LINES OF THE DAY

". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Laura Miller and Elaine Showalter Ask "Why can't a woman write the Great American Novel?"

Either Showalter's book, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, is remarkably stupid and filled with ignorance, or else Laura Miller's an idiot -- which many people for a long time have stated -- because this is the reason that Miller declares Showalter provides as why women in the United States didn't write Middlemarch:

[ "While English women novelists, even those as poor as the Bront√ęs, had servants, American women were expected to clean, cook and sew; even in the South, white women in slaveholding families were trained in domestic arts." ]

Nevermind for the moment the very many great novels written by women in this country -- Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Leslie Silko, leap to mind immediately -- and look at the astounding scope and range of each of these writers's body of work, individually and as an eclectic group! -- where the f*ck did either Showalter or Miller get the idea that Austen, the Brontes, Eliot, Gaskell didn't do domestic work, every day, and do it very well? Eliot often spoke with great pride of her domestic skills, even after she employed many servants. She insisted that only someone who knows how to do the work right herself, and has done it, could train a servant and keep a house running as it should.

Did Showalter not read a single biography of any of them? Did she not read their novels, filled with personal knowledge of all the work even middle-class women performed in the home? Not to mention nursing the sick, laying out and washing the dead? One of the lovely things about the recent BBC dramatization of Gaskell's Cranford was that it showed us, as does the text work itself, all these dirty jobs that even genteel, comfortably off women did as a matter of course, every day.

Moreover Harriet Beecher Stowe, even in the early impoverished days of her marriage in the boonies had a domestic servant. She was an ignorant, untaught backwoods young girl, who Stowe had to teach to do everything, while Stowe herself worked at domestic tasks, while pregnant, while working on her first fiction.Cather and Wharton are the writers here who did little or no domestic tasks themselves with their hands. Cather, because her family allowed her privileges that few girls her age had -- she was that exception to the average woman who proves the rule -- and Wharton because she was a member of the American aristocracy and rich.

This ignorance of the basic facts of these writers' lives is inexcusable. This is another of those feminist dilemmas in which one's supposedly feminist friends are a big part of the problem. It's also beyond infuriating.

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