to resolve with the blunt “And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.”

The beauty of the song is that you can never quite comprehend it. We know only that something is over: “The lover who just walked out your door / Has taken all his blankets from the floor / The carpet, too, is moving under you.” A powerful evocation of losing control, of losing everything.”²

. . .For further study . . .

Check out Celestial Timepiece, a brilliant website devoted to all things Joyce Carol Oates.

  . . .A bit about Joyce Carol Oates . . .

joycecaroloates2

Photograph from the New York Times

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. (Harper Collins)

Bonus Clip: Joyce Carol Oates at home:

¹ Wikipedia

²Celestial Timepiece (an authorized Joyce Carol Oates Website)

 

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Week Twenty Nine: “A Hunger Artist” and “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka

franzkafkathecompletestories

Kafka’s Complete Stories, edited by John Updike

This week let’s take an opportunity to discuss absurdity, the nature of performance, and all things “Kafka-esque!”
“A Hunger Artist” (German: “Ein Hungerkünstler”) is a short story by Franz Kafka first published in Die neue Rundschau in 1922.
It’s one of Kafka’s most anthologized short stories. Enjoy reading here as a PDF, or listen to a wonderful performance of the tale by actress and “diseuse,” Lotte Lenya (the wife of Kurt Weill and “Jenny” in The Three-Penny Opera.)

Let’s talk about Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist!”

Here’s some food for thought: How does Kafka make use of the parable storytelling form?

thefrugalrepast

The Frugal Repast, Pablo Picasso, Copper lithograph, 1904.

“I spent my first week’s wages on having Kafka’s three stories– The Metamorphosis, The Judgement, and The Stoker– bound in a dark brown leather volume, with the name Franz Kafka elegantly tooled in gold lettering.
The book lay in the briefcase on my knee …Then I proudly took the volume out of the case and gave it across the desk to Kafka.

“What is this?” he asked in astonishment.
“It is my first week’s wages.”
“Isn’t that a waste?”
Kafka’s eyelid’s fluttered. His lips were sharply drawn in. For a few seconds he contemplated the name in gold lettering, hastily thumbed through the pages of the book – and – with obvious embarrassment– placed it before me on the desk. I was about to ask why the book offended him, when he began to cough.
…You overrate me. Your trust oppresses me.”

He sat himself at his desk and said, with his hands to his temples: “I am no burning bush. I am not a flame.”

—Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka.

kafka

Parable: a simple story told to convey or represent a basic moral truth or religious principle; in literature to illustrate an aspect of the human condition.

Fable: a short story that tells a moral truth, often using animals as characters.

sur·re·al·ism

/səˈrēəˌlizəm/

noun

  • 1. a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.

 

Learn more about Surrealism, including information on Kafka, Dali, Man Ray and others HERE.

Looking for a short pairing to “A Hunger Artist?”

If so, here is “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka.

. . .A bit about Franz Kafka . . .

Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a German-language novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. His best known works include “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”), Der Process (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle). The term Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe situations like those in his writing.

Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today part of the Czech Republic. He trained as a lawyer, and after completing his legal education he was employed with an insurance company, forcing him to relegate writing to his spare time. Over the course of his life, Kafka wrote hundreds of letters to family and close friends, including his father, with whom he had a strained and formal relationship. He became engaged to several women but never married.

He died in 1924 at the age of 40 from tuberculosis.

Few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime: the story collections Betrachtung (Contemplation) and Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), and individual stories (such as “Die Verwandlung”) were published in literary magazines but received little public attention. Kafka’s unfinished works, including his novels Der Process, Das Schloss and Amerika (also known as Der Verschollene, The Man Who Disappeared), were ordered by Kafka to be destroyed by his friend Max Brod, who nonetheless ignored his friend’s direction and published them after Kafka’s death. His work went on to influence a vast range of writers, critics, artists, and philosophers during the 20th century.

Looking for more?  Check out this piece from The Atlantic on what it means to be “Kafka-esque.”

