WINNIFRED – Part 2


They had lived with the knowledge of their mother’s childhood almost all their lives.  The horror of how Winnifred and her brothers, the middle three kids, were taken by their father from their siblings – to lighten his load when their precious mother died from complications from the ninth baby’s birth – to live in Morialta Children’s Home on the edge of the Adelaide Hills, hung like a guilty cloud over their lives.  It coloured their perspectives, it undermined their sense of security – if it happened to her it could happen to them – and it made her overly precious to them.

And as time passed, as they moved from childhood to teens, they were constantly aware of the progress she made in her life – her attainments were like stepping stones, each praised and complimented when reached, with the knowledge that there would be more to come.  What a role model!  Not that they thought of her in that way – it wasn’t a phrase bandied about back then, but in retrospect that is what she was.  Yet it left them feeling that they could never catch her.  She was always way out in front, ahead of them, and when they did later pass her they didn’t notice it.

For them, there was a drawback to this as well.  She was so busy attaining her own goals in her careers – musical and educational – that she failed to assist them to attain theirs.  She knew they could all sing, that they could all play instruments, could write well and were artistically creative, but her notions of what constituted a working career didn’t apply to their talents.  Consequently, they were encouraged and organised into teaching and nursing careers that suited none of them, instead of into music, stage and art careers.  Inevitably they opted out, felt like failures, then tried to resurrect their particular talents later in life, when they had ‘missed the proverbial boat’!

Too late in her life she realised that she had done this.  Too late, after competing with them as they made their musical way into amateur renown, did she acknowledge that she had failed to support them, had ignored them – still in the ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ mode that was one of the legacies of her terrible upbringing – had considered their talents as multiple but only hobby-worthy.  They did not reach her brilliance.  They could not reach her brilliance.  Not in her mind or theirs.

But as age crept in, and the avaricious ambition of other singers in the amateur musical societies that she frequented began to stress her, she withdrew and looked at this one failure of hers with startled wonder of growing guilt.  How had she remained oblivious to this self-centred characteristic?  Her life had been about her – a created life.  Her husband was seen as part of her support system – his baritone voice complimented her glorious soprano in myriad duets – they were the stars of all the shows.  Her children were seen as a credit to her, dressed properly at all times in public, taught to not embarrass her in public though there were many slip-ups intentional and unintentional as they aged, but always in her shadow.  They were an adjunct to her.

She began to write her story so it wouldn’t be lost when she was gone.  The chapters poured out of her, written about a character she called Emily.  But it was her story.  Her daughter helped her get it in order, transferred it onto computer disks, tightening it slightly but sticking as closely to her mother’s written word as she could.  There were copious hand-written pages that needed transcribing – some were done, some still waited.  All were gathered together, but it was emotionally hard to transcribe, as the terrible abuses that she suffered in the Home were resurrected in black and white.  Not just something told, but there on the page, inescapable.

Then the thing she’d been dreading all her life occurred – reoccurred.  She was put back into a Home!  She contracted a debilitating illness – Cerebral Nuclear Palsy, similar to Motor Neurone Disease – where though her mind remained sharp and intelligent, her body gradually shut down over a dozen years till she could no longer speak or move.  She had to go into a Nursing Home.  Her husband, now in his nineties, could no longer look after her.  Not could the Carers who came daily to assist.  She needed medical facilities.

Their guilt at ‘putting her into a home’ after years of promising this would never happen because they wouldn’t allow it, bore down on them with each visit.  They had no choice.  They told her so vehemently, lovingly, continually.  They had held it off way past the point of no return.  They all loved her – a love/hate of decades of baggage churned around them  – extremes of adoration mixed with resentment, encased in shrouds of guilt.  How could they do to her what her father had done?

When her time came they kept a vigil for six days, rostered between them, keeping her beloved music playing, not leaving her alone  – she must not be alone.  The relief was tangible when she slipped away.  How could fate choose someone so brilliant, so intelligent, to play such a cruel trick on.  But she had made it to 86!  She had hung in there and not let it beat her, as she had done all her life.  The warmth and glow of her personality, her star-quality was gone, but the treasured memories of these and of her attainments overrode the negative feelings, the baggage.  They clung onto the positives and gave her a star’s send-off.

(C) Jud House  10/06/2013

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THESIS – THE WRITING OF ‘MADAM PELE: A Contemporary Fantasy Novel’


What led me to write my novel ‘Madam Pele’, as a contemporary Mythical Fantasy novel – including discussions of both literary theory and influential authors of several genres.

For those of you who wish to view the complete Thesis, the following Link takes you directly to my Thesis page within the Edith Cowan University Repository.   Click on Madam Pele: novel and essay to open, then scroll and read the complete Thesis.

http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/37

Below is a Synopsis laying out the format of the Thesis.

ABSTRACT

In this essay I cover contemporary theoretical considerations, such as Modernism, Postmodernism and Fantasy, and the influences of various authors’ writing techniques, descriptive language and narrative-plot genres, that led me to want to write my novel Madam Pele as a contemporary mythical fantasy.

Naturally, my personal experiences form the foundation of the novel, especially those in Hawaii which contribute to its scope, but writing style is of equal importance.  In order to demonstrate what has led me to this stage of style development and position of perceptions, my early reading history and an analysis of the influential authors is a necessity.

‘Travelogue’ novels.

My definition of a ‘travelogue’ novel is one that describes the details of a journey to another country or location, as the vehicle for the story which is often secondary to those details.  I discuss two influential ‘travelogue’ novels: A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble, and Faraway by J B Priestley.

Crime novel plotting.

Having, over the years, accumulated an extensive library in Crime/Mystery fiction, with their often complex logical plots, I have learned not only to apply my analytical mind, by focussing on minutiae, but have gained a firm grounding in plot construction.

Analysis of influential authors.

Moving through the works of various authors I rejected many and was drawn closely to others.  I found that the novels that remained embedded in my mind contained the elements of satisfying plots, and mystery that was not always criminal, as I was drawn towards fantasy fiction.

Modern and Postmodern characteristics.

I discuss what characteristics constitute Modernism and Postmodernism, listing them as gleaned from my studies of Literary Theory, and reinforcing it with quotes from  Lewis and Moss.

Descriptive Language.

I define some literary terms, such as metaphor, simile, metonymy and synecdoche, and the specified or unspecified tenor of these language tropes which were often used figuratively.  They could all evoke an image that was instantly recognized, including the connotations of the chosen likenesses, and the baggage of intertextuality, the resultant image suggested – imagery contributing to the clarity of the wit, humour and landscape of the authors’ texts.

A particular knack with words.

Under this heading I deal with those authors whose works demonstrate this particular language use, plus aspects of literary theory that have been influential to my writing style.

Dylan Thomas:  I discuss Dylan Thomas’s use of evocative language in his prose, in some detail, referring to works such as Quite Early One Morning, HolidayMemory, and Under Milk Wood.  I love his prose.  It is easy, enjoyable, and engaging to read, written to be read aloud so that the music of the language can be heard.

P G Wodehouse:  While his plots and characters provide some comic nature to his stories, I believe the main contribution comes from his use of language, his surprising descriptive imagery, his use of metaphors and similes.  They engender chuckles that swell to gales of laughter.  I discuss this aspect of his writing, referring to Galahad at Blandings to illustrate my views.

Tim Winton:  Like P G Wodehouse, Tim Winton is a crafter of words, with the gift of creating evocative imagery.   I discuss his novel Lockie Leonard, HumanTorpedo, with its colloquial Australian language; followed by a detailed analysis of his novel The Riders and the Postmodern aspects of its text, including fantasy elements.

William Golding:  In his novel, Pincher Martin, Golding depicts the plight of a man lost at sea during the war, struggling to survive the elements while stranded on an isolated rock.  This novel demonstrates a Bakhtinian notion of ‘self’, as the protagonist strives to retain his identity without a reflected image or his view of himself as seen by others.

Fantasy.

            After defining Fantasy, Imagery and the Imagination, arguing for the legitimacy of fantasy as a general product of the imagination in line with Coleridge, Tolkien, and Le Guin’s opinions, I indicate the different types of Fantasy – High Fantasy, Sci-Fi Fantasy, and Realistic Fantasy – pointing out that my novel, Madam Pele, falls between High Fantasy and Realistic Fantasy, containing as it does authentic mythology presented within a real setting.

Analysis of influential authors.

High Fantasy.

