The Seperation of Spheres: A Glimpse into the Private and Public Injustices of Women in Carol Ann Duffy’s “Feminine Gospels”

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Carol Ann Duffy’s Feminine Gospels is truly a work for our generation.  Duffy does an amazing job at establishing an overview of both the public and private spheres of men and women.  Her take on the patriarchal structure of England really leaves the reader absorbed into this time period much different from our own.  Like many of the works that I had the pleasure to read during my stay in London,  I truly gained a greater appreciation for Womankind and the struggles many of them have and/or had endured.

“Culture of the Dead:” The Victorian Fascination with the Influence of the Multi-Cultural at Highgate Cemetary

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During my excursion to the Highgate cemetery in Northern London, I noticed that the British influence was not the only cultural influence that was common to identify at this historic site.  From the architecture, to the structure of burial techniques, to the environment that surr0ounds each tombstone, mausoleum, and/or chamber, these all represent the different symbols of different cultures.  The variety of cultural influence at Highgate stems from the Victorian fascination that with the imports they brought over from the different regions under their rule.  This was during the “Victorian Age of Imperialism,” in which the Victorians would become absorbed into the culture of the lands they conquered.  A majority of the imperialist influence can be seen throughout the west side of the cemetery grounds. Not only were the Victorians fascinated with other cultures in terms of their imperialist rule, but as well they had an appreciation for the other cultures that stem from their roots as a nation.

There are three major areas in this cemetery that give us signs of these influences.  The Greco-Roman influence, the Egyptian influence and the Middle-Eastern influence.  Designs such as: the Egyptian tombs where hidden behind the walls that these tombs lay are mummified corpses; The Middle-Eastern inspired dome like tops and a Middle-eastern styled grave courtyard with a 300 year-old Lebanese tree standing tall in the middle;  and of course the Greco-Roman inspired pillars which surround mausoleum after mausoleum.  To conclude, if it was not for the Victorian’s love for their international imports and appreciation for the Roman influence that surround their own history’s roots, who knows where this historic “City of the Dead” would be.

Beat Poetry in Society: How Patience Agbabi’s “Bloodshot Monochrome” Presents Different Perspectives on rhythm and style within their Socio-Cultural Influences

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Upon and after reading Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome, I felt that work spoke to me as a beat poet. Also I felt this work spoke to me as someone who has always been fascinated with the rhythm, style and presentation that beat poetry brings to literature.  It was as if Patience Agbabi, as she was writing this collection of poems, was performing these poems in her mind as she was thinking of what to write.  I thought as well, as discussing different themes in terms of style, language and rhythm she also discusses different themes of culture, history and society.  One of the best examples of this I feel I shown in her “Problem Pages” section.  What she does so brilliantly is she presents the title of a poem; deciphers what they meant in their poem, in terms of their own personal matters or the time period they were writing in; interprets them in the form of pleas for advice; lastly, she gives her own advice on these situations as a way of conveying her perspective on each of these dilemmas.

The rhythm plays an important role in this work as well.  Especially in the poem entitled, “North(west)ern,”which uses music as a way of expressing the rhythm of spoken word without having to hear it.  The stanza that really spoke to me in terms of rhythm read:

“dancing on the road to Wigan Casino,

Northern Soul Mecca where transatlantic bass

Beat blacker than blue in glittering mono

The back, via Southport, Rhyl, to the time, place,” (13)

This poem truly represents the message of culture as well as the rhythm culrue brings to this piece.  To conclude, one can also see how not only music and rhythm but the roots of culture that brought them into existence, has played a role in not just British society, not just western society, but all society.  I feel it is safe to say the Patience Agababi shows the reader a spoken word performance, djembe drums and all, without having the actual performance right in front of us.

From Wollstonecraft to Evaristo: A Young Man’s Journey into the Influence of Social Rebellion featured in British Feminist Literature

images¬agbabi_patiencesuffragette-votes-for-womenindeximages1         Since Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women was first published, feminism has played a major role in British Literature.  Although Wollstonecraft was not the first feminist writer, she was definitely the most influential. Her works transcended the definitions of equality and liberation. She criticized ideas in Great Britain that were part of the society of the time.  Such ideas that were discussed in her work focus on: the degradation and subservience of women within the domestic spheres (i.e., the household); a confining values system towards women within the patriarchal society that was based on thousands of years of tradition of said values (such values that condemned the sexual, marital, and consensual rights of women); a male-dominated educational system; the stereotypes that have dominated the portrayals of womankind throughout history; The physically and emotionally abusive treatment that women endure in both their private and public spheres; and lastly inequality, in terms of women’s suffrage.  She took a stand against the British and as well the French patriarchy that was growing more powerful than ever.  Wollstonecraft’s works would become highly influential for her contemporaries who would follow a couple of centuries later.

