Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 10


The use of the window as symbol for lesbian sexual desire is a theme I have recently developed in my study of Katherine Mansfield. I have been especially vigilant for the "window" in A Room of One's Own and was not disappointed. Initially the idea of windows came to mind when imagining a room. Woolf does not suggest having a house of one's own, but a single room. This could be because women were rarely in possession of their own real estate in these days, but it could also be because in a room all the focus is contained within a small area. All the passion is trapped within a limited amount of space, just as a woman's homosexual desire would have been limited at this time. Also, when imaging a room (and in my experience) the room Woolf describes is likely a smaller room, with one door - perhaps a bedroom or an office. This room is certainly not a main thoroughfare in the house like the living room or the dining room where the woman's writing would be disturbed. In my experience, smaller rooms usually have a single window. To me this single window symbolizes the same repressed and singularly focused energy that the room does.

In Susan Gubar's introduction she describes the "solitary female figure gazing out a window or working at a desk, or simply an interior of window giving out to a view of the sky" (XLIX) This imagery alone might be overlooked except for it's TWO references to windows within the same sentence. The woman looks out the window to get a view of the world - she has no choice. Her only option for a view would be this singular window. (Reminding me of the book A Room With a View!) Just as woman has no option but to look from this one window, so woman has no option but to be a woman and to write from a woman’s perspective. She can only look through the window of her femininity - it is her only option. In her introduction Gubar also describes a "window into Woolf's own struggles as a writer" (XL). An interesting choice of symbols considering the subject matter.

Woolf herself is very cautious of windows in A Room of One's Own. Her description of how "purples and golds burn in window-panes like the beat of an excitable heart" (16) really personifies windows for the reader as a way to see the soul. Windows are mentioned again and again in A Room of One's Own, making their significance difficult to dismiss.
In her essay "Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own" Jane Marcus notes the "conspiracy" which Woolf seemed to have with those who attended her "girl talk" lectures. She says "literary women gathered in a room together to discuss writing are, at least symbolically, Lesbians, and the law is the enemy" (166). Over all, the theme of the room and the window prevails over even the lectures of Virginia Woolf. She and her "Lesbians" are closed off from the world in their room full of women, with only one window to look out upon the outside world. She has constructed a very closed society for herself as a woman, with the window being the focal point - the only point which let's in light.

I couldn't help but connect with Woolf while reading this book. She has drawn me in as a woman. I have no choice but to identify with her.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 9

Eliot wrote, "About anyone so great as Shakespeare, it is probable that we can never be right; and if we can never be right, it is better that we should from time to time change our way of being wrong. Whether truth ultimately prevails is doubtful and has never been proved; but it is certain that nothing is more effective in driving out error than a new error" (Weiss 1). This quote seems to perfectly answer Virginia Woolf's question in her essay "Modern Fiction." Virginia Woolf asks "Is it worth while? What is the point of it all?....Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while" (3). There is a huge gap in the thought process of these two literary giants. This quote also comes quickly to mind when reading Erwin R. Steinberg's "Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot's Personal Wasteland." It seems that Woolf, in her judgment of Eliot, has embraced this philosophy wholeheartedly. She seems to fluxuate between liking and respecting Eliot and thinking of him as "a very vain man" (6). Her inward thoughts about him, his work, and his wife are all very different from her outward acts of inviting him on outings and publishing his work. This distinct separation of the inward mind and the outward actions and words is a theme I found in Mrs. Dalloway.

Woolf's writing style, a very distinct separation between the internal thought and the external dialogue, is extremely interesting. Because most of Woolf's characters are so internal, I believe that this implies a distinct separation between each and every character. Thoughts are rarely shared aloud. Also, her noticeable lack of spoken dialogue between characters suggests this same separation. I am inclined to believe, having read very little Virginia Woolf, that she was a very internal person and felt a very distinct separation from most of the people in her life, and most definitely from most people in the world.