I discuss J R R Tolkien’s views expressed in his essay On Fairy Stories, using an extract from my Honours thesis most of which I have included as an Appendix.

Sci-Fi Fantasy.

Briefly I discuss the works of Julian May, and glanced at “the increasingly inaccurately named Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy” byDouglas Adams.

Realistic Fantasy.

            The authors under this heading constitute my main focus as they deal with the area that I have chosen for my own novel.  Each has its own area of fantasy that is relevant to my work as indicated.

William Golding:  one step outside reality in The Inheritors.

Patricia Wrightson:  re her rock character in The Nargun and the stars.

Daphne Du Maurier: her temporal slippage between medieval and current Cornwall in The House on the Strand.

Susan Cooper: re her detailed use of medieval myths and symbols to authenticate her Dark is Rising series

J K Rowling: re the compounding complexities of her wizard world narratives.

Contemporary Fantasy.

This refers to other authors using postmodern format for fantasy, who opened doors for me to future writing possibilities.

Madam Pele : the novel.

My goal was to recreate an authentic myth into a contemporary literary myth including sufficient elements of the realistic novel to provide access to modern readers.  This section illustrates the methods that I used to achieve this.

Madam Pele – outline.

This gives a brief synopsis of my narrative, covering both the Hawaiian holiday taken by Di and Paul, but also their present predicament in Perth and their interaction with Madam Pele.

The importance of Madam Pele.

I discuss the importance of the character of Madam Pele to my narrative, through which her own story interweaves.

Postmodern characteristics.

I relist these characteristics and discuss their relevance within my narrative.

Geometric plotline.

This explains my geometric way of looking at the plotline, and includes a diagram.

Devices.

After defining the term, devices, I then discuss each device individually, showing how and why I have used it as a writing technique, under the subheadings: Dialogue; Non-essential descriptions; Patterns; Voices; Active Verbs; Free Verse; Inserts; ‘Travelogue’ nature.

 

Conclusion.

I mention that I hope my demonstration was successful regarding my reasons for writing my novel, Madam Pele, as a contemporary mythical fantasy, and that it indeed stands up as such – the implausable becoming reality with the Pele myth incorporated into the contemporary world.

PETER CAREY – BLISS – NOVEL & MOVIE




NARRATIVE DEVICES

In the novel, BLISS, Peter Carey used a number of narrative devices to facilitate the conveyance of the story.  The most significant of these was his use of storytelling – he created narratives within a narrative, or what Robert Scholes called fabulation in his book ‘FABULATION AND METAFICTION’ (Scholes, cited Dovey, 1983)  For example, by the means of Vance’s story of New York:

In New York there are towers of glass.  It is the most beautiful and terrible city on earth.  All good, all evil exist there. . . . If you know where to look, you can find the devil.  That is where he lives. . . . But New York is full of saints, they . . .” (Carey, 1982 p. 18).

Carey was able to introduce the ideas of power, evil, goodness, and fascination with America generally, and New York in particular into the story.  This fabulation was varied and involved many of his characters.

Primarily the stories told to Harry by his father, Vance, then retold by Harry to his family, friends and work associates, were the basis for Bettina’s dreams and aspirations of success, while they became a security blanket for Harry in times of stress.  From them sprang the lies and dreams of his son, David, who wanted to be able to tell stories like his father.  When he discovered that he had no talents for narration, he determined to live out a story of his own devising, even though it led to his death.

Alex Duval’s secret, truthful reports were another variation of storytelling, and another device for bringing the theme of cancer and corruption to the attention of the reader.  It also re-introduced the message of punishment for wrong-doing which gradually built up within the story.

Honey Barbara’s stories of her commune home, of Krishna and folk-law, and even of the ‘dream police’, were also a form of fabulation.  They suggested an alternative lifestyle to the corrupt, degenerate one that Harry was currently living – a tempting Paradise as a foil for the Hell in which he felt trapped.

Bettina’s advertisements, and her dreams of New York, were also fabulation, providing her character with substance and a sense of reality.  At the asylum the old man, Nurse, who wrote down his memories so he wouldn’t forget them after treatment; the matron, Alice Dalton, who told the boy scouts about the business of running an asylum; at the restaurant Aldo, with his  story of his cancer and its treatment with marijuana; from the circus, Billy de Vere, who told the elephant story which became a reality, and a nightmare for Harry – all added their individual stories to the composite narrative.

By using these individuals to tell their separate stories, Carey was able to present the reader with a variety of viewpoints, despite the fact that he had the overall narrative being presented by a single narrator, who was eventually revealed as one of Harry and Honey Barabara’s children.

In the movie this use of narrator was altered, although it was still a device used to draw the viewer’s attention to the theme of storytelling throughout the movie.  It opened with Harry (in the present) telling a story, which he called ‘The Vision Splendid’ as told to him by his father.  This immediately introduced the viewer to the religious nature of the coming movie, yet what followed didn’t initially seem so.  Rather the next scene showed family and friends at the aftermath of a dinner-party, drinking, smoking, swearing and appearing generally debauched.  This device of visual gluttony and degradation was used as a device several times in the movie to draw attention to the Hellish nature of Harry’s existence.

The next narrator, who we recognised as an older Harry, then took over the narration to tell of Harry’s deaths, madness, and final move to Paradise.  At this point the narration changed from third person to first as Harry’s identity as the narrator was affirmed.  But the final scene was narrated by his daughter, as he was unable to tell of his own final death.

Carey used this story-telling device to work for his characters as well as against them.  When Harry got caught up in the elephant story he lost control – he was in a story not of his father’s making or of his own telling.  But it was significant that he solved the problem by telling the only original story he was ever to tell.  Unfortunately, this clever use of the device was omitted from the movie, with Harry’s reward of freedom being attributed to the relinquishing of the marijuana to the police.  Ultimately, however, Harry was able in both book and movie to attribute his freedom to being good, and thus begin his ascent out of Hell.  This was indicated in the book when ‘ . . .  the taxi drove him across the bridge, the river below appeared as black as the Styx.’ (Carey, 1982, p. 73).

Carey used shift in time as a device to introduce Vance’s stories from the past, and to take us into the future to see David’s demise.  However, although the directors had the ideal medium for exploiting time-shift scenes, they rarely took advantage of it, showing the adult Harry with his father as a dream rather than a true jump back in time.  By contrast, Carey’s adroit use of this time-shift device, linked as it was to the story-telling device, kept the reader involved and gave them a hindsight for what was to follow.

While sex and cancer were themes of the story I believe that they were also devices which were used as markers in the story.  Initially sex was graphic and rampant, used to mark people’s relationships with each other, and thus to the whole story.  The fact that Harry was unaware of the debauchery around him was used to heighten the shock experienced by him when he did see it.

Sex was also a commodity, to be bought and sold – Lucy with David to buy her drugs, Honey Barbara with Harry for the first time as a means of giving in to the Hell in which he lived, Bettina with Joel as a mark of power to be gained in their prospective futures.  But sex had a double edge – it could be used for good or evil.  Honey Barbara represented the good, wholesome capacities of sex, while Bettina and Joel’s led to self-destruction.

The text was marked by sexual episodes, both in the book and the movie, until Harry found Honey Barbara in the car on his front lawn.  That episode marked the attaining of sexual bliss, and after that sex was only implied for the rest of the story – even when Harry finally reached Paradise and won Honey Barbara back with his tree-planting love-letter we only knew they’d had sex because we discovered the offspring as a narrator.

When sex ceased directly to mark the text, and as the arguments slowly disintegrated the household and Honey Barbara’s strength, we saw her reduced to her original status as a commodity.  Sex as a device was supplanted by the device of money as a power to be controlled in the lives of all at Harry’s house.

Cancer was a very important marker in the story, creeping insidiously into the story, as it would through a body.  It was used three times specifically to make the reader more aware each time of its importance to the story.  Aldo was the first cancer victim to mark the narrative.  His case was dealt with in a low-key way.  The second cancer marker was the wife of Harry’s client, Adrian Clunes, who described quite graphically how his wife had cancer.  “She weighs four stone and six pounds and everyone comes, like ghouls, to look at her.  Our friends are nice enough to stay away, . . . ” (Carey, 1982, p. 117)

At this point the Cancer Map was introduced, a device which strengthened Harry’s resolve to fire his client as his first constructive step towards being good and getting out of Hell. The map was the concrete evidence of the cancer symbol that was used to show that life in the city, and in society, was like a cancerous growth festering and nurtured from within – fed on foul air, drink, smoke, pollution, petrol fumes, in fact most commodities.

