‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for Women

“Remember, my dear Evelina, nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman; it is at once the most beautiful and most brittle of all human things.” Mr. Villars, 166

This quote frames an interesting perspective about what Evelina’s role is in society as well as the role of young girls around her age. Mr. Villars takes this letter to inform Evelina of the standards that she would be held to while she lived in London. They were expected to be pure and virtuous for the good of attracting a man. In fact, it seems that Evelina’s innocence is what attracts men to her. She must retain this virtue though, because if she were to lose it then she would have no hope of finding a good man for marriage. However, men are not placed in a similar constricting structure. This sounds oddly familiar. Oh that’s right, this is the same theme that we saw in reading Pamela. Expect, here in Evelina, men could still have a bad reputation and it would not even faze them for a second. They act as they wish and do as they please. This is the realism and emphasis on the natural that Evelina’s theme seeks to demonstrate. Surprisingly, this approach gives the story some creditability because modern culture sees this all the time.

George Clooney is one of Hollywood’s biggest bad boys. Many would say he is out of control and cannot be tamed. He is like a dog, and the world is his fire hydrant (you can imagine the rest of that analogy). Would you consider him to be bad? Sure, he is a heart breaker and seems to not be fazed by female emotion (Like Lord Merton). Yet, no one is going to stop going to see his newest movies or endorse his latest charity causes. Society seems to just turn their backs and accept his actions. But the second Kristen Stewart is caught playing tonsil hockey with another man, the whole vampire world comes to a screeching halt and suddenly she is on everyone’s hate list. Where are women held to such a high standard while men are given a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card? Sometimes, men are even praised for these acts.

It’s about time that women are given their own ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card! Women should not be judged on the basis of a separate set of rules compared to men. Since men are not willing to give up these freebie cards, then it is only fair to share these cards with the female population. Don’t mistake my comments. For I am not encouraging the misconduct or abuse of this situation, but rather, I am encouraging that society (men) give some grace whenever a time does come that a women conducts herself in an obscene way. Before we judge the other sex, we should place our own sex into the equation and see how the results would look then. If they were different, then I would act the way that you would if it were your own gender. This is not a perfect way of creating equality, however, it is a fair start.

Simply Unprepared

In the first volume of Evelina, it is hard to overlook her naivety.  From the beginning of the novel, we learn of Evelina’s seclusion from the world.  Since the last girl Mr. Villars was left to care for eventually messed up to the point of suicide, his overprotection is pretty understandable.  Protecting a young girl’s innocence is important, especially when you consider Evelina’s mother’s situation.  The main problem with being secluded from the world is the lack of preparation for worldly matters.  You can tell from Evelina’s letter to Mr. Villars asking if she could go to London that she is overly excited to visit London.  I can’t help but think of a young high school graduate who has been sheltered her entire life.  As soon as she gets a taste of freedom, she’ll want to experience things that she’d never been able to get away with living with her parents.  The lack of preparation leaves Evelina basically thrown into the world headfirst.

The first sign of something going wrong in London is foreshadowed in Evelina’s letter to Mr. Villars describing her initial experiences in London.  Evelina has been overly excited to experience the theatre earlier in the novel and gets to enjoy her experience, but nothing else about London is as grand as she had anticipates.  So her experience at the ball isn’t much of a surprise.  Evelina isn’t truly accustomed to the proper ball etiquettes and basically makes a fool of her self.  Lord Orville can’t get a good conversation because she is too scared to talk to him.  You’d think she’d be able to hold a good conversation at the least, but no, she’s too unprepared.  Then she gets harassed and embarrassed by Sir Willoughby.  I don’t blame Evelina for being ready to run back to her sheltered lifestyle.  I guess the world is too full of risks.  Everything seems to be a downgrade from home.  This makes it even more interesting that after meeting her grandmother, Evelina feels the same about her grandmother’s family.  It is funny how we, as readers, keep getting these bad descriptions of Madame Duval.  Once Evelina gives a description of her dress and make-up, I couldn’t help but think of an old woman who has not yet learned to grow up.  She doesn’t seem like she’s the model of a woman that Evelina should be looking up to.

