There are few pleasures in life as keen as remembering that we are loved.
I came home from work today to find a letter for me from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Han. We lived together for a little while but haven’t seen each other for quite a long time, due to living in different cities. However, this letter reminded that me that – cheesy as it might seem – on some level, good friends are always together.
I read it while eating dinner and ended up silently sobbing, I was so touched. I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, Han wrote, so I decided it was time I wrote you a letter and sent you something mildly exciting so you would know that I love you.
The waterworks had started by that point. And it was only the first paragraph.
Anne of Green Gables used to talk about her friends as kindred spirits, or as being of the Race of Joseph. I know exactly what she means. When you meet someone who is of the Race of Joseph I think that you are friends forever, no matter where you are and what happens in your life. It is a powerful thought – and even more powerful when it is proved to you.
She sent me a CD she’d made for me, complete with commentary on all the songs she’d put on there. It was one of the most lovely gifts I have ever received, and I will think of her every time I listen to it now – just as I am now. I can’t remember a time in recent memory when I have ever been so touched, when something has moved me to tears like that.
All I can is thank you, dearest, because it meant so, so much to me. And just as I am in your heart, you are in mine.
There are few men as notorious as lovers of women as Giacomo Casanova de Seingalt. Alive in Venice in the eighteenth century, he managed, by the age of 72, to acquire a total of 122 lovers. One would imagine that if he had been notching his bedpost, there would not be much left of it.
I’m reading his memoirs at the moment – written when he was 72 when he was a bored librarian – and I think I’m beginning to understand why he got so lucky. I mentioned to someone the other day that I was reading these memoirs, and they asked me if he was a serial seducer or a serial rapist. If one is to take his memoirs as gospel truth, it was certainly the former.
In some respects, Casanova was a product of his time. He certainly believed that there was no point educating women: “In a woman learning is out of place; it compromises the essential qualities of her sex … no scientific discoveries have been made by women … (which) requires a vigor which the female sex cannot have,” he says. But in some regards he paid them a great deal of respect – and he had some notions that one can only dream of having in a man today.
For example, take this notion: “Without speech, the pleasure of love is diminished by at least two-thirds.” It’s a beautiful notion – that conversation is necessary for love, that it is, in many respects, the foundation of it. One of Casanova’s most intense love affairs was with a woman named Henriette. He had this to say of her:
“They who believe that a woman is incapable of making a man equally happy all the twenty-four hours of the day have never known an Henriette. The joy which flooded my soul was far greater when I conversed with her during the day than when I held her in my arms at night. Having read a great deal and having natural taste, Henriette judged rightly of everything.”
He may not have been a fan of educated women (a prejudice one cannot help but chalk up to his time – it would be a pretty safe bet to say he would think differently born now, so enlightened is he in other aspects of his attitude) but he certainly liked clever women: “After all, a beautiful woman without a mind of her own leaves her lover with no resource after he had physically enjoyed her charms.” How true is this? If Casanova came out and said this today, I can guarantee you that 122 women would probably swoon at his feet immediately.
He also said this: “If I had married a woman intelligent enough to guide me, to rule me without my feeling that I was ruled, I should have taken good care of my money, I should have had children, and I should not be, as now I am, alone in the world and possessing nothing.” I’m unsure how I feel about the woman behind the throne principle he’s talking about, but behind all this is the notion of marriage as a sort of partnership – something astonishingly modern. We’ve all heard of the idea of a man being saved by the love of a good woman – even the greatest seducer of the modern era wanted no more than this.
I have not yet finished Casanova’s memoirs, but what has struck me is that he rarely leaves his lovers high and dry – and in many cases, they remain very good friends long after the liaison has passed. This has to be very unusual – and is a sign of just how well he understood the female psyche (for a man of his time, anyway). Sometimes he used his powers for evil, for sure, but he was largely very kind to the women in his life. He states openly that he never makes advances against those who have no capacity to resist, and this is certainly true of what I have read so far.
Casanova is, for his era, one of the most amazingly modern writers I have ever read. I began reading these memoirs prepared to dislike Casanova – he is, after all, a philanderer, which cannot be denied. He is a hero – a stud, I guess – whereas if he had been a woman I think we can wager that he would be remembered entirely differently, and with a much more negative spin: I doubt that we would consider him a ‘legend’.
And yet I cannot help liking Casanova – liking him a lot. “I know that I have lived because I have felt, and, feeling giving me the knowledge of my existence, I know likewise that I shall exist no more when I shall have ceased to feel,” he says. Even now, more than two hundred years after his death, I think Casanova still has the capacity to seduce.
Sometimes I forget that a cup of tea makes things better.
Sometimes I forget how amazing it is to live and work in the city.
Sometimes I forget the feeling of winter, and the delight of snuggling under a blanket.
