Reading the Romance in Rebecca Blog Post by Ella Bukbardis

‘Last night I dreamed of Manderley again’ opens Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938), a classic novel in its own right, instantly placing the stately home at the epicentre of the books warped romance. The narrator who dreams of Manderley is a conventional romantic heroine, a young, naive, and submissive child-bride to her brusque, and much older, husband Maxim de Winter, the owner of Manderly. The novel encapsulates many conventions which captivate an audience who may be well versed in romance novels, such as the pastoral setting in its detailed accounts, ‘[…] lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland and mossy lawns’ guides the audience to a distant place where they may indulge in fantasy. J.A Radway’s The act of reading romance: espace and instruction writes romance fictions target audience, middle-aged married women, who utilise these novels as a full blown escape method:

 

On the one hand, they used the term literally to describe the act of denying the present […] On the other hand, the used the word in a more figurative fashion to give substance to the […] intense sense of relief they experience by identifying with a heroine whose life does not resemble their own.

 

Self-identifying with the narrator (who is never even named) in Rebecca precipitates issues, as she is thoroughly victimised throughout the novel. It is only when Max blurts out ‘You thought I loved Rebecca? You thought I killed her, loving her? I hated her, I tell you’ that the narrator gains any power as the co-owner at Manderley. This is purely fuelled through her own ‘evil’ nature which materialised as the truth of Rebecca’s death arose. However, in a state of indulgence, romance readers may look over such negative aspects in the novel, as Radway says, ‘romantic escape is […] a temporary but literal denial of the demands women recognize as an integral part of their roles as wives and mothers’. This comment argues that despite any stereotypes and unrealistic fantasies, the romantic reader is willing to overlook these issues to escape the repetitiveness of their own daily lives.

Advertisements

Are We Consuming Beauty, or Is Beauty Consuming Us? Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth Blog Post by Bronagh Mccollum

In the UK alone in 2016 beauty industry sales topped the £4-billion mark-revealing that we are a nation obsessed with all things beauty! From makeup, to diets, fashion, fitness and even plastic surgery, we just can’t get enough. However, Naomi Wolf in her The Beauty Myth uncovers the detrimental effect that the obsession is having upon women of all ages.

Wolf within her work reveals that anorexia and cosmetic surgery procedures are at an all-time high.

However, Wolf argues that ‘the real issue has nothing to do with whether women wear makeup or don’t, gain weight or lose it, have surgery or shun it, dress up or down, make our clothing and faces and bodies into works of art or ignore adornment altogether. The real problem is our lack of choice’.

She suggests that the cult of beauty has therefore replaced the cults of chastity, domesticity, passivity and motherhood that were previously used to control and consume the lives of women. According to Wolf the cult of beauty therefore reigns as the “last, best belief system…keep[ing] male dominance intact’.

With magazines, adverts and social media outlets constantly bombarding women with images of perfection and promoting ‘miracle’ products, the cult of beauty seems inescapable.

However, author Zadie Smith has provided us with a solution to this problem, the 15-minute rule, forged and implemented to combat her teenage daughter’s beauty addiction.

“I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door, whilst you waste an hour and a half doing your make-up. So I decided to spontaneously decide on a principle: that if it takes longer than 15 minutes don’t do it.’

Both Wolf and Smith therefore wish for women to open their eyes and ironically ‘smell the perfume’ of the damage that the cult of beauty is having upon them, urging them to free themselves from the mirror and get out into the world!

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty Shades of Abuse: Blog by Hollie Spence

 

The success of E. L. James’ best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is undeniable. With the first novel selling over 125 million copies worldwide by June 2015, it has been translated into 52 languages, and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. It is easy to award the series as one of the most popular of it’s genre. Fifty Shades is often classified as a romance novel – do we agree with this?

Operating within a strict set of plot boundaries, the romance genre traditionally includes the feeble heroine needing to help the man overcome his dark and mysterious past that forces him to mistreat her until the brave heroine helps him see the error of his ways.

However, in Fifty Shades of Grey, the reader is introduced to Christian Grey, the sadomasochistic billionaire who gets sexual pleasure from unleashing physical pain on women. The novel is told through Anastasia’s first person narration, meaning that the reader is subjected to Ana’s thoughts and feelings regarding her physical relationship with Grey. When reading the more graphic sexual scenes in isolation, it is easy to see how the tumultuous relationship between the pair can be interpreted as abuse. The line “I’m a blubbering mess, and I don’t want him to beat me, is that so unreasonable?” says it all – these are the warning flags of an abusive relationship.

In a society plagued by abusive relationship, the prospect of Fifty Shades of Grey being categorised as a romance novel is extremely harmful. Millions of women worldwide are in controlling and abusive relationships with men –  a book that suggests sexual assault, emotional abuse and physical violence are acceptable is not what men and women need to read.

 

The Beauty Myth and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism Blog Post by Lily Money

Both Naomi Wolf and Natasha Walter, in The Beauty Myth and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, argue there is corruption within the media, fashion and beauty industry. They do this by having a negative influence over women’s opinions on their own bodies and how they treat other women.

