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Quick Thoughts on Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Much of the action of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall plays out through a dynamic of distance and intimacy enacted in the relations and tensions between virtually all the characters in the novel and encapsulated within the epistolary gesture of one man (Gilbert) towards intimacy with another (Halford), despite the distance (both geographic and metaphoric) which has come between them. This gesture toward reconciliation, though, would be impossible without the story of Helen Huntingdon, the mysterious tenant of Wildfell Hall, who, cutting off intimate connections with anyone beyond her son and faithful servant (and a budding intimate relation with her brother), seeks safety in distance and isolation. Yet her self-exile to Yorkshire is merely the geographic concretization of a process which she begins far earlier in the novel—a process of self-isolation whose primary mode is not geographic, but linguistic: silence. Helen’s preference for silence is hinted at in comments she makes against “small-talk” (66), in her aversion to social gatherings, and her request that Gilbert remain quiet as he watches her paint, however it is through her relationship with Milicent Hargrave that Helen’s problematic relation to silence is most thoroughly explored and its shortcomings exposed—and it is her failings with Milicent that sow the seeds of her renewed faith in speech, intimacy, and confidence. ¹

Helen’s self-isolation begins with the realization that her marriage will not be what she had imagined. Rather than admitting her error to her aunt or to Milicent (both of whom had warned against Huntingdon), for the sake of her own pride, Helen opts to maintain a sham of happiness, keeping her thoughts silent and confiding them only to her diary. Were this the extent of the implications of her silence, it might be viewable as a sort of silent martyrdom; however her silence and severance of intimate personal connections proves to be a selfish indulgence, harming those around her. In not confiding the misery of her marriage to Milicent, Helen allows (and encourages) Milicent to believe that her marriage is a happy one, providing her friend with the idea that marriages to seemingly unsavory characters can turn out happily and leading her to give up any resistance to her mother’s wish for her to marry Hattersley.  Read More

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Yeats and the Rehabilitation of Time and the Ideal in “Among School Children”

In much of his poetry, W. B. Yeats seeks to reconcile himself with the forces of time at work upon him and particularly with the effect of time on the relation between reality and the ideal. He rails against himself, “the aged man,” “the tattered coat upon a stick” (“Sailing to Byzantium”) and situates the ideal within the past, looking bleakly out upon a future which can only hold greater age and a larger gap between his ideal and his reality. This fear of time and the dichotomy of age and youth, ideal and real are central to his “Among School Children,” in which a visit to a Montessori school sends his mind spinning outward to ponder questions of time, age, self, unity, and reality. Though he begins the poem convinced that he is a “scarecrow”  (though at least a comfortable one), Yeats ultimately achieves a revelation of self through perfect symbol which allows him to embrace time and the ideals he initially shuns, rather than fear them, ending the poem in hope.

The poem introduces the contrast between age and youth with a simple and real encounter between the young students of the school and Yeats the “sixty-year-old smiling public man” (8), who realizes that he inspires wonder in them simply by the fact of his age. This tangible contrast sets the stage for an exploration of youth via memory and imagination as Yeats is flung backward into a memory of Maude Gonne telling him a tale of her school days and then into a vision of Maude as a young girl like the children around him “stand[ing] before me as a living child” (24). However in pondering youth, age can never be far behind for Yeats: the vision of the young Maude calls up “her present image … / Hollow of cheek” (25, 27)—a Maude worlds apart from the “Ledaean body” of stanza II, but one defined by an unappealing “mess of shadows” (28). The two cannot be reconciled—no more than Yeats can reconcile his current self with the “pretty plumage”  (30) of his youth. These two contrasts go beyond the age versus youth  problem of the school children and his senatorial self, though, introducing the further dimension of Yeats’ ideal versus his (and the) reality. Maude’s Ledaean body may never have existed, but as she ages, the reality gets further and further away from his ideal image—just as his reality inevitably grows further from his ideal with time. Read More

Which means a few things. Number one is that I’m 21. And have been for a couple weeks. Two is that I’m about a month into second semester. Three is that racing season is approaching. Four is that Ryan is leaving for Greece soon. Five is that miiiiidterms are coming. Fast. Six is that spring break is also coming!

Ok. Done for now.

In light of the fact that February is nearly over, I’m surfacing momentarily on here so that February won’t be a ginormous blank spot. But mainly because I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work I need to get done today and don’t want to think about it, much less do it. The usual, then.

So here’s a bit of a pictorial update on my life. With very little commentary. Because I’m rolling like that today. More to follow. But for now, have this:

bergman-women

Bergman with Andersson and Ullmann on location

What follows is a collection of the many darlings I killed while writing about Persona. A Thought-Graveyard, if you will.

