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Wednesday, July 6, 2016 - 21:00

In Chapter 10 (The Indian Gentleman) we see that Sara is regaining her balance in the way that she starts inventing “pretends” about the world around her once more. First, it was turning her garret into the Bastille. Now she watches the other people in the neighborhood of Miss Minchin’s school and starts telling herself romantic stories about them.

In particular, she begins inventing fanciful romantic names for the members of one rather large family (known sometimes as The Large Family). One might imagine that she feels envious of the eight children who--in addition to living in comfortable circumstances--are obviously loved. But there doesn’t seem to be anything of envy in her thoughts, only an appreciation of how happy they are.

What Sara hasn’t accounted for is that even as she’s telling stories about The Large Family, they’re telling stories to themselves about her. In particular, the little boy she calls Guy Clarence tells himself a story about how Sara is a poor, hungry beggar-girl for whom the gift of his Christmas sixpence will represent a fortune sufficient to turn her life around. This is a mortifying shock to Sara. Intellectually, she knew that strangers were reacting to her much differently than they had before her fall. But she had never been forced to confront the fact so blatantly.

Once again, a turning point in her life hangs on her willingness to put other people’s needs ahead of her own. Because rather than simply refusing the gift, she gives Guy Clarence the gift of accepting it. That action (along with her upper-class speech mannerisms) makes Sara memorable to the whole Large Family clan. While this fact isn’t completely essential to her later fate, it will certainly smooth her way.

One of the repeating themes that I find both utterly believable and discomfiting is how Sara’s polite and confident demeanor communicates to others that she doesn’t really belong to the working-class life she’s been thrust into.  Believable: because the reflexes and behaviors you’ve been trained into by your upbringing are impossible to shed entirely. The best you might manage is to learn to act out a different role convincingly. I know that I have reflexes and behaviors that derive from spending my entire life with the sure and certain knowledge that I don’t have to worry about my next meal, or where I’m sleeping, or whether my medical needs will be met, or what to do if an unexpected expense comes out of nowhere. (That “sure and certain knowledge” could become wrong overnight if the right conjunction of circumstances happened. But I retain those reflexes because it’s never been wrong yet.) But at the same time, this theme is discomfiting because it’s presented with a flavor of essentialism. That is, one gets the impression that Sara has these reflexes not as learned behavior due to her environment, but because she simply is, deep down and through and through, a genteel person, in the same way as she has gray-green eyes. Her behavior doesn’t simply signal that she has known a better life than she now leads, it signals that she deserves a better life because she is a better person than someone who didn’t have her history.

And one of those reflexes? Sara turns the sixpence into something of a lucky charm, making a hole in it and wearing it as a pendant. She is never tempted to spend it, even when she fantasizes about finding money in the street to buy bread with. Because if she spent it--and especially if she spent it on bread--then she would be the beggar-girl she’d been taken for.

Although we begin to see glimpses of the old Sara returning, there are still dark days. And that’s what the next installment will cover.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016 - 21:04

Check out this lovely interview E.P. Beaumont did with me on the topic of food as a worldbuilding tool.

Publications: 
The Mystic Marriage
Tuesday, July 5, 2016 - 16:41

As previously noted, last Thursday I e-mailed off the manuscript of Mother of Souls to the publisher. So I should have a brief relaxing break before plunging into my next writing project. Somehow that never quite works out for me. In one of those peculiar conversations that started out on facebook and then jumped over to Twitter, I found myself being inspired by a Starbucks Coffee shopping back to write a fluffly little short story about mermaids. And Nantucket Island. And lonely early 18th century Quaker ladies. Tentative title: "Light in the Water".

And so (as you do) I found myself pulling up old maps of Nantucket that showed settlement distributions, researching types of small watercraft appropriate to the era, and devising an internally-consistent social ecology of mer-people. (Did you know that the two-tailed form featured on the Starbucks label and known in heraldry as a melusine is actually the sexually mature form of the species that has the more familiar single tail only in the juvenile form? What's that you say? "Heather, you just made that up!" Well, yes. Yes, I did.) I'm not sure I'm capable of writing a historically-based story without plunging into some sort of research project. Fortunately I could poke around for an appropriate (human) character name in my own genealogical records.

