Woman: a composite of subjectivities and desires (Chapter 3).

Since creative activities are connected to material circumstances, she examines the material condition of women throughout history, comparing this picture of Woman to the figure presented in literature.  In 1470 (Chaucer’s time), wife-beating was common among all classes, a woman who refused to marry the man her parents chose would be beaten, and children were betrothed at young ages. Marriage was not in the children’s interest, but secured status for families; this was particularly important among the upper classes.  Around 1670 (the Stuarts), middle and upper class women rarely chose husbands, and she became her husband’s property.  Although she was invisible and instrumental throughout history, in literature she is significant within these works. Here, women are complex, strong characters.  Repressed in real life, she shines in fiction.

The archetypal woman that emerges from a reading of history and literature is a repressed creature who somehow exhibits a tenacious spirit.  Since little factual information about women existed before the 18th Century, it is difficult to discern the historical condition of women.  History, as recorded by academics, says little about women’s condition; when she married, how many children she had, how she was educated, how she lived, what she thought.  Women are only historically relevant with respect to thier connections with men and families;  before the 18th Century, women’s experiences beyond that were invisible. If they did write and reflect on thier experiences, history failed to notice.

In order to determine how an intelligent woman of the Elizabethan era may have experienced life, she speculates on the condition of Shakespeare’s gifted sister.  her parents would have discouraged her from writing in favour of keeping up responsiblities at home; she wouldn’t have gone to school. Her parents, concerned about her future, would marry her off at a young age.  The brilliant girl would be punished for refusing; frustrated, she would run away from home to London in order to realize her dreams. London would fail to provide any more opportunities; despite her talents for writing and acting, she would have been mocked for even trying to find a job at the theatre.  She wouldn’t have the chance to engage in formal training; since she could not safely go out at night, she couldn’t engage in informal training by observing people getting along in taverns or milling along the streets.  After becoming pregnant by the theatre manager, the frustration caused by thwarted ambitions would eventually drive her to commit suicide.

Her thesis is that material comforts are a precursor to genius. Therefore, she argues that due to their conditions of servitude, it would not be possible to observe genius within women of that era (or among the working classes of any era). Even if brilliant women/working class ppl existed, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to write anything down. They would have been too busy working, killed themselves out of frustration, or deemed witches by thier community and killed by thier neighbors.  One could only trace thier genius in thier sons, or in anonymously written literature.

She describes “chastity” as Women’s instinct to self-censor and remain anonymous. Only the most courageous of women could withstand the social pressure to remain chaste, and attempt to develop her genius instead.  Any woman who tried to be true to herself would experience mental torment and inner conflict; if she wrote anything she would use a male pen name or remain anonymous. She argues that while men seek publicity, they discourage women from doing the same – and for the most part, women obey. They do not tend to force thier views on anyone as men do, or claim ownership over anyone or anything, even if they created it. She uses the kind of racist comment “it is one of the advantages of being a woman that one can pass even a very fine negress without wishing to make an Englishwomen of her.” As though the Englishwoman is so invisible, that one could observe a racial group the English did try to convert to thier ways – and wouldn’t even consider making her into an Englishwoman. It sounds like she’s saying they’re less than (what was considered to be) nothing in her day. Am I reading that right? The comment above was a bit classist as well, so latent racism wouldn’t surprise me either.

Women of the 16th Century unlikely to exhibit the genius of Shakespeare because:

-life conditions a inhibit the mind; due to family responsibilities she lacks opportunity to develop any ideas

-lack of opportunity to become educated in order to become literate and develop skills necessary to create

-discouragement/mockery inhibits self-esteem to a point where they lack the confidence necessary to create

-discouragement and frustrated ambitions would cause inner torment that would likely incapacitate her and/or lead to suicide (torn between caving into expectations and being accepted vs. following her own path and dealing with hardship that will result; indignation over the unfairness of this situation…)

-brilliant woman would be misunderstood and ostracized – no opportunity to share/develop ideas within an accepting community

-impulse to self-censor (and societal pressure to do so) ensures she would not be credited for anything she did create

Whatever state of mind was necessary for creation, the intelligent, the miserable Englishwoman of the Elizabethan era would not have possessed it.  Since Shakespeare was unselfconscious, we can’t understand what state of mind he was in when he wrote.

19th Century – self-consciousness develops in writers such as Rousseau – confessions and autobiographies. These reveal the state of mind necessary to create. We discover that material circumstances (lack of resources, constant distractions, health, etc) prohibit self-expression. The world’s indifference to what you are trying to do is also discouraging; this apathy prevents one from being compensated for their work.  Since all of the writers who mentioned their circumstances suffered these conditions to a greater or lesser degree, it is unlikely that their works came into being in the exact same form as they were conceived.

This information supports the previous argument on the effect of material conditions and social situation on the intellect (re: Elizabethan women) she developed by extrapolation. Women in particular suffer from these struggles even more than men. Their material conditions were not conducive to creativity; she lived with the responsibilities of families, and had insufficient funds to create her own space. She couldn’t choose to leave an situation that stifled her creativity (lack of mobility). Instead of indifference, she would face hostility towards her endeavors (ex: regardless of exam scores, Mr. Browing would consider even the brightest woman less intelligent than the dullest man; at the same time, he consideres an emaciated stable-boy to be intelligent, even though his poor physical condition would indicate that he likely isn’t intellectually nourished either).

Effect of discouragement on the mind in particular: Such low public opinion would discourage girls, even if it wasn’t echoed by parents (as it likely would be). The mental energy required to overcome such discouragement would leave little inspriation left for her creative endeavors. This situation is converse to what men expect – thiey resistant women’s freedom because such women no longer serve as “looking glass mirrors” than enhance men’s own sense of superiority. In short, they expect encouragement, and percieve women’s efforts to find thier own ways (and even valid criticisms) as failures to provide this. Artists in particular need encouragement – although they cannot consider public opinion when they try to create, they tend to be extremely sensitive to the negative opinions of others. There is an undercurrent of resentment of the opposite sex within the work of the male writers discussed earlier, as well as many female writers. On the other hand, Shakespeare’s work shines because he lacks the disillusionment and anger that introduce bias into any intellectual or creative work. Therefore, secure material situation and social support allow artists to create work that reflects Truth, rather than thier own individual resentments and frustrations.


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