Bettina’s cancer was the final marker, closest to home, affecting the reader directly because she was one of the main characters – not just a friend or an associate’s wife.  Her explosive death, and Joel’s subsequent suicide signalled an end to Harry’s Hell, and his enslavement by Bettina to the advertising business.  He escaped to Paradise and safety, yet seemed to take some of his Hell with him, as he found the rainforest initially unreceptive, and Honey Barbara hostile.

Death was not only a theme throughout the narrative, but was also a device with which Carey manipulated both his characters and the reader.  We knew in advance, for example, that Harry would die by the end of the story, as the opening lines were “Harry Joy was to die three times, but it was his first death which was to have the greatest effect on him,. . .” (Carey, 1982, p. 7)  This statement/opening device prepared us for the story to follow, though not for the extremes that it would take.

The text was liberally sprinkled with deaths which were either drug-induced, cancerous, or suicidal – all unnatural deaths.  Even the final, ultimate death of Harry was caused by a branch of one of his beloved trees falling on him – even in Paradise he wasn’t really safe from death.

In the movie symbolism was used as a narrative device implying by its presence the presence of its associate.  An example of this was the use of cockroaches which first appeared emerging from Harry’s chest after his open-heart surgery.  They represented, by their connotation of the lowest-of-the-low, the embodiment of Hell.  Later they were to appear crawling across Harry’s bedroom wall, with its pseudo-Paradise mural, in the scene where Honey Barbara was reduced to her commodity status – Harry told her that she knew how much she cost him to keep, so she was not to say she didn’t love him.

Another device used in the movie to represent the presence of Hell was a musical motif – a sliding down a semi-tone on a violin string, slightly distorted, creating an unnerving, uncomfortable yet sad feeling.  This was effectively used during the period of time following Harry’s operation, and his second imagined death, until his escape to Paradise – the rainforest.

The movie directors were able to use many devices symbolically.  Apart from the cockroaches, music, and sardines to represent the evidence of sexual misbehaviour, they were able to show visually the degradation of the city, its traffic, its pollution from smoking chimneys, car fumes, rubbish, and its greyness.

Allied to this the degradation of the people was seen by showing the stained linen, both bed and table, the clutter of unwashed plates, cutlery, glasses, full ashtrays that filled a scene, with the people an integral part of the debauchery.  All characters were shown smoking, a symbol of cancer, continually, during meals, meetings, sex, arguments, parties, and working.  This device showed how evil and Hell had pervaded all of society.

Against this the directors were able to portray the rainforest as green, glistening, clean, filled with singing birds and rippling streams.  When Harry entered this Paradise he had to pass through a fire, symbolic of cleansing, to reach safety – the precarious nature of which was noted-by-device of having a burning branch fall directly behind Harry as he thought of safety.

The ultimate movie device was the viewpoint of the camera – used most effectively to show Harry’s out-of-body experiences at his first death, including the Heaven and Hell visuals, and his final death as he rises to the tree-tops to be inhaled by the trees.

Carey in his book endeavoured to present the narrative by using devices as a movie director would – cutting from scene to scene, shifting in time, using markers as a director would use symbols.  And most effectively, he allowed the story-telling of his characters to tell the story for him.

(C)  Jud House  28/08/2005

BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Carey, P. (1982).  BLISS.  London: Picador, Pan Books Ltd.

Carey, P. (1981).  EXOTIC PLEASURES. London: Picador, Pan Books Ltd.

Dovey, Teresa “An Infinite Onion: Narrative Structure in Peter Carey’s Fiction”, ALS, Vol 11, No 2, Oct 1983, pp. 195-204.

Sibree, Bron “Carey Faces up to Fame”, WEST AUSTRALIAN paper, Saturday August 10, 1991

Turner, Graeme “American Dreaming: The Fictions of Peter Carey”, ALS, 12, 4, 1986, pp.431-441.

Willbanks, Ray. (1992) SPEAKING VOLUMES: Australian writers and their work.  Melbourne: Penguin.

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CINDERELLA – HISTORICAL CULTURAL VARIANTS


CINDERELLA:  Selected variants from different historical periods and the way in which stories reflect the culture out of which they arise.

Although hundreds of variants exist of the fairy tale, CINDERELLA, I have chosen, for expediency and as representative of four historical periods, the following versions (course hand-outs):  THE CHINESE CINDERELLA, 850 AD; Charles Perrault’s  CENDRILLON and d’Aulnoy’s FINETTE CENDRON, contrasting pair, late C17th; Grimm Bros.’ CINDERELLA, C19th; and Disney’s CINDERELLA, C20th. The pairing of the seventeenth century stories will provide a clearer picture of the culture of their era.

There were variants of THE CHINESE CINDERELLA story, but although the heroine’s name may change from Shih Chieh to Yeh-Shen, the components of the fish, magic bones, and slipper remained a constant.  There were many elements within the story  which disclosed historical cultural information to the reader, who was informed in the opening paragraph that the story was set in pre-dynastical times, among cave-dwelling country and island folk.  These were ruled by a chieftain, Shih Chieh’s father, while the more military and powerful of them are ruled directly by a king.

Culturally the reader learns that the status of women was very low in China at that time.  The women were under the control of the patriarch/father, or when he was no longer there – as in Shih Chieh’s case – the matriarch/step-mother, unquestioningly carrying out designated tasks.  The women were bound together in their subordination to the patriarchy, just as their feet were bound.

Thus in China, where the “lotus foot,” or tiny foot was such a sign of a woman’s worth that the custom of foot-binding developed, the Cinderella tale lays emphasis on an impossibly small slipper as a clue to   the heroine’s identity. (Yolen, 1977, p. 298)

The beauty of tiny feet was only in the eye of the male beholder.  And when a king decided to marry a woman – in this case, Shih Chieh – it was as good as done.  Chinese women were passive, and compliant:   “when he [the king] demanded to see her, she appeared ….” and “the king bore her away to his kingdom to be his wife.” (Hume, 1962, p. 2)  There was no suggestion of choice for Shih Chieh concerning her future.

Shih Chieh was depicted as “not only beautiful … [but] clever, as well, and always happy” (Hume, 1962, p. 1) – when her father was alive.  She showed herself to be obedient to her step-mother’s demands, no matter how unreasonable or dangerous.  Yet she was secretive  – she hid the fish in her room, then in the pond.  Later, when the bones had also been secretly buried, she decked herself in azure gown and gold slippers and, disobediently, followed her stepmother and stepsister to the festival.

Thus the reader sees that she was not completely passive, though obviously subordinate, economically, to her stepmother and step-sister.  However, her degree of self-help is founded on the aid rendered to her by the ‘magic’ fish and the ‘angelic’ male stranger who advised her.

Finally, Shih Chieh was incidental to the ending of the story, which was primarily about the fish and the slipper.  But her beauty, passivity and luck was rewarded by marriage to the king, who, due to greed, lost the magic bones.

In late seventeenth century France, Charles Perrault and Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy wrote their versions of the Cinderella story – Perrault’s being the most well-known.  At that time it was fashionable to take oral folk tales, previously and traditionally told by older women to young girls to prepare them for and assist them over the turbulent initiation into adulthood, and transcribe them to written tales for the entertainment and formal socialization of the aristocracy, and Bourgeoisie, both adults and children.

Perrault’s CENDRILLON/ CINDERELLA OR THE LITTLE GLASS SLIPPER was written tongue-in-cheek, not to be taken seriously,

primarily intended for adult reading, as [he] had made obvious; they were a reflection of the artificial world of court life, though each story was dutifully provided with a moral. (Whalley, 1980, p.141)

He introduced into the tale a godmother, an extra stepsister, animals, a magicked pumpkin, and a time limit set on Cinderella’s ball-attendance.  While the fish was omitted from the tale, he made much of the slipper motif.

Cinderella was shown as obedient, compliant, passive and beautiful, only able to get her prince with the assistance of her god-mother, and her magic.  Her beauty of face and nature were rewarded, including her forgiveness of her stepsisters’ unkindness and ill-treatment of her.

Cinderella was as good as she was beautiful and she brought her two sisters to live in the palace, and they were married on the self-same day to two great lords at the court. (Perrault, 1697, p. 100 – Hand/Out)

The characteristics of “gentility, grace, and selflessness” Perrault considered socially acceptable for “the well-bred seventeenth century female” (Yolen , 1977,p. 296), and he promoted these in his tales.  With the right attributes a woman could attain her highest reward – that of marriage, and financial security – essential for women in that insecure period.

