The Big Bad Woolf

“The play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is set on the campus of a small, New England university. It opens with the main characters, George and Martha coming home from a party at her father’s house. The two of them clearly care deeply for each other, but events have turned their marriage into a nasty battle between two disenchanted, cynical enemies. Even though the pair arrives home at two o’clock in the morning, they are expecting guests: the new math professor and his wife.

Of course, as it turns out, this new, young professor, Nick, actually works in the biology department. He and his wife, Honey, walk into a brutal social situation. In the first act, “Fun and Games,” Martha and George try to fight and humiliate each other in new, inventive ways. As they peel away each other’s pretenses and self-respect, George and Martha use Honey and Nick as pawns, transforming their guests into an audience to witness humiliation, into levers for creating jealousy, and into a means for expressing their own sides of their mutual story. In the second act, “Walpurgisnacht,” these games get even nastier. The evening turns into a nightmare. George and Martha even attack Honey and Nick, attempting to force them to reveal their dirty secrets and true selves. Finally, in the last act, “The Exorcism,” everyone’s secrets have been revealed and purged. Honey and Nick go home, leaving Martha and George to try to rebuild their shattered marriage” (Source: Sparknotes.com).

“The play is a battle to the death . . .”

“You only have to say the word, Elizabeth Taylor. . . ” said the movie trailer. Apparently she was so connected to the screen version of the play that they identified her name with the movie. Find out more below:

We continue on with her intention to bring attention to the plight of women authors . . .

Shakespeare’s Sister by Virginia Woolf (continued)

At last–for she was very young, oddly like Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded brows–at last Nick Green the actor-manager took pity on her; she found herself with child by that gentleman and so–who an measure the heat and violence of a poets heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?–killed herself one winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle.

That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius. . . Now and again an Emily Bronte or a Robert Burns blazes out and proves its presence. But it certainly never got itself onto paper. When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man that had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who bashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. . .

For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty. . . whatever she had written would have been twisted and deformed, issuing from a strained and morbid imagination (p 61-2, A Room of One’s Own).

Who is Shakespeare’s Sister?

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) created an archetype she called Shakespeare’s Sister

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” –Virginia Woolf

Yesterday in the New York Times article By the Book: “Her prose is sometimes poetry. Listen to this: “Fear no more says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall.” And she’s such a compassionate describer of her characters with all their flaws. I hadn’t read the novel for years, and it was such a joy to revisit and rediscover it.” (‘Her Prose Is Sometimes Poetry’: Why Margaret Jull Costa Loves Virginia Woolf; New York Times March 4, 2021).

The New Yorker put it, “In Virginia Woolf’s case, the fact that she was a woman was a further aggravation. She belonged to a generation in which a woman had still to fight to be taken seriously as a writer. ” … With the exception of a description of an eclipse of the sun, which is as beautiful as any of the best pages in her novels, and an occasional comment, usually rather malicious, on people she knew, these selections are devoted to her thoughts upon the work in hand. Like every other writer, she was concerned about what particular kind of writer she was, and what her unique contribution could and should be. ‘My only interest as a writer lies, I begin to see, in some queer individuality; not in strength, or passion, or anything startling.’ ” (A Consciousness of Reality, The New Yorker, W. H Auden, March 6 1954).

To delineate her background: Virginia Woolf was considered one of the most important modernist English writers among 20th century authors. She experimented with and used stream of consciousness as a narrative device.

Woolf was born in South Kensington, London, into an wealthy family. She was the seventh child in a blended family of eight, including Vanessa Bell, the modernist painter. The boys in the family received college educations, while the girls were home-schooled. They studied English classics and Victorian literature. The family’s summer home in St. Ives, Cornwall was a formative influence in Virginia Woolf’s childhood. In the late 1890s, she first saw the Godrevy Lighthouse, and it became the origin of her novel To the Lighthouse (1927).

Woolf attended King’s College London, where she studied classics, history and met early reformers of women’s higher education and the womens’ rights movement (1897 to 1901). Her brothers were educated at Cambridge, and this was an influence on her, as well as her access to her father’s vast library. Her father was the one who encouraged her to write, which she began doing professionally in 1900. Although she was resourceful and well-educated, Woolf had several mental breakdowns and was institutionalized for throwing herself out of a window after her father’s death in 1904. She eventually died by suicide in 1941.

Woolf was one of the central subjects of the 1970s movement of feminist criticism and her works have since garnered much attention and widespread commentary for “inspiring feminism.” Her writings were translated into more than 50 languages. A large body of literature is dedicated to her life and work, and she has been the subject of plays, novels, and films. (Source: Wikipedia)

Virginia Woolf wrote the essay A Room of One’s Own; published as a book, it described her ideas and theories on women writers, and whether they would eventually be as acknowledged as men. She created a descriptive and powerful archetype whom she calls “Shakespeare’s sister.” She described this fictional woman–hidden in the background behind her brother’s greatness–as not yet born but that the potential for her to someday exist is preeminent.

Virginia’s Woolf’s Story Within a Story:

Let me imagine, since fact are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably,–his mother was a heiress–to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin–Ovid, Virgil, and Horace–and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right.

That escape sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practicing his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the street, and even getting access to the palace of the queen.

Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home.She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter–indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father.

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Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of marriage. He would give her a chain of bead or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not yet seventeen.