 

Week Twenty Eight: “Shooting an Elephant” and “Why I Write” by George Orwell

 

 

 

“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell

Eric A. Blair, better known as George Orwell, is today best known for his last two novels, the anti-totalitarian works Animal Farm and 1984. He was also an accomplished and experienced essayist, writing on topics as diverse as anti-Semitism in England, Rudyard Kipling, Salvador Dali, and nationalism.¹
Among his most powerful essays is the 1931 autobiographical essay “Shooting an Elephant,” which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.
It’s often found in “Best of” anthologies, and can be read on several different levels.
Please share your observations after reading Orwell’s essay- we’d love to hear from you
.

You can read Orwell’s essay here.

A point for discussion one might find worthwhile is the difference between connotation and denotation in “Shooting an Elephant.”

Connotation and Denotation

Denotative meanings are generally the literal meaning of the word, while connotative meanings are the “coloring” attached to words beyond their literal meaning. For example, the “army of people” Orwell refers to in his essay bring to mind not only a large group of people, but also a military and oppositional force. Explain the connotative and denotative meanings of the following words or phrases using this organizational chart.²

Another point for discussion . . . saving face

What is the process of saving face? Read and discuss this passage from Orwell’s essay:

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone … The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probably that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

 

“Why I Write” by George Orwell

 

orwellrules

 

Looking for a reading pairing for our week of Orwell? Have a look at his essay, “Why I Write.”

http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw

 

 

On video . . .

 

Here’s a worthwhile Book TV interview about Orwell with astute literary critic Christopher Hitchens and author/editor George Packer.

 

 

 

For Further Reading:

 

 

 

 

George Packer’s seminal collections of Orwell’s essays

 

George Orwell was first and foremost an essayist, producing throughout his life an extraordinary array of short nonfiction that reflected–and illuminated–the fraught times in which he lived. “As soon as he began to write something,” comments George Packer in his foreword, “it was as natural for Orwell to propose, generalize, qualify, argue, judge–in short, to think–as it was for Yeats to versify or Dickens to invent.”

Facing Unpleasant Facts charts Orwell’s development as a master of the narrative-essay form and unites such classics as “Shooting an Elephant” with lesser-known journalism and passages from his wartime diary. Whether detailing the horrors of Orwell’s boyhood in an English boarding school or bringing to life the sights, sounds, and smells of the Spanish Civil War, these essays weave together the personal and the political in an unmistakable style that is at once plainspoken and brilliantly complex.

 

As a critic, George Orwell cast a wide net. Equally at home discussing Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin, he moved back and forth across the porous borders between essay and journalism, high art and low. A frequent commentator on literature, language, film, and drama throughout his career, Orwell turned increasingly to the critical essay in the 1940s, when his most important experiences were behind him and some of his most incisive writing lay ahead. All Art Is Propaganda follows Orwell as he demonstrates in piece after piece how intent analysis of a work or body of work gives rise to trenchant aesthetic and philosophical commentary. With masterpieces such as “Politics and the English Language” and “Rudyard Kipling” and gems such as “Good Bad Books,” here is an unrivaled education in, as George Packer puts it, “how to be interesting, line after line.”³

 

. . .A bit about George Orwell . . .

 

Orwell2

Eric Arthur Blair  (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950),better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.

Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction, and polemical journalism. He is best known for the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His non-fiction works, including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), documenting his experience of working class life in the north of England, and Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, are widely acclaimed, as are his essays on politics, literature, language, and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian – descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices – has entered the language together with many of his neologisms, including Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, memory hole, newspeak, doublethink, proles, unperson, and thoughtcrime.

 

¹From the National Endowment for the Humanities.

²ibid.

³ Amazon.Com

Week Twenty One: Readings for the 4th of July

 

The faces of freedom: original daguerreotypes introduce us to veterans of The American Revolutionary War

 

 

facesoffreedomamericanr

George Fishley, a soldier in the Continental Army, known as “The Last of the Cocked Hats”

 

To begin a study of primary source materials of the American revolutionary War, check out these incredible daguerreotypes compiled by Utah-based journalist Joe Baumam, who spent three decades researching and compiling images of American Revolutionary War veterans.

Digging through a myriad of sources – 18th and 19th century battle accounts, muster rolls, genealogical records, pension files, letters, period newspapers, town and county histories – he was able to flesh out the stories of these veterans.

See the faces of the war veterans, here.

