Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Women Writers I’d Love to Meet

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share a list of ten authors we would love to meet. In the past, I’ve found that the lists I’ve made like this tend to be fairly male-dominated; instead, this week I’d like to focus on ten women writers that I would love to have a conversation with.

What women writers would you love to meet? What do you think of the writers on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Feminist Fridays

Feminist Fridays: Feminist Writing Tutorial

Now that Hilary term at Oxford has officially come and gone, I’m going to share my thoughts on the Feminist Writing tutorial I recently completed. This tutorial (basically what they call classes at Oxford) was an English course, but it also blended some feminist theory into the mix as well. It was nice to have a bit of a break from solely reading novels all the time. In this post I’ll be discussing some of the texts we read (although there were many more), the themes we focused on, and my thoughts on the course overall.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft || This was my second time reading this for a class (the first was for a social contract theory course my freshman year of college) but my first time reading it in a strictly gendered context. While much of what she says is very outdated now (it was written centuries ago) a surprising amount of it is still relevant today. Definitely worth a read!

Woman and Labor by Olive Schreiner || loved reading this book, especially alongside Wollstonecraft’s work. There are so many brilliant quotes that I copied down into my notebook as I was reading–not to help with future essays, but simply because I found them inspiring and empowering. Here’s one of my favorites:

“I would like to say to the men and women of the generations which will come after us: you will look back at us with astonishment. You will wonder at passionate struggles that accomplished so little, at the, to you, obvious paths to attain our ends which we did not take. At the intolerable evils before which it will seem to you we sat down passive. At the great truths staring us in the face which we failed to see, at the great truths we grasped at but could not get our fingers quite ’round. You will marvel at the labour that ended in so little. But what you will never know that it was how we were thinking of you and for you that we struggled as we did and accomplished the little that we have done. That it was in the thought of your larger realization and fuller life that we have found consolation for the futilities of our own. All I aspire to be and was not, comforts me.”

Olive Schreiner is an underrated, under-appreciated writer that deserves more time in the feminist spotlight. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on her writing, check out the Feminist Friday feature I wrote about her. 

This Sex Which Is Not One by Luce Irigaray || Let me just say that this book is a wild ride. My professor asked us to focus on the essay “This Sex Which Is Not One,” which basically argues that we should use the image of “two lips” in order to challenge the phallic discourse that currently dominates our society. It was really interesting, but had a bit too much Freud in it for my taste.

Poems by Emily Dickinson || Emily Dickinson may just be my favorite poet. We read many, many of her poems for this class and all I wanted to do when I finished was go back and read them all over again. I love how her poetry is frustratingly ambiguous yet still brilliantly poignant. I can’t even keep track of all of my favorite poems by her!

Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad by Alice Oswald || I’ve never actually read Homer’s Iliad before, but I think a basic understanding of the epic is enough to read this contemporary poem. Not only is Oswald’s language haunting and beautiful, but it also brings up important questions about revitalizing old works, the oral tradition, and women’s writing. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this poem, click here to check out my recent review. 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith || This was the first Zadie Smith book I ever read, but it most certainly won’t be my last! Now I want to read literally everything Smith has ever written. If this praise isn’t convincing enough, check out my review of the novel to make you want to read it even more. 

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison || Everything Toni Morrison writes is brilliant gold, and Playing in the Dark is no exception. I was so excited when I saw that this was on our reading list because I had read a certain section of the book many times for prior essays but had never actually read the entire collection. This work is so important for literary scholarship today as well as how we think about diversity in media and our lives in general. Would absolutely recommend to everyone! 

Education, marriage, and professions for women || I liked that we started off with this topic because it’s arguably the easiest category in which to see the vast improvement that women have made over the years. Of course, there’s always room for more improvement!

The body and sexuality || This is the week we drew on more abstract feminist theory to talk about how women’s bodies and sexuality are represented not only through language, but also through imagery and art. It raises some really interesting and important questions about how women portray themselves today and what that says about cultural gender norms.

Intertextuality, subverting/transforming genres, creating a tradition of women’s writing, the woman writer || This was definitely my favorite topic out of the ones we studied throughout the entire term. Thinking about writing traditions, reception studies, and genre formation really fascinates me, and coupling that with Emily Dickinson was a blast.

Differences among women; crossing boundaries, transitions, intersections; an “outsiders’ society” || Ending with this theme was great because it allowed us to look at feminist writings throughout the past few centuries from a modern standpoint and asses how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Overall, I am so glad that I decided to take this tutorial on a whim when I was signing up for classes months ago. Not only did it introduce me to some remarkable women writers, but it also provided me with new tools to use when analyzing other literature in terms of gender and intersectionality. If you ever get the opportunity to take some sort of feminist writing or theory course, definitely do!

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

Have you ever taken a class on feminist theory or literature? What are some of your favorite feminist writers, books, poems, etc.? What are your thoughts on any of the writing that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays

Feminist Fridays: Emily Dickinson

Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite poets of all time: Emily Dickinson. Earlier this term I was assigned to read many, many poems by Dickinson for my Writing Feminisms tutorial, which felt more like reading for pleasure rather than reading to write an essay. After having done more research about her life and writing, I’m excited to discuss her important and remarkable contribution to establishing a tradition of women’s writing.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet born and raised in Puritan New England, specifically in Massachusetts. She was considered to be a kind of recluse during her lifetime and only about a dozen of her 1,775 poems were actually published while she was alive. Today she is written about and taught in classrooms alongside male poets such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson who are considered to be part of the (male-dominated) Western literary canon. However, she was treated much differently than these male poets and had to face many more obstacles in order to be taken even somewhat seriously as a poet.

From a distance, it can seem as though Dickinson was playing into a persona of being a naive, young, ignorant figure. She often called herself “Miss Dickinson” in letters to editors and other correspondents, whereas male poets would undoubtedly have been referred to by their last names. She would also feign ignorance of how to write poetry, even though she clearly knew that she was creating an innovative, unique, experimental form. She asked editors for advice and pretended shock at their criticism, claiming she didn’t know she had erred when she didn’t consistently use iambic pentameter or proper rhyme schemes in her poetry. But why would this poetic genius pretend to be anything but?

Answer: because it was the only way she would be taken remotely seriously (read: even taken into consideration) by men who controlled the poetic sphere at the time. Living in Puritan New England meant rigid enforcement of traditional gender roles; however, Dickinson was not married and didn’t seem to plan on getting married any time soon. If she could not play the role of the “good wife,” than she must find another role to play: the naive, youthful girl. This would allow her to get feedback on her poetry without making men like Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an editor, feel directly challenged or threatened by her skill, intellect, and promising potential as a poet.

Her subversion of established conventions of the male poetic tradition can be seen in her irregular rhyme schemes (often called slant rhyme), inconsistent meter, focus on topics like death from a woman’s perspective. In the following poem that I wrote about for class, we can see how she uses the juxtaposition of biblical language and imagery of crowns, monarchs, and individual sovereignty to push back against traditional values of Puritan New England:

I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading – too –

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full – The Crescent dropped –
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank – too small the first –
Crowned – Crowing – on my Father’s breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time – Adequate – Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –

I love Emily Dickinson’s poetry for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because she was such a fascinating person in real life. She is a perfect example of quiet, subdued resistance– just because these men did not realize that they were being challenged does not mean that the resistance wasn’t there, contributing to a tradition of women’s writing that is still with us today. 

What are your thoughts on Emily Dickinson and her poetry? Do you have a favorite Dickinson poem? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY