I can't say it's exactly to my tastes, but I quickly found it impossible not to give in to Molly Bolt's unflagging exuberance as she strides through h...moreI can't say it's exactly to my tastes, but I quickly found it impossible not to give in to Molly Bolt's unflagging exuberance as she strides through her whirlwind life with gusto and verve, inevitably encountering a lot of people along the way. Many of these characters quickly become hung up on who Molly is, where she came from, what she stands for, and, more often than not, are bewildered by the very potent sexual effect she has on them. Molly, ever disappointed but nonplussed by the reactionary attitudes she inevitably encounters, in turn unveils how the moral and social values of these figures—and by extension society itself—is a confused and contradictory entity in its taboos and prejudices. As such, when young Molly declares in the first pages of the novel "it makes no difference where I came from. I'm here, ain't I?" it serves as a prophetic echo that resounds through the rest of the novel—not only in regards to Molly's attitude toward her own coming-of-age story, but as an emblem of the larger feminist and gay social movements of the 1960's and 70's.
For the "of its time" quality is at once a large part of its charm and the source of its most disquieting elements. For if the handling of some issues—most particularly race—leave a lot to be desired, the novel is also is very prescient in its adamant eschewal of labels, particularly in regards to sexual identity, and anticipates by several decades the embracing of the term and concept of "queerness" within the LGBT community:
"So now I wear this label 'Queer' emblazoned across my chest. Or I could always carve a scarlet 'L' on my forehead. Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it? I don't know what I am--polymorphous and perverse… I'm me. That's all I am and all I want to be. Do I have to be something?"
"Why have you got to label everything?"
While not unproblematic by any means (Molly's outspoken repulsion of butchness and the butch/femme dichotomy often comes off as mean-spirited rather than the pointed critique it was probably intended as), the avoidance of neat categorization creates a textual and sexual space for a character and a narrative that still, after all these years, remains singular and even remarkable in a number of ways.(less)
It is really stunning to encounter such a high-spirited and defiantly independent female character in a novel written over 150 years ago, and, more im...moreIt is really stunning to encounter such a high-spirited and defiantly independent female character in a novel written over 150 years ago, and, more importantly, is allowed to remain so from the first moment we meet her (disguised as a boy on the mean streets of New York City) to when her remarkable story neatly concludes on the last novel's last page. After encountering so many blonde, wan "angels in the house" in contemporaneous literature, adventurous, dark-haired Capitola Black is nothing less than a revelation. And she's funny too, with a relentlessly sharp tongue, can ride her horse in a way that most men envy, and is even willing to fight a duel when her honor is called into question and no male relative is willing to step in on her behalf.
The story itself occasionally gets bogged down when it meanders onto the plight of other characters--most particularly the dull male ones off fighting valiantly in the war-- and it can come off as stilted and antiquated as melodramatic potboilers of that era almost inevitably do, but that can hardly dim Southworth's impressive proto-feminist achievement in the character and story of Capitola Black.(less)
Made me realize I despise cognitive film theory—it was rather amazing how many interesting films are rendered completely dull and lifeless through the...moreMade me realize I despise cognitive film theory—it was rather amazing how many interesting films are rendered completely dull and lifeless through the various readings found here. For me, Greg M. Smith's "Local Emotions, Global Moods, and Film Structure" was the only essay of note. (less)
At first it just seems like simply a gossipy good time, but it also functions as a fascinating mise en abyme (the author speaking about herself throug...moreAt first it just seems like simply a gossipy good time, but it also functions as a fascinating mise en abyme (the author speaking about herself through the voice of her partner, etc).
It's a thoroughly delightful portal through which to slip into 1920's Paris. I'd wager that Hemingway's A Moveable Feast is generally preferred, but I'm definitely Team Stein. (less)
Much like Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Orwell's heavily autobiographical journalistic novel makes me vaguely uncomfortable—I just can never quite bri...moreMuch like Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Orwell's heavily autobiographical journalistic novel makes me vaguely uncomfortable—I just can never quite bring myself to fully embrace depictions of "playing poverty" by young white men from bourgeois (or better) backgrounds. Granted, the comparison is a bit unfair, as Hemingway was clearly indulging in a project of retroactive self-mythification and intentionally fudging details while Orwell was attempting something akin to a social exposé, using his experiences to expose the European middle class readership of the realities of menial labor and begging. It's not that I intrinsically have a problem with these men's social privilege, it's the fact that it's never explicitly accounted for, which quickly leads to an untruthful romanticization of the disempowerment and disenfranchisement that is legitimately experienced by many people (who I'm quite sure don't find it a bit glamorous or romantic).
The narrative (if it can be accurately described as such) is an often awkward blend of colorful picaresque storytelling and stern Marxist-influenced polemics, but Orwell is at his best when relishing in the detailed minutia of the social microcosms he often finds himself enmeshed in, ranging from a posh French hotel to the British vagrant community. Because I have worked in the hospitality industry I was fascinated by the rigid workplace hierarchies of Parisian hotels and restaurants, and I thoroughly enjoyed the depictions of the countless creative ways that the sparking facades presented to paying tourists are undermined behind every kitchen and closet door ("roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it"). Things might be much more sanitary now, but the behind-the-scene subversions and resentments were on occasion remarkably familiar.
Once Orwell transfers from Paris to London, however, things get progressively more dull—the witty, stylistic flourishes and the vibrant characterizations and anecdotes Orwell employs in his presentation of Paris gives way to a serious, plodding social-realist depiction of British street people, and the diatribes also become more frequent. At which point I had to force myself to finish the last few chapters, which unfortunately means I ended on a more sour note, which isn't very indicative of my experience with the majority of the text. C'est la vie.
[Read for ENG630:02 - Expatriate Writers in Paris: 1930's, 1940's and Beyond]
"Poverty is what I am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum. The slum, with its dirt and queer lives, was first an object-lesson in poverty, and then the background for my own experiences. It is for that reason that I try to give some idea of what life was like there."