Tag Archives: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

What Makes The Epic Epic

We’ve all called something epic – it’s now associated with awesome, big, spectacular – but, as a literary term, the epic means something very specific. Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, the unknown author’s Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself aren’t epics because they’re long pieces of poetry, but rather, because they all share a very specific elements which puts them into the epic category.

The movie Epic and epic poetry have nothing in common, I’m sorry to say.

First, epic poems open with what’s called a in medias res, Latin for “in the midst of things.” Beowulf opens with a kingdom in need of a Grendel extermination. The reader doesn’t start with the birth of Beowulf, but rather we start with a scene ripe for action.

The setting of epics are vast. Think the exact opposite of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which mostly takes place in one room. Epics are epic in part because of the vastness of their settings. The Odyssey spans oceans and continents, for example.

Almost all epics call to a muse to set the tone of the piece of poetry to come.

No, not those muses (I knew your brain would go there). The muses were not five gospel singers – and that’s the gospel truth.

Books for Feminists – Big and Small, Part 4: Classics

This is the final installment of our Books for Feminists series. If you missed it, there are three other parts: feminist books for children, feminist books for teens, and contemporary feminist books for adults. Now we’re going to talk about classic feminist literature.

Feminism has been around for a long time in the United States. From Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband, John Quincy Adams, asking him to “remember the ladies” when he worked with the constitutional congress on the establishment of this new nation to Sybil Ludington, the woman rider who rode twice the distances as Paul Revere on the same night to warn the Americans that the British were coming.

Feminism isn’t a movement restricted to one geographic location, indeed, it spreads across landmasses, nations, color, and gender. The books included on this list come from around the world and are all essential to any feminist’s reading.

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

This book by Mary Wollstonecraft was first published in 1792. It is considered one of the first manifestos of women’s rights. Wollstonecraft’s classic book makes an argument for women to be educating, noting that “Tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark, because the former want only slaves, and the later a plaything.” Her assertion that women should be educated to enable their independence was radical at the time it was made, despite women’s education not being questioned in current times. This book shows the evolution of thought and how it sometimes takes a radical to get an idea started that later becomes part of the common practices of a culture.


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Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a French classic, first released in 1857. While the link above is to a translated version of the text, I hear reading it in its original language is an absolute-must for people who are able because a lot of nuances can be lost in translation. Emma Bovary is bored. She’s a housewife and life couldn’t be duller for her, so instead of being an obedient wife, she pursues an affair with Rodolphe. This novel is often credited with being one of the first modern realism in addition to being celebrated for its poetic craftsmanship.


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The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote this short story based off of her own experiences with depression (from the semi-autobiographic story, it can be asserted that she had postpartum depression) and her lack of power over her own treatment for her ailment. When the woman in the novel asserts that she would really feel better if she was able to get up, move, write, and see her baby, her husband, a doctor, banishes her thoughts on her own medical treatment and insists that she ascribes to his prescribed rest cure. Being locked up in an old nursery, unable to write, interact with people, or exercise her own will and judgement, the narrator slowly goes mad and starts seeing a woman in the yellow wallpaper of the room.


Feminism and Literature

Occasionally, I enjoy watching IFC’s Portlandia. It’s a sketch comedy television show that is shot and filmed in Portland, Oregon. My favorite skits feature the ladies at the feminist bookstore, Women & Women First (one of these skits can be viewed below).

 

Fred Armisen, who dresses in drag, and Carrie Brownstein play two female employees at a feminist bookstore. The employees fit the image of the stereotypical “I am women. Hear me roar!” feminists. You know, the kind who refuse to shave their armpits or wear bras; the kind that hate all things male.

Can you put that away please? Every time you point I see a penis.

feminist-bookstore
Armisen and Brownstein as Women & Women First employees

Although Armisen and Brownstein’s characters are a bit extreme, they are, sadly, the type of women some people think of when they imagine a feminist. First, they are women. It would be a lot less funny if Armisen wasn’t in drag. Which leads me to number two, they aren’t the most attractive women, both wearing frizzy, unkempt wigs and baggy clothing. But its extremeness (that’s a word, right?) is what makes the skit so hilarious.

My real reason for sharing the video is to point out some dialogue from the first few seconds of the skit:

That’s a top selling author. Do we want that here?

No. We want bottom selling authors.

Okay. So i’ll admit, it made me laugh. But then I thought, is that what really what feminist literature is? The stuff that no one else wants? Because if there’s one thing we all know about a joke, it’s that they’re more funny when there’s truth to them.