Contrary to Perrault’s version was that of d’Aulnoy, FINETTE CENDRON, which incorporated elements of other tales, such as the Cyclops and Minotaur Greek myths, Hansel and Gretel, and Jack and the Beanstalk.  A much longer, more complex story than Perrault’s, it involved the journey, both actual and symbolic, of the heroine towards maturity (a right-of-passage story) and marital security.  As a female writer, d’Aulnoy presented a different picture of women at that time.  Her heroine, Finette Cendron, was “the best-hearted girl in the world” (d’Aulnoy in Zipes, 1989, p. 404), obliging, considerate, mindful of customs, loyal, virtuous, practical, grateful, not greedy, accepting of advice (by her godmother), secretive, gullible, vulnerable, resourceful, courageous, ingenious, lucky, obedient, forgiving, polite with good manners, possessed of common sense, (these attributes are supported throughout the text) and, finally, was able to recognize and use her power to restore her family’s fortune.

And when she told them the names of her father and mother, they recognized them as sovereigns of dominions they had conquered.  When they informed Finette of this fact, she immediately vowed that she would not consent to marry the prince until they had restored the estates of her father. (d’Aulnoy in Zipes, 1989,pp. 415 -416)

Finette was a multi-facetted, three-dimensional character, able to control not only her own destiny but that of her family, unlike Perrault’s Cendrillon who had few attributes/facets and was one-dimensional.

D’Aulnoy’s story was to be taken seriously, demonstrating to readers, paricularly girls, that they could control their own destinies, even if marriage and financial security was still the ultimate reward.  Her version touched on issues of subordination – women to men, younger to older, lower class to upper class – and that of abandonment, a common economical occurrence at that time.  She showed, through Finette, that women were actually far removed from the ideal that Perrault strove to enforce.

In the Grimm Bros.’ version of CINDERELLA the heroine was portrayed as passively submissive to the step-mother and step-sisters.  The idea of mother-protection was introduced into the story, in the form of a magic tree planted on her mother’s grave, with a little white bird that “threw down to her what she wished for” (Grimm,1975, p.122).  Cinderella was shown to be a little more human, weeping when sad, begging her step-mother to allow her to go to the festival, and endeavouring to complete the allotted tasks, no matter how impossible they seemed in order to do so.  The Grimm brothers also introduced the complicity of the birds, without whose assistance Cinderella would have remained in her subjugated position.

Cinderella was rescued from her degradation by the intervention of the King’s son who did not give up his search until he had found the true wearer of the shoe.  In this story the depiction of self-mutilation that the step-sisters undertook in order to get their prince, was a reflection, if perhaps an exaggeration, of the lengths a woman would, and should go to, to achieve married status.  The tale ended with reward for the heroine for her goodness, beauty, and patience, and with punishment for the step-sisters of blindness meted out by the birds.

Writing in the nineteenth century, the Grimm brothers wanted to use their tales to educated and socialize children, who were to take as their role models the heroes and heroines of the tales.  They were precursors for the perfect Aryan race, where all were blonde and blue-eyed, the women passive and domesticated, and the men strong, clever, and in control of society.  Their message of reward and punishment was just as important as that of the desired character traits for male and female children.

Disney’s story, CINDERELLA, was a composite of Perrault’s and the Grimms’ stories, with some twentieth century bowdlerization and romanticism added.  As Disney’s version was created visually simultaneously with the script, his illustrations depicted his notions of the perfect female character, as did the text.  His Cinderella was shown as “the sweetest and most beautiful girl in the world.” (Disney, 1965, p. 193)  She had blonde hair, and blue eyes, and a shapely figure under her tattered gown and apron.  Disney utilised the animal element, not merely for magical effect with the pumpkin, but as companions for Cinderella in her lonely kitchen and attic, to show just how loveable she was – even all the animals and birds loved her.  “She made little clothes for them, and gave them all names.” (Disney, 1965 p. 193)

In Disney’s version the stepsisters were portrayed as ugly, physically as well as in character – they were rude, sarcastic, lazy, and jealous of Cinderella’s beauty.  The step-mother’s cruelty was shown by the way she treated Cinderella as a servant, the way she spoke to her and locked her in the attic.  The only violence in Disney’s version was the scene where the sisters snatched the decorations from Cinderella’s first gown.  Sympathy for his heroine had to be established in the reader/viewer, but not at the expense of frightening the children/audience.

Disney retained the godmother, but made her a fairy to help explain her magic to a twentieth century audience.  He retained the slipper and its loss, and the search by the prince for the owner of the slipper.  He borrowed from Grimm the idea of the tasks to be completed before his heroine could have permission to attend the ball, although he updated them to house-cleaning tasks rather than the picking out of grains from the ashes.

Up the stairway she carried breakfast trays for her stepmother and her two lazy stepsisters.  And down she came with a basket of mending, some clothes to wash, and a long list of jobs to do for the day. (ibid, p. 195)

The ‘Happily ever after’ ending belonged entirely to Cinderella, and to any young girl who was as sweet of nature and beautiful of face and figure as she.  The message was clear – if a girl is prepared to be these things, and be patient and wait, then one day her prince would also come and reward her with marriage and security.  The message for boys was that

[t]he goal of every prince (every man) [was] fulfilled by a beautiful, long-haired young woman, with a fair complexion, especially if she is connected to a castle, money, and power. (Zipes, 1986, pp. 160 – 161)

Throughout the Cinderella versions the message has remained the same – except for d’Aulnoy’s version, which even so still ended in marriage and security.

In the early to mid-twentieth century women were still not in control of their own destinies.  They were considered subordinate to men and to each other, both economically and generationally.  A woman’s place was in the home, doing housework and taking care of the family – child-minding.  She was to be protected by her male/father/husband/son, and be patient, hard-working, uncomplaining, virtuous, sweet, loveable, and if possible as beautiful as cosmetics would make her.  Disney reflects and upholds these attributes with his version of Cinderella, although at the time he produced it he was merely reflecting the ‘normal’ society in which he lived.

All these versions have done just that, while retaining and modifying the original to suit the changes in their societies’ attitudes and their own particular views and biasses, regarding the behaviour of both sexes within these societies.  The authors

retained (or inserted) [various elements into their tales] because … [as] narrators, [they] instinctively or unconsciously, felt their literary ‘significance’. Even where a prohibition in a fairy story is guessed to be derived from some taboo practised long ago, it has been preserved in the later stages of the tale’s history because of the great mythical significance of prohibition.  (Tolkien, 1990,p. 142)

Despite its historical setting, the actual historical period and culture of the written tale is textually obvious.

(C) Jud House  19/08/2006 & 7/01/2013

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Babbitt, N. (1970)  “Happy Endings?  Of Course, and Also Joy.’  in Haviland, V. Editor(1973)  CHILDREN  AND LITERATURE  Views and Reviews.  London:  The Bodley Head Ltd.

Buchan, J. (1931)  ‘The Novel and the Fairy Tale’.  in Haviland, V. Editor (1973) AND LITERATURE  Views and Reviews.  London:  The Bodley Head Ltd.

Butler, F. Editor. (1975)  CHILDREN’S LITERATURE VOL 4.  Philadelphia:  Temple University Press.

Gilbert, R. (1990)  ‘Endings’  in  MEANJIN  Vol. 49 (1990)

Haviland, V.  Editor. (1973)   ‘Folk Literature and Fantasy’  in  CHILDREN AND LITERA -TURE  Views and Reviews.  London:  The Bodley Head Ltd.

Le Guin, Ursula. (19   )  ‘This Fear of Dragons’  in  THE THORNY PARADISE: Writers  on Writing for Children.  Blishen, E. Editor.  Harmondsworth, UK: Kestrel Books

Lewis, C.S.  (1952)  ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children.’  in  BOURNEMOUTH  CONFERENCE PAPERS AND DISCUSSION.  Library Association Proceedings.

Liberman, Anatoly. (1985)  ‘Between Myth and the Wondertale.’  in  MYTH IN LITERA-TURE. Kodjak, A., Pomorska, K., Rudy,S. Editors.  Columbia, Ohio: Slavica Publishers Inc.