When I got hit by an attack story back in January after finishing the first draft of Mother of Souls, I put it up as a free e-story. But I think I'll hold on to this one and see if I can find a market for it. Probably not. It's too much of a fluffy romance for a fantasy market, and not "spicy" enough for the usual LesFic markets. But hope springs eternal.

Publications: 
Mother of Souls
Monday, July 4, 2016 - 08:00
Full citation: 

Dover, K. J. 1978. Greek Homosexuality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0-674-36261-6

 

To quote the author, “That female homosexuality and the attitude of women to male homosexuality can both be discussed within one part of one chapter reflects the paucity of women writers and artists in the Greek world and the virtual silence of male writers and artists on those topics.” Some of this paucity may be due to the types of evidence that Dover is considering, for other writers seem to have found a bit more. (I have in queue Hubbard’s Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, which casts a wider net. But it’s definitely the case that in a field such as classical Greek homoeroticism, where male themes, male writers, and male researchers are so dominant, a work that covers the topic as a whole will give the appearance of slighting female topics, even if the writer has a genuine interest in covering them. (Which is not always the case.) I expect that Hubbard will cover all the same material in more detail, but I’m not ready to tackle that one yet.

It makes most sense simply to list the bits of evidence that Dover discusses. He is largely providing a catalog, with very detailed citations of sources, but without the in-depth discussion of context and interpretation that we say, for example, in Lardinois 1989 with respect to Sappho.

  • Plato’s Symposium - Discussion of the origin of sexual desire, using a myth about how people were originally “double beings”, some both male, some both female, some one of each. After being separated, each always longs to be reunited with their “other half”. The female pairs are called “hetairistriai”, a word occurring nowhere else, but which suggests a woman who consorts with hetairas (courtesans).
  • Asklepiades, epigram - A vague accusation that two Samian women “desert Aphrodite for other things which are not seemly” and are “fugitives from the couch in her domain.”
  • Plutarch Lycurgus - A comment that, in Sparta, “women of good repute” participated in a female equivalent of the male erastes/eromenos relationship.
  • A plate from Thera shows two women interacting with the symbolism of courtship (one is touching the other’s face and they both hold garlands).
  • An Attic red-figured vase shows two nude women, one kneeling before the other and touching her genital region.
  • Sappho - Extensive discussion of the content of her poetry and both contemporary and later references to her life and reputation. (10 of the 13 pages of the article are concerned with the material on Sappho.)
  • A brief discussion on how classical authors (Greek and Roman) associated “Lesbian women” (i.e., women from Lesbos) with sexual aggressiveness and transgressive sexuality, but not necessarily specifically with homoeroticism. Several references from Greek satiric drama are mentioned. Also Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans.
  • Anakreon poem - Reference to a girl from Lesbos who “gapes after another” where the word “another” is grammatically femninine, but whether it refers to a woman or to some other grammatically feminine antecedent in the sentence is unclear.
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Saturday, July 2, 2016 - 12:30

The deadline for getting Mother of Souls off to the publisher made a hash of my usual blogging schedule this week. So to get back on track, we get Sara Crewe on Saturday rather than Wednesday.

Chapter 9 (Melchisedec) is all about how Sara’s compulsive empathy and drive to do things for other people (and creatures) turns her attitude around. Lottie (who I’ve noted before seems frozen in a state of emotional immaturity and neediness) asks Sara a lot of tactless questions about her new status, trapping her between the desire to be kind and the desire not to get into trouble with Miss Minchin. Lottie--incapable of taking a hint--persues Sara up to her attic room and is on the verge of making a scene out of her own unhappiness at what she finds, that would largely fall on Sara’s head.

Sara distracts her by trying to find all the positive things that can be said about her garret, including showing Lottie the little skylight where she can look at the sky and watch the sparrows. This is a key foreshadowing for the importance of the skylight as a portal to a magical world. For now, her dreams are limited to the possibility that another little girl might someday live in the attic opposite and they could become friends.

Lottie is encouraged to feed the sparrows with a bit of bun she has in her pocket (a return of the “largesse” theme) and Sara seems to have entirely forgotten Becky’s warning about being careful about crumbs due to the rats. That is, she forgets until Lottie has left and she is sitting quietly thinking about the contrasts in her life, and a rat comes right out into the middle of the room to examine them.