  • Alma’s horror following the momentary synthesis and her insistence that she is not like Elisabet (1:14.07) is simultaneously emblematic of the horror of being possessed by the other and of the simultaneous, paradoxical need of the other’s recognition for self-definition. When Alma does not receive the recognition from Elisabet she desires and she is suddenly joined with her, she begins to lose herself, necessitating her repetition of who she is and is not following the union.
  • The fact that Elisabeth writes a letter to her doctor describing the emergence of her soul’s “rightness” demonstrates that she seeks approval and recognition from others—also further invalidates the “authentic representation” of her silence.  What’s the point if she can express herself in performance for the other in a letter instead of speaking it?
  • Alma’s name, incidentally, connotes mother—nurturing. Her role as nurse is also a maternal one.
  • We cannot recognize ourselves without the recognition of the other. However the recognition of the other turns the self into an object, so then the self, in order to remain subjective, must recognize itself in the other, identifying with the other’s recognition of itself, and supersede the other.
  • Connection between Elisabet’s wanting the death of her own son and the Nazis wanting the death of that one boy. She is inhumane in her lack of loving motherhood. Connection also between her son, the boy in the photograph from the war, the boys Alma has sex with, the bookending boy. Sexualization of the maternal. The young boy suckling at Katerina’s breast a maternal image.
  • “and he looks at you” (1:09.40) The gaze, attempting to own, dominate the other. The power and violence of the gaze. In saying her son looked at Elisabet, Alma is getting at the violence Elisabet feels is inherent in his domineering gaze.
  • She finds him repulsive despite the fact that he is literally of her. She must distance herself from the other in order to establish herself.
  • “You had a guilty conscience” echoes the earlier scene after Alma’s own confession when she admitted to having a guilty conscience. Projection of her confession onto Elisabet.
  • Each time, one side of each woman’s face is in the dark. The opposite side for each. As we look at them, they quite literally appear to each be half a woman.
  • In the second version, we get Elisabet’s face in profile in front of Alma’s (1:11.40) Elisabet attempts to escape Alma’s gaze, but Alma traps her with it; holds her, exerting the power of the gaze, rendering her object of Alma’s gaze. Tone change into the bit about hoping baby will die—bc Alma cannot understand? Because she did have the abortion and some part of her wishes she hadn’t? progressively closer close ups on Alma, straight on on her face. the left side of her face increasingly being lost in shadow.
  • The doctor says that Elisabet wants someone to point out her inauthenticity to her. This is what Alma does. Is it what Elisabet wanted?
  • Alma’s accusations uncover a fear of inadequacy, more basic than the existential “bad faith” that the doctor gets at
  • Elisabet as a mother to Alma, comforting her after he confession
  • Getting us to think about why we crave the recognition of the other: why are we programmed to have a child and yet have such a fraught relationship with this symbol of our self-identification? Piece of ourself?
  • Patient becomes therapist, therapist/nurse patient (does all the talking)
  • The film’s insistence on us watching these people. Insisting on making us feel awkward about our voyeurism and yet our need to watch these others. We are complicit in this watching. We are Elisabet, silent and watching. Our fascination with the others on the screen. Alma’s need to perform and be recognized as the actress. Looking straight at us, breaking fourth wall, not normal cinema—all through the scenes of accusation.
  • Everything is performance. you can’t have a self without performance. We perform for the other and the other soaks it in. Alma as performing for Elisabet and Elisabet receiving the performance and being stimulated by it.
  • Film’s obsession with hands: crucifixion, young boy’s hand reaching to the woman’s face, comparison of hands on the beach, close up of the women’s hands together, hands behind Alma’s back, hands covering photograph, the Jewish boys hands up
  • Same with young boys: in the bookends, Elisabet’s son and his photograph, the young boys on the beach in Alma’s story, the Jewish boy in the photograph

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This is old as all hell, but why not post it? Not like I have two papers due tomorrow that need finishing (read: starting) or anything.

An odd little exercise I set myself while in Paris on my gap year: observing a group of Americans in my program at the Sorbonne at the lunch hour and creating my own little cast of characters out of them. A fun way to pass lunch time, though reading over it now I’m a bit horrified at my own prose. Ah well. Gotta start somewhere.

A Cast of Characters

They stand in a little half circle around the bench. There are seven of them—no, nine; they are joined by two more boys, their topsiders feebly protesting the day as they’re dragged through puddles and over cobblestones. The semi circle breaks to allow them access and tightens once more. Shoulders hunch, insteps rub calves.

The first girl stands with a studied nonchalance, a cigarette, kissed by rouge, hanging from the first two fingers of her left hand, a carefully crafted reminder: I am dangerous. I am not what you think I am. Her eyes flash a challenge which no one bothers to meet. The toes of her boots are artfully scuffed, but her ankles betray her: rolling outward over and over. Tattered tights and too-short skirt, a long, ill-fitting jacket does nothing for the cold, but at least it’s of the moment. Her lips are a bright red smudge, the only color on her, her fashionably disheveled hair disappears under a knit cap, and the color is bitten from her nails. Her favorite book is On the Road, but not because she’s read it. Her voice is not loud, but sharp as it passes her curled lips, assaulting the air, hanging for a moment, before it hits the pavement and shatters at their feet.

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400-coups-1959-04-gJean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel

Another week, another film de la Nouvelle Vague. This week it was Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cent Coups (terribly translated into English as The 400 Blows—the title in French is actually from an expression (“faire les quatre cent coups”) which means literally something like “to do the 400 tricks” and idiomatically to live a wild life, to raise hell. I really liked Les Quatre Cent Coup. Loved it, really. But I’ve gotta keep this brief so I can go write about À Bout de Souffle, among other things (The Crying of Lot 49, Ulysses, Einhard—shoot me now).

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