 

 

The “rough draft” and crossed out paragraph of The Declaration of Independence

 

 

draftdeclaration

Specific paragraphs on abolishing slavery were crossed out, primarily at the request from delegates who had dealings in the slave trade

 

This week we’ll be looking at some source materials related to United States independence and the American Revolutionary War.

 

Did you know . . .

 

. . .that there was an original draft of the Declaration of Independence?

In a letter to Timothy Pickering, dated 1822, John Adams, who had been an eyewitness, recollects the crossed-out paragraph in this famous document.

Find out what was crossed out, based on Adams letter. What would have been different, had the paragraph remained?

John Adams describes the writing of the Declaration of Independence, here.

This copy of the Declaration of Independence is significant not only for its historical importance, but also for the language it contains, which is different from the version that was eventually ratified on July 4, 1776. Notably, Jefferson’s copy includes a lengthy condemnation of the slave trade:

 

“he [the king of Great Britain] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

 

But before the Declaration of Independence was ratified, this passage was removed; its excision was intended primarily to appease the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina.

It’s incredible to think that the so-oft quoted Declaration of Independence was actually written by a 33-year old who did not want the job; some of the document’s most eloquent and needed passages about freedom were removed purely to protect economic prosperity, in a war which was supposedly all about freedom from oppression.

 

 

Next up: meet Mary Katharine Goddard, female publisher!

 

goddard

 

Check out this link to a great story from The Washington Post:

Mary Katharine Goddard not only got the assignment from congress to publish official copies of The Declaration of Independence; “She was also quietly named the first female postmaster in the colonies in 1775, running the busy and crucial Baltimore Post Office as well as a bookstore, print shop and newspaper.”¹

Read Goddard’s story, here!

 

EYEWITNESS AT VALLEY FORGE

 

Then read a first-person eyewitness account of a continental army soldier who was at Valley Forge!

 

bluebookSteuben2

You’re looking at The Blue Book, which  remained the official guide to military training and maneuvers until it was replaced in 1812. Many of Von Steuben’s writings are still in use in today’s army manuals, such as FM 3-21.5 Drill and Ceremony. (photo from Army News Service)

 

Steuben

Baron Von Steuben drilling American recruits at Valley Forge in 1778

 

The Chevalier de Pontgibaud was a wealthy but ne’er-do-well volunteer in the continental army. In his eyewitness account of life at Valley Forge, he tells us;

 

“Soon I came in sight of the camp. My imagination had pictured an army with uniforms, the glitter of arms, standards, etc., in short, military pomp of all sorts; Instead of the imposing spectacle I expected, I saw, grouped together or standing alone, a few militiamen, poorly clad, and for the most part without shoes – many of them badly armed, but all well supplied with provisions, and I noticed that tea and sugar formed part of their rations. I did not then know that this was not unusual, and I laughed, for it made me think of the recruiting sergeants on the Quai de la Ferraille at Paris, who say to the yokels, ‘You will want for nothing when you are in the regiment, but if bread should run short you must not mind eating cakes.’ Here the soldiers had tea and sugar.”

 

 

Hopefully these primary source materials, photographs and readings shed a more human and fallible light upon the sometimes deified men and women who fought for American independence.

 

As has often been said, the price of freedom is never free.

 

 

 

¹Dvorak, Petula, “This woman’s name appears on the Declaration of Independence. So why don’t we know her story?” The Washington Post 7/3/17

Week Eighteen: “When it Changed by Joanna Russ and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

The author Joanna Russ once said “There are plenty of images of women in science fiction. There are hardly any women.”

Certainly in Russ’s time, pulp books and movies relegated women  as symbols of mere male fantasy: whether as crew members with breasts protruding from their uniforms or scantily-dressed whores from Venus or morally pristine queens, female readers were often discouraged that, for a genre in which any future at all can supposedly be imagined, an intelligent future for women seldom was.

This week’s picks, one from the turn of the 20th century and one from 1972, both depict intelligent women forced to conform to the notions of femininity and accepting a docile role in a cage, established by the male characters.

First up, we’ll meet Janet Evason, an inhabitant in a colony on another planet, called Whileaway . . .