In Mrs. Dalloway all of Clarissa's thoughts suggest (to me) the oppression of a very internal and limited consciousness. Clarissa's stream of consciousness never rests long on one thought or one person. She seems to be experiencing or at least considering the thoughts and emotions of all the people in her life and in a way that seems overwhelmingly oppressive. Just as Clarissa takes on the job of buying the flowers herself, she takes on the cares and emotions of her husband, Peter Walsh, and even Elizabeth and her relationship with Miss Kilman. There is not an emotion, issue, love, or hate that Clarissa doesn't feel (or at least consider) just as if it was her own. As a side note, at this time in Europe women were expected to be more internal.

In contrast to Clarissa who is absorbed by those around her as well as her own thoughts, Septimus seems to be absorbed by his own singular consciousness. He internalizes all his feelings and thoughts, shutting out his wife and the real world. He seems to have internalized so much that he lives entirely in his own head with little thought for others. This is quite interesting because Septimus, as a man, was not expected to be this internal. He is still bound by social constraints that women of this time were subjected to, but he still is not expected to be so closed off. His wife is so concerned about his mentality that she takes him to a doctor who takes the problem seriously enough. It was interesting how internalizing would be seen as an illness in a man, but Clarissa (who is unarguably internal) is considered completely healthy.

In David Trotters Essay "The Modernist Novel," he discusses (what appears to be) this same limited consciousness using example of Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse. He details the "impersonal egotism" (81) which "manifests itself as an absurd reduction of everything family, on Mr. Ramsay's part, and an absurd expansion of the family until it becomes everything, on Mrs. Ramsay's part" (81). Although I refuse to be so arrogant as to draw any concrete assumptions about Virginia Woolf's mental state and it's manifestation in her writing, (I have read very little Woolf) this theme seems to be developing relatively consistently throughout her literary works.

This says quite a bit about Virginia Woolf's possible views on woman and mental illness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 8

The Waste Land: The Necessary Evil of Sex

While it is well know that The Waste Land references many classic and sometimes obscure literary texts, Shakespeare makes one of several appearances in this poem through one of the primary themes. The juxoposition of love and lust in The Waste Land is also the principle subject discussed in Shakespeare's sonnet 129. Shakespeare describes lust as "Savage, extreme, rude, cruel" (4) and "Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight" (5). This condemnation of lust describes perfectly the sexual encounter of the typist and the clerk in The Fire Sermon.

The Cleanth Brooks article The Waste Land: An Analysis, paraphrases John Crowe Ransom's essay God Without Thunder which says, "Love is the aesthetic of sex; lust is the science. Love implies a deferring of the satisfaction of the desire; it implies even certain asceticism and a ritual. Lust drives forward urgently and scientifically to the immediate extirpation of the desire" (Brooks 193). It seemed strange that both Brooks and Ransom ignored Shakespeare's sonnet dealing with exactly this subject when writing their analysis.

Although the typist in The Waste Land is less than enthusiastic, the clerk needs no more than "indifference" from her to accomplish his goal. Immediately after they copulate he gives her "one final patronizing kiss/And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit" (247-48). The typist does not simply abandon the encounter like the clerk, who leaves and immediately occupies his mind with his escape down the poorly lit staircase. The typist spares a moment to consider the encounter and thinks "Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over" (252). By despising the sexual encounter the typist falls neatly into Shakespeare’s formula for lust, but what does it mean that Eliot deviates from Shakespeare's formula in the case of the clerk? The clerk seems to regret nothing about the evening, but instead forgets it immediately. He shows no sign of guilt or shame when he kisses the typist and leaves her apartment.

This theme is also evident in A Game of Chess where the narrator pleads with Lil to have sex with her husband, a soldier. The narrator reminds her that if she chooses to refrain from sex with her husband, he might find sex elsewhere and asks her "What you get married for if you don't want children" (164)? Why should the narrator plead for Lil to have sex with her husband? How is it any of his business and why does it matter if Lil cares nothing for sex? Apparently, in some ways, sex is very important to Eliot.