In a 2009 interview, Wolf argued that women are not being judged on their own achievements, that they “should look however they want, the way men do, and be judged on their own merit.” Unfortunately, industries portray a fake image of a woman who has skinny thighs, a stomach so thin that her rib cage is becoming noticeable and wrinkle free skin. This is most common on the covers of glossy magazines, like Cosmopolitan, whose businesses thrive on the advertisement of a specific image of a woman. With other “laddish” magazines, like FHM, they are teaching young girls that in order to make it to the top in life, they must bare skin, instead of encouraging girls to thrive in a subject of interest.

 

“…the beauty backlash is spread and reinforced by the cycles of self hatred provoked in women by the advertisements, photo features, and beauty copies in the glossies.” The industry has created a vicious cycle for women, they are constantly mirroring themselves up against these fake versions of the female body. When opening up a magazine or reading an article online, all we see is the women’s weight gain/or loss, aging fast, or cellulite issues. With usually a sub line saying that the women must be going through a bad break up or a break down. However, the men, we see their political or career accomplishments and nothing about their weight, deepened wrinkles or greying hair/hair loss. How can women reach their goals, if all the media is doing is focusing on unimportant aspect of the female body.

The element of truth in confessional poetry – Blog Post by Hannah Mitchell

The likes of Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Sylvia Plath broke the traditional mould of poetry and started to write poetry which represented realistic events in their lives.

However, with their confessions in their poetry came the backlash of people delving into the truth behind their stories. Critics started to argue to what extent their poetry was representative of their lives and also the brutality of some of their stories, therefore questioning their morals and ethics. Sylvia Plaths work has been criticised as being ‘over-indulgent’ and a form of ‘revenge fantasy’ against certain events that happened in her life, involving attempted suicide. Confessional poetry is from the perspective of the poet and rarely involves the emotional and physical aspects from the other side.

However, it has been argued that confessional poetry does have an element of truth that has been broadened and exaggerated to an extent through imagery and creativity. As confessional poetry has been described as being true/realistic facts of the poet’s lives, it undermines the ‘creative ability’ of the poets as readers assume it to simply be facts. However, to write about ‘hidden/repressed/falsified’ topics is extremely brave and influential to literature and to portray the truth around controversial topics such as racism/incest/abuse in a creative form is very talented.

Iris Murdoch Under the Net: Blog Post by Carmen Luis

Witten

Iris Murdoch’s first novel, Under the Net, is deemed to be one of her least successful literary works due to its male-centric narrative, amorphous plot and dialogue which is at times somewhat imprecise. Despite these critical responses to her novel, Murdoch raises quite a few key issues concerning writing, philosophy and politics throughout the novel. Murdoch’s novel shares various philosophical ideas brought forth by one of the most infamous philosophers of the twentieth century’s, Ludwig Wittgenstein. He suggested the notion language is a social construct in which people do not distance themselves from the norm. Regularity of the use of such concepts and agreement in their application is part of language, not a logically necessary precondition of it, consequently one cannot separate themselves from the language they have been accustomed to.

 

Under the Net suggests that we are “trapped in a net of language” in which one’s emotions and experiences are unable to be fully expressed due to the limitations of language, however individuals still aim to express themselves through speech and writing in an attempt to free themselves from this structured system. This notion is underlined through the statement “The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods,” as a result may not fully convey the reality as it has been corrupted by their own perspective, thus making this ‘truth’ subjective rather than objective. Murdoch highlights this struggle through Jake and Hugo’s relationship. Jake ends up leaving Hugo once he realises that he could have possibly jeopardised their friendship as he taints Hugo’s experiences by writing about them and ultimately publishing a novel based on these personal experiences. Murdoch concludes her novel by proposing the idea that “One must just blunder on. Truth lies on blundering on.” This attitude towards life is necessary in order to avoid falsifying emotions and ideas in writing.

 

 

Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net in a Harvey Weinstein-world Blog Post by Amber Millar

Harvey Weinstein, a world-renowned film director and co-founder of the Weinstein Group, was accused of sexual assault, harassment and rape by more than 50 actresses during 2017. The disproportionate power dynamic of Weinstein’s relationships and interactions with these actresses allowed him to continue assaulting women for decades before public recognition of his crimes. Weinstein’s actions are representative of an insidious problem in the world of film-making and the abuses of power of those in charge of making and directing art.

Iris Murdoch addresses similar concerns in her novel Under the Net. Whilst, on the surface, the novel is concerned with a lazy but loveable picaro protagonist Jake and his adventures across London and Paris, Murdoch addresses the inappropriate behaviour of the male characters towards the women they engage with. Jake’s first encounter in the novel with Anna, an old girlfriend, starts with a non-consensual kiss and embrace. The language used to describe this experience describes Anna with ‘eyes wide with alarm’ and ‘laying stiffly in my arms like a great doll’. This encounter with Anna begins his obsession with her, eventually following her to Paris to try to win her over. This kind of relationship is often presented to a contemporary audience as ‘romantic’, instead of unhealthy and toxic but Murdoch insinuates the harsh reality of the situation through her language.

Hugo, the owner of a film studio, is also shown to demonstrate entitled sexual behaviour towards the women in the novel. Sadie, an actress and the sister of Anna, repeatedly receives phone calls and harassment from her ‘admirer’ Hugo. This presentation of unwanted sexual advances from a film director to his actress ring almost painfully relevant from a contemporary view. Whilst showing these inappropriate encounters between artists and their muses, Murdoch allows the reader to understand the deep-rooted tradition of abuse, not only in Hollywood, but by men throughout history, in ways and in situations that we are expected to believe are acceptable.

Mega