Tag Archives: allegory

Some Blogskeeping and Reading as Telepathy

Firstly, I spent this morning doing some blog housekeeping (blogskeeping?) in which I have finally differentiated between categories and tags.  Now you’ll see that the post categories are of a more manageable number, and are actually the literal categories of my posts.  Shocking, I know!  And then I went through and properly tagged things, which took ages.  You will see there is now a delightful tag cloud on the right, with which you can now navigate my witty repartee.

Oh, procrastination.  I love you so.

You’ll also notice that I finally linked to Philip Pullman’s official website, which I’d been terribly remiss in doing before.  I’ve babbled about how much I love His Dark Materials often enough!

Having done so, I then took the time to look around the website and the very first page, he said something that made me go, “YES!”:

As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don’t think it’s the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader’s mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I’m not going to explain.

Anyway, I’m not in the message business; I’m in the “Once upon a time” business.

I believe in this wholeheartedly.

I remember a lecture in one of my classes, I think it was Contemporary Fiction, when we talked about “reading as telepathy”.  It’s a mental communication between the reader and the words, where you can read the minds of the characters and know their deepest secrets and desires, all without a spoken word.  If you, the writer, have an agenda, then you’re controlling that communication and manipulating the reader to think your way.  Instead of telepathy, it becomes telepathic possession!

J.R.R. Tolkien said something to that effect, in the foreword of an edition of Lord of the Rings (which I bought at a charity shop many years ago, enthralled as I was by the cover illustration of a windswept Gandalf, robes billowing oh-so dramatically).  He says:

As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none.  It is neither allegorical nor topical. […] But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and have always done so since I was old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

And so when I write about my Wollstonecraftian feminism, the conflict of the patriarchy and those who flout the system, I’m not trying to make any kind of point or convey any specific message.  I’m just telling a story, as best I can.  I leave it to you, dear readers, to do the rest.

And you really don’t want to find yourselves possessed by me.  Exorcism doesn’t come cheap.

Why My Life of Crime is Over Before it Started, and Feminist Explorations: My Love for Mary Wollstonecraft, Explained

I spent 45 minutes of my afternoon in a UK Border Agency Public Enquiry Office, getting my fingerprints scanned and photo taken (for the second time in 6 months!).  The rest of my day was mainly spent getting to and from said Enquiry Office as it was in some grim outer region of Glasgow.  And now I’m realising that I’ll never be able to commit a crime here and get away with it – not with this stored biometric data!

Either that, or I’ll just invest in gloves and masks.

My incipient criminal career aside, I’d like to talk about my dear and beloved feminist hero: Mary Wollstonecraft.

I’ve mentioned her in previous posts as part of the inspiration for Cobault, and I’ve decided to go back and read her Vindications of the Rights of Women to sharpen my recollection of those arguments I might be employing.

First of all, I have to say how much I adore this woman.

Wollstonecraft had absolutely no time for the idiotic fainting women of her time.  She writes:

In the most trifling dangers they cling to [a man’s] support, with parasitical tenacity, piteously demanding succour; and their natural protector extends his arm, or lifts up his voice, to guard the lovely trembler – from what?  Perhaps the frown of an old cow, or the jump of a mouse[…].

She goes on to say:

If fear in girls, instead of being cherished, were treated like cowardice in boys, then we should quickly see women with more dignified aspects […] would be more respectable members of society, and discharge the important duties of life by the light of their own reason.

Education is a big part of Wollstonecraft’s argument, as she sees the current system as a total failure to women and girls.  Interestingly, she finds that this is also the case with the poor, and that many of her arguments apply equally to both marginalised groups.

“Educate women like men,” says Rousseau, “and the more they resemble our sex the less power they will have over us.”  This is the very point I am at.  I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves. In the same strain have I heard men argue against instructing the poor; for many are the forms that aristocracy assumes.  “Teach them to read and write,” they say, “and you take them out of the station assigned to them by nature.”

I’m now realising why the struggles of my high-born Euphemia, seeking to get the sort of education which Wollstonecraft recommends for a woman – that which exercises her reasoning and not her sensibility – is mirrored in that of my lower-class characters.  I’ve either absorbed this argument or found the same parallels myself, and though I’d like to claim the latter it’s much more likely to be the former!

Either way, I find that the essence of what makes Euphemia tick as a character is explained in the following:

When do we hear of women who, starting out of obscurity, boldly claim respect on account of their great abilities or daring virtues?  Where are they to be found? – “To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and approbation, are all the advantages which they seek” – True! my male readers will probably exclaim; but let them, before they draw any conclusion, recollect that this was not written originally as descriptive of women but of the rich.

Indeed.  And so we’ve discussed Wollstonecraft’s belief in education, but then it follows that after that education women need to be allowed to gain employment of their own, to support themselves and not rely on getting a rich husband for monetary necessity.  She writes:

Girls marry merely to better themselves, to borrow a significant vulgar phrase, and have such perfect power over their hearts as to not permit themselves to fall in love till a man with a superior fortune offers.

Euphemia’s father tells her an allegorical tale of a girl he knew of during his boyhood in the Academy, who was pursuing the foolish “education” (finishing school, really) that all girls of any means choose to undertake in their society.  But when her family fell on hard times she was forced to marry some rich scoundrel just to support them.  Misery ensued, quite naturally, and Euphemia’s father tells her that his wish for her education is that it could prevent such a situation occurring to her. He’s a secret Wollstonecraftian himself!

And most of this novel was written some two or three years after reading Vindications, having not gone back to reread it until just now!  I’m realising just how much of Cobault, it’s plot and characters, are dependent on the writings of this 18th century feminist, and how much of an impact she has had on me.  To the point of subconsciously aping her arguments in my own fictional world!

Unfortunately for me, Wollstonecraft scorns novels, as:

Novels, music, poetry, and gallantry, all tend to make women the creatures of sensation, and their character is thus formed in the mould of folly during the time they are acquiring accomplishments […].

Oh well.