 

Once again, Sara’s reflex to empathize with everything around her takes over. The rat is given a name and a personality (and an implausibly anthropomorphic family life) and becomes part of the fantasy framing Sara is creating to pad the sharp corners of her new life.  This new “pretend” -- the Prisoners in the Bastille -- is explained to Ermengarde when she, too, sneaks up to the attic. And in that scene, we can see that Sara’s sprits have significantly recovered. She is telling stories, and making new friends, and supporting her existing friends, and drawing all of them together into a world of imagination. And by that, we know she is ready for the next step in her adventure.

Friday, July 1, 2016 - 20:26

I went to see this sequel to Pixar's Finding Nemo largely because, well, Ellen DeGeneres plus a rumor that there was a lesbian couple somewhere in it. OK, and I have a certain local pride in Pixar, despite their usual tendency to make boy-centered films. (See my review of Up for a discussion.)

I confess that, in the previous movie, I found the character of Dory annoying. Scatter-brained, easily distractible, hard to keep on track. And I say this with some discomfort because a number of people very dear to me have those characteristics and, yes, they do drive me crazy. But Finding Dory turns the story around, and rather than Dory being the funny side-kick, now she's the protagonist. The basic plot is: at some time previous to the earlier movie, Dory got separated from her parents. She no longer remembers how or why, or has any idea where they are. All she remembers is that she'd like to find them again some day. And then she starts getting flashes of memory...

Similarly to Finding Nemo, this is a quest story with lots of helpful side-kicks, adventures, peril, and improbable success. What gives both movies a lot of heart is the underlying theme that you can't protect your "different" children from the big, bad, world. What you need to do is give them the personally tailored skills to succeed on their own. Nemo's over-protective single dad wouldn't let him learn to cope with his malformed fin. Dory's parents, in contrast (as we eventually come to realize), did a very successful job of beginning to teach her practical coping skills, and giving her a supportive environment for moving toward independence. But at the beginning of the movie, all she remembers (other than the matra, "I have poor short-term memory") is that it must have been her fault for losing her parents.

The superficial story is the usual roller-coaster ride of improbable slap-stick adventures. The animation is gorgeous, of course. There were times when Pixar seemed to have leapt nimbly across the Uncanny Valley and produced backgrounds that felt photo-realistic. (I felt this even more so with the short that preceded the main feature, following the adventures of a sandpiper chick learning to interact with surf.)

As for the rumored lesbian couple: knowing that they were supposed to be there somewhere in the background, I think I noticed them flash by during an acquarium crowd scene. But if you didn't know they were supposed to be there, I don't see how you would realize it. Not exactly what I'd consider representation in a practical sense.

I'd be very interested to know what viewers who are themselves non-neurotypical think about Finding Dory and how the character is presented. My impression was that there was very little "making a point" going on, and that Dory was a fun, realistic, loveable, and sympathetic character. Not a clown being presented for other people's amusement. But, as I noted above, I'm not viewing the character from inside, so I may not be the best judge.

Thursday, June 30, 2016 - 21:00

About half an hour ago, I hit "send" on the e-mail with the finished manuscript of Mother of Souls. Now I get to relax for a few days before I tackle my next project. Hmm, will it be the Skinsinger collection, the next Alpennia novel, or the grinding heartbreak of starting to try to line up publicity for Mother of Souls? Or maybe I'll clean the house.

Publications: 
Mother of Souls
Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 09:21

Sorry about the irregular spacing of this week's blog posts. The Wednesday A Little Princess post may get kicked over into Friday, and Random Thursday may get skipped (or kicked to Saturday). I'm scheduled to deliver the completed manuscript of Mother of Souls...um...tomorrow. And while I'm still quite on track, I'm a bit busy.

During this morning's work session, I finished the final editorial read-through and mark-up. (I do this on the iPad with a pdf-markup app to avoid getting distracted by actually entering the changes.) Only found a couple of oopsies introduced when working on beta feedback. Like: a comment in the beginning of a chapter said, "But why doesn't this scene make reference to X?" So I added a reference to X. On re-reading, turns out X happened several pages later. Even beta readers can goof! Spotted a couple more places where I've done the same bit of exposition more than once. But mostly this pass was a matter of spotting typos, deleting unnecessary sentence-initial conjunctions, and spotting times when I'd used the same word twice in adjacent sentences.

To stay on track, all these mark-ups get added to the manuscript this evening. That leaves tomorrow for running the spell check, drawing up the reference vocabulary list for the proofreaders (i.e., anything not in the standard Word spell check dictionary), doing all the standard search-and-replace clean-up, and running through my formatting checklist.

