Heroines is a text that flares furiously: willfully ignoring Woolf’s fretting in A Room of One's Own over female authors whose work is driven by “thHeroines is a text that flares furiously: willfully ignoring Woolf’s fretting in A Room of One's Own over female authors whose work is driven by “the red light of emotion,” Zambreno instead throws in with the red-haired speaker of Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” who rises exultantly “out of the ash” to remorselessly chomp upon “men like air.” A showcase for Zambreno’s deep and wide-ranging study into the lives and experiences of a number of women of the modernist era, she also dares write herself and her experiences directly into Heroines, ingeniously undermining traditional distinctions between literary scholarship and personal memoir.
And I feel the need to stipulate right off: this is not my text. It is not mine in the sense that I am not a woman, let alone have experienced the kinds of mental illness or crippling insecurities disclosed throughout these pages. I feel it’s important to honor that reality, as scanning through the current Goodreads ratings and reviews it appears Heroines resonates much more with readers who identify as female than with the several males who have so far logged responses (with inevitable exceptions, of course) Considering how central the idea of creating a sense of community among women is central to many of Zambreno’s ideas, I respect and admire its attempt to record and actively construct a space of visibility and support.
On the other hand, this is very much my text; when she writes “I feel compelled to act as the literary executor of the dead and erased” I immediately recognized an impulse nearly identical to my own personal literary and academic project of Queer Modernisms, my blog on marginalized and forgotten queer figures of the modernist era. As someone also strangely compelled to spend so much time and effort to research and reclaim the life stories and artistic work of the historically erased (and outside of the typical orbit of academia), there were so many moments where I found myself muttering “yes, yes—that’s exactly it.” Reading Heroines in many ways felt like crossing paths with a fellow pilgrim while wandering in the wilderness—our trajectories or intended destinations aren’t the same, but the underlying motivation is.
Vivianne Eliot (married to T.S. “Tom”) and Zelda Fitzgerald (married to F. Scott) quickly emerge as the patron saints and great tragic figures of Heroines, with much space accorded to the explication of their heartbreaking life stories which eerily echo each other. A kaleidoscopic array of individuals also appear and disappear throughout the pages of Heroines, including Woolf, Plath, Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, Djuna Barnes, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Anaïs Nin, Elizabeth Hardwicke, Mary McCarthy, Anna Kavan, Laure (Colette Peignot), and countless others (though I will say this is a disappointingly white project: I was eagerly anticipating the appearance of Nina Simone as she appears on the collage on the original Semiotexte cover, but she only warrants one passing mention like a bit of trivia. But that’s still one more mention than afforded Josephine Baker, also glimpsed on the cover. This odd and unexpected myopia is my primary critique of the book—really, not even one allusion to the women of the Harlem Renaissance?).
Over the course of nearly 300 pages the fragmented paragraphs of Heroines twist and blur into many different forms as it blends familiar modes of literary analysis, autobiography, hagiography, confession, apologia, scholarship, criticism, reportage, and even the more informal, impassioned style of internet writing (the book is indeed rooted in Zambreno’s blog), a multitude of shapes that add up to something that often feels somewhat singular. If there are stretches that seem to lead to dead ends, it is always sustained by its energy and its passion. And as much as a Herculean effort of reclamation, Heroines also seems to me to function as a site of possibility, opening up spaces, paths, and avenues of expression and inquiry yet to be taken. It’s a thrilling thing to experience.
"So much of modernism is myth-making–who gets to be remembered? Whose writing is preserved and whose is not?" ...more
Virginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nepVirginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nephew Quentin Bell unabashedly declaring them “one of the great diaries of the world.” But those now-classic examples of life writing, covering the years 1915 until 1941, are actually not what Lounsberry is concerned with in this study; instead she turns her attention to the diaries the young Woolf kept beginning in 1897 when she was merely fourteen years old. There are twelve early diaries in all, and beyond their obvious biographical interest, Lounsberry discovers within them a complex self-portrait of restless young talent eager to experiment and hone her craft as an aspiring author—first a reviewer and essayist, eventually as a writer of fiction as well.
This study considers the early diaries in strict chronological order, always keeping a keen eye on not just what they record, but how. Lounsberry very persuasively demonstrates that from the very beginning Woolf was fascinated by the diary as a form of literary expression, keenly attuned to the possibilities they provided to experiment in private. Very quickly the young writer came to regard her diary writing as a self-described “compost heap,” providing rich, raw material through which to cultivate work intended for publication and public consumption. Judiciously selected excerpts from the various diaries demonstrate that in many ways the “stream of consciousness” style for which she would go on to pioneer was beginning to take form in these pages as Woolf strains to capture and record the rapid movements of her restless, mercurial mind. It’s dazzling to witness, even via secondary analysis.
The other aspect of Lounsberry’s stated project—a consideration of how Woolf was influenced by the diaries she herself read and studied—was what elevated this study from the interesting to the invaluable; indeed, Lounsberry goes so far as to make the staggering claim that “Woolf was more steeped in diary literature than any other well-known diarist before her—and likely even since.” It can be confirmed that she read at least 66 of them, though she undoubtedly read many, many more. Lounsberry carefully traces how aspects of these many other texts made their way into Woolf’s own diary keeping, sometimes deliberately, other times in much more covert, unexpected ways.
