Sunday, February 12, 2012

Linking to Others

Cora Buhlert has a
theory – to be explained at length in my PhD thesis – that the portrayal of “monsters” such as vampire and werewolves became more human as the othering of marginalized people in the real world became less and less acceptable. This also fits in with my findings that the 1960s were the turning point where the portrayal of former monsters began to change. And of course supernatural beings make excellent metaphors for the marginalized group of the author’s choice.
A different way of creating "Others" is explored by Melanie Tannenbaum. It's called "benevolent sexism" and it's
a formal name for all of those comments and stereotypes that can somehow feel both nice and wrong at the same time, such as the belief that women are “delicate flowers” that need to be protected by men, or the notion that women have the special gift of being “more kind and caring” than their male counterparts. And yes, it might sound complimentary, but it still counts as sexism.
Jonathan Frantzen writes in The New Yorker about Edith Wharton and Steve Donoghue is

It wasn’t just Franzen’s pseudo-professorial leather-elbow-patch “let us now consider” air of arrogance, either, although you know you’re going to get plenty of that in a piece that begins, “The older I get, the more I’m convinced that a fiction writer’s oeuvre is a mirror of the writer’s character.” [...] the real horror of this piece is the fact that Franzen only needs four paragraphs to get to what’s really on his mind: Edith Wharton wasn’t hot. See, Franzen’s idea is that we like to root for our authors, and that process is facilitated by every flaw the author has. Edith Wharton “wasn’t pretty,” and so, according to Franzen, she spent the rest of her writing life exorcising her shame and anger over that fact in her fiction. Franzen can actually look at a book like The House of Mirth and then write something like this: “The novel can be read as a sustained effort by Wharton to imagine beauty from the inside and achieve sympathy for it, or, conversely, as a sadistically slow and thorough punishment of the pretty girl she couldn’t be.”

I know we don’t hire Jonathan Franzen to be a great literary critic. We hire him to be a bloatedly overrated literary sexist (the death of Norman Mailer left the position open). But even so, it would never have occurred to Franzen in a million years to get four paragraphs into a piece about F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway and then start talking about how physically attractive they were – and even if he tried it, no New Yorker editor would have allowed it to see print.
The Queen of Sheba was known for her wisdom and her wealth:
Almost 3,000 years ago, the ruler of Sheba, which spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen, arrived in Jerusalem with vast quantities of gold to give to King Solomon. Now an enormous ancient goldmine, together with the ruins of a temple and the site of a battlefield, have been discovered in her former territory. [...]

Sheba was a powerful incense-trading kingdom that prospered through trade with Jerusalem and the Roman empire. The queen is immortalised in Qur'an and the Bible, which describes her visit to Solomon "with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold and precious stones ... Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices."

Although little is known about her, the queen's image inspired medieval Christian mystical works in which she embodied divine wisdom, as well as Turkish and Persian paintings, Handel's oratorio Solomon, and Hollywood films. Her story is still told across Africa and Arabia, and the Ethiopian tales are immortalised in the holy book the Kebra Nagast.

Hers is said to be one of the world's oldest love stories. The Bible says she visited Solomon to test his wisdom by asking him several riddles. Legend has it that he wooed her, and that descendants of their child, Menelik – son of the wise – became the kings of Abyssinia.
Another mine, and another love story, are depicted in Marie Bjelke Petersen's Jewelled Nights, "written in 1923" (Delamoir 115), which was turned into a 1925 silent movie starring and produced by Louise Lovely. This film has now
been brought back to life.

Adapted from a novel, the film follows a 'social butterfly' who runs away from her Melbourne home to a mining boom in Tasmania. She wants to restore her family's fortunes which were lost on the Melbourne Cup.

The film's restorer Bernard Lloyd says it is an epic love story.
"She dresses as her brother and she comes to Tasmania because she's heard that in Tasmania there are riches to be made, there's a mining boom going on," he said. "There, on the mining fields, she finds something much more valuable; true love."
The novel features a heroine who disguises herself as a man, the film was "advertised as being based on 'Marie Bjelke Petersen's virile story'" (Delamoir 119) and
at the novel's romantic climax--at that narrative point when it could be expected that gender matters the most--Bjelke Petersen empties out the categories male/female. Salarno actually seems disappointed at realising that 'Dick' is really Elaine. Indeed, he has to reason himself around to accepting it:
the fact should not make any vital difference between them; for was not his little pal just the same? His personality, his delightful ways, his high courage, the qualities he most admired in him, these could surely not be affected by the circumstances of sex. Besides, his affection for his young mate was by this time of too deep a nature to be affected by the newly-gained knowledge. (75)
Bjelke Petersen goes against the romantic grain by arguing that, in the end, gender is irrelevant to the formation of the couple. Simultaneously, gender is shown to be irrelevant to the achievement of 'masculine' success as a miner; with some guidance from Salarno, 'Dick' is just as good at finding the mineral as the 'typically Australian' men.  (Delamoir 123-24)

Delamoir, Jeanette. “Marie Bjelke Petersen’s ‘Virile Story’: Jewelled Nights, Gender Instability, and the Bush." Hecate 29.1 (2003): 115-131.

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