NOT JUST ABOUT EVELINA

The story does not start with a letter from Evelina. Instead, the beginning of the novel consists of numerous letters written between Lady Howard and Mr. Villars. Is this strange? I think Burney starts the story this way in order to show that Evelina has been living a restricted life. The letters make Evelina appear innocent and very dependent. The adults are speaking about her in a manner that makes her seem like a little girl. Decisions are being made for her, such as her going to Howard Grove. Later on, Evelina writes a letter to Mr. Villars begging him to let her go to London in a childish manner. The letters also portray Evelina as an ignorant girl. Even though London does not meet her expectations, she is still fascinated by the city. At the ball, she does not realize the rules of society (refusing Mr. Lovel but accepting Lord Orville). Throughout her travels, she meets men in different classes who pursue her. She is surprised by some of the men’s actions towards her. Why are their actions a surprise to her? My guess is that Mr. Villars has been overprotective. Evelina has not really experienced life before leaving Mr. Villars.

Is it a good thing that Evelina is finally integrated into society? While one may argue that Evelina was too protected and needed to experience the world, one could also argue that Evelina is not prepared to go out into the world. What kinds of decisions would Evelina make if she did not turn to Mr. Villars in her letters? Who would assist her at events if Mrs. Mirvan and Maria were not there? How would Evelina react in troubling situations if Lord Orville was not there for her?

The world is not portrayed as a happy place for Evelina. She does not know who she is. She is constantly defending herself from men. She must turn to everyone for help. For Evelina, life is a struggle (something I do not think she expected). So, even though Evelina is finally experiencing life and is in the process of discovering who she is, can she become her own person? Will she always be portrayed as an ignorant and dependent woman? I think this book is not only about Evelina finding herself, but it is also a story that questions and explores women’s place in society (Evelina representing females in the 18th century). Women probably wanted to know what it would be like if they were somehow held to a different standard by men. Women probably wanted to have an interesting social life and experience the world (in a way that was new to them). Women probably dreamed of going to a ball and dancing with a Lord (similar to Cinderella). Burney uses Evelina in order to explore issues that women faced in the 18th century.

No means no! Unless you’re a woman…

I find it fascinating that in the two novels studied thus far, certain male characters cannot grasp the concept of consent. Even more fascinating are the parallels between the treatment of vulnerable women in the stories with the treatment of ordinary women in modern society.

In letter XIII, Evelina describes a rather unfortunate incident with a slimy fellow called Sir Clement Willoughby at an “assembly,” during which he harasses, insults, and terrifies Evelina to the point of tears. I would now like to compare Willoughby’s crude actions (that seem almost laughable because of the extent of his ridiculousness, but are actually frightening in nature and common treatment of men towards women in numerous areas of society) to admired pop music of 2013 and discuss how the case of Willoughby’s cat calls have not left our society, even 230 years later.

Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” was the musical sensation of the summer. I’ll let his “lyrics” speak for themselves (I’ve omitted redundant parts of the song to spare readers):

[Pre-chorus: Robin Thicke]
OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don’t need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker

[Chorus: Robin Thicke]
And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

[Verse 2: Robin Thicke]
What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on
What do we need steam for
You the hottest b*tch in this place
I feel so lucky
Hey, hey, hey
You wanna hug me
Hey, hey, hey
What rhymes with hug me?
Hey, hey, hey

[Verse 3: T.I.]
One thing I ask of you
Let me be the one you back that a** to
Go, from Malibu, to Paris, boo
Yeah, I had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you
So hit me up when you passing through
I’ll give you something big enough to tear you’re a** in two
Swag on, even when you dress casual
I mean it’s almost unbearable
In a hundred years not dare, would I
Pull a Pharside let you pass me by
Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don’t smack that a** and pull your hair like that
So I just watch and wait for you to salute
But you didn’t pick
Not many women can refuse this pimpin’
I’m a nice guy, but don’t get it if you get with me

[Bridge: Robin Thicke]
Shake the vibe, get down, get up
Do it like it hurt, like it hurt
What you don’t like work?