This isn't my last chance, of course. There'll be a chance for more revisions when it comes back from my editor. But from past experience, this version may well be the one that goes out to pre-publication reviewers.  So I need to be willing to have the book judged by it.

Publications: 
Mother of Souls
Monday, June 27, 2016 - 08:00

OK, so the answer is that the blog doesn't auto-post yet. I must have been told that, but we discussed a lot of things in the website work sessions and the information is probably buried in the to-do list. But I'm still able to set up blog posts in advance and only have to hit the "publish" button on the relevant day.

Full citation: 

Jelinek, Estelle. 1987. “Disguise Autobiographies: ‘Women Masquerading as Men’” in Women’s Studies International Forum, 10, pp.53-62.

I’m experimenting with pre-scheduling this to post automatically. It should drop onto the blog on Monday 6/27 at 8am PDT. According to my website folks, there are complications to setting it up to auto post if I embed this in a blog-entry shell. Otherwise information like this would ordinarily be in that shell rather than in the LHMP entry itself. Thank you for your continuing patience with my experiments.

 

I regularly cover discussions of cross-dressing, gender disguise, and “passing women”, but typically from an external point of view. The women are identified in the context of court cases, scandals, or as the subject of popular literature. This article looks at an entire genre of self-reported cases of women passing as men. The “autobiographies” are quite self-conscious, generally either written for economic advantage, or sometimes for didactic purposes. In many cases, they are ghost-written, especially if the subject is not well educated. And despite the frequency with which marriage to women, or sexual relationships with women feature in court records of passing women, such themes are nearly absent here. This may be because these stories are being voluntarily told by women who want to be perceived in a positive light.

Jelinek has collected information about a surprisingly large number of gender-masquerade autobiographies, covering the 17-20th centuries and focused on the English-speaking world (likely due to the reseracher’s own interests). The bibliography at the end lists 18 publications, covering 17 different individuals, of whom 13 are discussed in detail in the article. As a context for the material, Jelinek notes motifs of women disguised as men in literature , including several works by William Shakespeare and Margaret Cavendish. The motif was also popular in broadside ballads, such as The Female Highway Hector” and “The Woman Warrier” [sic], and the motif of dressing as a man to follow a (male) lover or husband to sea is echoed in some of the biographies. Also noted is the rise of women openly appropriating men’s garments, in part or in whole, in the 19-20th centuries. But the focus here is on disguise.

The following are the people/texts that are discussed, with only a very brief summary of the context and consequences. If I have been able to find a copy of the relevant autobiography in Google Books, I’ve included a link, although not all of them are available as ebooks.

Almira Paul (b.1790), the widow of a sailor in Nova Scotia, determined to support her children by taking up her late husband’s profession. She served on both British and American ships around the War of 1812. She reports having flirted with girls as “one of the boys” and even successfully proposed marriage to a woman “to test her disguise”. (https://books.google.com/books?id=Npw4AwEACAAJ)

Charlotte Cibber Charke (d. 1760) is briefly mentioned, though her cross-dressing was often done openly and may have been tolerated from an actress. But in her autobiography, she notes several occasions when she passed as a man to take on male professions in a pinch. (https://books.google.com/books?id=Bl5ZAAAAcAAJ)

Deborah Sampson (1760-1827)  served in the Americal Revolutionary war as “Robert Shurtleff”. She did not write an autobiography but was the subject of a contemporary biography.

Ellen Craft (fl. 1848) used a combination of gender-disguise and her light skin to play the role of a white southern slave owner in order to enable her and her darker-skinned husband, William to escape slavery. Willian Craft describes the feat in his own autobiography.

Christian Davies (1667-1739) enlisted in an Irish regiment to search for her drafted husband, embodying one of the popular plots of gender-disguise ballads. She provides a detailed description of how she modified her clothing to disguise her anatomy. (https://books.google.com/books?id=IZ9CAAAAYAAJ)

Hannah Snell (1723-1792) may be one of the most famous women who enlisted in disguise. She, too, was looking for her husband, but in this case because he’d run off. Like many of the disgusied women who served, she had to fight for the right to her military pension. (https://books.google.com/books?id=9yEvHAAACAAJ)

