Monday, November 06, 2006

sunday burnout

Norton Anthology Website, I have something to say to you.
Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales includes many stories narrated by women, such as "The Wife of Bath's Tale." Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Story," covered in "The Victorian Age" (see NAEL 8, 2.1222-1236), presents an updated version of storytelling from a female point of view.
Just because a man writes something and presents it as being narrated by a female character does not mean that a female perspective has been offered. Of your two examples, the only one providing any "version of storytelling from a female point of view" is Elizabeth Gaskell's. How is this a difficult concept? Also, you know perfectly well that Elizabeth Gaskell is not being taught in any literature class in this country, because she was a woman, and she's not one of the three token women writers who you can't get away with ignoring. Also? You can bite my fucking twat.

I was looking at my Longman today and noticing that so far in my post-1800 class, we've skipped over a total of seven writers in the anthology: Anna Letitia Barbauld, Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Joanna Baillie, Sir Walter Scott (who has only one poem included), and Thomas Moore (who has only three). We've also skipped over everything of Dorothy Wordsworth's except some journal entries, which primarily we read in order to give context for William's poetry — not for their literary merit. There are three more poets in the anthology that we might still cover: Felicia Hemans, John Clare, and John Keats. I will bet everyone in the blogosphere ten pairs of blue stockings apiece that we skip Hemans (or "your feminine He-Man," as Byron liked to call her in letters to the publisher they shared) but cover both Clare and Keats.

I realize that this is a survey class and it's intended only to give us an overview of the canon. I understand that these women are not part of the first tier of the canon (ignoring for the moment the reason for that). I'm even down with leaving Wollstonecraft out of a class focusing primarily on poetry. I appreciate that we're reading Frankenstein, and I can sort of overlook the way that everything ever written about Frankenstein is at pains to point out that for a while, everybody was convinced that Percy wrote the damned thing. (A very subtle move for creating doubt about Mary's writing ability, that is, and probably even unconscious for the most part.)

I'm just... hurt. I'm hurt, and I'm tired. I'm tired of having to deal with this kind of thing. I don't even know how to pronounce most of these women's names (yes, I can take a guess at "Smith"), and yet they're in every major anthology I own — and I've taken this particular class twice. I'm tired of female writers being put in special little sections of anthologies that can easily be ignored because "women's issues" are a special interest. I'm tired of anthologies' biographical notes about their token women telling us, as if it had anything at all to do with their writing, how beautiful they were. I'm tired of every "response" to a woman's work included in these anthologies being from some well-respected male writer deriding her feminine thought processes, as if that were a substantive response to anything, and as if we needed to be reminded that most people once considered it a substantive response to just about anything said by a woman. Also, and even more to the point: as if we needed to be reminded, at every turn, that she was a woman and we have to think of her work as work written by a woman.

But, most of all, folks? I am fucking well exhausted by the effort of trying to believe that none of this is meant to say anything about me or my abilities — not to mention the effort of trying to believe that it doesn't.

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