Sometimes I forget to call my Mum.
Sometimes I forget that it’s ok to miss my Best Friend.
Sometimes I forget I’m always like this at this time of the week/month/year/pay cycle
Sometimes I forget that other people don’t see the thoughts behind my words.
Sometimes I forget I’m only 25
Sometimes I forget I’m already 25
Sometimes I forget how to write, but I always remember again
Sometimes I forget to do my washing, and then I have nothing to wear
Sometimes I forget to worry about how many calories it has, and just consume a yummy dessert
Sometimes I forget what it was like when we were just hoping Obama would win
Sometimes I forget life before Ezra Klein
Sometimes I forget to be gracious and kind
Sometimes I forget to be thankful
Sometimes I forget.
I was talking to a male friend the other day, and I asked him how he approached relationships with women. His answer? Mostly with fear.
I found this quite off-putting – not in the sense that I didn’t want to hang out with him or anything, but I was taken aback. I wouldn’t want to make a sweeping generalisation, but I don’t think I am ever afraid in my dealings with men – nervous, maybe, but I’d like to think I’m comfortable enough in my own skin and with who I am that fear would never enter into the equation too much with me. Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, but this is how I feel at the moment.
So why was this guy afraid?
I hesitate to say afraid ‘of’ women, because I think that’s a different spin altogether. But fear of what? We often hear about men being intimidated by women, especially now, after the advent of the first waves of feminism, when women have the liberty to do pretty much whatever they want (women in my position and station in life, anyway). I, and women like me, are under no actual obligation to get married and have children, whatever societal pressures may still linger. I can have a career. I can write this blog. I can do all kinds of wonderful things. And I’m getting sidetracked from what I was actually writing about.
What I’m asking, I suppose, is what are men afraid of? And why are they afraid of it? Sure, there’s always going to be an element of fear with anyone who puts themselves out there – there’s always a risk you’re going to get your heart broken. I don’t know – maybe I’m applying too much of a gendered construct to this in this quick, afternoon-at-work rambling. Who can tell?
Maybe I’m thinking too much in terms of stereotypes and archetypes. There’s the notion of the knight in shining armour who sweeps a damsel off her feet. Thing is, these days, a lot of damsels aren’t in distress any more, and can do their own saving. Does that leave no room for a man? Is he afraid because he doesn’t know what his role is? Again, this is a total sweeping generalisation and I don’t think I’m making a whole lot of sense here, so I’ll wrap up. Like I didn’t know how to deal with my friend being ‘afraid,’ I don’t think I’ve adequately thought this through enough to be able to deal with a response.
But that’s the question I’d like to throw out to the void – are men afraid? If so, what are they afraid of, and why?
I was travelling back to Canberra on the bus from my family home, and as it is a rather long journey, I was reading a book. It was trashy chicklit – ‘Not Finding Mr Right’ by Anita Heiss, and while the book itself was unremarkable (though the heroine, Alice Aigner, had one of the most likeable and unique voices I’ve ever read in chicklit) there was one passage that stood out for me, where the author references a feminist critic, who said that when a man makes a sexist comment, it is not up to women to correct him, but other men.
I found this very interesting, because if I hear some bloke making a sexist comment, I’m going to pounce immediately, not sit meekly like a good girl and wait for a man to do it for me. But I do understand the logic in the statement. For sexism to be truly eradicated (I’m talking specifically in the traditional patriarchal sense here, though it probably has a more universal application) then awareness needs to be reflexive and come from within – in this case, from within the male gender.
Heiss takes the argument and applies it to racism in her book – in that case, the divide between Anglo and Indigenous Australians. It is better, she hypothesises (all this in a chicklit novel!) that when a racist comment is made – for example, an Anglo making a derogatory remark about an Indigenous Aussie – that the rebuke come from another Anglo. I can certainly see the logic in this, but I think I would find it very hard to apply myself – back in the gender ballpark now. I think a man would probably be more inclined to listen to another man, especially as he is the kind of man who is going around making derogatory remarks about women.
But does this mean waiting? And if one waits for a man to swoop in and make the rebuke, would that not lessen the impact of one’s message?
In short, I think I think that it’s a nice theory. But difficult to apply. I would like to think that men would rebuke other men for making misogynistic remarks – but I’d like to think that they were fighting with the girls for the right to do so.
We’ve had a huge spike in readership today, largely due to people searching for pictures of Roger Federer and Mirka Vavrinec’s wedding. No, you won’t get your pictures here, but I’d like to offer congratulations on behalf of the Black Valentine’s Day Manifesto to the happy couple!
(Though they didn’t need to be married to be cool!)
Once again, huge apologies for the lack of postage – hopefully now that the play I was in has finished we will be able to return to regularly scheduled programming! But for now, a song – Jodi’s current Kate Bush love.