However, as much as she was ahead of her time, it was her contemporaries, the writers I had the opportunity to study throughout my experience in England, who took these issues that brought about by Mary Wollstonecraft, to a whole other level.  Throughout this piece, I will be sharing my thoughts, but at the same time analyzing the relevance on six major works and archives that represent the more modern ideas that helped shape feminism.  I will also show how each of these works relate to the six key issues that were first brought up by the legendary feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft.  These works showed how feminism was viewed then as well as how it is viewed today.  As well they all give us different perspectives but at the same time make the same point clear and that is women’s rights and equality and realizing the struggles that these women went through in order to express and convey these messages.  Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels, Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe, Virginia Woolf’s Professions for Women, Carol Ann Duffy’s Feminine Gospels, Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome, and the Suffragettes’ exhibit at the Museum of London.  These works and archives do a great job at exemplifying the different socio-cultural aspects that define feminism.

The first work that I would like to discuss is Carol Ann Duffy’s selected collection of prose and poetry, “Feminine Gospels.” I feel out of all the poems in this work, it is the 20-page narrative, The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High that conveys my first topic; women in education.  It does an excellent job at exploiting the problems with the masculine society that dominated every aspect of the British education system during this time period the poem is set (the early 1960s).  Throughout this poem, we can see that women in the education system at this time weren’t really taught how to read as much or write as much but a lot of their education was centered on “lady-like” etiquette.  In other words, what a young lady should be, how a young lady should act and how a young shouldn’t act.  In that sense all they were learning was how to be a house-wife instead of being a doctor; or a lawyer; or a college professor; no all they were taught was how to be a homemaker. And don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are women who work hard to take care of everything around their home and choose to be with and care for their families and I do not mean any disrespect towards them. The difference in our day and age (at least in the western world) is that women have more of a choice. During the time this poem takes place in, this was definitely not the case.  It was sickening to know that these young ladies were not really students in the sense of future scholars but in the sense of future homemakers.

However, the poem also presents a great deal of hope for women in education through two of its most vital characters, Geraldine and Miss Dunn.  Geraldine is portrayed as this free-spirited yet somewhat rebellious student who protests the educational system she is under by encouraging this infectious laughter that is tearing this school apart.  And then there is Miss Dunn who, like the rest of the teachers in this piece, was trying to assimilate her students to this life under what I call the “homemaker-label” (i.e., the molding of a young lady into the assimilated stereotype of a house-wife of that time period and/or prior).  In actuality, Miss Dunn is shamed by the society around her for not being married due to “the moral standard” that a woman must follow.  But, towards the end of this poem, Miss Dunn comes to this self-realization that there is more to womanhood than just staying the home and pleasing and caring for one’s man, but exploring the world outside of the socio-domestic constructs that make up this atmosphere. This piece represents the need to break free from this oppressive sphere of education.

My next topic, the degradation and subservience of women within the domestic spheres, will focus on Virginia Woolf’s essay “Professions for Women.”  This was part of Woolf’s Seven Essay article in Vanity Fair in which she criticizes Coventry Patmore’s The Angel in the House and his portrayal of the “perfect woman.”  The essay goes in depth on how when women write they provide themselves a great opportunity to “killing the angel in the house” (metaphorically speaking).  This refers to women stripping the bonds of their subservient homemaker duties but to go out and make a name for their own livelihoods.  I felt Woolf goes into a great deal with this by using her own profession as an established scholarly writer as a way of showing that women can break these foundations.

In this essay, Woolf discusses the topic of opportunities outside of the household for women.  She argues that:

“Even when the path is nominally open–when there is nothing to prevent a woman from being a doctor, a lawyer, a civil servant–there are many phantoms and obstacles, as I believe, looming in her way.” (Professions for Women)

According to Woolf, these “obstacles” are not only represented by the male dominated system that these domestic spheres were ruled under, but also by the women who were brainwashed into this form of patriarchal imprisonment.  Her message was to free women out of this spectral livelihood of the stereotypical homemaker and become something greater without the pressures from this society ruled by men crashing down on them.  The obstacles that stand in the way of opportunities for women haunt the words written in this legendary piece.  By preaching to “kill the angel in the house,” she implies this need to break free within women and this need to do more.  Its messages like this essay brings that made promote feminism and the individuality of women to their fullest potential.

