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Re-dressing feminist identities: tensions between essential and constructed selves in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando.’

In Interludes on February 16, 2011 at 10:11 am
by Christy L. Burns

Discussing the source of the self is never an easy task. Autobiographical desires get displaced into biographical sketches, which are then readily transformed into broad historical portraits. Ultimately, the task of re-narrating all these simultaneous strands slips into the genre of fiction, as in Virginia Woolf’s parodic biography, Orlando. If Orlando can be characterized as Woolf’s exploration of her own theory of sexuality (Holtby), it is also a fictionalized biography of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and still again it functions as a broadly sketched history of English literature and politics. One can imagine how to write a biography of one’s lover would be to undergo the process of a powerfully mute identification and realization, one that calls up denials and displacements as well.(1) As desire for identification draws Woolf toward the genre of biographical fiction, the need for differentiation following upon such a mimetic project propels her back into parody.(2) If the text is “true to” Sackville-West’s personal history, the novel is still quite unfaithful to the genre of biography. How can one be both faithful to facts and unfaithful and tell more of the truth without exactly telling it the same? While the book’s incompetent narrator may issue misleading imperatives to find “the single thread” that ties together personal identity, the effects of Orlando’s transformation through the ages – marked especially by his/her changes in clothing – execute a parodic deconstruction of essentialist claims tentatively offered in the text. The tension of these issues centers on the breakdown of inner and outer spaces in Woolf’s writing. Woolf plays on a twentieth-century conception of truth, derived from the Greek notion of alethea, unveiling. In her novel truth is destabilized and turns into parody through an emphasis on period fashions, cross-dressing, and undressing of “essential” bodies. Because of the nature of parody – to implement the very concept that is being distorted and undone – confusion prevails in the current criticism as to Woolf’s position on subjectivity and essentialism in Orlando. Critics tend toward one of two extreme positions with regard to Woolf’s theory of subjectivity in Orlando, with Fredric Jameson, on the one hand, using Orlando as an example of a novel that portrays an unchanging, constant personality passing through the centuries, bearing the marks of only external re-shapings;(3) Makiko Minow-Pinkney, on the other hand, argues that “social and historical factors are . . . fully admitted as constitutive for the human subject in the novel” (135). This question of whether some innate human essence can surmount historical effects or whether the only “essence” we know as personality is fully shaped by the world around one – this problem is comically re-figured by Woolf as the question of whether the clothes “make the (wo)man.” At one point Orlando’s narrator suggests that “in every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness” (189). While one must remain persistently wary of the narrator’s authority in this text, this claim at least points to the importance of such a possibility.(4) Moreover, advocates of gender studies will recognize an early formulation of contemporary questions about the extent to which society – and not biology – delineates distinction between “men” and “women.”(5) As Bette London has pointed out, Woolf has become the American feminist’s favorite cultural icon, the mother to whom we turn in hope of finding a mirror of ourselves.(6) It begins to look, on London’s review of often contrary receptions, as if Woolf’s figure admits of so many identities that Woolf is merely a mirror to her reader – another bad cliche of the woman who can mutate to become whatever society demands of her. My point here is that Woolf is hardly so obliging, and that contemporary feminist debates do violence to Woolf’s texts whenever they try to create her as icon of their cause, as they struggle to fix her identity as one identity alone. Woolf’s style is a persistent if subtle playing out of tensions, a negotiation of Victorian mores and modernist experimentation that results in a double mirror, a parodic displacement of any essential and “true” position. I am returning to Orlando (1928) as a preferred site of analysis, for that text carries within it the initial map of concerns that extend into A Room of One’s Own (1929), the “literary feminist bible,” as Jane Marcus has called it (5).(7) I do not aim to treat Orlando as a mirror to any single vision of contemporary feminism, so much as to mark it as a historically significant text that informatively examines the tensions between notions of essential personal identity and contextually re-defined subjectivity, tensions that are replicated in contemporary debates between essentialist and post-structuralist feminists. In the process of writing her novel, Woolf weaves together two competing approaches to biography: the attempt to define an essential self and the modern project of retracing the construction of a changing subjectivity, which stems most recognizably from Freud’s influence. One need always remember that Orlando is a parodic biography,(8) and several strands of biographical beliefs prevalent in the Victorian era are being parodied throughout the novel. Influential to Woolf’s re-thinking of the factual exploration of a fixed identity was the work of her close friend Lytton Strachey, who emphasized psychology in his own work on biography. Strachey met with great success in the 1920s, inspiring others to introduce Freudian notions of constructed subjectivity into biography. In “Women and Fiction” Woolf refers to “our psychoanalytic age” in which thinkers are increasingly aware of the “immense effect of environment and suggestion upon the mind” (45). If Strachey’s work began to move Woolf toward a more contextual understanding of identity, she was still turning half toward that and half away from the earlier influence of her father’s essentialist notions. Leslie Stephen was both an author and editor of biographies. His work was influenced by the Positivists(9) and also by English philosophical discussions of personal identity that grew out of the works of David Hume and John Locke. For the Victorians, biography had been institutionalized in part through the “Men of Letters” series begun in 1877 by John Morley. Woolf’s father contributed five volumes to this series and established, in 1882, his own biographical project, the Dictionary of National Biography (Nadel 41).