It’s A Vogue Life

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Vogue has long been a large part of my life. Since 2008, I’ve had a renewing subscription, and every month I eagerly await the thump on the mat. A grey, matt plastic package with the glossy fashion magazine lands on the doorstep, and I feel content. I usually, at this point, go to eat my dinner, and read my magazine. I keep every single issue, and for a while, I went through a phase of cutting up front covers and all the ad campaigns from the major fashion houses, sticking all the cuttings onto about sixteen feet worth of old wallpaper backing. It took hours, and they all look fabulous, and I will keep them forever.

To a less discerning reader, Vogue could be seen as just a showcase for the rich and famous; a showcase of wealth and high fashion, something that is unavailable to the general public, especially at this point of recession. But to me, it represents a want to do better; I want to wear Gautier and Stella McCartney, and I want to write about all of these sumptuous, fabulous clothes. I would love to be in the fashion business, but I’m not really sure what I’d like to do; I’m not masochistic enough to be a runway model, and I’m not insane enough to design the clothes. But I do think that I’d be able to do some really cool catwalk shows; I’d love to be the person who coordinates everything, you know; the one with the microphone and clipboard. And being this person means you get some cool freebies, and hopefully, Christian Louboutin shoes.

Another element to Vogue is the rather inspiring journalism; there’s a lot of focus on fashion and it’s relationship with current events, however there are always stories about women who have been, or will be inspiring. This represents an empowerment that isn’t a part of the fundamentalist feminist perception. Instead it is about being able to be a woman, and being able to look beautiful, and being able to indulge yourself with things that are almost beyond dreamlike. In the meantime though, the women of the magazine work, start companies, run charities. They all contribute to the world in some way, and that is what makes them incredibly inspiring.

Last month, an initiative was launched across the franchise to tackle the problems of anorexia, eating disorders, and promoting unrealistic expectations of body image. The major Vogue branches across the world have agreed that no model who appears to have an eating disorder will be used, and alongside this, models will not be allowed to work ridiculous hours, and they will be better protected on photo shoots, and castings. This initiative continues the idea of the empowered woman; they will be obligated to treat models better. Many models study whilst they work and use modelling as a financial bumper, and in the future, especially when their modelling careers are over, they fall back on the education they acquired whilst they were modelling to continue along different career paths.

And as I’m sat here writing this, I’m craving my next ‘hit’. It should be falling onto the doormat any day now.

(:

(1) http://www.designscene.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Lana-Del-Rey-Vogue-UK-March-2012-01.jpg

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Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner

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As I have mentioned before, I got my second year reading list a few weeks ago. And so, with due resignation, I signed on to Amazon, and ordered nearly forty novels, that comprises the entirety of the second year of university. My novels arrived and I was rather pleasantly surprised to find Lolly Willowes on my reading list. Unlike many of the novels for the upcoming year, it is rather short, and in comparatively simple prose. It isn’t overtly dense with meaning, because superficially it seems as though it is just a story about a sheltered woman, living in a tiny village, who becomes a witch.

However, I was asleep one night, and I ended up dreaming about the novel, imagining Lolly as a witch. The novel explores not just the parameters of the family unit, but also looks into ideas about marriage and the stigma of spinsterhood. Spinsterhood remains stigmatised even today, whoever was a much more obvious issue at the time of writing, 1926. The novel also discusses the idea of feminism in a rather oblique fashion. By empowering Lolly to go out into the world, alone, Sylvia Townsend Warner created a novel that supported Woolf’s rather more explicit literature, that also empowered women to go out into the world. The novel is significant in its own right, because of the subliminal message of strength it puts across. However it transcends into a network of early twentieth century literature, becoming a part of a literary network that also included Woolf, Mansfield, and other great female modernist writers.

The novel is not a modernist text in terms of linguistic style. It is written in the form of the Victorian novel, following a traditional structure in terms of time constraints, and character construction. This can be related to the fact that the novel itself is set in the patriarchal society of Victorian England. Lolly’s life, up until her move to Great Mop, is controlled by her brother, who represents the height of patriarchal control within England. Lolly is often considered as being passed around, almost as a package of no consequence. By moving along, and reclaiming herself, she becomes a woman in her own right, outside the control of her brother.

