by Catriona Mills

Feminist Literary Criticism From the Pen Of L. M. Montgomery

Posted 3158 days ago in by Catriona

From Emily’s diary:

We have The Idylls of the King in English class this term. I like some things in them, but I despise Tennyson’s Arthur. If I had been Guinevere I’d have boxed his ears—but I wouldn’t have been unfaithful to him for Lancelot, who was just as odious in a different way. As for Geraint, if I had been Enid I’d have bitten him. These ‘patient Griseldas’ deserve all they get.

L. M. Montgomery’s Emily Climbs (1925), Angus and Robertson, 1981. 228.

Well, I’m with you, Emily—except that I dislike the term “deserve all they get” almost as much as I despise the phrase “she had it coming.”

But I’m with you on the biting front, since Geraint, in Tennyson’s version, does the following things:

  • sets Enid a test involving her willingness to wear her poorest dress for her trip to Camelot: they marry when she ‘passes’ the test.
  • immediately assumes that she is being unfaithful when she worries that his attention to her is causing him to ignore his responsibilities.
  • keeps her with him constantly on his travels but refuses to speak to her or to listen when she speaks—including becoming infuriated with her when she warns him of ambushes.
  • kills so many bandits that he has Enid herding a growing number of horses while he still won’t speak a word to her.
  • only believes in her fidelity when he hears the sounds of her being beaten by another man, the Earl Doorm, for refusing to marry him.

Oh, yes: someone’s a candidate for biting.

I understand Tennyson is largely basing this version on the events of “Geraint and Enid” from The Mabinogion, but presumably the protagonist in that also needed biting.

Tennyson, of course, is also a product of his time, and is drawing on such Victorian stereotypes of patient, uncomplaining wives as the Conventry Patmore-inspired “angel in the house.”

Compare, for example, Enid’s tramping around in the wake of her sulking husband with the advice given to a correspondent who signs herself “Hopeless Polly.” Writing what sounds like a desperate letter to The London Journal (which didn’t republish the original letter) in 1863, she is met with the response that “[i]t is a sad case, but the old story of a drunken husband and a patient, meek, and enduring wife. Make another effort, and if that fails, another, and another after that” (cited in Andrew King’s The London Journal, 1845-83: Periodicals, Production and Gender, Ashgate, 2004. 203).

Or you could bite him.

So, no, I don’t have much patience with chivalric romances, always excluding the perpetually joyous passage in Chretien de Troyes’s “The Knight of the Cart” in which Lancelot, trying to keep in sight the window from which Guinevere is watching him, to draw inspiration from her face, tries to fight with his back to his opponent:

When Lancelot heard his name, he turned around promptly. And when he did so, up in the tower galleries he saw seated the one he most desired to see in the entire world. From the moment he caught sight of her, he did not turn or take his eyes or his face from her, but defended himself from the back. Meleagant pursued him as closely as he was able, pleased at the thought that his enemy could never now withstand him.

The maiden then again shouted from the window. “Oh Lancelot, how can you act so foolishly? You once were the epitome of all valor and excellence. I do not think or believe God ever made a knight equal to you in courage and renown. Now we see you at such a loss. Turn round to the other side where you may always see this tower. Sight of it will help you.”

Lancelot was so ashamed and disgusted that he despised himself. He knew well, as did all the men and women there, that he had been receiving the worst of the combat for some time.

From Chretien de Troyes’s “The Knight of the Cart.” In The Complete Romances of Chretien de Troyes. Trans. David Staines. Indiana UP, 1993. 215.

You prat, Lancelot.

Nor do I care for the type of mainstream Victorian texts that position women as helpless, fragile flowers.

Thankfully, many Victorian texts are radical on the subject of gender roles, including many of the canonical works.

Tennyson, though, is not much of a feminist.

L. M. Montgomery, on the other hand, had a broader approach to women’s intelligence and desire to be financially independent than is evident simply in Anne’s later life.

