The Velvet Chamber
An Anthology of Revisioned Myth and Fairy Tale

Explore the dark side of the female psyche --A CALL FOR WRITERS supports The Velvet Chamber

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All women are bitches

"The man sitting behind me on a plane uttered, 'All women are bitches.'  The earnestness with which the phrase was said to a nearby stranger startled me.  After all, no one in his right mind would be talking like light of political correctness...surrounded by women.  Nevertheless, here he was, shaking his head, raucously trying to convince his neighbor that you 'gotta to women what you know they're gonna do to you,' clearly an understanding of type and a confession of emasculation. 

What startled me about this man's declaration was the unexpectedness of this comment because men just didn't talk or think that way anymore.  Women as bitches were another era and certainly not part of the second wave of feminist thought current in the media...Susan Appleton Aguiar's book, The Bitch is Back: Wicked Women in Literature attests to why it is possible to have this misconception. 

Aguiar observes that the 'bitch' as type, is absent from contemporary feminist literature because in the second wave feminist writers attempts to reverse these prevalent stereotypes, they homogenize their women characters.  She contents that 'for all her ubiquitous presence in every other form of the media, the bitch has been noticeably absent from the feminist literary canon.  Until recently.'"  Think Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Fay Weldon, and Jane Smiley.

---- Donna L. Pasternak, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
MFS Modern Fiction Studies 48.3 (2002)


So, yes, the bitch is back, in all her bitchy, nasty, slutty glory.  And not a moment too soon. 


Thursday, September 23, 2010

So bad, so very, very bad

Hedy Lamarr as Deliah

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hard drinkers, bad livers, and invalids

Excerpt from an Interview with Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction LXXI
The Paris Review, Inc., Vol 20, No. 74

What are the disadvantages, if any, of being a woman writer?

When I was starting to write-- in the late '50's, early 60's-- there was a kind of social tradition [myth] in which male novelists could operate. Hard drinkers, bad livers. Wives, wars, big fish, Africa, Paris, no second acts.  A man who wrote novels had a role in the world, and he could play that role and do whatever he wanted behind it.  A woman who wrote novels had no particular role. Women who wrote novels were quite often perceived as invalids [myth].  Carson McCuller, Jane Bowles.  Flannery O'Connor of course.  Novels by women tended to be described, even by their publishers, as sensitive...I just tended my own garden, didn't pay much attention, behaved-- I suppose-- deviously.  I mean I didn't actually let too many people know what I was doing.

Photo of Jane Bowles


Monday, September 20, 2010

Some harlot saints

"A number of Egyptian or Levantine harlot saints figure in the Church's calendar alongside Mary Magdalene.  Mary the Egyptian is depicted next to her as black in a window of the church of St. Merri in Paris and their iconography is sometimes very similar.  Mary came to Alexandria in the hope of earning her fare in Jerusalem, where she wished to venerate the true Cross.  With this end in view, she prostituted herself to sailors for seventeen years before retiring to the desert to live a life of penitence as hermit, clad in nothing but her hair and progressively blackened by the sun."

--- Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

632 Elysian Fields

I'm standing at the corner of 632 Elysian Fields. Its hot, almost tropical, and a small breeze plays at the hem of my white silk dress. A moth flutters against my face. A woman tells me, your sister is at the bowling alley, but all I need right now is a drink. I got on the bus in Virginia ten days ago, but I feel like I've been traveling for months, years. I feel like New Orleans is a dream and I'm just a ghost.

The woman nudges me and says, like I said your sister's at the bowling alley, and I say, fine, she's at the bowling alley. She says, its just around the corner, and I say thank you, but I don't move. I'm remembering the last night in his arms. I'm remembering how good he felt against my skin. I try not to remember that he took a pistol, put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger, how people whispered, he was a married man. It's impossible I could be standing here right now.

I left home on July 10th at 8:00 a.m. in the morning. I didn't go to his funeral. The bus pulled up, and I got on. The sky was overcast, the morning air was cool. I didn't sleep the night before. I kept reading his letters. Searching for clues. It wasn't my first scandal, but it was the last. I knew it even before he pulled the trigger. Blanche, you can't stay here now. But he wasn't crazy about me. He was just crazy.

I see Stella walking up the street arm in arm with Stanley. She rushes up to me, screams my name so that it echoes in the dark streets. I wrap my arms around her, my little sister, my beloved, but I see him out of the corner of my eye. He's smiling and I can already taste his mouth on mine. If I could have a drink and a bath, I might be able to survive. He grabs my suitcase and together we walk up to the tiny apartment at the back of the building. The hallways are close, and I'm sweating by the time we reach the fifth floor.

A single light bulb dangles from the ceiling. Stanley drops my suitcase and gets a beer, leans against the sink like a wrestler. I see the same craziness in his eyes. Stella makes up a cot next to the kitchen table, apparently this is where I will be sleeping. A white moth flutters against my face. I wonder if it is the same one from the street, if it has possibly followed me up the stairs, into this kitchen. As Stella runs my bath, Stanley offers me a drink. I say, yes, thank you.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois

Friday, September 17, 2010

the plight of the romantic heroine

Francie walked down the aisle, now strewn with rose petals, the small church now ablaze with candles, the priest in his white chasuble with gold trim.  As she walked, she noticed that friends and family looked like well dressed strangers. She peered out through the netting of her veil, and swore she saw clouds drifting high up in the rafters and small angels, the size of hummingbirds, darting in and out of them. But she wasn't afraid.  The music got louder, her groom turned to face her, but then he too was a stranger.  Surely this was too much? Surely this was not right. She stopped, pulled back her veil, and feeling very exposed, asked, who's writing this story?