[Pre-chorus: Robin Thicke]
Baby can you breathe? I got this from Jamaica
It always works for me, Dakota to Decatur, uh huh
No more pretending
Hey, hey, hey
Cause now you winning
Hey, hey, hey
Here’s our beginning

Discussion on the alarming and misogynistic implications behind Thicke’s song will be saved for another post entirely. While Willoughby is not as outright and repulsive as this song, there are similarities to their tunes: Willoughby repeatedly refers to Evelina as a “creature,” (135) he expresses his passion towards her as “violent” (136), he “begs” her to have a dance with him and uses other demanding language, he criticizes her partner for being a “fool! Idiot! Booby!,” and, finally, forces Evelina to choose between dancing with him or leaving the dance entirely (neither of which she wishes to do).

I can only imagine Thicke’s song being played in the background as Willoughby boldly pushes Evelina into submission. What is more unsettling is that if we replaced 1778 with 2013, an 18th century assembly with a typical Friday night at Scruff’s, and Willoughby with Will – we have an accurate portrayal of this behavior from the novel on a weekly basis. My point is that for whatever reason (be it patriarchy, systematic oppression, capitalism, or Adam and Eve), women have never possessed autonomy over their own bodies and are not taken seriously when they say no, however loudly, clearly, or absolutely, as depicted, once again, in this piece of literature. A key question to pose is – did Burney write this scene as a reflection of actual male character in her society or is this a fabrication for the sake of the arts? My guess is that Willoughby was based on true events, just as sleazy guys that just can’t seem to understand that no does not mean “convince me” or “if you ask more than once, maybe I’ll change my mind” exist in bars playing “Blurred Lines” even today.

Pamela vs. Evelina: dramatic serenity vs. at lost country girl

Pamela and Evelina tell similar stories but with completely different heroic approaches. Both stories focus on two girls who are treading between social classes not sure what their circumstances will amount to, but Pamela approaches her situation with the utmost attempted humility and dramatic serenity while Evelina, much to my own amusement, stumbles her way through her “coming of class” and portrays a much more realistic story of what might actually happen if someone raised in essentially an isolated countryside were suddenly thrust into high society. Perhaps since Pamela was written by a male in order to display the virtue and grace a noble woman of the time was to embody, his heroine had no choice but to receive her marriage to Mr. B with the highest level of meekness as was (partially) believable. We discussed over and over how her dramatic words of self-denial annoyed us to no end and how we just wanted her to stand up to Mr. B and flatly reject his offers without hesitation (or humility) and to take action to permanently remove herself from his presence.

Evelina is different in that her situation is completely unpredictable to the reader, because well, it is unpredictable to her. Evelina is given the opportunity to come to exciting city of London after spending her entire childhood under the close eye of Mr. Villars, and she undergoes what I would assume people in the late 1700s would equate with a teenager today moving out of the house and going to college—complete with awkward interactions with boys at balls, unwanted speculation by the “in crowd” and pretend kidnaps with wigs left behind in ditches.

Evelina provides a fresh outlook by an author who writes as if almost jaded by the notion of high society, an outlook we find everywhere today that is still a foundation for many good stories. Even though our heroine looks like the fool without the knowledge of how to act at a dance or how to physically act like a lady (referencing when she basically jumps M. Du Bois to prevent him from committing suicide, which was AWESOME), her very real struggle of separating herself from the country identity she is slightly ashamed of, yet her inability to outright give it up is so pertinent, making Evelina seem so much more real to me than Pamela. She is a dynamic character that has many quirks and emotional sides to her that make her interesting and makes the reader pay attention.

What’s in a name?