The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like here brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager–a fat, looselipped man–guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and woman acting–no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted–can you imagine what. She would get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for fiction . . . upon the lives of men and women and the study of their ways.

More on this tomorrow . . . Lilith

Juliet Throws the Teapot

Juliet or alternately “The Blue Necklace” (1898) by J. W Waterhouse

Juliet is among the world’s most memorable characters. Here you see her portrayed by Waterhouse, and made into a beach towel. Just think, for $44 you can take her swimming.

One of Shakepeare’s most famous quotes:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet…”
-Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

The explanation for the quote: “In Shakespeare’s tragedy about the titular “star-crossed lovers,” Juliet’s line references her and Romeo’s warring families and that their last names — Montague and Capulet — shouldn’t define who they are or negate their romance. Instead, she’s saying that a name given to an object is nothing more than a collection of letters, and changing what something is called doesn’t change what it inherently is.” (Source: Biography.com)

Where else do we see this theme anywhere that something isn’t necessarily what you get on the label, and that people may not act according to their labels? How do we know what something inherently is? Even being labelled is something people react to, and people may not act according to their beliefs. For example, C.S. Lewis when referring to what labels could be put on Jesus, put it: “He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” This is discussed, as what is called Lewis’s trilemma, and is frequently shortened to a question in the line of: “Is he a liar, a lunatic, or Lord?” (Mere Christianity). Lewis further states that: “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

We might like a modern movie depiction of the Shakespeare play such at the 2013 Romeo and Juliet to understand the plot.

The play itself has a few central themes: “Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story in the English literary tradition. Love is naturally the play’s dominant and most important theme. The play focuses on romantic love, specifically the intense passion that springs up at first sight between Romeo and Juliet. In Romeo and Juliet, love is a violent, ecstatic, overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions. In the course of the play, the young lovers are driven to defy their entire social world . . .

“Love in Romeo and Juliet is a brutal, powerful emotion that captures individuals and catapults them against their world, and, at times, against themselves. ” (Source: Sparknotes.com).

Another more modern depiction of Shakespeare’s famous play might be Shakespeare in Love, starring Gwynneth Paltrow.

“The film depicts a fictional love affair involving playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) while Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet. Several characters are based on historical figures, and many of the characters, lines, and plot devices allude to Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare in Love received positive reviews from critics and was a box office success, grossing $289.3 million worldwide and was the ninth highest-grossing film of 1998. The film received numerous accolades, including seven Oscars at the 71st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.” (Source: Wikipedia)

So which ‘Juliet’ throws the teapot? This is referring to a book by by Mary Ann Shaffer, and Annie Barrows. While the character Juliet in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a writer during the war, we cannot overlook her wartime character as a more Juliet-like renaissance woman. She throws a teapot at a reporter who irks her, during an interview. As a published author, she is well thought of, and has even penned a book on Anne Bronte. She eventually finds love on the Island of Guernsey, although she might be marrying into a different social class when she marries a pig farmer, instead of the sought-after handsome Mark who gives her a diamond ring. While all the rations she has for clothing go to buy a dress she sees in the window of a store, she is inherently frugal and hardworking, working journalistically to tell the story of the literary society.

The idea that Elizabeth was killed during the war, and is the mother of Kit (daughter of a German soldier) complicates the plot. Elizabeth is natural, easy going, inclined to follow her convictions, and helps people who are in need of her. She wears no makeup, and is admired for her connections to her friends, as much is she is scorned for causing scandal by having an illegitimate child.

To throw a curve ball, formally, Elizabeth and Juliet are two different characters. The idea that they would be the same person, or that Elizabeth (a mother) would eventually recreate herself as a successful author named Juliet seems insensible. It would be like the difference between being named Plain Jane and having a ‘pen name’ in modern society.

Example, Author Emily Isaacson:

Emily the writer, reading poetry.
Published poet and author, Emily Isaacson.
Sarah Abbott (2006 before taking a pen name, and legally changing her name.)
Sarah Abbott (2006)

There is a further developed identity, and we see that a person’s psychic consciousness can turn into our perceived identity, and what we know about ourselves; even if no one else knows. Like a secret tryst between Romeo and Juliet, Emily knows she is a writer, and will eventually publish books. But no one else knows. She is hiding it in her childhood. She is writing a book in her desk. She is taking out stacks of books from the library, and reads a book a day. If she verbalizes anything of the sort, the people around her deny it and even persecute her for thinking such things.

Eventually we must come to the point where we ask Jesus a question about his identity, and say:” Who are you?”

Eventually we must ask the same of Emily.

Photo by Couleur on Pexels.com
Photo by Jovana Nesic on Pexels.com

Fleeting Ophelia

Ophelia is a character in Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. She is driven mad when her father, Polonius, is murdered by her lover, Hamlet. She dies while still very young, suffering from grief and madness. The events shown in Millais’s Ophelia are not actually seen on stage. Instead they are referred to in a conversation between Queen Gertrude and Ophelia’s brother Laertes. Gertrude describes how Ophelia fell into the river while picking flowers and slowly drowned, singing all the while (Source: Tate Gallery, London).

_________________________________________

Hamlet, Act 1V, Scene V11

Laertes: Drowned! O, where?