Conversely however, Lolly does fall under the influence of another male persona; Satan himself, disguised as a friend. By her assumption of his control over her, something that is never quite clarified for the reader, we see a necessity of patriarchy that structures all of Lolly’s actions. Whilst she is free, and has come under the influence of Satan somewhat willingly, there is still an echo of patriarchal society underpinning her world view.

The power dynamic that exists between Lolly and Satan is extremely interesting, because he is a kind of optional and yet inevitable patriarchal influence. There is a degree of resignation throughout the last couple of chapters in the novel, resigning Lolly to Satan’s eternal influence. To this extent, we can question the feminist tone that flows throughout the novel, and the extent to which it is effective.

If anything however, Lolly Willowes is very entertaining!

(:

(1) http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Books/Pix/covers/2012/3/12/1331563702226/Lolly-Willowes-Virago-Modern.jpg

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Wading through Shakespeare: “Othello”

Shakespeare’s collection of work is a vast and riveting one; however amongst the plays, I’d have to say that Othello  is my favourite. It has all the makings of a modern soap opera: the possibility of adultery, an impossibly attractive cast, the potential for racial abuse… it’s hard to know where to begin to count the ways in which I love this play.

I think my favourite element however would have to be the antithesis of the heroic protagonist; the unlikely military general, who emerges from royal obscurity, likely to be from southern Spain or northern Africa, who is well-known for his linguistic proficiency and the delightful nature of his metaphors. The plot is somewhat drastically altered however when the protagonist’s supposed friend (and haven’t we all got a “fr-enemy”?) seeks to usurp him from his position to become general himself. The ways in which he goes about doing this could alarm even the most devoted Hollyoaks fan, from deception of everyone in the royal court, to the assault of Cassio, the flirtatious nobleman, and finally, the ultimate refusal to confess:

“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak word.” – Iago’s final words

Othello and Desdemona (1)

There are few ways more stubborn to exit a play; the complete lack of remorse, and the ability to manipulate everyone in the vicinity of himself is worthy of applause. I consider Iago my favourite villain, purely because he is perfectly timed, in terms of placing tiny hints and clues across the landscape of what ultimately becomes destruction, despite its aesthetic beauty, in Cyprus. The juxtapositions found across Shakespearean literature remind the audience of the decadence of the Elizabethan period, and the rather beautiful paradoxes of circumstance that are symbolic of the nature of revenge tragedy.

Desdemona, in comparison with Othello, can be considered from a feminist perspective. Is she a passive character, playing more of a symbolic role than anything else, a possession to be passed about? Or is she a character who is completely instrumental in her own downfall? Personally, I find it to be the latter. The naivety of her character infuriates me, because looking back from a modern perspective, I feel as though she should have tried a little harder to understand why Othello was behaving in such a repulsive and cagey manner. She applies herself in no particular way, and so from my very modern viewpoint, I wanted her to look a little further, and put the jigsaw puzzle together, before she became a victim of her own circumstances. She is smothered, in a perversely kind way, by her husband. His unwillingness to break her skin or violate her in any way is symbolic of her purity and subsequent lack of progression into the adult world.

Tragedy tends to emerge from outside circumstance, sometimes not even in conjunction with internal factors. (Courtesy of Professor Nick Groom)

I hope you get to watch the adaptation and read the play, because it’s a brilliant example of the classic revenge tragedy.

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(1) https://sarahalicewaterhouse.wordpress.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wpeditimage/img/image.png

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My Misguided Affair with Jane Austen

For a long time now, I’ve hailed Jane Austen as my least favourite author. Having suffered through Pride and Prejudice at GCSE and despising every second of it, I couldn’t bring myself to suffer through Sense and Sensibility. However now, I’m compelled to read Mansfield Park  in preparation for next term, and so snuggled up in bed with a pot of tea, I braced myself for yet another sitting room drama and social commentary. And was extremely pleasantly surprised.