 

“When it Changed” by Joanna Russ

On Whileaway, 30 generations ago, a plague killed off all of the men, and the population now consists only of women, who have learned how to combine eggs to produce offspring.
Today, Whileaway is largely an agricultural society. When a crew of astronauts from earth arrives, they are bemused by the all-female society, find it quaint, and are sure that the women must be missing men.
What will happen now?
The winner of the Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1972, nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story 1973, and included in Harlan Ellison’s anthology Again, Dangerous Visions . . .

Here is “When It Changed,” a short story by Joanna Russ.

 

 

Study Question:

What does the title of this short story (“When it Changed”) mean? What do you think changed? And exactly when did “it” change? Was it for the better?

 

Note: The story was anthologized in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions.

 

 

In Russ’s story, the male astronauts attempt to assign gender roles to the characters of  Katy and Janet when they interact with the women. They seem to decide that Katy is the “woman” in the relationship because they find her attractive. They suggest that her life will improve when men come to the planet because she will be able to find a satisfactory (male) mate.

While hyperbolic and, in an ironic twist, presenting a “turnabout is fair play” bland stereotype of the male characters, Russ  drives home the point that although the women do not live in a utopia, it is much closer to one than with these males there, whose violence and need for domination are obvious. She forces the reader to imagine a world in which the women are free to do as they want and it’s the men relegated to stock character roles.

 

scifivenus

 Cardino illustrated this 1975 Pulp Fiction Cover for DELL Books. The illustration is typical of the depiction of women in the genre

Russ, in fact, was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and often examined both how women were depicted as characters in science fiction and also how women authors were discounted because they did not subscribe to the male fantasy-oriented pulp.

 

russ-suppress

 

The story is certainly not perfect. The character of Janet is not well-explored and in some ways Russ hoists with her own petard by creating a character without substantial dimension.

Additionally, Russ creates a world which imbues some of the issues of prejudice of her time: the fact that the male astronauts are Russian, and “ugly,” for example, is a clear allusion to the political zeitgeist of the later 20th century.

queenofouterspace

Queen of Outer Space, Zsa Zsa Gabor 1958

However, fear of “the other” has been explored in Sci Fi since its earliest days, such as in the work of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds until today’s news headlines regarding immigration and terrorism.

Russ’s work is important because it boldly confronts gender stereotypes in a literary genre long dominated by men, presenting territory for women in charge while raising issues of violence, aggression and where those impulses come from.

 

 

 

. . .A bit about Joanna Russ

 

Joanna_Russ_obit

Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ (February 22, 1937 – April 29, 2011) was an American writer, academic and radical feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism such as How to Suppress Women’s Writing, as well as a contemporary novel, On Strike Against God, and one children’s book, Kittatinny. She is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire, and the story “When It Changed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

TheYellowWallpaperJ.K.Potter565

Source: Twitter

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a classic horror story, often compared to Poe, which has been anthologized in countless collections.

After the birth of her one daughter, Gilman experienced depression. The “rest cure” her doctor prescribed became the basis for this story.
Although “The Yellow Wallpaper” may seem hyperbolic, it speaks to the cavalier cures in existence at the time.


The author herself talks about why she wrote the story:

“For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia–and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to “live as domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,” and “never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again” as long as I lived. This was in 1887.

I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.

Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again–work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite–ultimately recovering some measure of power.

Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad.
He never acknowledged it.”

 

Here is “The Yellow Wallpaper” (with great book illustrations!) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Enjoy!

 

 Study Question:
 

What does Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wall-paper” suggest about middle-class women’s place and role(s) in this society?

 

“Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wall-paper” was written during a time of great change. In the early- to mid-nineteenth century, “domestic ideology” positioned American middle class women as the spiritual and moral leaders of their home. Such “separate spheres” ideals suggested that a woman’s place was in the private domain of the home, where she should carry out her prescribed roles of wife and mother. Men, on the other hand, would rule the public domain through work, politics, and economics. By the middle of the century, this way of thinking began to change as the seeds of early women’s rights were planted. By the end of the 1800s, feminists were gaining momentum in favor of change. The concept of “The New Woman,” for example, began to circulate in the 1890s–1910s as women pushed for broader roles outside their home-roles that could draw on women’s intelligence and non-domestic skills and talents.