Queen Gertrude: There is a willow grows askant the brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead-men’s-fingers call them.
There on the pendent boughs her crownet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Laertes: Alas, then she is drowned?

Queen Gertrude: Drowned, drowned

________________________________________

Ophelia is depicted in a 1894 painting by English painter J. W Waterhouse, depicting the character in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, a potential wife for Prince Hamlet. In the 1894 version by Waterhouse, Ophelia is depicted, in the last moments before her death, sitting on a willow branch extending out over a pond of lilies. Her royal dress strongly contrasts with her natural surroundings. Waterhouse has placed flowers on her lap and in her hair, tying her into her natural surroundings (Source: Wikipedia).

Ophelia is one of the most well-known Pre-Raphaelite works in the Tate collection. The painting was part of the original Henry Tate Gift in 1894. Millais’s image of the tragic death of Ophelia, as she falls into the stream and drowns, is one of the best-known depictions from Shakespeare.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on serious and significant subjects and were best known for painting subjects from modern life and literature often using historical costumes. They painted directly from nature itself, as truthfully as possible and with incredible attention to detail (Source: Tate Gallery, London).

An old archetype of Suicide and MAdness

Ophelia 1851-2 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01506

J. E. Millais painted Ophelia between 1851 and 1852 in two separate locations. He painted the landscape part of the painting outside, by the Hogsmill River at Ewell in Surrey; and painted the figure of Ophelia inside in his Gower Street studio in London.

At the time Millais was painting, it was common for artists to work outside to produce sketches. They then took these back to their studio and used them as reference to create a larger finished painting. However, Millais and his Pre-Raphaelite friends completed their paintings outside in the open air, which was unusual for the time.

Millais did not give himself as long to paint the figure of Ophelia as he did to paint the landscape. Traditionally, the landscape was often considered the less important part of painting and therefore painted second. Millais and the Pre-Raphaelites believed the landscape was of equal importance to the figure, and so for Ophelia, it was painted first.

POSING FOR OPHELIA

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Elizabeth Siddall Plaiting her Hair
Tate

Millais’s model was a young woman aged nineteen called Elizabeth Siddall. She was discovered by his friend, Walter Deverell, working in a hat shop. She later married one of Millais’s friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in 1860.

To create the effect of Elizabeth pretending to be Ophelia drowning in the river, she posed for Millais in a bath full of water. To keep the water warm some oil lamps were placed underneath. On one occasion, the lamps went out and Millais was so engrossed by his painting that he didn’t even notice!

During her time posing for the painting, Elizabeth got very cold and became quite ill. With no National Health Service or readily available medicine, Elizabeth was looked after by a private doctor paid for by Elizabeth’s father who then ordered Millais to pay the fifty medical bills. The matter was settled and Miss Siddall recovered quickly.

While posing, Elizabeth wore a very fine silver embroidered dress bought by Millais from a second-hand shop for four pounds.

“To-day I have purchased a really splendid lady’s ancient dress- all flowered over in silver embroidery-and I am going to paint it for ‘Ophelia’…it cost me, old and dirty as it is, four pounds.”

John Everett Millais

Symbolism

Most of the flowers in Ophelia are included either because they are mentioned in the play, or for their symbolic value. Millais saw these flowers growing wild by the river in Ewell. Because he painted the river scene over a period of five months, flowers that bloom at different times of the year appear next to each other.

Millais always painted directly from nature itself with great attention to detail. The flowers are painted from real, individual flowers and Millais shows the dead and broken leaves as well as the flowers in full bloom. Millais’s son John wrote that his father’s flowers were so realistic that a professor teaching botany, who was unable to take a class of students into the country, took them to see the flowers in the painting Ophelia, as they were as instructive as nature itself.

PHOTOGRAPHY WAS INVENTED IN 1839, TWELVE YEARS BEFORE MILLAIS PAINTED OPHELIA. PHOTOS WERE NOT AS CLEAR AS THEY ARE TODAY HOWEVER. MILLAIS’S OPHELIA WAS MORE DETAILED THAN WHAT PHOTOGRAPHY WAS ABLE TO ACHIEVE AT THIS TIME AND WAS A UNIQUE WAY OF REPRESENTING THE NATURAL WORLD.

Source: Tate Gallery, London.

Another depiction of Ophelia (1889) by J. W Waterhouse

RevivinG Ophelia

Mary Pipher wrote the book, Reviving Ophelia. The 25th anniversary edition of the iconic bookis revised and updated for 21st-century adolescent girls and their families.

Reviving Ophelia was originally published in 1994, and it shone a much-needed spotlight on the problems faced by adolescent girls. The book became iconic and helped to reframe the national conversation about what author Mary Pipher called “a girl-poisoning culture” surrounding adolescents. Fast forward to today, and adolescent girls and the parents, teachers, and counselors who care about them find themselves confronting many of the same challenges Pipher wrote about originally as well as new ones specific to today.

Girls still struggle with misogyny, sexism, and issues of identity and self-esteem. But they’re also more isolated than ever before: They don’t talk face-to-face to the people around them, including their peers, as they used to: They’re texting or on social media for hours at a time. And while girls today are less likely to be in trouble for their drinking or sexual behavior, they have a greater chance of becoming depressed, anxious, or suicidal.