Much as I love Anne of Green Gables and think it may be Montgomery’s most accomplished novel, I remain unconvinced that it is her most interesting.

Tonight's Random Image Of Something Vaguely Resembling A Swan

Posted 3159 days ago in by Catriona

Just because.

My Solipsistic Take on the Doctor Who News

Posted 3159 days ago in by Catriona

I’ve been marking for a week, and am still marking frantically before my next pile of assessment comes in next week, and cruising on the blog a little (thanks to unusually strange conversations and some pretty spring flowers), and I thought, “Do I really want to delve into the fact that David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who after next season?

Then I remembered who I actually am and how much of this blog is actually devoted to Doctor Who and I thought, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

I don’t, though. Not really.

Because this is a potentially divisive issue and I don’t want to tread on any fan toes.

Now, I’m a Doctor Who fan from way back; I’ve said that before, and I’m saying it again, because I’ve seen many Doctors come and go over the years.

And I liked all of them. Yes, even Colin Baker: I didn’t entirely appreciate the way in which the show shifted in that era, I really despised Peri and Mel, and I wasn’t terribly fond of the “Trial of a Time Lord” extended storyline. But I could appreciate how difficult it must have been to play the Doctor at a time when the BBC was uncertain about the show, including an eighteen-month hiatus from production.

I eventually liked Peter Davison, though it took repeats to make me appreciate him: in 1981, I was too devastated by the regeneration of the fourth Doctor to really enjoy the fifth incarnation. But by the time the ABC started showing repeats, I was hooked: I loved, particularly, the way in which this Doctor was analogous to the cool older brother with a driver’s license and the way in which the series showed, for the first time since William Hartnell, the interior life of the TARDIS.

I even liked Paul McGann, despite the fact that I disliked, with a fierce intensity that has lessened not a jot over the years, the liberties the telemovie took with a beloved programme: Eric Roberts as the Master? The suggestion that the Doctor was half human? The seventh Doctor dying from a gunshot wound? The Doctor snogging his companion? (Sigh. It was a more innocent time, was 1996). Oh, the pain will never lessen.

(Admittedly, even some of the Doctors I loved I also disliked at times. The seventh Doctor’s appalling enunciation and tendency to gurn in moments of high stress still irritate me. But balanced against the sheer delightfulness of the “Professor” and the glory of some of those episodes, they seem small problems.)

Bear with me: I do have a point here.

I like David Tennant. I always have. True, I don’t always like the way in which this incarnation has been presented: the implacability in some cruel situations and the occasional near-hysterical joy in chaos have made me wonder where this Doctor is going, whether he’s cruising for a fall or, like Hamlet, pretending to be mad in order to hide the fact that he is, in fact, completely insane.

But I like him. And I will be sorry to see him go.

But this is Doctor Who.

The longevity of this show comes down, in the end, to the idea of regeneration: once you induce audiences to acknowledge that the same character can be played by vastly different actors, then a show can run for as long as the acting and script-writing remain engaging.

(That conclusion requires that we all forget about “Time Lash,” for the time being.)

We all accepted the idea of regeneration in the original series. Sure, some regenerations were harder to accept than others, but even then it was a matter of shouting at the television, “Stop going wavery! You can survive a forty-foot drop from a radio telescope, you wimp! Dammit, what do you mean, ‘It’s the end’? Just stop regenerating!”

It wasn’t a disbelief in the essential fact of regeneration.

But I’m not convinced that the new audiences that this version of Doctor Who has attracted are entirely happy with the idea of regeneration. As I was saying in a discussion with Wendy over at The Spiralling Shape, I’m seeing many comments online along the lines of “Well, the show’s jumped the shark. I’ll never watch it again.”

But if the Doctor doesn’t regenerate, the entire show is at risk.

Russell T. Davies made a bold decision in bringing Christopher Eccleston in as the ninth Doctor, knowing that he would only remain a year. Even then, I recall much discussion suggesting that Eccleston had misrepresented his willingness to remain with the show, because no showrunner would have hired an actor for a single series of a long-awaited return.