 

Gilman advocated revised roles for women, whom, Gilman believed, should be on much more equal economic, social, and political footing with men. In her famous work of nonfiction Women and Economics (1898), Gilman argued that women should strive-and be able-to work outside the home. Gilman also believed that women should be financially independent from men, and she promoted the then-radical idea that men and women even should share domestic work.

 

First appearing in the New England Magazine in January 1892, “The Yellow Wall-paper,” according to many literary critics, is a narrative study of Gilman’s own depression and “nervousness.” Gilman, like the narrator of her story, sought medical help from the famous neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell prescribed his famous “rest cure,” which restricted women from anything that labored and taxed their minds (e.g., thinking, reading, writing) and bodies. More than just a psychological study of postpartum depression, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” offers a compelling study of Gilman’s own feminism and of roles for women in the 1890s and 1910s.”¹

 

The “Rest Cure” and Theodate Pope

 

TheodatePope-610x448

Theodate Pope (left)

“Theodate Pope Riddle (February 2, 1867 – August 30, 1946) was an American architect. She was one of the first American women architects as well as a survivor of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania.
Here’s an interesting excerpt about Pope’s subjugation to “The Rest Cure” when she was a young woman:
“The next year, in March 1888, her parents sent her to Philadelphia, to be examined and cared for by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, a physician famous for treating patients, mainly women, suffering from neurasthenia, or nervous exhaustion. Mitchell’s solution for Theodate was his then-famous “Rest Cure,” a period of forced inactivity lasting up to two months.

“At first, and in some cases for four or five weeks, I do not permit the patient to sit up or to sew or write or read,” Mitchell wrote, in his book Fat and Blood. “The only action allowed is that needed to clean the teeth.” He forbade some patients from rolling over on their own, insisting they do so only with the help of a nurse. “In such cases I arrange to have the bowels and water passed while lying down, and the patient is lifted on to a lounge at bedtime and sponged, and then lifted back again into the newly-made bed.” For stubborn cases, he reserved mild electrical shock, delivered while the patient was in a filled bathtub. His method reflected his own dim view of women. In his book Wear and Tear; or, Hints for the Overworked, he wrote that women “would do far better if the brain were very lightly tasked.”

― Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (Crown Publishers 2015)

 

 

 

The publication of Herland

 

Herland

Pantheon Books 1979

Herland is a utopian novel from 1915, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The book describes an isolated society composed entirely of women, who reproduce via parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction). The result is an ideal social order: free of war, conflict, and domination. It first appeared as a serial in The Forerunner, a magazine edited and written by Gilman between 1909 and 1916. The book is the middle volume in her utopian trilogy; it was preceded by Moving the Mountain (1911), and followed with a sequel, With Her in Ourland (1916). It was not published in book form until 1979.

The story is told from the perspective of Vandyck “Van” Jennings, a student of sociology who, along with two friends (Terry O. Nicholson and Jeff Margrave), forms an expedition party to explore an area of uncharted land where it is rumored lives a society consisting entirely of women. The three friends do not entirely believe the rumors because they are unable to think of how human reproduction could occur without males. The men speculate about what a society of women would be like, each guessing differently based on the stereotype of women which he holds most dear: Jeff regarding women as things to be served and protected; Terry viewing them as things to be conquered and won.

 

On feminist utopias

 

Both Gilman’s and Russ’s work explore the idea of a feminist utopia as well as fluid concepts of gender (Gilman’s is an important feminist work, although in her own life she was accused of racism and xenophobia.)

On Whileaway, Russ makes it clear that women too have their faults and that the society they’ve developed, while admirable, is also not perfect. They have their own aggression. As readers we must ask what lies in between our polarizing traditional stereotypes. “Masculine” and “feminine” are perhaps aspects of the same organism as opposed to two clear-cut, distinct creatures; and “Male” and “Female” are not the same as “Man” and “Woman.”

Russ later went on to write her novel The Female Man, which is considered a classic of Sci Fi. It explores gender and challenges the rigid sexist male dominance of Science Fiction until that time, asking readers to consider a fluid of view of gender not strong-armed by body building astronauts saving evil or helpless beautiful pin up Martian models in distress. Both authors set their stories against the fictional backdrops of other worlds, to provide a safe fantasy space for us to consider the “outlandish” notion.