In this revised and updated Reviving Ophelia, Pipher and her daughter, Sara Pipher Gilliam (who was a teenager at the time of the book’s original publication), have incorporated these new issues for a 21st-century readership. In addition to examining the impact that social media has on adolescent girls’ lives today, Pipher and Gilliam explore the rising and empowering importance of student activism in girls’ lives, the wider acceptance of diverse communities among young people, and the growing disparities between urban and rural, rich and poor, and how they can affect young girls’ sense of self-worth. With a new foreword and afterword and chapters that explore these topics, this new edition of Reviving Ophelia builds on the relevance of the original as it provides key insights into the challenges and opportunities facing adolescent girls today.

The approach Pipher and Gilliam take in the new edition is just what it was in the original: a timely, readable combination of insightful research and real-world examples that illuminate the challenges young women face and the ways to address them. This updated Reviving Ophelia looks at 21st century adolescent girls through fresh eyes, with insights and ideas that will help new generations of readers. Buy here.

In Daniel Drage’s latest published essay in Image Journal (Issue 107), he explores the negative spaces in art and creation, which I believe has connotations to this archetype when you consider the themes of emptiness, loss, despair, and infertility. He states:

“The concept of negative space offers an interesting point of connection between works of art and sacred texts. The Bible presents myriad examples of empty or bounded spaces, which it describes in palpable, visual terms, alive with meaning. Think of the space opened up by the parting of the Red Sea, for example, or of particular empty wombs and tombs which are among the most profound negative spaces in scripture.” Read more . . .

Ephemeral Elaine

The Lady of Shalott by J. W Waterhouse

The poem “The Lady of Shalott” by Lord Tennyson (1832)

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
       To many-tower’d Camelot;
The yellow-leaved waterlily
The green-sheathed daffodilly
Tremble in the water chilly
       Round about Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.

Underneath the bearded barley,
The reaper, reaping late and early,
Hears her ever chanting cheerly,
Like an angel, singing clearly,
       O’er the stream of Camelot.
Piling the sheaves in furrows airy,
Beneath the moon, the reaper weary
Listening whispers, ‘ ‘Tis the fairy,
       Lady of Shalott.’

The little isle is all inrail’d
With a rose-fence, and overtrail’d
With roses: by the marge unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken sail’d,
       Skimming down to Camelot.
A pearl garland winds her head:
She leaneth on a velvet bed,
Full royally apparelled,
       The Lady of Shalott.

Part II

No time hath she to sport and play:
A charmed web she weaves alway.
A curse is on her, if she stay
Her weaving, either night or day,
       To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be;
Therefore she weaveth steadily,
Therefore no other care hath she,
       The Lady of Shalott.

She lives with little joy or fear.
Over the water, running near,
The sheepbell tinkles in her ear.
Before her hangs a mirror clear,
       Reflecting tower’d Camelot.
And as the mazy web she whirls,
She sees the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
       Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
       Goes by to tower’d Camelot:
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
       The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
       And music, came from Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead
Came two young lovers lately wed;
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
       The Lady of Shalott.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flam’d upon the brazen greaves
       Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
       Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
       As he rode down from Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
       Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
       As he rode down from Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
       Moves over green Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
       As he rode down from Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
‘Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:’
       Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom
She made three paces thro’ the room
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
       She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried
       The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
       Over tower’d Camelot;
Outside the isle a shallow boat
Beneath a willow lay afloat,
Below the carven stern she wrote,
The Lady of Shalott.

A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight,
All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew (her zone in sight
Clasp’d with one blinding diamond bright)
       Her wide eyes fix’d on Camelot,
Though the squally east-wind keenly
Blew, with folded arms serenely
By the water stood the queenly
       Lady of Shalott.

With a steady stony glance—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance—
       She look’d down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day:
She loos’d the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
       The Lady of Shalott.

As when to sailors while they roam,
By creeks and outfalls far from home,
Rising and dropping with the foam,
From dying swans wild warblings come,
       Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
Still as the boathead wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her chanting her deathsong,
       The Lady of Shalott.

A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy,
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her eyes were darken’d wholly,
And her smooth face sharpen’d slowly,
       Turn’d to tower’d Camelot:
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
       The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
       Dead into tower’d Camelot.
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
To the planked wharfage came:
Below the stern they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

They cross’d themselves, their stars they blest,
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest.
There lay a parchment on her breast,
That puzzled more than all the rest,
       The wellfed wits at Camelot.
‘The web was woven curiously,
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
       The Lady of Shalott.’

The Lady of Shalott (1862), another depiction by J. W Waterhouse. This painting is an illustration of the poem by Tennyson.

This is a depiction of the character Elaine, who is dramatized in poetry and art. Elaine represents transience, and does not win her lover Lancelot. As such, she is scorned, and travels down the river under a tapestry to her eventual death. She is fleeting, short-lived, momentary . . . this is all also true of Generation X. Perhaps she is an archetype of this generation, and their unfulfilled dreams of romance and a life of “happily ever after,” all of which seemed to belong to the more prosperous Baby Boomers. Let’s discuss this idea further. Although her character seems to last only for a short time, in the history of art, she is a remarkable and memorable character, an illustration of death from a broken heart. Could Elaine be re-created as another character in modern times?

What does the gallery who owns this painting have to say?