Kegan, Paul  Editor.  (1975)  ‘The Six Swans.’  from  THE COMPLETE GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES.  London:  Routledge. (H/O)

Perrault, Charles. ‘Cendrillon.’  from Zipes, J. Editor (1989) BEAUTIES, BEASTS AND ENCHANTMENT.  Meridian:  Penguin.

Philip, Neil. (1989)  THE CINDERELLA STORY; The Origins and Variations of the Story known as Cinderella.  Penguin Books Ltd.

Shavit, Z. (1986)  ‘The Notion of Childhood and Texts for the Child.’  in  POETICS OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE.  Athens & London: University of Georgia Press.

Tolkien, J.R.R.  (1964)  ON FAIRY-STORIES.  in  POEMS AND STORIES.  Williamson F.R. & Tolkien C.R. Editors.  London:  Harper Collins Publishers (1992)

Yolen, Jane. Editor. (1986)  FAVOURITE FOLKTALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.Pantheon.

Zipes, Jack. Editor. (1993)  DON’T BET ON THE PRINCE; Contemporary FeministFairy Tales in North America and England.  U.K.: Scolar Press

Zipes, Jack. (1983)  FAIRY TALES AND THE ART OF SUBVERSION.  London: Heine-mann Educational Books Ltd.

Zipes, Jack.  (19  )  ‘On the Use and Abuse of Folk and Fairy Tales with Children.’  in BREAKING THE MAGIC SPELL: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales.  H/O London: Heinemann.

Zipes, Jack. (1986)  ‘Fairy Tale as Myth  Myth as Fairy Tale.’  in  THE BROTHERS GRIMM:  FROM ENCHANTED FORESTS TO THE MODERN WORLD.  New York  & London: Routledge.

* * * * *

PSYCHOANALYTIC LITERARY CRITICISM – Jane Eyre


In literature Psychoanalysis deals with the psycho-sexual, the unconscious instinctual tendencies (id) of both writers and their characters, the recognition of the repressed desires, the dreams, and the uncanny relating to them, and the use of the language of nature to symbolise these emotive traits.  Marxism is concerned with the socio-economic backgrounds and references, and the ideological influences on the writers and their characters within the texts.  Both theories are concerned with the relevant experiences of the readers through which they interpret the texts.

According to Selden Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism began with Sigmund Freud’s view that:

the relationship between author and text [was] analogous to dreamers and their ‘text’ (literature = ‘fantasy’); [was] modified by Post-Freudians . . . in a psychoanalytic reader-response criticism . . . ; contested by Karl Yung’s ‘archetypal’ criticism [where] . . . the literary work is . . . a representation of the relationship between the personal and the collective unconscious, the images, myths, symbols, ‘archetypes’ of past cultures; [and recently] . . . .remodelled in the context of poststructuralism by . . . Jacques Lacan and his followers [with] . . .the coupling of a dynamic notion of ‘desire’ with a model of structural linguistics.  Selden

(1993, pp. 136 & 137)

According to David Forgacs:

Marxism is a theory of economics, history, society and revolution . . . all Marxist theories of literature have a simple premise in common: that literature can only be properly understood within a larger framework of social reality. Forgacs, pp. 134 & 135)

He also believes that literature should not be treated or kept in isolation, divorced from society and history.  He adds:

For Marxists, social reality is not an indistinct background out of which literature emerges or into which it blends.  It has definite shape . . . found in history, . . . as a series of struggles between antagonistic social classes and the types of economic production they engage in.” (Forgacs, p 135)

Both Psychoanalysis and Marxism act as a nature/culture binary – ‘nature’ representing metaphorically the subconscious desires, the socially repressed elements of the characters’ natures – ‘culture’  comprising the social class structure, with its historical time-frame, and the revolutionary changes occurring as a result of the power relationships between the classes.

The concept of subject is not as straightforward as one would expect.  The subject syntactically is that which acts upon the object, while in literature is the topic/matter at the heart of the text.  The idea, ‘I think therefore I am’, “proposes a zero-degree picture of the subject: completely independent, completely unified.” (Saunders (1993) p. 99)  However, the completely unified subject can be seen to be environmentally and politically determined, while the notion of complete unity is undermined by the psychologically internal complexity of the subject.

Psychologically:

the subject is understood to be constituted by both conscious and unconscious desires and intentions: if you like, there is more to ‘I am’ than the controlled rationality of ‘I think’.  The result is a self which is not unified, but made up of competing factions[.] . . . . Freud’s own techniques of analysis of [the subject’s] dreams . . . goes beyond intention and unity, and looks instead at the fractured, the repressed, the displaced, and the unconsciously symbolic. (ibid, (1993) p. 100)

When the subject is seen through the eyes of Lacan and Kristeva, it is fractured and dispersed, “displaced by a post-modern economy of floating, disconnected desires and sensations.” (ibid, p. 100).

The concept of ‘subject’ can be seen not only in terms of ‘other (that which it is not), and ‘gaps/silences’ (that which is not explained), but also in terms of the psychoanalytical and the socio-economic/ideological.  The ‘subject’ of JANE EYRE (a Bildungsroman novel of formation) is Jane herself, and, as she is the narrator, we are able to see her life unfolding with the socio-economic influences, conscious thoughts, and unconscious desires contributing to her character development.

In the first chapter the distinction between Jane’s position and John Reed’s position in the household is graphically drawn – John is wealthy, arrogant, cruel, and selfish (the latter three being a result of the first), while Jane is poor, dependent (on the Reed family), ‘habitually obedient’ yet stirred to rebellion by the injustice of her treatment.  The Reed sisters are selfish indulged, and indifferent to Jane’s situation while resentful of her presence.  Mrs Reed is tyrannical, unfeeling, jealous (of Jane’s place in her late husband’s affections), and resentful of the burden of caring for Jane.

The upper class or Bourgeoisie, which the Reeds represent, are paradoxically shown to be uncharitable, unkind and unpleasant, yet because of the power they possess as a result of having affluence, as a desirable class to belong to and/or attain.  Jane’s portrayal of others of the same privileged class is on the whole equally unflattering.  Brocklehurst is depicted as hypocritical (has a puritanical expectation of how POOR young girls should behave and dress, while his own daughters are permitted to dress frivolously and behave ill-manneredly), stern, cold and uncharitable (witness the burnt porridge episode).  The Ingram family are haughty, overbearing, caught up in their own esteem, and once again ill-mannered.  Even Rochester Jane shows to be selfish, overbearing, arrogant and oblivious to those beneath him unless directly affected by them.

Jane, however, has virtually no status – she is ‘less than a servant’ in the eyes of all, including the servants.  By birth she is the Reeds’ social equal, yet her impecunious state dis-empowers her.  Ideologically she must learn to conform, to control her passionate nature (repress the id), in order to attain her economic independence and subsequent rise through the class system, while refusing to allow her own victimisation.  By learning to say no to John Reed she learns the power “of resistance against oppression and . . . of self-confirmation, asserting the right to value her well-being above the demands made by others.” (Nestor, p. 51).

Various levels of class are portrayed by Jane – from the moneyed Bourgeoisie (property owners) like the Reeds, Brocklehurst, Rochester, Mr Oliver “the proprietor of a needle-factory and iron-foundry” (Bronte, (1976) p. 381); to the poor ‘gentry’ who needed to earn a living like Miss Temple, Mrs Fairfax, and Diana Mary and St. John Rivers; to the servant/working class people like Bessie, Abbot, Hannah, Grace Poole; and finally to the peasant class children in the Moreton School, whom Jane describes as “heavy-looking, gaping rustics”, “farmers’ daughters”, “rustic Scholars”, and at the end of her time there of “some half-dozen of my best scholars: as decent, respectable, modest, and well-informed young women as could be found in the ranks of the British peasantry.” (Bronte, (1976) pp. 392 & 416)

As well as these there are coachmen, inn-keepers, shop-keepers, gardeners, maids, doctors, teachers, clergymen and others, all adding to the fabric of the narrative.  There are a few historical references to the Industrial Revolution time-slot – to the potato-famine of Ireland: “burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it.” (ibid p. 63) – and (as mentioned above) to the fact the Mr Oliver owned a needle factory and iron foundry.