The importance of a name has great significance in our reading of Evelina. Evelina herself has lost possession of her name. We see this in the first letter in which she tells Mr. Villars that, “I cannot to you sign Anville, and what other name may I claim?” (115). What exactly does this mean for our heroine? For one, those who know her true name have power over her, one can observe this in the way her grandmother, Madame Duval, manipulates her. More specifically this is seen when Madame Duval brings up the prospect of contacting Evelina’s absent father. To what name does Evelina belong, and what will this name reveal about our character? Does her father have something to hide, since he has not sought Evelina out? There also exists a certain type of power in the use of a name or the withholding of one. For instance, at the second ball which Evelina attends she tells Sir Willoughby that she cannot dance with him because she is promised to another. Her refusal to name her supposed dance partner allowed Evelina to assert a power over Willoboughy, the power being that she can deny him her hand for a dance. Later on that night, Evelina is caught in a lie,  and it is made known that she has no partner, but had Lord Orville in mind. Lord Orville later approaches her and says, “Be not distressed, I beseech you; I shall ever think my name honoured by you making use of it” (142). The gift of Lord Orville’s name to Evelina is a great honor to a lady of unknown past. A Victorian woman’s identity was tied to the male, and it is interesting to think that this novel may be a quest of feminine identity. I did an internet search to find the meaning of Evelina’s first name, and it was revealed to mean light or life. Does this have any significance to the novel, was it selected for a purpose? Only time will tell, but the symbols of light or a new life does suggest some kind of revelation further on in the novel.

The Others

The primary struggle of the women of yesteryear was to find a means of expression without suppression. Surprise, surprise; they were met with not only resistance, given the hegemony that reigned supreme, but also a desperately underwhelming array of options. Yes, women’s entrance into the world of literature was a feat in its own right but their subsequent ability to produce works of substance and influence was pretty stifled. So, it was interesting to me that the oldest of our readings today, “Power and the Ideology of the ‘Woman’s Sphere” chose to focus on the limited influence which women did exert, a rather optimistic assessment. Meanwhile, the more recent articles strove to find an alternative arena for acquiring agency. “Theorizing Language and Masculinity: A Feminist Perspective” and “Feminist Literary: Theory and Criticism” both examined women’s subjection through the understanding that women were used in life and fiction as the opposite rather than other sex. “Binary opposition” as Johnson called it. This, in turn, made it much easier to shoot down women’s attempts to occupy the same linguistic and literature space. Basically, if women were the opposite of men of course they would not be able to write as well as one. Instead of arguing that women do have some sort of power, these articles picked up on one of the cultural ideologies at the base of the issue.

Why We Have Too Few Women Writers

Many things that Virginia Woolf brought up in her essay “Women and Fiction” reminded me very strongly of a TED talk given by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, called “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” You should watch it here. In case you have better things to do with fifteen minutes than watch a life-altering lecture, I’ll sum up the most relevant points, but really you should watch the talk.

Woolf brings up the very important point that experience feeds creativity, and that throughout history, women have been cut off from the great majority of worldly experiences. Women’s place has always been in the home, rather than traveling the world or exploring even very far beyond her front door. “Even in the nineteenth century,” Woolf says, “a woman lived almost solely in her home and her emotions” (par. 10). When a woman found the time and encouragement to write, there was generally not much she could write about. She also notes the importance of the fact that of the women she considers to have been “the four great women novelists–Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot–not one had a child, and two were unmarried” (par. 7).

Sandberg points out that this is still often the case today. While women are now allowed and often encouraged to participate in the workforce, they often either a) leave the workforce or b) stop climbing the corporate ladder when they start thinking about having children, whereas men (who are far less pressured into childcare and housework than women even today) do not have to choose between family and work because it is obvious to them that work supports family. Thus, (Sandberg quotes a statistic) “of married senior managers [in the US], 2/3 of the married men had children, and only 1/3 of the married women had children.”

Although Sandberg’s talk is much more general than the topics of writing and women writers, I believe her points apply to Virginia Woolf’s observations, and to finding a solution in the here and now. We can’t go back and make more women writers in the past, and we can’t recreate the history they lived through to know why there often weren’t women writers, but we can change the history we’re living through today, and make certain that women’s voices are heard, and that our history is not mysterious to future generations.

Thanks to Newton, I like Pamela

Judith Lowder Newton describes women’s sphere in the 19th century in terms of power and relationship in her essay “Power and the Ideology of ‘Woman’s Sphere’.”  The type of woman she describes is Richardson’s Pamela, although Richardson published Pamela much earlier in 1740.  I like this essay because I enjoy seeing the connections between Pamela and women’s realm in the 19th century–it helps to make sense of Pamela.  Because Pamela was so popular and widely read, I think it is safe to assume that Richardson helped influence or strengthen what would become the “woman’s sphere” in the 1800s.  Thinking about Pamela in terms of the situation of women in which Newton describes helps me to be less frustrated with the novel, sympathize more with Pamela, and allows me to see how Richardson was somewhat radical in his portrayal of a woman at the time.  Newton says women’s agency was found in their ability to influence others not necessarily in typical forms of power, and that women’s main purpose was to “promote general reformation among men.”  This is true of Pamela as well in that her biggest accomplishment is her virtue converting Mr. B into less of a monster.  Richardson was quite radical at the time to give a woman this much influence and have it acknowledged by other characters in the novel that Mr. B’s conversion came from Pamela.  Interestingly, Newton claims that most male authors “reject the notion that women have power, but they acknowledge…that women possess…influence,” which is definitely true of Richardson.  Next Newton says that women would become defined by their service to men; Pamela in the entire novel is described in terms of her service to Mr. B.

Newton also mentions another form of power women had in the eighteenth century besides influence which was “autonomy, the power of being one’s own person.”  Richardson most certainly gives Pamela this power through her opinions and voice she gains in her letters.  The last major connection between Pamela and Newton’s ideas is in Pamela’s marriage to Mr. B.  Newton says that marriage represented a relinquishment of power and novels in the 19th century often ended with “diminished” power for the female character.  Pamela resigns her power when she marries Mr. B and then the novel ends by showing her in the marriage with seemingly less power than she had prior.  I do not think Richardson was aware that he was portraying Pamela in this way, because I am not sure he was this interested in gender issues, but I know that thinking of Pamela in these terms helps me better understand and like the novel.

Pamela, or a Blueprint Rewarded

The story of Pamela is a familiar one-through no actual fault of the heroine herself. Pamela is a victim of the ideal so popular during her time: that women were a tool for the edification and growth of a man. Pamela herself does not have any emotional growth or change, making her a frustratingly lackluster character. Mr B. has more entertainment value simply for that reason. So why doesn’t Pamela ever change in the novel? Why doesn’t she learn something? And why is her role so passive?

These questions are asked in Russ’ “What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Women Can’t Write?” Russ makes the argument that women had a place in literature and those places were rigidly designed in order to maintain one or two types of female protagonists. Both of these figures appear in Pamela, she is the virgin love interest and Mrs. Jewkes is the evil woman that wishes to push along the heroine’s downfall.

The story of Pamela is not a dynamic one. She has a moral code and keeps it. The social and circumstances around her change, but she does not. It is because of the fact that Pamela’s society did not want to read about a drastic change in their idea of womanhood. A woman to them was statically pure, never-wavering. And thus Pamela is subject to these stereotypes.

It is interesting to me that these feminine stereotypes have not been eradicated, simply transformed. Now in literature the typical male Bildungsroman  features the stereotype nicknamed “crazy pixie dream girl”, a direct descendant of Pamela characterized by her erratic nature, beauty, and refusal for help in what is likely an extremely threatening situation that a male protagonist cannot help her with. I’ve encountered her in popular teen novels such as anything by John Green, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and novels where a shy, introverted boy is transformed by knowing this whirlwind o a woman.

All of these stereotypes of womanhood are worth pushing back again because they tell us as women to be static and unchanging, to sacrifice our growth and needs for the needs of another and thus lessening the importance we feel and enact in society.

Is Virginia Woolf Right?

In her essay “Women and Fiction”, Virginia Woolf claims that women’s fiction is now “courageous, it is sincere; it keeps closely to what women feel. It is not bitter. It does not insist upon its femininity. But at the same time, a woman’s book is not written as a man would write it” (584). Ultimately, such a statement begs the question – is Woolf’s statement still accurate or even relevant in the twenty-first century? Are not novels like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey still showing a female protagonist whose life is entirely consumed by romantic relationships? Though Joanna Russ’s staple plots may have shifted a bit to indulge a more modern society, these prototypes of women who are entirely consumed by romantic relationships are similarly dangerous to the sex. Woolf hoped that in the future “The novel will cease to be the dumping-ground for personal emotions” (584). While there are certainly novels written by women that fulfill Woolf’s expectations, the novels that are highlighted at the front of bookstore displays seem to still be consumed with perpetuating an idea of woman as incomplete without a romantic interest to occupy her every thought and motivation. Joanna Russ charges women to find new myths from which to write at the end of her essay “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write”; however, I refuse to believe novels like the two mentioned above are a solution to the problem. Rather, plots like this perpetuate a destructive stigma.