Tennyson’s poem, first published in 1832, tells of a woman who suffers under an undisclosed curse. She lives isolated in a tower on an island called Shalott, on a river which flows down from King Arthur’s castle at Camelot. Not daring to look upon reality, she is allowed to see the outside world only through its reflection in a mirror. One day she glimpses the reflected image of the handsome knight Lancelot, and cannot resist looking at him directly. The mirror cracks from side to side, and she feels the curse come upon her. The punishment that follows results in her drifting in her boat downstream to Camelot ‘singing her last song’, but dying before she reaches there. Waterhouse shows her letting go the boat’s chain, while staring at a crucifix placed in front of three guttering candles. Tennyson was a popular subject for artists of this period, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites. Waterhouse’s biographer Anthony Hobson relates that the artist owned a copy of Tennyson’s collected works, and covered every blank page with pencil sketches for paintings.

The landscape setting is highly naturalistic; the painting was made during Waterhouse’s brief period of plein-air painting. The setting is not identified, although the Waterhouses frequently visited Somerset and Devon. The model is traditionally said to be the artist’s wife. Waterhouse’s sketchbook contains numerous pencil studies for this and the painting of the same title made six years later (1894, Leeds City Art Gallery). This second work shows the Lady at the moment she looks out of the window and the curse is fulfilled. Waterhouse also made sketches of the final scenes in which the boat bearing the Lady floats into Camelot.

Source: Tate Gallery Notes

Loreena McKennitt, (born February 17, 1957) is a Canadian composer, harpist, accordionist, and pianist who writes, records and performs world music with Celtic and Middle Eastern themes. McKennitt is known for her refined and clear dramatic soprano vocals (Source: Wikipedia). She produced the song to the poem, called “The Lady of Shalott.” It was recorded, and released in 1991 as folk music.

Loreena McKennitt sings The Lady of Shalott

Her lyrics are the same as the more commonly read translation of the poem:

On either side of the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the world and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road run by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly
Down to tower’d Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “’tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott.

“There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay,
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The Knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady Of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
“I am half sick of shadows, ” said
The Lady Of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode back to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
he flashed into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra Lirra, ” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces taro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me, ” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance –
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott..

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn’d to towered Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”

Songwriters: Alfred Tennyson / Dan Smith / Rose Prince / Steve Smith / Tom Gilbert

The Lady of Shalott lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

The Lady of Shalott — John Atkinson Grimshaw

The Awakening Conscience

A further glimpse of archetypes and symbolic women is evidenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Here are some notes on a painting by William Holman Hunt presented by the Tate Gallery in London. The Tate Gallery also owns The Lady of Shalott by J. W. Waterhouse, the subject of our next post.

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The Awakening Conscience was conceived as the material counterpart to Hunt’s The Light of the World (1851-3, Warden and Fellows of Keble College, Oxford). Its inspiration was a verse from Proverbs: ‘As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart’. With his typical thoroughness, Hunt hired a room at Woodbine Villa, 7 Alpha Place, St John’s Wood, a ‘maison de convenance’, to use as the setting. A gentleman has installed his mistress (known to be such because of her absence of a wedding ring) in a house for their meetings. As they play and sing to Thomas Moore’s Oft in the Stilly Night, she has a sudden spiritual revelation. Rising from her lover’s lap, she gazes into the sunlit garden beyond, which is reflected in the mirror behind her. The mirror image represents the woman’s lost innocence, but redemption, indicated by the ray of light in the foreground, is still possible. Intended to be ‘read’, the painting is full of such symbolic elements. The cat toying with the broken-winged bird under the table symbolises the woman’s plight. A man’s discarded glove warns that the likely fate of a cast-off mistress was prostitution. A tangled skein of yarn on the floor symbolises the web in which the girl is entrapped. Indeed, as Ruskin wrote to the Times on 25 May 1854, ‘the very hem of the poor girl’s dress, at which the painter has laboured so closely, thread by thread, has story in it, if we think how soon its pure whiteness may be soiled with dust and rain, her outcast feet failing in the street’. The frame, designed by Hunt, also contains various symbolic emblems; the bells and marigolds stand for warning and sorrow, the star is a sign of spiritual revelation.

The Awakening Conscience 1853 William Holman Hunt 1827-1910 Presented by Sir Colin and Lady Anderson through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02075

The underlying spiritual message was generally ignored by most critics, who concentrated instead on the more sensational aspects of the painting. 

Source:
Leslie Parris (ed.), The Pre-Raphaelites, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1984, reprinted 1994, pp.120-21, reproduced in colour.

Nurture Verses Comfort

I was binge-watching the romantic series When Calls The Heart over the long weekend. I never really read romance novels growing up, so this is good for me. I am more aware of what the conversation should sound like in the pioneer days. I watch movies to prove to myself that the alpha-dominant female, the heroine, gets the guy when it comes to romance, but you seldom see the wallflower being so bold. Wallflowers are more behind the scenes type of people, like playwrights or songwriters. When I was in Junior High School and went to school dances I could have held the wall up. I was in ballet–but not one to dance in public unless it was choreographed.

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The Little Match Girl is poverty incarnate, with a product that is supposed to support her, but does not. This is only too much like writing books of poetry. I do it mostly for altruistic reasons, and not for the pennies I make.