There was also mention of another kind of class system – that of the older girls at Lowood dominating over the smaller younger girls: “whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion.” (ibid, p. 77)

The psychological references and influences are abundant in JANE EYRE.  In first chapters the red and white pattern is established by “folds of scarlet drapery . . . to the right” (ibid, p 23) and to her left the “drear November day” (ibid, p. 24) through the clear glass panes of the protecting window.  This pattern is repeated in the red-room, with “[i]ts red drapery and carpet and contrasting white bed and easy chair embody[ing] two separate threats to Jane – a prison of passion and a chill, ‘pale throne’ of repression.” (Nestor, p. 51)  Thus red is symbolic of passion which Jane must learn to suppress if she is to mature, while the white is symbolic of a cold, sterile life void of that passion.

This idea of imprisonment is thus hinted at in the opening pages to be followed by the actual imprisonment in the red-room.  On escaping the confines of this room, then her nursery, and finally Gateshead itself, she finds herself in another confining, regimented location – Lowood school.  Having worked herself up to the semi-independent position of teacher, she leaves the institution to venture into  the wider world – only to find that at Thornfield she is surrounded by signs of enclosure.

As Jane enters its gates they ‘clash’ behind her, Mrs Fairfax locks the hall door and takes the key before showing Jane to her room, just as she later securely fastens the trapdoor from the attic, and in the library Jane discovers that most of the books are ‘locked up behind glass doors'(104)” (Nestor, p. 58)

The fact that Jane sought e sense of freedom on the third floor of Thornfield is ironic – it was the site of Bertha’s imprisonment.  Even when Jane runs away and enters the Rivers’ household she is bound by another form of entrapment – that of St John Rivers’ uncompromising expectations of and plans for her.  Her ultimate release is seen to be when she returns to Rochester as an equal, financially independent, and releases him from his confining restraints of blindness.

The dreams that Jane has throughout the book are also psychological windows to her mind, and premonitions of her future.  The carrying of the child, in the dream Jane had prior to her wedding day, is symbolic of the weight of domesticity which hung around the necks of Victorian women, tying them down and preventing them from being independent.  Her ally, nature, had taken over the ‘prison’ of Thornfield which was reduced to rubble – it could no longer contain her – and through its agent the wind, was blowing away the restricting child, leaving her free to fall into freedom.

The use of dreams as premonition devices in the narrative were also an indication of Bronte’s awareness of the uncanny.  Her:

figurative language is profoundly suggestive, privileging the imaginative and intuitive ahead of the rational.  Similarly her use of the supernatural reinforces the sense of know- ledge beyond logic, of truths that are felt as much as thought.  (Nestor, p. 31)

With this language she is able to suggest psychological links – hunger indicating deprivation, confinement signalling oppression and elements of nature offering a nurturing safety:

Nature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was: and I, who from man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her with filial fondness.  Bronte, (1976) p. 349)

Finally the socio-economic position of the writer, “in an age shaken by religious, scientific and social upheaval” (Nestor, p. 30) where women were powerless, relegated to passivity, had an immediate bearing on the text.

Charlotte endorsed a fiercely individualistic self- sufficiency which placed the demands of society second to those of self, establishing a particularly important priority for women given the nature if Victorian’s demands upon them. (ibid, p.29)

Psychologically, Charlotte Bronte wrote in:

a distinctly female literary tradition . . . marked by images of enclosure and escape, fantasies in which maddened doubles function as asocial surrogates (as Bertha did for Jane) for docile selves, metaphors of physical discomfort manifested in frozen landscapes and fiery interiors and obsessive depictions of diseases like anorexia (of which Charlotte was suggested to have died from), claustrophobia and myopia.” (Nestor, p. 27) (my parentheses)

There are many more indications of the socio-economic and psychological practices at work on the subject in JANE EYRE.  Those I have shown give an insight into the text that a superficial reading may gloss over.

(C)  Jud House 28/08/2005

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Althusser, Louis. (1970) extract from IDEOLOGY AND IDEOLOGICAL STATE APPARATUSES.

Althusser, Louis.  ‘Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects’ from ‘Ideology and the State’ in LENIN AND PHILOSOPHY.

Bronte, Charlotte. (1976 ed.)  JANE EYRE.  London: Pan Books Ltd

Forgacs, David.  MARXIST LITERARY THEORIES.

King, Jeannette. (1986)  ‘Recent Critical Approaches’ in JANE EYRE. Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Kristeva, Julia. (1986) ‘A Question of Subjectivity – an Interview’ in WOMEN’S REVIEW, No 12.

Lane, Margaret. (1980)  THE DRUG-LIKE BRONTE DREAM.  London:  John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.

Marx, Karl.  from the ‘Preface’ to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ in LITERATURE AND SOCIETY: MARXIST APPROACHES.

Nestor, Pauline. (1987)  Women Writers/CHARLOTTE BRONTE.  Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books.

Rhys, Jean. (1968)  WIDE SARGASSO SEA.  London: Penguin Books.

Saunders, Ian. (1993)  OPEN TEXTS, PARTIAL MAPS.  Nedlands: The University of Western Australia.

Selden, R. & Widdowson, P. (1993)  A Reader’s Guide to CONTEMPORARY LITERARY THEORY.  Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, of Simon & Schuster International Group.

Spivak, G. C. (1986)  ‘Marxist Discussion of WIDE SARGASSO SEA’ from ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.’ in RACE, WRITING, AND DIFFERENCE.  Chicago: UCP.

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PICTURE STORY BOOKS – MULTI-LAYERED NARRATIVES


Picture story books give children the opportunity to experience multi-layered narrative, to read and write a text at the same time in that they can be entertained by a text on its simplest level as well as becoming engaged in the active pursuit of complex meanings.  Such books are saying: ”there is not one story one voice here, but many”.

* * *

The experiencing of multi-layered narrative in any book, fictional, non-fictional or pictorial, comes under the umbrella of post- modernism.  Geoff Moss writes:

Broadly speaking, postmodernism pictures a subjective, relativistic world which is …. perpetually in construction, perpetually contradictory, perpetually open to change. (Moss, 1992, pp. 54-55)

Texts may be written with several narratorial voices, giving different perspectives, points-of-view – “not one story one voice … but many”.  There may be many different stories told within the one book, or gaps left in the text for the reader to fill in as they think appropriate – “becoming engaged in the active pursuit of complex meanings”.

In children’s picture books this can take the form of pictures that do not match the text, pictures without any text at all, or pictures that give more details to the story than the text gives – children “read and write a text at the same time in that they can be entertained by a text on its simplest level”.  This applies equally to children who cannot read, to whom the story is read, as well as to those who can.  All gather information from the pictures accompanying the text, according to their understanding, to their perceptions.  According to D Lewis:

we attend to and ‘read’ both pictures and words.  They act upon each other so that … we read the pictures through the words and the words through the pictures…. This … interaction between word and image in the picture book is [a] … reason for the form’s extraordinary openness and flexibility. (Lewis, 1990, p.141-142)

Come away from the water, Shirley by J Burningham is a good example of a postmodern children’s picture book.  The book is divided into two different narratives told on opposing pages – the parents’ dull world on one, facing Shirley’s exciting imaginary world on the other.  The illustrations are contrasting in style – box-framed, pale-tinted, line drawings with little background for the parents; and boldly colourful, detailed pictures for Shirley – thus underlining the difference between the two.

The cover and the title page, with map in between, give an indication of the type of story about to be experienced – that of a little girl’s pirate adventure with her dog.  The opening story page shows, in a white-bordered picture, the mother, father and an eager Shirley (shown running happily) crossing the shingles beside a groin wall, with a dog following and presumably with them.  The parents are laden with adult beach paraphernalia, while Shirley is unencumbered.  The text already sets the tone of what is to follow – a negative re swimming for Shirley, usually top on most children’s list for beach fun.  When the page is turned the reader sees that that bordered, first page illustration belongs to the adult narrative.

The next and succeeding pages show the parents sketchily illustrated and always confined by a line-border on the left hand page, while Shirley and the dog, with various props and imaginary people, are on the right hand, framed by a fuzzy-edged white border.  This form of bordering the pictures indicates to the reader that in Shirley’s fantasy world there is more freedom.

The adult world is boxed in with constraints, which the text in the form of a continuing dialogue endorses.  A subversive feature of this dialogue is the lack of periods at the end of each sentence (until the final page), creating the impression of a continual stream of negative directives issued by her mother to Shirley as to how she should play.  Many pages contain the word “don’t”.  Meanwhile, the parents, their faces registering mild contentment, do boring adult things – put their chairs up, fill and smoke a pipe, read a paper, knit, pour coffee from a thermos, sleep, then wake and leave.