This paradoxical element is explained in Cleanth Brooks essay when he quotes Eliot's essay Baudelaire. Eliot writes "So far as we are human, what we do must be either evil or good; so far as we do evil or good, we are human; and it is better, in a paradoxical way, to do evil than to do nothing: at least, we exist" (186). Perhaps Eliot is attempting to say that Shakespeare got it a little wrong. While lust is "Savage, extreme, rude, cruel," (4) to perform the (deplorable) sex act is to live. This could also have a two-fold meaning. While to do evil (in the form of copulation) is to live, to copulate is also life-giving in a more literal sense. Without the necessary evil of lust, life would be impossible spiritually and physically.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Katherine Mansfield's Spirituality

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 7

Katherine Mansfield's Spirituality

Katherine Mansfield's writing struck me as having surprising detailed sexualized imagery embeded within her short stories. In her short story "Prelude," Mansfield describes Linda's dream of her father and herself wandering in a field. When her father "bent down and parted the grasses and showed her a tiny ball of fluff," (a bird) Linda is elated. Strangely enough, "As she stroked it began to swell, it ruffled and pouched, it grew bigger and bigger and its round eyes seemed to smile knowingly at her....It had become a baby with a big naked head and a gaping bird-mouth" (89). Just a few paragraphs later in "Prelude" Mansfield describes Linda relaxing lazily in bed in the morning before breakfast, tracing the wallpaper with her finger. She describes the poppy printed wallpaper as "a leaf and a stem and a fat bursting bud," (91) imagery which by itself may be unremarkable. When combined with further description of "the sticky, silky petals, the stem, hairy like a gooseberry skin, the rough leaf and the tight glazed bud" (91) the imagery seems extremely sexual in nature! Katherine Mansfield's character Bertha is not immune to this passion which seems to burn inside the Mansfield characters from "Prelude." In Mansfield's story "Bliss," Bertha is unable to extinguish the "fire in her bosom" (148) for all the world! Bertha is practically unable to curb "the fire of bliss" (151) she feels when she takes Miss Fulton's arm to lead her to dinner. Finally, as Bertha and Miss Fulton stand admiring the garden by moonlight, Bertha imagines her tree beginning to "stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed - almost to touch the rim of the round silver moon" (153). Incidentally I immediately noticed that the moon is traditionally a celestial being closely associated with women and fertility.

Constantia has an almost religious experience with the moon in Katherine Mansfield's story "The Daughters of the Late Colonel." She blames the moon for her bizarre behavior as she lay naked on the floor as if she had been crucified. Strangely enough, Mansfield also mentions Constantia's Buddha. The mixture of this spiritual imagery is confusing and yet almost devotional.

Katherine Mansfield also seems very aware of other-worldly spirits in her writing. In "Prelude" Kezia is so frightened by "IT" she is unable to leave her empty house before her sister comes looking for her. Linda also seems very aware of the unearthly presence of "THEY." Both presences, "IT" and "THEY," seem omniscient and ever present. This spiritual theme seems present in all of Katherine Mansfield's stories.

Cats seem to be a connecting theme in several of Mansfield's stories. In "Bliss" Bertha pronounces cats "creepy things" (148) even in the midst of her blissful passion for life. In the final lines of "Bliss" Bertha describes her guests Eddie and Miss Fulton as leaving her home "like the black cat following the grey cat" (155). She uses this reference directly after she discovers her husband is having an affair with Miss Fulton (a woman Bertha seems to be uncontrollably attracted to herself!) In "Prelude" Kezia imagines that "hundreds of black cats with bright yellow eyes sat in the sky watching her - but she was not frightened" (87). While some ancient civilizations revered cats as ancient and all knowing souls, often endowed with the power of omniscience, there are also many cultures which hold cats as a bad omen. Black cats are often thought to be bad luck to passers by, and cats are also thought to be closely associated with witches. Along the same vein, cats were thought to be helpers sent from the devil himself to assist witches here on earth (coincidentally these witches were usually women.)

Katherine Mansfield seems to be a highly spiritual woman, with no real focused direction for her overabundant spirituality. She seems to waver between celebrating sexuality and celebrating simply the sexuality of woman. She seems unable to decide which religion is the more suitable for her and instead inserts snippets of various religions into her stories like babies’ breath in a floral arrangement. She obviously has a sense of history and love of folk-lore which borders on religious! Her dogged inclusion of spirituality in all it's forms, and her presentation of "IT" and "THEY" in "Prelude" lead me to believe that she believes that spirituality in all its many divine forms is omnipresent. Her stories are all laced with equal amounts of mysticism, making them all equally compelling and enthralling. Such deep and impactfull writing is a joy to read and comment on.