As someone who has kept private journals since a young age and loves to read published examples of the form, Lounsberry’s study was from the get-go of specific interest to me. Beyond convincing me to return to Woolf’s own diaries, I now have a whole list of other diaries I’m now eager to explore, ranging from the perennial classics by Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to the celebrated life writing by the Goncourts and Fanny Burney, and on down to more obscure entries by Stopford Brooke, William Allingham, and the dictated journals of Lady Hester Stanhope. In other words, while I found the analysis and description of Woolf’s diaries and a glimpse into her development as a writer more than engrossing in and of themselves, perhaps more importantly I also managed to discover a dimension of my favorite author’s work and artistic practice that deeply synchronizes with my own, providing more avenues to explore my own development as a writer and diary keeper. ...more
Important simply since it's one of the earliest to attempt such a study; the field has come a long way since then, but there was still a lot of informImportant simply since it's one of the earliest to attempt such a study; the field has come a long way since then, but there was still a lot of information here that I've yet to come across elsewhere. That Austen rates The Young and Evil so highly was an unexpected and extremely welcome discovery....more
What I find compelling about Fish's readings of Renaissance and early modern literature is that even when I don't agree with the particular conclusionWhat I find compelling about Fish's readings of Renaissance and early modern literature is that even when I don't agree with the particular conclusions he arrives at they nonetheless almost always remain provocative and compelling. While Reader-Response criticism can easily (and often has) devolved into a kind of hazy solipsism, Fish's analysis remains relentlessly sharp and reveals what the theory, when properly used, should accomplish: an extremely close and attentive reading to the nuances of a text and how it functions as a textual artifact as the reader experiences it during the reading process. ...more
Entertaining, informative, and endlessly readable, which compensates for a perhaps inevitable thinness. As a survey/overview it likely won't yield a wEntertaining, informative, and endlessly readable, which compensates for a perhaps inevitable thinness. As a survey/overview it likely won't yield a whole lot--aside from the choice bits of tasteful gossip--to a reader already somewhat aware of the terrain it covers, which is perhaps is why I had more or less the opposite reaction of many here who thought it ran out of steam as it went along; I happen to be interested in and know more about the authors covered early in the book (Baldwin, Vidal, Capote), but not as much about more recent authors, so for me the latter half was more compelling. The highlight, I think, is Bram's astute analysis and defense of Christopher Isherwood's oeuvre, who still remains rather underrated despite a recent reignition of interest in his work (I for one was startled to find out how many of his novels I had never even heard of).
Bram's style is very approachable and lucid, and it's like listening to a literate and culturally knowledgeable friend hold forth on books, art, and history. I personally was hoping for something more along the lines of Sheri Benstock's magisterial Women of the Left Bank, a more dense undertaking that combines literary analysis with historical scholarship, but I don't hold my expectations against Bram. Because this is clearly intended to be accessible cultural scholarship, and on that level it overall succeeds admirably. And if it gets people, myself included, to pick up the work of more of these authors, well then, all the better. ...more
I'm presuming that like myself most casual fans of Moore are generally unaware of the issues surrounding the access and availability of this great ModI'm presuming that like myself most casual fans of Moore are generally unaware of the issues surrounding the access and availability of this great Modernist's poetry: a relentless and scrupulous revisor, Moore reworked and re-published many of her poems throughout her long life, and so any given poem, even her most famous, often have multiple versions. Which is all fine and good, and in the end, perhaps not all that unique of a situation either.
The major point of contention, however, is that in the majority of the time Moore wanted her latest revisions be considered the final expression of her authorial intention, and as such, the only major collection of her work continuously in print, Complete Poems, represent the last revisions she was able to complete before her death in 1972. The potential problem of this situation, however, is that her final revisions are often radically different than earlier versions—an anthology I used this last semester included both the 1921 and 1967 versions of "Poetry," the former a (beautiful and eloquent) 30 lines; the latter, however, is solely comprised of the first three lines of the 1921 version. And so a curious situation was created: one of Modernism's great poets was often read, judged and enjoyed not for the poems that made her famous in the 1920's and 30's, but for the poems as she "saw" them at the end of her life in the 60's and 70's.
Which might not be an issue for some, but if you wished to have a sense of Moore's poetry in historical context, the situation quickly becomes a labyrinthine nightmare—what if, say, you interpret a poem as a response to a 1920's event, and then come to find out later that the most important content supporting that reading wasn't actually part of the poem until some four decades after the fact? Not that it was easy to check if this was the case, for Moore's niece and literary executor held to her aunt's wishes and wouldn't allow for earlier editions of poems to be reprinted.
Enter Becoming Marianne Moore, meant to both honor Moore's final wishes and make her earlier versions and revisions widely available. Not the biography the title makes it sound like, this is instead a large collection of facsimile copies of Moore's early publications, and all scrupulously annotated and organized by its editor Robin G. Schulze. It's a wondrous, fascinating volume, to say nothing of its historical value. Problem is it's a big reference book instead of an accessible and readable collection—but hey, something is better than nothing, right? ...more
For a (relatively brief) introduction to key critical/theoretical perspectives on these two texts, this is a pretty nifty little compilation, nicely sFor a (relatively brief) introduction to key critical/theoretical perspectives on these two texts, this is a pretty nifty little compilation, nicely selected and arranged by Goldman. ...more