In Women Who Run With the Wolves, we see:

“the Match girl making some kind of trade-off, some kind of ill-conceived commerce in the story when the child sells her matches, the only thing she has that might keep her warm. When women are disconnected from the nurturing love of the wild mother, they are on the equivalent of a subsistence diet in the outer world. The ego is just eking out a life, just taking the barest of nourishment from without and returning each night from where she began, over and over. There she sleeps, exhausted. …

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“The difference between comfort and nurture is this: if you have a plant that is sick because you keep it in a dark closet, and you say soothing words to it, that is comfort. If you take the plant out of the closet and put it in the sun, give it something to drink, and then talk to it, that is nurture.

“A frozen woman without nurture is inclined to turn to incessant “what if” daydreams. But even if she is in this frozen condition, especially if she is in such a frozen condition, she must refuse the comforting fantasy. The comforting fantasy will kill us dead for certain. …

“…in the most negative sense, winter brings the kiss of death–that is, a coldness–to anything it touches. Coldness spells the end of a relationship. If you want to kill something, just be cold to it. As soon as one becomes frozen in feeling, thinking or action, relationship is not possible. When humans want to abandon something in themselves or leave someone else out in the cold, they ignore them, disinvite them, leave them out, go out of their way to have to even hear their voice or even lay eyes upon them. This is the situation in the psyche of the Little Match Girl.

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“The Match Girl wanders the streets and she begs strangers to buy matches from her. This scene shows one of the most disconcerting things about injured instinct in women, the giving of light for little price. … Here we have the Match Girl in great need, begging to be given to, offering in fact a thing of far greater value–a light–than value received in return–a penny.”

Well this fairy tale, and its touching archetype is a picture of something all consuming, fire. Yet in its minuscule, regulated way, there is only a match worth of warmth. The opposite would be a roaring inferno, or Dante’s Inferno, in literature. There is the light of illumination opposing an all-consuming fire of love (or hell).

I think I will write a play on this story. I will be using the archetypal theories of the book, and it will be for the end of my next collection of verse, From the Ashes of Plague. Stay tuned . . .

Maiden Flight

“Warmth is a mystery. It somehow heals and engenders us. It is the loosener of too-tight things, it enhances flow, the mysterious urge to be, the maiden flight of fresh ideas.” –Clarissa Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves.

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How do we grow up into what we are meant to be? There are more insights into the Little Match Girl archetype from the book:

Little Match Girl is tattered. Like the old folk song, she’s been down so long it looks like up to her. No one can thrive at her level. . . Without a move, we are back out on the street selling matches again.

I once wrote a song with these lyrics:

I want to see you grow into all you were meant to be

I want to watch you run with the wind—run to me

I see you smile and my day becomes more beautiful

I watch your laugh falling like a thousand stars

I can’t comprehend why it always

Makes me fall onto my knees

That I could be your father

I want to hold you close in my arms

Close to me

I want to tell you straight from the heart

What you mean to me.

When I see you smile my day becomes more beautiful

When I watch your laugh falling like a thousand stars

I can’t comprehend why it always

Makes me fall onto my knees

That I could be your father

I was thrown out of the church on two occasions. Once when I objected to them praying for the sick for money, and once for rehearsing this song with the worship team to play for a service. The church has a way of crying “heretic” and burning people at the stake when they are too paternal or too maternal, or even make claims on God.

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I had written The Imagination of God; it was a booklet as an accompaniment to Alpha, and the church was using it in a small group around 2003-4. The Imagination of God portrays our relationship with God, and uses both the He and She pronouns.

The Imagination of God

Covenant

Covenant is a very special and important process. It is the agreement between two persons that fully allows each person to become themselves, and realize their greatest potential. There is a lot of room in it to move around and a lot of room to breathe. It is a place of joy and rest.

This is what God would like to have with us. His son, Jesus, was his bridge to establish covenant with us if we should choose. Because of Jesus, we are able to be in a loving, growing relationship with God.

Entering this covenant is somewhat like entering a marriage: thrilling and exciting at times, and difficult and building at other times. It is a life process of being with, and allowing our life to be influenced and shaped by someone else—someone who cares for us very much.

At every given moment, he would like to hold our hand, to begin to walk with us toward this thing of covenant, and on into our destiny.

Unity

When we accept this covenant, we become in unity with Jesus Christ, and we are capable of intimacy with him. This allows us to be known by God and know God. This brings friendship into our loneliness and pain. This establishes security in the darkest places of our lives. We are always much better off with Jesus. And others who know him too feel welcome to be part of our inner circle, to comfort, reassure, and bless us. Prayer is the acknowledgement of this unity: this circle between God, us, and others who believe.

Leadership

Jesus is like a shepherd to us, leading us as he would a flock of gentle sheep. We are tuned to hear his kind voice as we travel with him through life’s ups and downs. We feel nurtured and protected by his tenderness. We are receiving and being received from, out of who we truly are. We don’t have to impress him or “do things right”.

This is the place of fulfillment, where life becomes easy and light instead of drudgery and pain. This is the place where we realize there is hope for us, no matter where we have been, no matter how we have failed. Jesus will be the one to take these things and bear their weight, while we live life free of concern, just letting him lead us one little step and a time.

Personhood

God loves uniqueness, and made us all with different gifts and abilities. God values this and isn’t into us having to conform to meet others’ agendas. Our unity with others in Jesus treats each person with dignity and value, allowing us to cooperate and share in a common purpose.