But it was a good decision: a fragile, manic, appealing Doctor who regenerates almost immediately? I can’t think of a better way to foreground the nature of the programme.

This, though, is the real test. Tennant is dearly beloved as the tenth Doctor, and anyone filling his shoes has a difficult task ahead of them. There’ll be no shortage of willing aspirants, but the real concern here is with the fans.

The fans have to accept regeneration.

I don’t mean to sound dogmatic on the subject, and I know a lot of the cyber-distress at this point is shock and dismay at losing a favourite Doctor. I sympathise with that; I’m shocked, too. But I’m sticking with that main point.

We have to accept regeneration.

If we ignore the Doctor’s unique lifespan and the ways in which his physiognomy works to extend his life, then we’re inevitably shortening the lifespan of the programme as a whole.

Why I'm Loving True Blood: Part Two

Posted 3160 days ago in by Catriona

From tonight’s episode of True Blood, the neatest encapsulation of one reason why I love this show, in a conversation between a young boy from Louisiana and Vampire Bill about why the latter can’t eat ice cream.

BILL: You could say I’m . . . lactose intolerant.
SMALL BOY: Just like my Aunt Fern, ‘cept she can’t tolerate Mexicans.

In context, that’s both as offensive as it sounds . . . and not.

Really, you have to watch the show.

Conversation With A Geek

Posted 3160 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: I’ve discovered a new way to read the old classics.
ME: The what?
NICK: The old classics.
ME: I don’t know what you mean by that.
NICK: You know—books written more than three years ago.
ME: Ah. So, “the classics,” then.
NICK: Yes.
ME: How, then?
NICK: An iPhone app.
ME: Right.
(Pause.)
ME: But it’s not as though you needed an easier way—they’re scattered all over the house!
NICK: Yes, but if it’s on a computer, it’s more interesting.

Continuing My Intermittent Series "Brisbane Is Pretty In Spring"

Posted 3160 days ago in by Catriona

We have two frangipani trees, a pink one out the front:

And the more conventional yellowy-white one out the back:

Unfortunately, the only flowers on the second tree haven’t quite opened yet and are high on the plant.

But they have their own unique charm for all that:

Strange Conversations: Part Fifty-Seven

Posted 3161 days ago in by Catriona

While Nick is kindly cooking:

ME: Honey, please throw rubbish straight in the bin. The kitchen is a disaster.
(Yes, I am a harridan.)
NICK: Yes, dear.
ME: Do not use your hen-pecked voice.
NICK: Oooh. But I only use it when I’m feeling hen-pecked.

Hmm.

Kittle-Cattle

Posted 3161 days ago in by Catriona

I keep coming across the phrase “kittle-cattle.”

I remember seeing it in Anne of the Island, the fourth Anne book, in which Anne attends Redmond College to gain her B. A. (before marrying a country doctor, having seven children, and never using her education again): when Anne publishes her first piece of fiction, her housemate describes authors as “kittle-cattle.”

I came across it again in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Murder Must Advertise, when Wimsey intends to use it in a margarine advertisement, but the account manager tells him he can’t call the customers “cows.” (Or was that another advertisement? Was the “kittle-cattle” slogan the one where the margarine manager was obscurely worried that it was “Scottish”? I can’t recall now, and it’s too early to look it up.)

And I’ve just come across it again in a Georgette Heyer murder mystery (which I’m re-reading, because I’m strangely exhausted and can’t concentrate on new fiction for my late night reading).

It’s never occurred to me to actually look up what the phrase means, until I read it in Heyer this morning and thought, “Sod it. I have no idea what that phrase means. Where’s my Brewer’s hiding?”

Apparently, though, Brewer’s can’t help me. I’ve looked under “kittle” and I’ve looked under “cattle”—given the book’s odd indexing system—and I can’t see anything.

It’s not like Brewer’s to let me down—except on the indexing front.

