About Abby

I am a soon to be graduate of Dickinson College with an English degree. I love hiking, reading, writing, and anything that let's me explore new spaces.

Laura, a moment of strength?

“They had passed the hill above the churchyard, when Lady Glyde insisted on turning back to look her last at her mother’s grave. Ms. Halcombe tried to shake her resolution; but, in this one instance, tried in vain. She was immovable. Her dull eyes lit with a sudden fire and flashed through the veil hungover them. Her wasted fingers strengthened, moment by moment, round the friendly arm that they had held so listlessly until this time. I believe in my soul that the Hand of God was pointing there way back to them, and that the most innocent and most afflicted of His creatures was chosen and that dread moment, to see it.” (430)

What immediately shocked me about this paragraph was that Laura has this fleeting moment of extreme determination, that we rarely see in her, especially after her encounters in the asylum and those two awful men. She was “immovable” showing strength. Her eyes “lit with a sudden fire”, flashing through her veil, breaking free of the erasure that Percival and Fosco bestowed on her, even if only for a moment. These “wasted fingers” came alive to her own disposition, breaking free of their listlessness. This is a moment where we see Laura acting on her accord which she doesn’t usually do, but she still has the aura of a daze around her.

Another note is her shocking likeness to Anne, once again. Not only is she hanging around the grave of her mother, in a misty night, but she is followed by a caretaker (Marian resembling Mrs. Clements). And there they find Walter. The last sentence of this passage also proves interesting because it seems as if the hand of god has lumped these two unfortunate souls together of Anne and Laura. Although I’m not sure who this “them” is that god is pointing too. Maybe it’s the grave? It’s also interesting to think about how Anne and Laura are seen as the most innocent, but also the most afflicted, so what does this say? Are the innocent always characterized as the most manipulated? Usually, that’s the case.

Her Fingers Had a Restless Habit…

“Her fingers had a restless habit, which I remembered in her as a child, of always playing with the first thing that came to hand, whenever anyone was talking to her. On this occasion they wandered to the album, and toyed absently about the margin of the little water-colour drawing. The expression of melancholy deepened on her face,” (142).

I find it very interesting to note that as soon as we discuss Freud’s ideas about repressed trauma through repetitive actions, we get this passage with Laura’s fiddling fingers. But before I get into that, let’s just unpack this a little bit. The word choice in the first sentence proves that it’s not Laura that has a restless habit, but her fingers. In this way, although the audience knows that they are a part of her own body and actions, they are somewhat disconnected. In fact, they almost serve a purpose to distract her from what’s going on around her and more specifically the conversations that she has. Freud would highlight upon the idea that she has been doing this since childhood, and would see this repetitive action as a symptom of some repressed trauma. What that trauma could be, I don’t know, but it’s definitely something that she would have to constantly distract herself from.

However, this repetitive act is a little different because of the object she’s drawn to and what that represents. She moves to the little album of water color drawings that Mr. Hartwright had left, and implicitly we know what’s going on. She misses and loves him. And the fact that her face “deepened with melancholy” proves that. She’s not absentmindedly playing with the thing like she usually does, she’s overwhelmed with emotion.

Finally, Laura consistently gets characterized with child-like associations. Her innocence and pureness radiates throughout the novel, and then with the words in this passage like “restless”, “toyed”, and “playing” it sends the message home.

Because of Laura’s need to distract herself, and her common associations with being a child, it proves that “pure” women need both of these things: to keep themselves busy while also being protected. The Women in White does a good job at implicitly showing this sentiment throughout the novel.

 

Another Safe Space

I find Alison’s discovery of her identity really interesting because it comes to light in many different ways. She realizes it through her interior differentness from most young girls, the the ways in which she and her father connect, but I’m going to focus on the literature she reads. Her constant allusions to books, and trying to frame her narratives in said ways shows her grappling with the idea of her own identity, and trying to frame it for herself. We continually see her trying to categorize why she is the way she is, and it is not until she realizes that there are similar narratives out there, that she finally comes out. She says, “…in that spirit of marvelous megalomania I came out officially July 1st in the voice in a piece titled ambivalently from a line by Colette ‘of this pure but irregular passion'” (207). I love how she comes out in the voice of a piece. This literature she reads provides her with a safe space to internalize and project her identity. She gets this marvelous sense of megalomania, or power, within herself and is able to be who she is. I also love the line of “pure but irregular passion” as it suggests that homosexuality is a completely valid identity although it may deviate from typical norms. Now, so what? Bechdel could be adding to the conversation and adding to the number of spaces used to find identity. By framing her own life in this graphic novel, she’s providing another safe, yet slightly different space for others to figure out their own identities. She creates, like many other writers, a feeling of common ground and inclusivity.