In fact, God wants to see us prosper in who we are, and is willing to empower us to do it. God isn’t stingy, but has tons to give away. God likes colour, creativity, fun, and playfulness. Every day, God would like to bring these qualities into your life to animate and energize you. With him, you can do what is in your heart.

Worship

Gratefulness is something we can’t help when we see God’s goodness. We can’t help but be moved or even changed inside. When we choose to acknowledge God as the source of this life flowing out of us, we are in worship. Worship can be expressed by singing, dancing, painting, writing, telling God how much we love him; by doing anything with a joyful and willing heart, by serving others, or just by having fun.

Worship is dynamic. It makes us glow with health and vibrance. It propels us forward out of hesitancy. It recreates us where we have been broken or hurt. It colours our world like a rainbow. It is a daily thing, as we get to know God more and more.

Simplicity

There is a simplicity in knowing Jesus Christ. The things that seemed so important before are trivial. Jesus breathes new life into everything we do, and uncomplicates things for us, lessening the stress. All we really need to know is how to love. Because of who Jesus is, we can learn that anywhere, with anyone, and practice it anywhere as well. Every day is a new experience to learn about God’s love. Every difficulty is a new chance to put it into practice.

We are all climbing and stumbling on this mountain of learning love, learning to open our hearts, learning to be healed in and by love; but we progress as we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting God to create beauty out of our failures. Our load is light when we function in simplicity. It reduces what is needed to be Christ to the outside world. All we need is Him.

Healing

The love of a mother soothes and heals, as does the love of a nurturing God. God is patient with our distress and brings us to laughter again by her warm smiles. Freedom from our pain flows from heaven like warm rays of sunlight, but we must risk coming out of the house of our soul to receive this blessing. The spirit must reach up.

Acceptance

God accepts us just as we are. He is not worried about whether we are clean or dirty: in fact he would rather we were real so he could get to know us without our feeling we have to be better on our own. Because we are his children, we can relax and know it’s okay to be dependent on her for everything we need. God sent His son, Jesus, to live a good life in place of ours. He already knew ahead of time that we would need someone to save us from our own failure. He died for us out of pure love. This means we are now like new, washed off gently by the cleansing water of Jesus love.

Redemption

We can now receive of the free blood of Jesus. This is for all the wrong things we have done, to cleanse us, but even more, for the wrong things people do to us. These become lodged in us like weapons to be used against ourselves and others. We do much harm by repeating the nature of the sins against us, even in ways we may not recognize. Someone who has been harmed physically, for example, may harm people emotionally or verbally, even while thinking they are helping the person. Their own unforgiveness blinds them to the danger of their bitterness wounding another. Forgiveness is letting the bitterness go, so we won’t be poisoned by it. A poisoned person is no fun. Cleaning out the poison lets us go free. Freedom allows us to change into the person we want to be.

Solace

When God’s comfort enters the place where we have been wounded, we feel met, and our wounds bound. Gentleness and tenderness are the way to the wound, not force and domination. Our kindness can lead the way for someone to accept God’s kindness. Her kindness cleanses the wound. Her kindness makes it safe for us to fell sorry for how we have responded to those who hurt us. And Her kindness lights the heart again to wholeness.

Newness

We are like a tree, and every tree needs to root and grow. Rooting down grabs nutrients to stabilize and fortify. Patience and dedication are needed in this. Growing up to the light requires faith and gratitude. We reach in proportion to our rootedness. We reach as we realize that God is god and has good things for us.

Stability and safety happen when we realize that people fail us, and yet God is trustworthy. In spite of their lack, She uses others to root and nourish us anyway. She can do this because of her ability to turn anything in our life into good, even the most horrible tragedies. She even gives us the grace to forgive those who have harmed us so she can create diamonds where tears have been.

Liberty

Jesus came to this world, died and rose again to give us freedom: freedom from the oppression of wrongdoing which contaminates our lives. This allows us not to have to worry if we do something wrong. We can trust that God will pick us up, dust us off, and continue to encourage us with new hope. It takes faith to believe this, if we are used to being punished or criticized. When we are no longer afraid of doing things wrong, we start to get things right. Now, with God helping us, everything gets easier. It isn’t so much work, it is more like an adventure.

Revelation

God wants to inspire us, and looks for ways to do so. He speaks to us in many different ways, usually in ways that are most geared to us as persons. We know that the Bible is there as a sure-fire way for us to know what God thinks and for us to receive messages from him. We may or may not understand the language used to communicate the Bible. That is why there are so many different translations. Each has some new perspective to offer. God will likely inspire you through one suited to who you are.

Empowerment: God’s heart for us

God loves to empower people: he does not need us, our time, our money or our stuff to empower him. He already has it all. He knows we need to learn how to give so that all these things can work for us, however. Generosity breeds abundance, and abundance is the overflow of resources that comes from being with God. God is for us. He is not here to take things away or give us a hard time, or demand we do better. Everything in God wants to build us up, so we are strong enough to do what is right.

Vision

God has the bird’s-eye view. He sees the big picture and wants to bring us along the path toward something called destiny. DESTINY gives us a sense of purpose and belonging. It means someone thought of you and knew you would do something special long before you ever got here. In fact, Jesus is waiting to walk with you hand in hand, toward that great purpose for your life. That gives us hope and clearer vision: things do matter, as they will either propel us towards our goal or away from it.