It’s even rarer that Benet’s lets me down, but there’s nothing in there, either.

How odd. Maybe I did try to look it up, couldn’t find it in either of my mainstays, and forgot about the entire attempt, because it’s an intensely boring story not worthy of a paragraph on the blog?

Still, the Internet will help me.

According to this site, it’s an adjective, archaic, meaning “difficult to deal with.”

That would never have occurred to me, but it fits with the way in which I’ve seen it used in various texts.

(I would have assumed it was a noun, before looking it up, but I can see it’s an adjective if I think of the Anne of the Island example: “Authors are kittle-cattle.” Sorry: slipped into marking mode for a minute there, impelled by the reproachful looks from the enormous pile of marking on my right hand, which thinks I should be paying attention to it. Which I should.)

Apparently, it has a sixteenth-century origin, from “kittle” (now chiefly Scottish and dialectical) meaning “to tickle.”

So, essentially, if something or someone is “kittle-cattle,” it’s a ticklish situation. That is interesting.

(And that, in a nutshell, is why I usually blog in the evenings. Not a morning person, me.)

Strange Conversations: Part Fifty-Six

Posted 3162 days ago in by Catriona

The type of conversation we have when watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 after watching Harvey Birdman:

ME: All right, if we have a child, you can call it Avenger.
NICK: So, if it’s a boy, Steve Rogers Avenger Caldwell Mills.
ME: I think Mills Caldwell works better than Caldwell Mills.
(Why? Why did I think that was the important point here?)
NICK: It’s just alphabetical. And, if it’s a girl, Scarlet Witch Avenger.
ME: Okay.
NICK: Well, it’s better than The Wasp Avenger Mills Caldwell.

City of Jacarandas

Posted 3162 days ago in by Catriona

Brisbane really is the city of jacarandas. This time of year, this suburb, at least, is entirely purple.

And, not having done my undergraduate degree at The University of Queensland, I’m spared the sense of creeping horror that they evoke in those who have, to whom jacarandas mean exams and final assessment.

I just love the colour.

Inappropriate Quotation Marks

Posted 3163 days ago in by Catriona

I’ve become a little obsessed with odd punctuation over the last two semesters: in fact, I actively seek it out, to use as material in my lectures (due ascribed to the original source, of course).

Which led me directly to many happy hours at The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks.

But what’s bothering me at the moment—and I must keep a copy of this for one of the punctuation lectures next semester, if I give them—is the label to my current batch of coffee.

I’m intermittently eager to buy fair-trade coffee. I say intermittently, because sometimes the budget simply won’t allow it, and I have to stick to the regular, exploitative type.

This, of course, is straight hypocrisy. I know why fair-trade coffee is more expensive and that’s why I like buying it. So much coffee is grown in Third World countries (on a slightly unrelated note, a coffee shop at the university, which makes the best coffee on campus, sells Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee: according to their brilliant sign, the Blue Mountains are “generally” located past Kingston. I wonder where they go the rest of the time?). And coffee is a crop that can have a devastating effect on local ecology, especially as demand rises and farmers struggle to produce larger and larger crops.

I wonder sometimes whether my coffee-related guilt (and associated budget-related, exploitative-coffee guilt) arises partly out of the face that coffee is such a yuppie drink, evocative of the economic exploitation of poorer countries for the leisure and pleasure of richer ones, just as we used to do (perhaps still do) with tea.

I still drink it, though. And I make an effort to buy fair-trade coffee.

I have fair-trade coffee now, and that’s what’s worrying me. Because it’s slathered in inappropriate quotation marks in questionable places.

For example, the company tells me on one side of the packet that their commitment to their customers is “coupled with ‘state of the art’ roasting facilities.”

I don’t see why that would be ironic, but I can think of some horrifying ideas . . .

This coffee is also organic, though I don’t care one way or the other about organic production. Perhaps I should, but I’ve not given it any thought. Still, when I do, apparently “The Australian Certified Organic label is your ‘Guarantee of Integrity’,” so that’s nice.