Symphony in Blue is the first song on Kate’s second album, Lionheart. She was noticeably disappointed with this album as she felt she was rushed making it (it came out in the same year as her debut album, The Kick Inside.) However, I still love it sick, and Symphony in Blue is one of my favourites. I’m one of those people who is obsessed with words and language, and the way that Kate links image and colour and word in this song is for me, very profound and beautiful. There’s something quite soothing about this song – not quite at a lullaby level, but it’s so gentle and lovely that I’ve fallen asleep to it a number of times.
Further to the previously compiled glossary of the ‘mances (to be found here and here), the girls of the Black Valentine’s Day Manifesto and I have come up with the following additions. (Remember, if you have any ‘mances you wish to add to the list, just comment!)
Alsomance (n.) – 1. A romance had when one is engaged in another romance (ie. a bit on the side.)
Fran: ‘Fabio is spending so much time with Keira. I think he’s cheating on me!’
Rowena: ‘No! No! Fabio is so not the type to have an alsomance!’
Innuendomance (n.) – 1. A romance that never, ever gets off the ground physically – but the level of innuendo is so high that you might as well be pashing madly against a wall.
Rowena: ‘Were you LISTENING to Fabio and Keira talk to each other on Saturday night? Total smut, the whole time.’
Fran: ‘I know for a fact that they’ve never even kissed. It’s a total innuendomance.’”
No-gomance (n.) – 1. A relationship that is totally offlimits.
Fran: ‘Fabio has been hitting on me.’
Rowena: ‘Whoa, whoa, he only just broke up with Keira. That’s a no-gomance for at least six months.”
Politicomance (n.) – 1. A relationship between people of similar politics. (nb. people may change their politics specifically for the purpose of entering into a politicomance.
Rowena: ‘Oh my God! Did you see that Fabio just joined the Young Liberals? He’s always been a socialist!
Fran: ‘It’s ’cause Keira’s the prez. He’s after a politicomance.’
It is a truth universally acknowledged that nearly every woman I have ever met loves Jane Austen. Yes, there are some exceptions, but the overwhelming majority are pro-Jane – and I am definitely one of them. I have a degree in English, and nineteenth century literature, particularly the literature of women, is one of my special favourite areas. (My absolute favourite, and the area in which I wrote my thesis, was Renaissance theatre, but that is another story for another time). I love the Bronte sisters and their wild, passionate novels – Wuthering Heights is much more polarising than Austen, and again I’m in the pro-camp – but I re-read Jane so much more frequently. And it’s not that Jane is easier going than the Brontes, though she is perhaps a little less traumatising and Gothic – there is something about her books which is eternally fascinating, even though the society she is writing about is entirely outmoded and outdated. Charlotte Bronte was Austen’s most famous critic – she wrote this of Jane’s work:
‘Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré or extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well. There is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy, in the painting. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood … What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study: but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death–this Miss Austen ignores….Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless woman), if this is heresy–I cannot help it.’
Charlotte’s use of the words ‘sense’, ‘sensible’ and ‘sensibility’ automatically leads one to discussion of Austen’s first published novel – Sense and Sensibility. It is unusual among her novels in that it has two heroines instead of one – Elinor and Marianne, the sisters Dashwood. It is impossible to call one of these girls heroine and the other not – and believe me, I’ve tried to pick one many a time. I’ve probably studied S&S more than any other of the Austen canon as I’ve recently done an Emma Thompson and written an adaptation of it (though for the stage, not the screen), and have thought in particular a lot about the relationship between the sisters, what kind of women they are and, most importantly, why Austen is still so compelling today.
(Sorry if this turns into an English essay – sometimes I just can’t help myself!)
I can’t help but think that Charlotte Bronte had only skimmed over S&S when she wrote that Austen rejected an acquaintance with the ‘stormy sisterhood’, because Marianne Dashwood is surely one of their number. Her tumultuous passion for Mr Willoughby is up there with Cathy’s for Heathcliff or Jane’s for Rochester. She is one of those who can never love by halves – Austen’s words, but an apt description, and one I think we can all relate to. This is the timeless side of Marianne – not the societal trappings and accoutrements that go along with her, but her fundamental makeup. There are a lot of ‘Which Austen heroine are you?’ quizzes out there, and all of them are different, but when it comes down to it, I think there is a little of Marianne in a lot of women. I think I’d count myself among them – as someone who cannot love by halves.
Marianne survives as a timeless literary heroine because we can relate to her. We might not faint and find ourselves with putrid fevers like she does – whoever said Jane Austen was romantic? she could have given Marianne consumption, but no, she went for the putrid fever – but I think a lot of women can relate to the way she is instantly smitten with Willoughby. It’s a hellomance - totally instantaneous. The sceptics among us might not believe in love at first sight, but I know there are some of us who have walked into a room and fallen hard. There’s your Marianne.