The third topic that will be discussed covers the confining values system towards women within the patriarchal society that was based on thousands of years of tradition of said values (such values that condemned the sexual, marital, and consensual rights of women).  Bernardine Evaristo’s “The Emperor’s Babe” is the best example of these concerning issues.  The prose is centered on the Roman-Londinium era in England and shows a more modern, feminist portrayal of the women living in this society during the time.  As most know or should know the treatment of women was extremely unjust and oppressive.  The women of Londinium, in 211 A.D., lacked education, opportunities of true political power, and self-empowerment.  However, the main character in this prose, Zuleika, provides us as readers this “what if” scenario of this empowered, intelligent and rebellious woman.  Zuleika moves her way up after her tragic trade-off from her father into her forced marriage with Emperor Septimus Severus. However, she learns and moves her way up to power and becomes the true definition of a “queen bee.”  The unique personality that she develops in her experience in the presence of royalty makes her more than just some pretty face but a force to be reckoned with.  But as well we see the influence of African roots and the customs and values that they showed towards the women in their culture.  Being the daughter of Sudanese immigrants in Londinium at the time we can see how nonchalant her father was about selling her to Emperor Severus.

However, her wit does get her far.  Another aspect of the self that gets her far is her rebellious opinions against the traditional yet absurd etiquette that women were forcibly assimilated to.  An example of this is shown when Zuleika narrates:

“A lady uses powdered horn to enamel her teeth dontcha know, and powdered mouse brains to keep her breath sweet. I am pampered by maids, an ornatrix is weaving Indian hair into my own, six pads- Vestal- style. They are painting me white with chalk, my lips and cheeks with the lees of red wine, don’t talk! Black ash is dabbed onto my eyes.”  (27)

This implies two different feelings that Zuleika has at this time; feelings of happiness at the fact that she is living the life of royalty, yet at the same time feelings of defiant discontent towards the lifestyle she leads while her people are suffering.   Her sassy, lively attitudes are I feel what drive us to her character and how she took the inhumane action of being sold into a marital relationship by her own father and turned it around into her own move into power.

The fourth topic I will talk about will be on the physically and emotionally abusive treatment that women endured in both their private and public spheres.  The work that I felt represents this topic the best is Tracy Chevalier’s “Falling Angels” as the source for this topic.  To be honest, I could talk about the fact that the novel takes place and is focused on the early years of the Suffragettes’ Movement in England at the turn of the century, but there were other feminist issues that were focused in this novel.  When I read it I felt that this topic on this form of abuse made its presence heavily felt in this novel.  To be honest, I thought that the situations and the characters involved in them, conveyed just as much of the verbal and physical abuse towards the women during the time period of this novel, as the issues concerning the Suffragettes’ Movement.

For example, on pages 71-72, when Lavinia’s younger sister Ivy May, an innocent young lady, is raped by Mr. Jackson, to many of us (at least in a western society) we find these actions to be disgusting and psychotic but in the early 20th century, it was acceptable to do such despicable actions in this patriarchal mad house.  Even though this was not the most detailed literary depiction out of everything we have read, this was definitely one of the most graphic in my opinion, because just the slightest hint of rape; the subservience that Ivy May shows afterwards; and the acceptance we see towards Mr. Jackson’s actions is highly disturbing.

The fifth topic, the stereotypes that have dominated the portrayals of womankind throughout history, is greatly demonstrated in Patience Agbabi’s “Bloodshot Monochrome.”  Due to how important the theme of cultural awareness is in this work by Agbabi, a feminist outlook is conveyed in some of these poems within this work.  This feminist outlook in some of these poems could be Agbabi’s way of showing her appreciation for the male and female poets who paved the way her.  However, she expresses this assertive language as a form of retaliation and rejection towards the patriarchal oppression that kept the women writers that influenced her confined in both their greater capabilities as writers and as equal individuals in their societies.