But it’s the last section that’s worrying me:

By purchasing products marked with the Fairtrade label you are ensuring the poorest workers and farmers in the developing world are getting a ‘fair go’. The label guarantees that products have been ‘fairly traded.’ Funds generated support education, healthcare and improving work practices.

Now, granted, this isn’t the best-punctuated passage I’ve ever read. I’d have a comma after the introductory phrase in the first sentence and it looks as though the list at the end lacks parallel structure, though they may actually mean that the funds “support improving work practices,” clumsy though that phrasing might be.

(I’m also skipping over the implications of the “fair go,” which I’ve never cared for. It’s not only a cliche, but it’s also shorthand for something too complicated for any two-word phrase to express. Hence the shorthand. Yet, it seems to me that the shorthand version is increasingly used unthinkingly, divorced from any of the more complicated connotations: shorthand, like windmills, does not work that way. But that’s not the point here.)

But it’s the quotation marks that get me here.

Excluding, perhaps, the reference to the “poorest workers and farmers” and the information about where the funds are distributed, it seems that the terms “fair go” and “fairly traded” are actually the most important in the passage.

So why are they in inverted commas?

Are they ironic? Is the coffee not, in fact, fairly traded? If so, what on earth does that rather pretty badge on the front of the packet mean?

I imagine, of course, that this is an attempt to use quotation marks as a means of adding emphasis to a phrase. Naturally, that’s annoying, too.

But not as annoying as the fact that every time I open the pantry door I have to think, “But how is ‘fairly traded’ ironic? And why?”

Still, I suppose it’s not as bad as that sign I once found that read “Employees Must Wash ‘Hands’.”

I Don't Know If This Is The Same Kookaburra

Posted 3163 days ago in by Catriona

He looks a little thinner or younger than the last one.

But he’s equally cute.

Of course, he’s also further away than the last one, so the photo isn’t as clear. But that’s kookaburras for you: selfish things.

Strange Conversations: Part Fifty-Five

Posted 3164 days ago in by Catriona

The type of conversation you have when one party (guess which?) has spent the entire day reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics:

ME: You know, there’s nothing good about a hug from some random stranger.
NICK: True. But I’m not a random stranger. I am Nicholas, your boyfriend.
ME: So you say, but how do I know? How can I be sure of that?
(Pause)
ME: Ooh, now I’ve freaked myself out!
NICK: Well, then, you’ve learnt a valuable lesson, haven’t you?

Speaking Of Books We Think We Know

Posted 3164 days ago in by Catriona

“Why, that’s Cruella de Vil,” said Mrs Dearly. “We were at school together. She was expelled for drinking ink.”

I don’t remember that bit from the Disney movie.

(Nor am I quite sure why that’s an expellable offense—but, then again, it never happened in any of the school stories I’ve read.)

From Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmations. Illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone. Penguin (1956), 1968. 14 (quote), 16 (illustration).

Man, I Love James Jean

Posted 3166 days ago in by Catriona

And I wish he weren’t leaving Fables.

Now, James Jean isn’t the only reason why I read Fables: he does the covers, which are amazing, but wouldn’t be sufficient reason for me to read the comic every month. If Bill Willingham’s writing and (guest artists aside) Mark Buckingham’s art weren’t also superb, the covers alone wouldn’t make me buy the books.

But they are one reason why I buy the monthly comic instead of, as I usually do, waiting for the trade to come out.

I mean, look at this cover for the eighth trade, which wraps up some of the main storylines from the first fifty issues:

Or the third cover for the Flycatcher story arc, “The Good Prince”:

Poor Fly. I do love you. You’re the Fables version of Ellsworth in Deadwood—the only genuinely decent person in a fairly messed-up environment.

Or how about some of the covers from the most recent story arc?

I don’t actually have much more to say on these; I suspect they either speak for themselves or they don’t.

But, for me, there is a reason why James Jean is the only comic-book artist whose work is hanging in my bedroom.

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