Living From the Heart

Destiny reawakens our spirits to live in connection with Christ and others. It allows us to believe, and this stretches our hearts for bigger things. As we walk down our life’s path we can see things the old way, or the new way. With Jesus, hand in hand, we are revitalized to keep thinking the new, colourful way. We want to sing and dance instead of complain. The world is yellow and green instead of grey and gray. Good things are coming: now we can see them with our hearts.

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The Little Match Girl

In the dark, a little girl in a cotton shawl
struck a match to keep warm.
It illumined the stone structure
of the Peace Tower she leaned against,
the gargoyles against the night sky.
Gothic architecture
reaching almost to heaven
stretched its lacy fingers,
blotting the stars with its handkerchief—
its rhetorical icons
simmering prayers in the shadows.

~
There was a patchwork quilt
of nations, that had grown faded
with the rain and snow,
of the many colours of skin
that made up the face of a country,
of the many films from the National Film Board.

~
A match box was ten cents;
a passerby gave her a dime
as she stood in the gutter,
and she collected them in her apron.

Emily Isaacson, Hallmark

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The Little Match Girl is a fairy tale by Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen and was published in 1845. The story, with themes of poverty and scarcity, touches on a dying child’s hopes and dreams.

The fairy tale is symbolic and uses imagery to convey a message. Her visions in her poverty are compelling and almost violent, including, “the goose jumped down from the dish and waddled along the floor with a knife and fork in its breast, right over to the little girl.” 

You can read the actual story in its entirety, translated by Jean Hersholt here: https://andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/TheLittleMatchGirl_e.html

This story serves a powerful message. It also describes an archetypal figure, but to what extent? We see a lot more on the Match Girl theme in the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, a powerful best-seller that goes into detail on archetypes affecting women.

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Some of the insights they have regarding this fable:

Being with real people who warm us, who endorse and exult our creativity, is essential to the flow of creative life. Otherwise we freeze. (The little wild child is freezing, all that is left of her is a person who goes about in a trance.) Nurture is a chorus of voices both from within and without that notices the state of a woman’s being, takes care to encourage it, and if necessary gives comfort as well. I’m not sure how many friends one needs, but definitely one or two who think your gift, whatever it may be is pan de cielo, the bread of heaven. . .

When women are out in the cold, they tend to live on fantasies instead of action. Fantasy of this sort is the great anesthetizer of women. I know women who have been gifted with beautiful voices. I know women who are natural storytellers; almost everything out of their mouths is freshly formed and finely wrought. But they are isolated, or feel disenfranchised in some way. They are shy, which is often the cover for a starving animus. They have difficulty gaining a sense that they are supported from within, or by friends, family, community.

To avoid being the Little Match Girl, there is one major action you must take. Anyone who does not support your art, your life, is not worth your time. Harsh but true. Otherwise one walks right in and dresses in the rags of the Match Girl and is compelled to live a quarterlife that freezes all thought, hope, gifts, writings, playings, designing and dancing.

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Warmth should be the major pursuit of the Little Match Girl. But in the story it is not. Instead she tries to sell off the matches, her sources of warmth. Doing so leaves the feminine no warmer, no richer, no wiser, and with no further development. . .

The Match Girl is not in an environment where she can thrive. There is no warmth, no kindling, no firewood. If we were in her place what would we do?

More on this and the response tomorrow . . .

Archetypes

 

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the days of summer come,

the heat stills,

  and sweats from the sidewalk.

There are people passing by,

  they walk to and fro wearing colourful

masks, and their words are cut off

  in a survivalist world of fear.

The beat of the drum lures them

  into minion obedience,

while the dames

  dare revolution songs.

Softly the song rises

  in the middle of the night:

“Kill the beast, spill his blood,  

slit his throat.”

–Lilith Street

An archetype is a figure in literature that is symbolic or representative of someone. For example a Christ figure is a common archetype. In the book Lord of the Flies by William Golding, we see an archetypal figure when someone is sacrificed for the rest of society.

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“Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat – !” – Jack (Chapter 5)

A group of boys is marooned on an island and must fend for themselves. The book deals with themes such as what rules society must have to keep order, and whether savagery will result if we are left to our own devices. It might be a commentary on original sin, or whether humankind is inherently evil. I wrote a paper on this novel in high school.

The boys eventually hunt a wild pig, which grows into a disturbing fantasy-like figure with huge proportions . . .

“However Simon thought of the beast, there rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick.” (Chapter 6)

The problem with their frenzied and wild hunt to kill the beast is that the end result is they kill a human being instead. My poem is based on the book, and relatively throws back to their chant, “Kill the pig.”

“They understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought.” (Chapter 11) Does this not lead one to imagine the anonymity of a face behind a mask, in a culture where we all wear masks, symbolic of our distance from intimacy and each other. Does this actually make it easier for us to descend into an amoral state where there are no more rules, and society caves in on itself?

From the analysis of the book: “In a world where the beast is real, rules and morals become weak and utterly dispensable. The original democracy Ralph leads devolves into a cult-like totalitarianism, with Jack as a tyrant and the beast as both an enemy and a revered god.” (www.sparknotes.com)