In Agbabi’s work we don’t see the stereotypical “damsel in distress;” an evil witch; a woman who is looking to seduce her next male victim; an uneducated ditz; nor a homemaker (or as W.M. Thackeray called it, as I already went over, “the angel in the house”).  Instead we are exposed to an incredibly different view of women within this work.  There are a few examples that I could point out that can be found in this work.  However, the example that I thought best fits this breaking of stereotypes the best, is found in the poem “Josephine Baker Finds Herself.”  The poem mainly points out something that has become fairly new to British literature.  And that is the perspective of homosexuality; specifically this poem focuses on a lesbian couple and how they use their sense of togetherness to get them through whatever struggles they may be going through.  This outlook on a woman’s sexual orientation is definitely an example of Agbabi breaking the boundaries of the patriarchal stereotypes of women. However, there was another poem in this work which contradicts this different viewpoint of womankind.

This was when I began reading the sonnet “Vicious Circle.” In this piece, it went back to this stereotypical portrayal of a woman in England.  And at first we see a man who is truly in love with this woman, who not only does not feel the same but by more modern terms, could be assumed as a “gold-digger” (i.e., a woman who uses guys for their money by promising love and faithfulness).   However, one can start to see a change in him when his love turns into an obsession.  The result of this obsessive behavior left me, the reader with these last lines courtesy of this woman:

“He’s walking towards me. I can hear her crying. I struggle to wake up but can’t quite. The last thing I see before I die, the vicious gaze of his gun’s eye in a basement bar. Black. And white.” (72)

To me it seemed like this woman was scared for her life and we can see this clearly in the narrative, something one would not expect Agbabi to write about. So not only do we see a woman portrayed as this person of wicked intentions but we also see it lead to her demise.  This portrayal goes back with the traditions of the patriarchy.

My final topic that will be discussed was inequality, in terms of Women’s suffrage. I specifically turn to the archives of the Suffragettes’ Movement which I had the honor to view in person as they were exhibited at the Museum of London.  And that is when I found out about the Women’s Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U.), one of the most important feminist coalitions formed during the time of the Suffragettes’ movement (the early 1900s).  Even though Women’s suffrage was not achieved until 1920, the W.S.P.U. still managed to gain a wide amount of support and hold rallies and demonstrations with techniques way ahead of their time.  For example, thanks to one of the curators I have the privilege to meet I was able to receive an exclusive look at photos that were not feature in the exhibit.  One of the photos that I thought really symbolized that feminist spirit was a photo of one of a controversial suffragette rally that was done in London.  It is a photo of these women in what were at the time, very “risky” outfits.  They were dressed in nearly skin tight clothing resembling that of Peter Pan. Other information I received from this exhibit was vital to know for the topic of feminism.  Such as the infamous leaders of the W.S.P.U. Emmeline Pankhurst who withstood arrests on more than several occasions for the good of her cause and suffered the inhuman acts of forced-feeding during her imprisonments.  These women were courageous and revolutionary, especially for the time period they were in. The archives that I witnessed at this museum really opened my mind to a struggle that I was just being introduced to for the first time but it was definitely gave me a greater appreciation for their struggle and greater appreciation for the feminism and its rich history.

In conclusion, this whole experience that I had the privilege and honor to be part of was something will be forever imprinted in my mind.  The reason I chose feminism as a topic for my learning analysis was because out of all the different aspects of history that I learned during this trip, the one I took to heart the most was a greater appreciation for the pioneers of feminism, not only within the literary community but as mentioned prior with the suffragettes’ exhibit, in the socio-cultural community too.  And even though Mary Wollstonecraft was not covered during the education I received during this experience, her Twentieth Century contemporaries, truly “keep calm and carry on…” the spirit of feminism. Furthermore, it’s these qualities of what me and my fellow students read that really not just for my sake but brought all of us to a greater understanding of feminism.

Works Cited

Agbabi, Patience. Bloodshot Monochrome. London: Canongate, 2008. Print.

Chevalier, Tracy. Falling Angels.  London: Penguin, 2001. Print.

Duffy, Carol Ann. Feminine Gospels. London: Faber & Faber, 2002. Print.

Evaristo, Bernardine. The Emperor’s Babe. London: Penguin, 2001. Print.

Suffragettes’ Exhibit.” Museum of London. 2013. Archive.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Ed. Deidre Shauna Lynch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women.” S.Spachman.Tripod.com. Web. 14. Oct. 2013.

 

 

 

 

My First Solo Photography Exhibition

A woman writing London through blogging and photography. Check our Steph’s work and kick in on the kickstarter page to support her first exhibition in London, if you can.