For further reading . . .highly recommended:

The Screwfly Solution” – a 1977 science fiction short story by Raccoona Sheldon, a pen name for psychologist Alice Sheldon, who was better known by her other nom de plume, James Tiptree, Jr. It received the Nebula Award for Best Novelette, and has been adapted into a television film.

What happens when a disease causes male sexual impulses to instead become violent impulses?

A disturbing, powerful, and necessary story.

 

Also see this interview by Celeste Schantz with Marge Piercy, author of Woman on the Edge of Time, an iconic work of science fiction, and He, She and It, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

 

A bit about Charlotte Perkins Gilman . . .

 

gilman2

Gilman addresses a crowd

Charlotte Perkins Gilman/Charlotte Perkins Stetson (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935), was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist and served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” which she wrote after experiencing postpartum depression.  She would later go on to write Herland,” a classic of feminist science fiction.

Gilman, like so many other feminist authors who succeeded her, would be subjected to ridicule, censor and criticism.

 

Nevertheless, she persisted.

 

 

 

 

For additional study, see Billy Collins’ poem, “Man in Space”

Also see the work of Marge Piercy, Margaret Atwood, James Tiptree Jr. and others.

¹ The National Endowment for the Humanities “Ed-sitement!” website

Week Four: The Child God and The Scapegoat: “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin

 

 

“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

 

Actor Bill Mumy in The Twilight Zone adaptation of “It’s a Good Life”

 

We start with a 1953 short story called “It’s a Good Life” by the author Jerome Bixby. The story was adapted for the television series The Twilight Zone and is considered by many, such as Time Magazine and TV Guide, to be one of the best episodes of the series. It originally aired on November 3, 1961.

 

Serling’s opening narration for the televised episode began thus, as he stood in front of a common map on a wall:

Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village.

Young Anthony Fremont is a  thirteen-year-old boy who initially appears to be like any other adolescent growing up in a small American town. Yet something is awry. He has an “odd shadow” and a “bright, wet, purple gaze” . . .the obstetrician at his birth was said to have “screamed and dropped him and tried to kill him”. As he grows, the town’s children are told that Anthony is a “nice goblin”, but they must never go near him.

Bixby’s story mostly takes place during a surprise birthday party for the Fremonts’ neighbor, Dan Hollis. The residents take turns passing around certain objects, like books, music, or furniture, since they cannot acquire anything new from the outside world.

Bixby’s story has been published many times, and was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964, an anthology of the greatest science fiction short stories prior to 1965, as judged by the Science Fiction Writers of America

Enjoy. And feel free to discuss other works on this week’s theme. You’ve got the power.

Read Bixby’s story here:

It’s a good life

 

A bit about Jerome Bixby . . .

Jerome Bixby was a short story writer as well as editor and script writer. He also wrote four episodes for the Star Trek series: “Mirror, Mirror”, “Day of the Dove”, “Requiem for Methuselah”, and “By Any Other Name”. With Otto Klement, he co-wrote the story upon which the classic sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage (1966), television series, and novel by Isaac Asimov were based. Bixby’s final work was the screenplay for the 2007 cult sci-fi film The Man From Earth.

 

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Compare/contrast this short (4-page) story by the author Ursula K. Le Guin entitled: “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” It’s a 1973 plotless, short, descriptive work of philosophical fiction, though popularly classified as a short story, by Ursula K. Le Guin. With deliberately both vague and vivid descriptions, the narrator briefly depicts a summer festival in the utopian city of Omelas, whose prosperity depends on the perpetual misery of a single child.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Short Fiction in 1974 and won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1974″ (Wikipedia) . It is anthologized often and cited as a “top 100 story” by many critics. The story raises questions about the infrastructure of societies which thrive; about anarchy and Utopia.

You can read Le Guin’s short story here.

 

Omelas

 

A bit about Le Guin . . .

 

 

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2015, she has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many honors and awards including Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, and the National Book Foundation Medal. Her most recent publications are The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, 2012, and Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, 2015.