 

Troubling Trans Acceptance

I want to branch of from the in class close reading we did last Friday and the idea that Cereus Blooms at Night discusses the idea of queer space within the lines of gender and sex binaries. Originally, I thought Tyler was only gay, but it has been revealed that many other elements come into play in regard to his identity. Shani Mootoo says, “Tyler who was neither properly man nor woman, but some in-between, unnamed thing,” (71). Essentially Mootoo is addressing the idea of a person that doesn’t necessarily fall into one gender. By both exemplifying characteristics of a man and a woman, he creates for himself this sort of dual identity: the identity in which is deemed acceptable determined by his biological sex, and his actual and conflicting identity, that he even he may not be so sure of. As a result, he falls “in-between” which is “unnamed” and unknown so that he becomes almost un-identifiable. I have trouble however with the description of being an “unnamed thing”. This makes me question exactly what Cereus Blooms at Night is doing. By labeling Tyler as a “thing”, negative associations appear. Synonymous words would be “monster”, “beast”, or anything else that simply is not human. We can see why this is troubling in a novel that also has moments of trans-gender acceptance. We see the more positive example of Ambrose and how everyone around him immediately accepts him. So why Tyler? Why does he become demonized? Now I’m not exactly sure if this was Mootoo’s intent, to demonize him using the word “thing” but based on our other knowledge of his consistent ostracization throughout the book, is she providing an example of oppressive heteronormative and shame culture? She also uses the word “properly” which suggests the idea that there is clear way of presenting one’s identity and that is either male or female. But this “properness” is based immediately on one’s actual biological gender. Maybe this close attention to the ways in which one stigmatizes queer folks brings the deeper issue to light. By presenting this heteronormative culture through language in a book that is seemingly about overcoming stigma and shame, I really wonder what will happen throughout the rest of the novel.

Troubling Adjectives

As we’ve discussed in class, Autobiography of Red is an extremely inventive and poetic novel in a vast multitude of ways. However, I want to focus on the use of adjectives , specifically ‘red’, in conversation with Dina Georgis’s literary essay. From the very beginning of the novel the use of the word ‘red’ becomes symbolic in terms of Geryon’s queer identity. Carson writes, “Total facts known about Geryon. Geryon was a monster everything about him was red,” (Carson, 37). Now, how can a person represent a color? ‘Red’ in this sense doesn’t so much describe the actual color of something, but more so describes the ostracization and queerness of Geryon’s character. This can prove troubling to the literal reader and confuses the meaning of adjectives in general. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Carson continues to use ‘red’ to describe things that don’t actually have color in order to fully engrain this redness or queerness into the audience’s brain. For example she says, “…Bolts of wind like slaps of wood and the bitter red drumming of wing muscle on air…” (Carson, 145). Because drumming cannot really have a color, this proves troubling to the reader, and makes one question the idea of adjectives in general. And if this “redness” directly means “queerness”, then Autobiography of Red also troubles queer identities. In her essay, Georgis says, “Red is not itself identity…it is the substance of confusing affects and physic conflicts from which signification is possible…” (Georgis, 158). Therefore leading one to believe that there is so much more to an identity than simply the label ‘queer’. This inventiveness of the troubling nature of adjectives serves to prove the troubling nature of the word queer in itself. By troubling something that is already seen as troubling, Carson’s novel continually proves to be innovative.

The Absence Of Internal Shame

Now, I want to talk about shame and specifically sexual shame. I find that there are only a few times when the narrator experiences sexual shame, and really this is quite revolutionary. Because the narrator has been in many previous sexual relations and relationships, one would think that immediately they would be stigmatized and shamed by others in the novel. But most of the time, that simply doesn’t happen, at least to our knowledge. Michael Warner talks to great lengths about sexual shame at a personal level. He says, “Perhaps because sex is an occasion for losing control, for merging one’s consciousness with the lower order of animal desire and sensation, for raw confrontations of power and demand, it fills people with aversion and shame,” (Warner, 2). This animalistic instinct is within all of us, yet we’re programmed to suppress it. Written on the Body turns this notion on its head by having a narrator with a ruthless sexual appetite and they seem to experience almost no sexual shame with the amount of relationships they’ve had.