There is not much to hold a child’s attention on the parents’ pages – mundane events with little detail to look at equates with little interest.  On the opposite pages, Shirley embarks on a sea voyage with the dog, which during the course of the parents’ text we learn does not belong to her: “Don’t stroke that dog, Shirley, you don’t know where he’s been”. (Burningham, 1977, p.8)  Not only are the pictures bright and eventful, but they lack an obstructing text, thus allowing the readers to invent their own story – that is, write their own text – from the pictorial details provided.

During the ‘real’ time it took her mother to get out the thermos flask, pour coffee, hand it to her husband, and return the flask to the basket, Shirley spent hours in her ‘fantasy’ time: walking the plank, fighting and defeating the pirates, diving from the ship with the pirate flag and treasure map, reading the map while sailing with the dog in her boat rigged with pirate flag sails.  ‘Time’ is shown by the gradual setting of the sun in the consecutive illustrations, and makes perfect sense to a child who would see no disparity with the ‘time’ depicted by her mother’s actions on the parents’ pages.  While it races for adults, time drags for children.

In the parents’ pages, adults are represented as inattentive, overprotective, nagging and boring, while Shirley is created as a child in need of guidance by the mother’s commentary.  In Shirley’s pages adults are represented in pirate guise as violent, bullying, then inept, while she is portrayed as brave, resourceful, empowered (by the crown she finds in the treasure chest), and independent.  Bradford remarks:

the indeterminacy to which David Lewis refers, the gap between the two sequences … articulates and enacts the gap between Shirley’s world and that of her parents. (Bradford, 1994, p. 206)

In the penultimate pages the text on the left finally aligns with the picture on the right – the mother wakes the father:

“Good heavens!  Just look at the time.  We are going to be late if we don’t hurry.” (Burningham, 1977, p. 20)

On the right hand page, Shirley and the dog are seen travelling at night with a rising moon back towards the beach.  The blackness of the night sky gives a sense of urgency to the picture – children should not be out alone after dark.

The final full-page unbordered illustration sees Shirley firmly implanted in the adult world again, reluctantly leaving the beach dragging on the end of her mother’s arm.  There is no sign of her companion, the dog.  The story has returned to the one voice, the united story of Shirley and her parents.  In between coming to the beach and leaving it, there existed for Shirley, and for the reader, an escape from the boring ‘real’ world of parents.  If she could do it there at the beach, maybe she could take her fantasy life home with her, as indicated by the lack of confining border – “the child’s imagination [is] a powerful defense against the adult world.” (Bradford, 1994, p. 206)

There are a number of complex meanings underlying the text.  A subversive commentary on gender roles expressed via the illustrations, but not the text, is one.  Usually pirate adventures belong in the realm of boys, but here the protagonist is a girl who is just as brave and resourceful as any boy would be.  As blond-haired Shirley approaches the pirate ship, rowing the dinghy expertly, the male pirates spill over the sides waving their cutlasses threateningly.  The figurehead on the prow of their vessel is a stereotypical mermaid – naked to the waist with long blond hair.   Initially overpowered, Shirley walks the plank as a defeated female, but when rescued by the dog, turns the tables on the pirates and, like a boy would, wins the treasure map.

An important submerged meaning, I think, is that children can entertain themselves using their imagination if given the chance to do so.  They don’t necessarily need to be directed in play, monitored every waking minute of their day.  A good example is the picture of Shirley and the dog with the treasure chest (Burningham, 1977, p. 19) – the colours are ‘happy’ ones, pinks, mauves and yellows, and Shirley smiles with pleasure in her achievement – treasure can be found in the form of fun and self-entertainment if children will just use their imaginations.

Another example of a postmodern children’s picture book is My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins, aimed at a primary school age audience. Initially a history of a house in a street recorded backwards through the decades, it speaks with many voices of many races, recording not only the geographical changes but also the sociological ones.

A history book with a small ‘h’, the authors challenge ‘what’ is history, and ‘who’ is important in history – ordinary people rather than important political figures, marginalized people such as women, convicts, aborigines, ethnic groups, all given a voice in this book. Often with its sources as oral histories, rather than documentary, it breaks boundaries, and challenges the expectations of a History book. Most Australian history books start in 1788, written by white people about events seen from the white perspective.  This book goes beyond that, with its multiple points-of-view reflecting the  multicultural mix that is Australia.

Metafiction, an aspect of postmodernism, continually reminds the reader that texts represent life, that they are books. My Place may be a metahistory as at all times the reader is aware that the historical narrative is contained in book-form.  Refusing to be categorized, it may even fit into biography/fiction.  It is also a book that the reader can return to frequently to find details they missed previously, a thing children tend to do regularly – reread their favourite books gaining insight with each reading.

Comprising a text, with dates instead of page numbers, its complementary random illustrations frequently overflow their partial borders, giving an openness to the text plus additional information about the location and its occupants.  Geoff Moss writes that

because the picture book is a series of frames, materially marked by borders or page edges, and the portrayal of character or landscape is necessarily fragmented, it follows that each picture relates to a different subject position; each picture gives a new viewpoint. (Moss, 1992, p.63)

This is particularly true of My Place.  The history appears to be straightforward, until the map is scanned in detail.  The complexity and multiplicity of the history then becomes apparent as the reader focusses on the tree, the big house, the Millers/Mullers, the brickpits, the canal/creek, the drink factory, the pub and so on.

“In active pursuit of complex meanings” the reader flips back and forth from decade to decade in an attempt to place each separate place and family in the previous and following time-slot. The Aboriginal flag barred behind the window frame in the first page, 1988, is reflected in the final double-page landscape; the Aboriginal lifestyle in 1788, was vastly different from their lifestyle in 1988 (posing the question: is it better now?) – details obtained by interaction between the reader and book.

Moving in a circle there were aboriginal dwellers at the beginning and at the end of the book – but which is which?  Another boundary-breaking facet of postmodern texts is that they can be picked up and read from the middle outwards, from front to back, and from back to front, still forming an overall whole – subverting the way books are usually read.  This book does just that.  By writing from 1988 to 1788, backwards through time, is the book itself written back to front? Chronologically the decades run from the back of the book to the front, posing the question: is the back the front?

The multi-cultural nature of the occupants, not only of the house, but of the street, also provides a variety of narratorial voices.  Moving backwards, the families in residence were Aboriginal; Greek; Irish; Australian; German, with Chinese gardeners; American; English aristocracy, servants and convicts, and finally Aboriginal.  Many nationalities have many stories to tell, from their cultural viewpoints.

The revelation of the change in life-styles from the progressive 1988’s back through the two centuries to the more simple and less polluted times is quite ironic.  It questions what ‘progressive’ really means.  Are times better now with our technology, scientific knowledge, supposed social tolerance, and pollution problem, or were they better for the land when there were less people, less development and harder times socially and economically for the population?  This irony makes children, the book’s primary audience, aware that there is more than one way of looking at their world, and that “there is not one story one voice here, but many”.

(C)  Jud House   2/09/1997

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bradford, Clare. ‘”Along the road to learn”: Children and adults in the picture books of John Burningham’, Children’s literature in education V25(4) 1994, pp. 203-211.

Burningham, J.(1977) Come away from the water,Shirley  London: Red Fox Books

Lewis, D. ‘The constructedness of texts: Picture books and the metafictive’  Signal Vol 62, May 1990, pp.131-146.

Moss, G. (1992) ‘Metafiction, illustration and the poetics of children’s literature’ in Hunt (ed.) Literature for children: contemporary criticism.  London: Routledge.

Wheatley, N. & Rawlins, D. (1987)  My Place  Melbourne: Collins Dove

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Bradford, Clare. ‘The changing picture book’ in Magpies v.5(5) Nov. 1990, pp.5-8.

Bradford, Clare. ‘The picture book: Some postmodern tensions’ in Papers: Explor- ations into children’s literature  v.4(3) 1993, pp.10-14.

Grieve, Ann. ‘Postmodernism in picture books’ in Papers: Explorations into children’s literature  v.4(3) 1993, pp.15-25.

Moseley, A. (1988)  ‘The journey through the “space in the text” to Where the wild things are’ in Children’s literature in education  Vol 19, No 2.

Nodelman, R. (1988) ‘Pictures, picture books and the implied viewer’ in Words about pictures: The narrative art of children’s picture books. Uni. of Georgia Press.

