The Big Bad Woolf

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“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.

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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 . . .