I’ve always found the endless social details of Jane Austen nothing but intolerable, but when I began this novel, I was slowly brought around to the idea that I may actually enjoy Jane Austen. The story of Fanny Price departs from the diatribe that is (at least in my opinion) Pride and Prejudice and begins to explore themes a little wider than marriage, and the roles of women; she begins to look at adultery and themes of friendship. The humility of Fanny is endearing to any reader, and unlike Pride and Prejudice, there seems to be a little more in the way of progression and action, which as a reader, I find crucial.

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In much the same way as I find Much Ado About Nothing intolerable, I like a novel to have an engaging and interesting plot, if only so that I can enjoy it on a superficial level, and to give some enjoyment to  the physical act of reading. There is nothing worse than having to struggle with a novel, reducing it to being an unendurable experience. Fundamentally, reading should be a positive act, something to entrance the mind instead of repelling it. By making literature inaccessible to everyone say a selected few, the author strangles his industry. That is not to say that Jane Austen is inaccessible however; only in my personal opinion, at least she was, up until now.

Whilst I haven’t quite finished the novel quite yet, I feel as though I’m going to enjoy it. I may become fascinated with her as both a person and a writer, and I think that after this novel, I will try to tackle Emma. Suggestions here are welcome!  I think my plan for the evening involves a small drink with my flat mates, an episode of Blackadder, and then an evening of Mansfield Park. What more could I ask for?

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(1) http://www.infobritain.co.uk/Jane_Austen_House_Garden.jpg

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Simone De Beauvoir: The Author of “The Second Sex”

Spurred on by my interest in Mary Wollstonecraft, I felt it would be prudent to look into Simone De Beauvoir; not only was she a prominent feminist writer, but also an influential critic of her period. The introduction to The Second Sex was especially enlightening, and I particularly enjoyed the piece, particularly when it is compared alongside Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Again, I used the Radio Four resource to take some extra notes and hear real experts on the subject speaking, and below are my notes on the program.

With thanks to http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b010dp15

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Simone De Beauvoir became a poster girl for feminism, and was a strong disciple and lover of Jean Paul Sartre. The two had a very close academic relationship and within their intellectual conversation, there was a coupling which was very important to her. She strongly believed that he was the greatest philosopher of the age. Their relationship was very transparent and sometimes loyalties crossed over, and threatened to rock the boat; their emotional affairs however sometimes left gaps in the relationships and led to illness.

The two however were very much celebrities, and were part of existential philosophy, and what can be made now and of the future. They were the spokespeople of the young, and the next generation backs. Simone’s life however was very special; her parents were alarmed by her high intellectualism. Simone realised around the age of thirteen that God did not exist; she was dutiful of course, however when she became a student, departed and moved on. She was a very passionate woman; the loss of God to her and the admiration of her father was very important, and she felt things very deeply. She attempted to provide her relationship with Sartre with reason; this attempt on rationality is extremely difficult, but in a strange way becomes more emotional, and forms more rage; it replicates what went on in her childhood (her father was also a philanderer). The transparency made their relationship both weaker and stronger and formed the part of an experimental love, in the same way as she formed experimental ideas.

Women in particular have always been extremely susceptible to men of intellect and theory; De Beauvoir was no exception. She was an intellectual woman and therefore fell in love with Sartre’s mind. She however had a huge impact on Sartre and often edited, and contributed, to his writing. She stated that the success of her life had been her relationship with Sartre.

There had been very little examination of femininity and what it really meant to be a woman previously; The Second Sex was an often overlooked text of the Feminist movement and is often perceived by some academics as being old-fashioned and based on patriarchy; this is however what she knew. The text was however (later) revelatory in feminist ideology.

De Beauvoir’s life often seems to be lacking in ‘fun’. She seems to have an academic life, however a lack of social prominence, but had a tremendous capacity for fun, sitting in society and the exchange on information. She was patient throughout her life. She used her experiences to influence her writings throughout her life; she was published relatively late however she had many writings based around her earlier life. She was often found to engage in a threesome, (consider Olga). She also felt that sexual exploration was a fundamental part of growing up; the exploration of life forms. She also enjoyed the student-teacher relationship.