"...unlike those fantasy patterns that appeal primarily to men, female protagonists [in romance novels] do not usually recur, like James Bond, from book to book.  Once a women's love story has been told, repetition would in fact undermine the entire premise of her story--- and her life, for dramatic purposes, over."

Kay Mussell, Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formula's of Women's Romance Fiction, Greenwood Press, Connecticut and London.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Am I Blanche DuBois?


The frothy Southern Belle doesn't get laid either. Not with Stanley. That brute. And while she's not suicidal, like Anna K, she does engage in a pas de deux with a couple of white coats. Never a good thing in mythical antebellum New Orleans. She doesn't live happily ever after. If I may be so bold, I would start by giving this character a brain. Because when Stanley starts pawing through her suitcase, looking for the paperwork for Belle Reve, the family estate--- if she had a brain, she would say instead;

Asshole. I'm going to put my cards on the table. You're hot as hell. You're like a slab of meat in a butcher's shop on a hot July afternoon. I'd like to cut you and dissect you and serve you on a platter.

Speaker Two

I'm sorry who are you?


But I can't and I won't because you're married to my sister. So put on a t-shirt for christsakes, but make it tight. I'm older now, men don't fall at my feet except when they're drunk. I don't keep as many mirrors in the house. I know this, Stanley, I'm not stupid. I may be fatuous, but it's required by the canon. Anyway. You needn't worry your pretty little head about my family estate, because I got it covered. I will never lose Belle Reve because I traveled 60 years into the future and invested in software. Don't ask me the details about time traveling because I'm sick of telling it, but it basically involves a “man” who visits from the future. We had our quiet moments together, our intimacies. I'm not the girl you marry, everyone knows that. Not even an alien. That makes me a bitch or a witch, take your pick, also covered in the canon. I would argue that both words belong there, except their iterations are fundamentally incorrect, anyway---

---let's get back to Stanley, that brute, that monster, that beast. He's sitting on the yellow linoleum chair in the kitchen listening to everything I have to say. The sun is going down, and he's covered in a thin film of sweat. My sister is pregnant with his baby, and I'm not jealous exactly, but I never have that experience. It's a bittersweet moment when I find out. But him? Stanley? He's not going to get a penny of that money. If I had a brain, if you, esteemed members of the academy, would allow me a brain, and perhaps some imagination, I could save Belle Reve.

Speaker Two

You're not on our list of scheduled speakers.


If you let me subvert the canon, just a tiny bit, by the time I run up against Stanley in New Orleans, I'll have a stock portfolio worth millions. I'll be like,

Stanley, if I don't get some respect from you, you won't see a dime of this money. And don't even think of throwing me down on the kitchen table, or pressing up against me when the moon is full. Or any other of your sexual shenanigans. I freely acknowledge our attraction, but put it back in your pants honey, and treat me like a lady. Because if you do, you might enjoy a prosperous retirement.

And now he gets up from the kitchen chair, clearly seeing a new woman. Maybe a little afraid of her. He goes to the fridge because its hot, because he needs a beer. I pick up a paper fan and flirt with him. He sits down again but farther away. I laugh inside because now I know I got the little boy on the run. I say, Stanley, do we have an understanding. And he looks up at me with those dark brooding eyes, weak with desire, for me, Blanche, former Queen of the South, now reduced to such ruin, and he looks up at me, and asks, Can I kiss you?

Speaker Two:

But we still don't know who you are.

Jessica Tandy as Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A note on post modern fairy tales

"Archetypes of the genre--- the innocent heroine, the charming prince, the terrorizing witch--- offer clearly drawn gender roles.  But Christina Bacchilega considers the ideological dimension of this clarity fundamental to the genre's facade and a trap for the complacent reader, 'What distinguishes the tale of magic or fairy tales as a genre [...] is its effort to conceal its work systematically---to naturalize its artifice, to make everything so clear that it works magic, no questions asked.'  By relentlessly questioning, deconstructing and posing alternatives to this 'naturalized artifice', post-modern fairy tales rigorously hold these transparent stories up to the light."

---Soman Chainani, The Politics of Content Revision in Angela Carter's "Snow Child"
Marvel & Tales  17.2 (2003) 212-235

Monday, September 6, 2010

A coda to Anna Karenina

"Self conscious fiction (Atwood, Drabble, Lessing) destabilizes [screws up, turns on its head, turns it upside down] the conventions of realism because fiction that includes within itself commentary on its own narrative conventions is subversive [scary], it begins to expose the edges of the female narrative [also scary]."

---Gayle Green, Changing the Story.

"Members of the academy---- as a romantic character, a woman, I am the embodiment of all your theories and desires. I particularly enjoyed my incarnation as a late 21st century hacker Anna Karenina, Tanya X. And Vronsky as the spy she falls in love with--- nice touch. But she kills herself before they can do it. I’m willing to go along with all these little literary experiments, but I’m still not getting laid with any regularity."

----Am I Still Anna Karenina


Sunday, September 5, 2010

A season in hell

"Goddesses don't come down to us in their pure ambiguous form but in static dualistic fashion.  They don't serve as models for us to imitate."

--- Thelma Shinn, Worlds Within Women

If asked to deconstruct Blanche DuBois, I'd begin first with a brain.  The pallid, over-sexed, over-the-hill matron is a dizzying delight to be sure, but with a brain she might end up happy, or at the very least, not dancing a pas de deux with the white coats who come and take her away at the end of the play.  What trope did Tennessee Williams pluck out of the air?  What myth?  She's a damaged girl to be sure, affairs are alluded to, "fallen woman" hangs about her head like a halo.  Was it Eurydice?  Is this all she's good for after spending a season in hell?

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire