On the one hand, I really enjoyed this because of the subject matter. I don't think I've read a 19th century novel that dealt so directly with the wom...moreOn the one hand, I really enjoyed this because of the subject matter. I don't think I've read a 19th century novel that dealt so directly with the women's movement or that had the kind of happy ending this novel has (I do think the ending is happy and optimistic, although other readers disagree). I also enjoyed the wide range of characters and the multiple plotlines, they made it hard to put down the book. On the other hand, the plot isn't very original and most of the conflicts revolve around romantic relationships. There's a great speech about women's emancipation and the need for women to enter into the work force in the first 1/3 or so, but as the novel becomes more and more focused on relationships between men and women, that theme gets lost. It's especially a shame that although we see women working in the first part of the novel, in the second we only get vague descriptions like 'she threw herself into her work' without finding out exactly what kind of work that character was doing and how it made her feel.
Gissing seems to pick up then drop characters and plotlines almost at random. A couple of chapters will focus exclusively on 2 or 3 character, then suddenly they're removed from the picture and the action is about characters you hadn't heard of for 50 pages. I really, really enjoyed this but it could have been better written.(less)
"Who are you, Miss Snowe?" she inquired, in a tone of such undisguised and unsophisticated curiosity, as made me laugh in my turn.
That's it, though ?...more"Who are you, Miss Snowe?" she inquired, in a tone of such undisguised and unsophisticated curiosity, as made me laugh in my turn.
That's it, though ? Ginerva's demand that Lucy explain who she is (which Lucy merely laughs off) is what the novel hinges on. This is such a weird, unsatisfying book. You never find out who Lucy Snowe really is (it's never explained how she lost her family, for example), you don't even get a clear ending. The murkiness of Lucy Snowe as a character is made even more annoying by the fact that the book is (meant to be) semi-autobiographical, it what way is she meant to be a reflection of Charlotte Bronte when she's barely anyone ? (When she refuses to reply, Ginerva asks again, "But are you anybody?")
I enjoyed the increasingly Gothic whodunit(ish?) side-plot in the last 1/3 but mostly because it was a clearly defined plotline, it gave me the sense that the novel was going somewhere. (less)
I feel like the best part of this book is the fact that Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a big dumb gay puppy. It's both incredibly endearing and almost unbe...moreI feel like the best part of this book is the fact that Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a big dumb gay puppy. It's both incredibly endearing and almost unbearable to read, for example:
Fido winces at the image. She bends over Helen. "Lean on me, my own one. I'll stand by you." "Through everything?" "Everything!" "I can stay?" "For as long as you need." Forever, Fido's thinking, though she doesn't dare say it, not yet. "Oh Fido, how did I ever manage without you, all those lonely years!" Her mind is leaping into the future. Why not? Women do live together, sometimes, if they have the means and are free from other obligations. It's eccentric, but not improper. She's known several examples in the Reform movement: Miss Power Cobbe and her "partner" Miss Lloyd, for instance. It can be done. It would be a change of life for Helen - but hasn't her life been utterly changed, without her consent, already? Can't the caterpillar shrug off its cramped case and emerge with tremulous wings?
Oh baby, your "friend" who you just found out has been lying to you and trying to manipulate you again (for the nth time) and who's cheated on her husband multiple times isn't going to move in with you and marry you..... (less)
One serious cultural obstacle encountered by any feminist writer is that each feminist work has tended to be received as if it emerged from nowhere; as if each of us had lived, thought, and worked without any historical past or contextual present. This is one of the ways in which women's work and thinking has been made to seem sporadic, errant, orphaned of any tradition of its own. (p. 11)
This was, hm, disappointing. I really enjoyed some of the essays, especially 'Toward a Woman-Centered University' (1973-4) and 'Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson' (1975), but most of the others had unsettling passages. For example, I had no idea that Rich was very, very anti-medication for mental health problems. In the brief article on Anne Sexton she also talks about how women "destroy themselves" by being "addicted to depression" which she calls "the most acceptable way of living out a female existence, since the depressed cannot be held responsible, doctors will prescribe us pills, alcohol offers its blanket of blankness" (122).
She also has the distasteful tendency to talk about, for example, lack of male approval as "psychological rape". In her 1976 MLA address she talks about how "it is the lesbian in us who is creative" but at the end she discusses women's responses to her speech and their objections are 350% more convincing than her initial argument. Moreover, I got this book because it was mentioned in a book about Emily Dickinson and about the different kinds of feminist responses to it. I expected it to be more focused on literature, especially since the two longest essays on literature (one on Dickinson, the other one on Jane Eyre, there are also some short articles / reviews on poetry mainly) were quite good although a bit obvious. I guess this is an important book to get a sense of the history of feminist thought (which is why I like the quote from the foreword), but I'm going to stick to her poetry from now on. (less)