But what differentiates Marianne from your Cathy Earnshaws is that this grande passion for Mr Willoughby does not last. “…Her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been devoted to Willoughby,” writes Jane. And this, too, is something we can relate to, especially as modern women who tend to have more ‘serious’ relationships than your typical nineteenth century heroine. Luisa and I often write off some of the men in our lives as ‘Wickhams’ – but I think there is a distinct ‘Willoughby’ category as well, though the two can blur. Marianne, possessor of sensibility, has a really tough time getting over Mr Willoughby – she goes through tempests worthy of any member of Charlotte Bronte’s stormy sisterhood. But she does it.
People often critique the relationship between Marianne and Colonel Brandon as being strange and passionless, especially coming on the heels of Willoughby. But the reality is, I think, that this is much closer to reality (now and then) than most of us would like to admit. Austen is often equated with escapism but one cannot fail to remember that she is a social critic, and thus social observer as well. Colonel Brandon is drawn throughout the novel as a real man – he has a slight case of rheumatism and wears flannel waistcoats in winter. Heathcliff he is not. But he is quintessentially good – his constant goodness to both the Dashwood sisters (not just Marianne) shows that. Marianne does what I exhort a lot – gets over a bad boy and, when she’s ready (because it does take a while) moves on with one more worthy. She’s literary proof that one can be passionate but temper it with sense (a lesson she learns throughout the novel) and still get the guy in the end. She may be as highly-strung as any potboiler heroine you ever read, but I think it’s easy to relate to Marianne.
But what of Elinor, the sense to Marianne’s sensibility? People often find Elinor cold, but this could not be further from the truth. She suffers just as acutely as her sister during the book, but the difference is how she acts subsequently. When Marianne learns that Willoughby has married another, she becomes hysterical, putrid fever, etc, etc. When Elinor learns that her beloved, Edward Ferrars, is engaged to another woman, she tells no one and throws herself into making the lives of her family (especially Marianne) better and easier. But this does not mean her suffering is less – when Marianne finally learns of Edward’s engagement and confronts Elinor and calls her heartless, Elinor replies:
‘“I understand you.—You do not suppose that I have ever felt much.—For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explained to you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least.—It was told me,—it was in a manner forced on me by the very person herself, whose prior engagement ruined all my prospects; and told me, as I thought, with triumph.—This person’s suspicions, therefore, I have had to oppose, by endeavouring to appear indifferent where I have been most deeply interested;—and it has not been only once;—I have had her hopes and exultation to listen to again and again.—I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection.—Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me.—I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence of his mother; and have suffered the punishment of an attachment, without enjoying its advantages.—And all this has been going on at a time, when, as you know too well, it has not been my only unhappiness.—If you can think me capable of ever feeling—surely you may suppose that I have suffered now. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion;—they did not spring up of themselves;—they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first.—No, Marianne.—then, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely—not even what I owed to my dearest friends—from openly shewing that I was very unhappy.”
Elinor’s vow to keep silent is perhaps a little different to what we might encounter in modern society (though who has not kept secrets for a friend?) but her method of dealing is not invalid. She is flawed, just as Marianne is flawed – Marianne pursues Willoughby perhaps too vigorously, Elinor is perhaps too passive – but her level-headedness and intelligence is admirable. And it is timeless as well – who has not felt that they are the sole bearer of a burden, but that they must keep their chin high and a smile on their face to keep morale up? Elinor evokes the inner martyr (read: glutton for punishment) in all of us, I think.
It isn’t as easy as simply being a Marianne or an Elinor in real life. For me personally, I think I have elements of them both, of both sense and sensibility. I don’t know if I had an original thesis to prove in writing this ramble, so I apologise if it’s incoherent, but I’ve been thinking about S&S a lot recently (what with the adapting and all) and I couldn’t not share my thoughts on this two fabulous fictional women. Because, for all their flaws, for all Elinor’s masochism and Marianne’s hysteria, I think they’re both pretty fabulous. And although we don’t live in a world of balls and proposals and secret engagements, their characters are as easy to relate to and identify with today as ever they were.
Again, apologies for the light posting – we’re all very busy. (My excuse? I’m in a play. I live in the theatre, pretty much.) Regularly scheduled programming will resume soon.
I’d like to throw another question out there – something I’d like to write about now, but don’t have time, so will put off till the weekend at which stage I hope some of you have left me your opinions. (That’s right, it’s another edition of question time with Jodi!)
What is the difference between a come-on and pure sleaze? Is there one? Is it a fine line? Is it a gaping chasm? Does it depend on the person/mode of speech/whatever? Your thoughts are greatly appreciated!