Ellen Stephens (fl. 1840) similarly disguised herself to go after a cheating spouse.  She worked on a Mississippi steamboat rather than joining the military and worked her way up and down the river trying to track down the child her husband had taken from her. (no book listing)

Madeline Moore (b. 1831) had neither economics nor desperation driving her, only romance. The 18-y.o. heiress accompanied her lover, enlisting in disguise (including false beard and whiskers) under the name Albert Harville, without his knowledge. They fought together at the battle of Cárdenas in Cuba and when he was wounded she nursed him back to health, still unrevealed. And people say the broadside ballads with this plot are implausible! (no book listing)

Loreta Janeta Velazquez (b. 1842) similarly accompanied a lover in battle in disguise and after his death continued serving the Confederacy as a spy. The Cuban-born Texan provides a detailed explaination of both her physical and behavioral disguise techniques. (https://books.google.com/books?id=a3Z3AAAAMAAJ)

Emma Cole’s motives were more purely economic. Orphaned at age 7 in the late 18th century, she went to sea in disguise at age 14 to avoid the alternative of prostitution. Her autobiography glosses over the practical details but tells of thrilling escapes from pirates and from hanging. (https://books.google.com/books?id=y_hLAQAAMAAJ)

Lucy Brewer (b. 1793) ran away from her well-to-do home when she became pregnant as a teen, and after a stint forced into prostitution, accepted a sailor friend’s offer of a spare uniform to escape and go to sea. The majority of her autobiography, however, is a polemic against prostitution. (https://books.google.com/books?id=Hym5nQEACAAJ)

Elizabeth Emmons (1817-1841) packed a lot into her apparently short life. A series of personal and familial calamities motivated her to disguise herself to work as a waiter on an Atlantic coast passenger ship. Later she spent a short time in the military in Florida but quit in disgust at the violence, then worked raising shipwrecks. (https://books.google.com/books?id=bYncGwAACAAJ)

Lucy Ann Lobdell (b. 1829) didn’t deliberately disguise herself as a man, though she was sometimes mistaken for one. She simply felt masculine clothing was more practical for her occupation-of-necessity deerhunting in New York. Her autobiography breaks off when she decides that she can make a better living genuinely passing as a man. (https://books.google.com/books?id=KTRFuAAACAAJ)

 

 
Friday, June 24, 2016 - 12:17

If I made a list of the books I re-read shortly after finishing, ordered by the briefness of the delay in starting that re-read, the top five slots would all be occupied by books in Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. While I have deep philosophical problems with some aspects of underlying socio-political messages of the stories, I will be one of the first to admire her ability to create a “good read”.

I say all this to provide a context for my reaction to this latest Vorkosigan story. Meh. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen follows the unexpectedly [to the reader] intertwined personal lives Cordelia Vorkosigan (Regent of the planet of Sergyar) and Oliver Jole (Admiral in charge of same) several years after the death of Aral Vorkosigan, Cordelia’s husband and Oliver’s long-term lover. Now that they are beginning to recover emotionally from the death of the man they both loved, Cordelia has plans for her future that offer Oliver some options that only this latest generation of Barayarans have any need or ability to take account of. Options that involve creative uses of reproductive technology.

GJ&tRQ isn’t a romance in any sort of structural sense, but it is very much organized around personal, domestic concerns and consequences. Family dynamics. Relationships. Life choices. That sort of thing. And given that one of the things I’ve always loved about the series is the focus on those dynamics, one might think the love would carry over here. But…meh. All in all, it felt like nothing much happened. The dancers walked through the figures and returned to their places, a little flushed and out of breath, but nothing more. And the non-personal aspects of the plot revolve around the everyday logistics of running a colony planet. Early on in the story, the phrase “bureaucracy porn” popped into my head. I’m sure a thrilling novel could be built around diplomatic disasters and finding ways to turn the tables on dishonest contractors, but this novel wasn’t it.

I joke that the series hasn’t been quite as interesting since Miles became happy, but there’s a definite correlation in my enjoyment of the books. A Civil Campaign was the last one that triggered an immediate re-read. About a third of the way through GJ&tRQ, I realized that if I put the book down and walked away, I wouldn’t feel like I’d missed anything. It is a technical well-written story about interesting characters, but it feels like the butter is being scraped over too much toast at this point. I’m sure that Bujold can still write a book that would have me diving back to page one after I get to “the end”, but I’ve come to the conclusion that such a book is likely to be outside the Vorkosigan universe.

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