Little London Observationist

I have some really cool news to share with you guys today – I have been offered space at The Chance Gallery in Chelsea to hold my first solo photography exhibition this November! So excited!

Little City Observations^ ^ ^ PIN ME, PLEASE! ^ ^ ^

There will be lots of London images, printed on canvas, as well as a few from my travels to other cities. The exhibition will be called Little City Observations.

To raise the cost of printing and the gallery fee, I’ve created a little Kickstarter page and it would be really really wonderful if any of you are able to sponsor me, or even just share the link on Facebook, Twitter, or in a blog post!

There’s some fun rewards (coasters, postcards, prints, notebooks) for anyone who can toss a few pounds my way. It would really mean a lot if you could support me in some…

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“Identity Crisis:” How the Characters in Ali Smith’s “There but for the” Struggle with the Knowledge of who they are and and the Reality of the World Around them

therebutforthe Ali-Smith-007 Throughout Ali Smith’s  There but for the, many of the characters in this novel struggle with who they are.  The term “identity crisis” would be an understatement for some these characters.  However, each character’s poor sense of identity is represented by a struggle within the self.  This lack of self-knowledge towards their own identities leads to their own madness to develop.  The first character that I would like to discuss is Mark, who strangely enough most of this story is centered around.  Mark is confounded by his own sexuality and his is disillusioned with his relationship to reality.  And as much as he tries to keep it under control, he has urges that go beyond our everyday parameters.  As well his touch with reality has been lost when we find out he still talks to his mother even though she died 47 years earlier.

Another character to point out would be Genevieve who struggles with who she is by speaking for others such as in the first chapter entitled There, where she discusses Mark’s sexual orientation out in the open, She does this knowing that he is a closeted homosexual which ends up looking as a disrespectful gesture mainly because she takes away Mark’s own ability to be out in open himself that he is gay.  In that sense, Genevieve does this because with all of the social problems she suffers from, she feels like this older sister or even motherly figure towards Mark and his dilemma but in actuality struggles with this care for herself.

To conclude there are other characters who have represented this side of a lost sense of identity, but the two best examples can be seen through Mark and Genevieve.  Mark represents the need for acceptance for who he is, whether that is presented by his homosexuality (including his somewhat scandalous relationship with a man 20 years younger than him); or his disturbed relationship with his mother even after her death.  Genevieve represents the need to be a caregiver for Mark even though she has a lot to take of in terms of her own issues.

“The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire:” How the Decadence of the British Museum was Built Over the Victims of Imperialism

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Ever since the dawn of civilizations, imperialism has played a major yet pessimistic role on society and culture.  There are four major issues that have resulted from imperialism.   Cultural assimilation; cultural endangerment; cultural and environmental exploitation; and cultural diaspora.  From the Romans to the Napoleonic, the conquest of a widespread empire has been a driving force for imperialism.  However, after witnessing the all of the different collections of artifacts from nearly every civilization, there is no doubt that no empire has exemplified imperialism better than the British Empire. From half of the African continent; India; Pakistan; China; Japan to our own nation, the U.S.A.; Southwestern and South-central Canada; and Jamaica; for over 350 years British colonialism and imperialism ruled the world.  The British Museum is a prime example of these distraught feelings being represented in the form of preserved artifacts from these fallen nations.  For example when I saw the collections from orient I asked myself; why is this amazing statue of the Buddha displayed here in England when the birthplace of this work of art is in India?

It all goes back to how the culture was brought here to England which was a major result of imperialism.  In this sense of realizing the imperialistic intentions of empires like Great Britain especially back then, it was taken from the native land and brought here not to preserve its history but to preserve the history of Great Britain’s glory and power.  Do not get me wrong, I thought of my excursion to the British Museum to be one of awe-inspiring proportions.  To see the legendary Rosetta Stone; one of the only existing copies of the Parthenon; or as I mentioned before the different statues of the Buddha; it was truly an amazing experience.  But as I said before these artifacts should be displayed in their area of origin not in the nation who stole them from all of the different tribes and native people of these lands.  To conclude, I feel my share of excitement to see such historic treasures but I personally would feel better if I knew that these artifacts were displayed in their country of origin. Whether it is a collection from Egypt, or a collection from China; imperialism is the main reason we see these artifacts displayed there still to this day.