PAMELA vs. CULTURE

Was Richardson’s Pamela a charge against Culture? And by ‘Culture’ I mean the definition used in “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write” by Joanna Russ. Russ’s definition plainly states that “Culture is male” and her meaning implies that literature is patriarchal. So first we must ask: what role does Pamela serve? Then we can conclude by finding the answer.

In “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write”, Russ argues that female protagonists are limited to a small amount of genres that they can have a real presence. She demonstrates this by listing out various plot summary lines that seem strange because the female protagonist is acting in various unconventional ways. She then states that if you substitute the female protagonist with a male character, then the plot seems less strange or more conventional. Essentially, this strange and unconventional reaction is the indicator for discovering roles and genres where the female protagonist does not belong.

While reading Pamela, I noticed a similar strange and unconventional reaction that I felt towards that story’s plot. Even as a male, I felt uncomfortable with Mr. B’s advances, and I became frustrated with Pamela’s naive and reckless decisions to forgive and forget. In reality, I noticed the complete opposite of these two plot angles. Popular culture dictates that men are usually the reckless and self-absorbed figures and women are typically the persistent and flirty figures. Watch any episode of Jersey Shore on MTV to see this theory in action.

Based on indicator set by Russ, Pamela does not fit in the female protagonist role in the novel. The protagonist role would be better be served by a male along with the gender changing of the entire cast. PamelO would be a servant BOY being seduced by his late Master’s daughter Mrs. B. If the role of Pamela (or PamelO) is a male role or at least the role that belongs to a male protagonist then Richardson is writing with ‘Culture’ and not opposed. If by chance this logic is sound and valid, then perhaps Pamela is just another celebration of the patriarchal Culture that Russ highlights for us. And if that is true, then the methods of reading and techniques for understanding it’s meaning need to be reevaluated.

Women Writers: A Problematic Entity?

Russ, Johnson, Newton, and Woolf address why the women writer is a problematic entity through the lens of the world in which she resides. The first reason is culture. According to Russ, culture is patriarchal; therefore, the stories we are so familiar with require a hero, not a heroine. While there is a female culture, it is a minority compared to the apparent majority. Thus, both women and men see culture as being only male.

Furthermore, this means that heroines can’t be the protagonists of many male works by way of gender switching because they have set roles. Heroines cannot be “hard-drinking”, “hard-fighting”, “Woman as Intellectual”, nor a “Mickey Spillane private eye” (pg. 204). What Russ means is real life women are meant to be compartmentalized for the sake of a romance, a marriage (or adultery), and children.

This ties into Newton‘s article and the second reason as to why the notion of women writers is “problematic”: some women writers couldn’t fathom giving their female characters traditionally masculine roles and power; however, they did manage to make them seem powerful in their own right without completely diving headfirst into unknown territory. Power for women is something to be hidden away as if it were a devious thing. For this reason, the ability of women writers and their rebellion against the status quo is hard to see due to the cultural limitation placed on them. Also, the talk of such power among these women writers was something that made them ill at ease; they chose to disguise power instead of revealing it completely to better deal with the topic.

The third reason, the technical issues behind a woman’s wording, according to Woolf, tie into women writers’ uneasiness with power: the language could be judged as something “too loose, too heavy, too pompous” for a woman to write. She has to tweak it and reconstruct it so that it fits her thoughts and musings without completely destroying it. However, according to Johnson, this is paradoxical in and of itself because a woman writer is striving to find a particular voice for her work, but she could end up forgoing it in favor of a less direct style of writing.

All of the concerns put forth by each essayist are legitimate; women were (and still are) expected to play a role in today’s male-dominated society and this includes through their own thoughts, words, and emotions. For each essayist, the ending of their article reflects what they believe about woman writers. Overall, each is hopeful about the future of women writers and dealing with the problematic aspects of the women writer. For Russ, new myths can be created by women. Woolf notes that quality will strive over the quantity of novels. Newton notes that women writers were and are able to use their craft to carefully obscure any and all deeper meanings and their levels. Johnson believes that feminists should research why men are so resistant to changing to the status quo.