Rasmussen, B. (1987)  ‘Irony in picture books’  Orana  November 1987.

Richard, O. & MacGann, D.  ‘Audacious books and liberal education: The art of John Burningham’   WilsonLibrary Bulletin, May 1994, pp. 26-31.

Segal, Elizabeth (1981) ‘Picture books and princesses: The Feminist contribution’ Proceedings of the eighth annual conference of the Children’s Literature Association  in Ord, P. (ed.) University of Minnesota.

Sendak, M. (1977)  ‘The artist,as author: The strength of the double vision’  in Meek et al (eds.)  The cool web  pp. 241-256  London: Bodley Head.

Sorenson, M. (1993)  ‘The best job in the world’  A.B.R. No 154.

Stahl, J.D. (1990) “The theory and artistry of picture books’ in Children’s literature in Education. Vol 21, No 2.

Trites, R.  ‘Manifold Narratives: Metafiction and ideology in picture books’  Children’s literature in education  Vol 25(4), 1994, pp. 225-242.

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ROMANTICISM – Issues of Gender and/or Sexuality


Romanticism was a literary period of change, a breaking away from the rules that governed thought, and creative endeavour.  There was a freeing up of subject matter, writers using the common man and experience instead of lofty unrealistic plots and characters.  This use of the common subject also released the writers from constraints re sexuality and gender presentation.  They became free to utilise previously taboo topics, such as confinement, adultery, and physical seduction.

For women … the nineties … the comparatively new idea of “free love” as well as …. a new kind of literary era, one whose spirit was, if not dominated by literary women, at least shared and shaped by female imagin- ations.  (Gilbert, Chopin, 1994, p. 277)

Writers focussed on individual psychology, the inner lives of their protagonists as they dealt with the tribulations and complications of their external lives.  They were seen not only as part of their society, affected by its rules and attitudes, but also as having a personal identity separate from the social.  Self-contained individuals at one with the natural landscape in which they operated, Romanticists questioned their own relationship with their world and universe.  They believed that Nature had a spiritual power, a moral agency, which American Romantic writers used symbolically in the lives of their protagonists.

According to Abrams, gender “constitute[s] what is masculine and what is feminine – … largely … cultural constructs that were generated by the omnipresent patriarchal biases of our civilization.” (Abrams, 1993, p. 235)  He goes on to say that  “the masculine in our culture has come to be identified as active, dominating, adventurous, rational, creative; the feminine, by systematic opposition to such traits, has come to be identified as passive, acquiescent, timid, emotional, and conventional.” (ibid, p. 235)

As a result of Romanticism, the question of personal fulfillment, personal identity, the right to expression and individual freedom, and the stress on individuals as individuals, came about. Individual psychological entities of increasing complexity were written about, with needs and sexual desires which drove them into conflict with society. In the upper classes, women who became aware of their sexuality and broke the social rules were punished or destroyed.  A wife’s adultery was an affront to the patriarch of the time, resulting in imprisonment, while male adultery was unofficially sanctioned, resulting only in fines. If women left their relationship then they needed to be able to support themselves, to earn a living.

In her novel The Awakening, Kate Chopin looked at Edna’s struggles against the patriarchal society, her relationship with her husband as an owned possession, not allowed to initiate sexual relations, but expected to comply whenever her husband wished her to, and her role of wife and mother.  Brought up in Presbyterian Kentucky, Edna’s

marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident …. He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her. Add to this the violent opposition of her father and her sister Margaret to her marriage with a Catholic, and we need seek no further for the motives which led her to accept [him].” (Chopin, 1994, p. 18)

With her puritanical upbringing, she found herself among the Creole society whose characteristics as the book demonstrates were openness, sensuality, hedonism, and a kind of mixed gender game.  The role of the mother was central to the family – Creole women were brought up to be “tender, loving mothers, [who] care for the health and beauty of their children [and to whom] …. Women’s rights… are the right to love and be loved, and to name the babies”. (Shaffter, 1892, ibid, pp. 138-9)  She found their openness and lack of prudery difficult to deal with, and failed to live up to her French speaking Creole husband’s expectations.

Edna’s sexual awakening began with Robert Lebrun.  Culturally and linguistically outside the culture in which she grew up, Edna misinterpreted Robert’s intentions and attentions, although the flirtation was accepted by her husband and the other Creoles. In the social role-playing she was inadequate to the situation, not bred or educated to it, and cut adrift from the Protestant constraints.  Psychological motives caused Edna dis-satisfaction with the society she was in, her misreading of it and her mis-recognition of its boundaries prompted her to search for new love.  The learning situation into which she was placed, involved her loosening of the ties that bound her.

Another outlet for breaking the patriarchal social mould was her unchaperoned trips to the races with Arobin. Later when making love with him at home “[i]t was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded.  It was a flaming torch that kindled desire. …. Edna cried a little that night after Arobin left her.” (ibid, p. 80)   Edna was unashamed of her relationship with Arobin felt no guilt for her infidelity to her husband, but regret that it had not been her love, Robert.  This is an example of how social and literary rules were broken by the Romantic writers.  Prior to them love in literature had remained as an idealised rather than a physical reality.

Edna followed her instincts when leaving Leonce – it was not carefully planned, but impulsive.  She let fate dictate her actions. Edna gained power by learning to swim, by her painting, and by her new home, the pigeon house.  At that time these were big steps for a woman to take. In 19th century novels of adultery, women were constructed as individuals with desire for fulfillment that overrode any other facet of their lives.  Edna was the epitome of this – she wanted sexual fulfillment.  Sex was something to be acknowledged and valued, not just as society dictated for procreation and man’s pleasure.

According to Donald Ringe, in his article ‘Romantic Imagery’,

Edna Pontellier feels contradictory impulses impelling her, impulses that … reveal that she is “beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” …. – an awakening of [her] self as important …. [that] resembles the transcendent- alist theory of self-discovery”. (Ringe, ibid, pp. 222-3, 224, 223)

Realising her relationship with Robert would eventually be a repetition of that with Leonce, Edna turned impulsively to the sea. Nature and culture were intersected by the sea, Chopin using it symbolically as a signifier of her unconscious, of seduction, of her own sexuality/femininity.  By her acceptance of her sexual awakening, Edna rid herself of the constraining society.  Defeated by society and its demands, by turning her back on them she also triumphed.

          An acceptable ending for a Romantic novel, even one that pushed the boundaries as this one did, Edna’s suicide was ambivalent.  It was realistic – the patriarchal society placed women in impossible often intolerable situations with only one apparent solution; and because women’s success without a man was a threat to male society, male authors could not allow it to occur, without being seen as encouraging immorality, and a break-down of law in society.

The use of Nature in the form of birds to symbolise Edna’s condition and her stages of awakening, was Romantic.  Initially aligned with the caged parrot, she moves to the Pigeon house “which pleased her…. There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual.” (Chopin, 1994, p. 89)  She was free to come and go but was domesticated.  Finally Chopin aligned Edna with the maimed bird as she swam to her death.  This symbolism represents the condition of women at the turn of the century, constrained to fit specific gender roles dictated by the patriarchy.

(C)  Jud House  15/11/1998

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abrams, M.H. (1993)  A Glossary of Literary Terms 6th Edition  Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Sandra M Gilbert – ‘The Second Coming of Aphrodite’ in Chopin, Kate (Culley, M: Editor) (1994)  The Awakening  New York:  W W Norton & Company

Donald A Ringe – ‘Romantic Imagery’ in Chopin, Kate (Culley, M: Editor) (1994)  The Awakening  New York:  W W Norton & Company

Mary L Shaffter – ‘Creole Women’   in Chopin, Kate (Culley, M: Editor) (1994)  The Awakening  New York:  W W Norton & Company

ESSAYS IN CRITICISM

George Arms – Contrasting Forces in the Novel’

Cyrille Arnavon – ‘An American Madame Bovary’

Jules Chametzky – Edna and the “Woman Question”’

Kenneth Eble – ‘A Forgotten Novel’

Marie Fletcher – ‘The Southern Woman in Fiction’

Lewis Leary – ‘Kate Chopin and Walt Whitman’

John R May – Local Colour in The Awakening’

Elaine Showalter – ‘Chopin and American Women Writers’

George M Spangler – ‘The Ending of the Novel’

Per Seyersted – Kate Chopin and the American Realists’

Helen Taylor – ‘Gender, Race, and Region’

Larzer Ziff – ‘From The American 1890s’

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