The only time where the narrator is shamed for her past is with Louise, and even then I’m not sure it could be considered shame. Louise says, “I want you to come to me without a past. Those lines you’ve learned, forget them. Forget that you’ve been here before in other bedrooms in other places. Come to me new. Never say you love me until that day when you have proved it,” (Winterson, 54). Up until this point, the narrator didn’t feel bad about her past relationships. Sure, some of them may have ended poorly, but I don’t believe she ever felt sexually guilty about them. She may have felt shame about hurting another’s feelings, but not about the sexual acts themselves. Louise however, cannot seem to get over these things initially. She tells the narrator to “forget” twice, and to come to her as ‘new”. This is entirely impossible, as no one can erase the marks and lines of what’s written on your body. Your past gets ingrained into you. It becomes a part of you and who you are. This passage from Louise reflects upon the Warner and society’s ideals of pureness, virginity, and making love with only your soulmate. The novel tries to eradicate that sentiment with the narrator’s actions and mentality, thus asking the world if shame is even really worth it.

Bodies and the Weight of Words

“The body that has lain beside you in sickness and in health. The body your arms still long for dead or not. You were intimate with every muscle, privy to the eyelids moving in sleep. This is the body where you name is written, passing in to the hands of strangers” (178).

As of right now the narrator has found themself in a cemetery. This is apt for such a depressing time in the narrator’s journey as they grieve their relationship with Louise. This passage I found extremely interesting because it highlights on the idea of defining love by loss, and can almost directly be tied to common cliché of you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. This passage also addresses the one we close read in class on Wednesday, although now the meaning has somewhat shifted now that Louise is no longer with the narrator.

This passages addresses what happens to a beloved’s body once they have deceased, and in a way Louise is dead to the narrator not only because she’s absent, but because she’s terminally ill. The words you/your repeat a lot in this passage, but instead the you/your doesn’t reference Louise, the narrator is speaking directly to us. We are the you. Now the narrator is spelling out your loss, your grief, your depression. The direction has shifted from Louise to the actual audience, highlighting on the fact that we are all capable of love and almost indefinitely loss, more specifically the loss of the physical body. The arms, muscle, eyelids, and hands of your lover’s body, that really are your heart’s property. For once the body is gone, what is left to love?

Winterson, I believe, wary of clichés and the language of love, chooses to share the message that love cannot be expressed through language, but through bodily actions and marking each other’s bodies as our own. The language of love has been around forever, but maybe instead we should look at the ways we imprint on, write on, and seize other bodies rather than reading about the hopeless romantics in novels. Winterson is highlighting on the inexpressible, bodily idea of love. That by focusing on the connection between your body and your lovers body (“eyelids moving in sleep”, “intimate with every muscle”, “body that has lain beside you”) you can find love. The narrator, and Winterson has decided that true nature of love cannot be written down, for only our bodies can carry the weight of our words.

 

 

Marriage: A Self-Fulfilling Concept

“I used to think of marriage as a plate-glass window just begging for a brick. The self-exhibition, the self-satisfaction, smarminess, tight-ness, tight-arsedness.” (13).

This passage, I believe, directly highlights on the rigidity of marriage, but also it’s extreme fragileness. Winterson, by comparing marriage to a plate-glass window, suggests that the idea of marriage is something that may not be as solid as society wants us to believe. In fact, it’s just “begging for a brick” (10). This language here beautifully personifies the idea of marriage and brings it to light as something that may not just be working so well anymore. But with its window-like qualities of transparency and fragility, it invites outsiders to validate a marriage, but also judge it. She compares marriage to this self-exhibition as a means of proving oneself to society as a functioning and conforming member. It’s almost a way to show off, by proving the idea that you are adhering to the norms.

Two words that are repeated twice are the word “self” and “tight”. It’s interesting to refer to marriage with the word “self” because it has forever been seen as a partnership. It brings up the question about whether or not marriage is simply a way to validate one’s self. By participating in this normative relationship, you are fulfilling self-made and societal-made prophecies, and acting in your own self-interest disguised behind the ideas of “love”. The word “tight” takes it another step further as it can perfectly describe marriage as such a constricting and unwavering concept. There are all of these rules associated with matrimony that leaves it trapped in this world of fake smiles, monogamous love, and forced dependability.

As a whole, this passage sums up the way that the narrator approaches relationships and love in general. He/She/It seems to not believe in the concepts of monogamy, and views marriage as an outdated notion that is “begging” to be broken down.