To each their own, right?

As is accustomed when I read something of Virginia Woolf’s, I feel rejuvenated and excited to take on the world while simultaneously frustrated and uncertain. She has an odd way of taking all of my emotions and turning them topsy-turvy, but I digress. I could analyze and critique this piece until my fingers go numb, but I will instead highlight and expand on a few moments that particularly struck me as I keep in mind what we have already discussed about the novel.

On page 6, beginning in the second full paragraph, Woolf makes a great point about the criticism of women novelists: men should not expect any (or at least most) of the same standards that they place upon themselves as writers to transfer smoothly to the standards or style of a woman writer. For a woman during the birth of the novel to wish to write a novel as a man would is farfetched, yet early women writers were held to those ridiculous standards. As Woolf notes, the men critiquing these women did not understand the perspective and illustration of the characters created by these women because the true essence of womanhood had not been explored up until this point. Until women began writing, female characters were the spawn of male interpretations, male experiences, male relationships with women. If I were to write a book as a woman of color, it would be a very different book than if a woman of color wrote her own story. Not to mention the experiences from which writers draw are vastly different when comparing gender. Men of this time had adventurous, heart-wrenching, lively experiences on which to base their novels. Women had cooking, cleaning, sewing, and mending from which to inspire their masterpieces of art.

 I think what Woolf is getting to in this paragraph is that phenomenology exists and it is time to recognize these differences instead of critiquing women writers for being confusing, insignificant, or unlike men simply because they are not the same as men. And it is my inference that Woolf did not wish to confine her musings to the realm of literature, but instead to project this sort of understanding and openness throughout all aspects of life.

& The Plot Thickens…

An intriguing assertion is laid out at the beginning of Joanna Russ’ article “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write” which is: do familiar plots still work with gender role reversals? To peak our interests Russ decides to layout well-known plots with female protagonists.  Perhaps the most darkly humorous of the situations that she presents is the proposition of plot 8, “A beautiful, seductive boy whose narcissism and instinctive cunning hide the fact that has no mind…drives a succession of successful actresses, movie produceresses, cowgirls, and film directresses wild with desire. They rape him” (201).  Russ is attempting to demonstrate how when a gender role reversal occurs the plot no longer retains any merit, and it functions more as a satire. Women protagonists and women writers thus have had an increasingly difficult task since the wealth of literature passed on through the generations does not function from a female prospective. Characterizations of the woman in novels does not allow them to function as a person. Instead women exemplify specific archetypes, such as the seductress or naïve, yet virtuous, virgin. However, Russ does allow future women writers hope by stating that there are three myths (Detective stories, Supernatural fiction, and Science fiction) that have less to do with gender roles, and may allow for a female perspective to thrive.

What I would like to do for the rest of this blog entry is to explore what would happen if the major characters of Pamela swapped gender roles, and to try and see if Russ’ observations hold true for our novel. For all intensive purposes Pamela is now Mrs. P and Mr. B now has assumed a common non-mysterious name of Brandon.

Mrs. P has just presented Brandon with rules for a happy marriage. Here are a few of the requirements she has made of him (467-470):

6) I must bear with her, even when I find her in the wrong.

23) She insists upon it, that a man should give his wife reason to think he prefers her before all women.

28) He must not shew reluctance, uneasiness, or doubt, in obliging her; and that too at half a word; and must not be bidden twice to do one thing.

30) If she be set upon the wrong thing he must not dispute with her, but do it, and expostulate afterwards.

37) A husband, she says, should therefore draw a kind veil over his wife’s faults.

42) He must be in chearful and easy in his behaviour, to whomsoever she brings home with her.

45) She says, she cannot be contented to be only moderately happy in a husband.

These requests seem absurd coming from a wife of this time period, and Russ’ observations do seem to hold true.

But going a little further,  Russ (at least for me) has given us a new tool to help stimulate our minds when novel reading becomes tedious. One simply needs to switch the main characters’ gender to help thicken the plot, and give a whole new meaning to the novel.