When Sartre returned from military service he began taking more drugs and began to hallucinate about crustaceans. When Beauvoir was moving towards wooing Olga, the crustaceans began to disappear; despite this apparently positive effect, it is possible however to consider that she never actually wanted a ménage a trois with Sartre, and that it came at great emotional cost to her. She felt destroyed by Sartre; lonely and worried at being abandoned and having failed in relationships, and being scared of death. Simone De Beauvoir’s humour was extremely dry, however her life was probably full of fun and happiness.

When she arrived in Canada in the 1950’s, the Catholic church had censored much of what she said, because of the sheer force of its impact. Nelson Algren and Beauvoir had an extremely passionate love affair, and even referred to each other as little husband, and little wife.  She wore his rings, up until her death. They had a very on and off again affair. Sartre was demanding, and due to this, Nelson Algren and Beauvoir had a gargantuan row, ending their affair temporarily. However they tried to be friends and Algren tried to understand the menage a trois. This was an experiment in how to have an open relationship more honestly.

Beauvoir was always anti establishment; she argued that the church and society were against women, and that men wanted to feel superior to these people. It is a hatred for women. This apparently was not found in Anglo-Saxon cultures. She felt however that the title “feminism” was a reductive title and would have defined her in relation to a man; she wanted to be defined as a human and as a humanist, as opposed to simply the opposite of man. Existentialism however was very much a theory of its time, and is less applicable to the modern age. The exploration of gender issues has moved on however Simone De Beauvoir is still very much the bedrock of gender and feminist studies.

“Women still form a repressed group, and have very little advantage compared to those in capitalism.”

This particular discussion was not only enlightening about her work, but also about her life. I will certainly be pursuing the career of De Beauvoir much further, especially considering her work in relation to her relationships.

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With thanks to Radio Four for the content of these notes.

(1) http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/de-beauvoir-simone.jpg

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Mary Wollstonecraft: The First Feminist Writer

This week, I began studying feminism as part of my course at university. Therefore I decided that some research into feminist writers would be a good place to start, and because of my recent love affair with In Our Time, decided that these programs would be particularly useful. Therefore I treated them as lectures, taking notes as I listened. It was thoroughly enjoyable experience!

Courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00pg5dr.

By the time of writing, the Vindication of the Rights of Woman represents a very sophisticated level of her abilities. It is not however a straightforward proposal for women’s rights, especially in terms of property and politics, however they are implicit in that if women were re-educated and society reshaped, then these rights would become a part of the ‘new woman’. She writes primarily about middle class women. Women tended to accept the ascribed social position; Wollstonecraft tries to think her way out of this, to find a way that a woman can perform a civic role in society and be more educated.

As the political climate changed, the book’s understanding changed. Much of the book however was not ‘anti-man’. Women are actually attacked; they are put in gilded cages, and value beauty over intellectualism, and Wollstonecraft believes that these women should refrain from modelling their aspirations on flimsy novels and instead, embrace their minds.

Wollstonecraft often struggled with her own sexuality and sensuality. She believed that there was a right and wrong kind of femininity; women should be human first, and feminine afterwards. The power that comes from beauty is a false kind of power and should only really be used within the context of a relationship; not within the public arena. She perceived love as an obstacle for rational thinking. Wollstonecraft was probably a virgin at the time of writing of the vindication.

There is however a very powerful theme of love in the book; the love of God. Sexual passion in any relationship should not last long; friendship is the basis of a long-term and successful relationship. When Wollstonecraft arrived in Paris, the revolution was in full swing, and she places herself in a perilous position by writing an early history of the revolution. The Vindication does not dwell on political rights of women, however Wollstonecraft does attack political rights in her piece on the French revolution, and so she can be viewed as a political activist in a certain sense. Eventually however she became alienated by the ideology of the revolution.

Mary Wollstonecraft theorised motherhood as a fundamental element of the role of women. Godwin reveals much about Wollstonecraft after her death, detailing everything from her suicide attempts to her illegitimate child; people were alienated by this revelation. Her unfinished book also was far more radical than her previous works, and alienated her erstwhile followers. She became more important in the post Woolf era, becoming a foundational figure in the underground feminist movement, and was influenced by her husband in terms of his left-wing communist beliefs; this certainly would have broadened her mind politically.

Thank you to Radio Four for the programme and all its associated content.

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