(10) Morley and Stephen saw biography as a door to history, a way for the reader to “know” a single, exemplary figure from a period, and hence to understand that period better. Conceptualized explicitly as a mode of establishing a national identity, Stephen’s biographical approach neither portrayed the individual as created by his age nor gave him an over-determining influence on it. Rather, the singular individual mirrored the age and exercised potentially powerful influence on future ages. Following Plutarch’s advice to find, in biographies, “the signs of the soul in man,” the new humanists chose a biographical subject whose life could be treated as exemplary, as a spiritual guide and historical locus for the reader (Nadel 38). This individualistic notion was, however, combined with a reading of Auguste Comte, who urged biographers to “see the subject in and of his times, related to history and conscious of the effect of social and economic forces” (Nadel 39). These “great men” were, in a sense, contextual creations, but with a firmer essentialist thread running through their characters. Woolf would continue to experiment with biography throughout her career, treating it both as a “serious” form that could provoke reflection on the lives of women, as in The Second Common Reader,(11) and as a genre admitting of great comic potential. In 1933 she also published Flush, the fictitious biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, and in the year of her death she completed a somewhat unwieldy, serious biography of her friend Roger Fry. Woolf unravels the tensions in this theory of biography as she pits questions of essential self hood against their social constructedness. She not only spoofs the presupposed centrality of great “men” by treating a man-turned-woman, in Orlando, but also presses upon the ambiguous relations between social determinism and individual influence implicit in Victorian combinations of biographical theories. If Woolf was highly conscious of living in a “psycho-analytic age,” at the same time she seems to have been drawn toward a more essentialist notion of identity, perhaps absorbed through early impressions derived from her father’s notions. Orlando was the novel that allowed her to chart the tension between these two contradictory beliefs. On the second page of Orlando’s holograph, Woolf records a note from the novel’s initial conception: This is to tell a person’s life from the year 1500 to 1928. Changing its sex. Taking different aspects of character in different centuries: the theory being that character goes on underground before we are born; and leaves something afterword [sic] also.(12) Woolf here remarks the three most important elements of Orlando: the way in which Orlando’s biography doubles as a map of four hundred years of English history; the shocking scene of Orlando’s change from male to female sex; and the tension between two notions of subject constitution. She postulates that one’s character takes on “different aspects” in “different centuries,” but then translates this into a theory of a continuous spirit, one that “goes on underground” before birth and which also “leaves something” after death. These two theories get sorted out as the novel progresses – the notion of an essential self being comically reduced to a belief that Woolf’s less than competent narrator struggles to defend, while the parody of that narrator’s attempt results in the realization of the modern, constructive figuration of subjectivity. This model is not, however, a model of simple determinism wherein Orlando becomes whatever society requires; Woolf’s conception of Orlando’s identity holds within it the possibility for participation in social and self construction. The crucial question of Woolf’s novel becomes that of subjectivity, but subjectivity as it is embroiled in the problematics of historical change and sexuality. The questioning of identity in Orlando raises issues that are of returning importance to feminism. How much of the self, Woolf asks, is unchangeably and essentially our own? How solid a space does one have for resistance to social demands for conformity? Does the “spirit of an age” weigh upon the sexes differently? And how does one’s adaptation or resistance to society affect one’s writing? If such questions are implicitly structuring the narrative drama of Orlando, they are explicitly posed in Woolf’s feminist essays, most notably in A Room of One’s Own. In 1928, the year in which she published Orlando, Woolf delivered a series of talks, published under the title A Room of One’s Own. Urging women to write, to give themselves a voice, Woolf is still caught up in consideration of how one can constitute an identity (of one’s “own”) in a world determined by economic constraints and often degrading representations of women. Woolf must implicitly inquire as to how women who have been excluded from the male literary tradition might both participate in and resist that tradition and the expectations of their unworthiness. To demonstrate the importance of social pressures, Woolf sketches a hypothetical “Judith” Shakespeare, sister of William, who is as brilliant and promising as he, but who fails as a result of the “twisted and deformed” state of mind that emerges after she encounters society’s restraints on women’s genius (50). As Woolf writes, “All the conditions of her life, all her own instincts, were hostile to the state of mind which is needed to set free whatever is in the brain” (51). The state of mind is crucial to creation, Woolf argues, and it can only be found in a quiet (socially permitted) moment. This essay has drawn fire recently from feminist revisionists. London, for example, criticizes feminists for creating an image of the female writer that “desires to be young, gifted, and male” (19); Judith Newton also has objected that this demonstrates how Woolf’s writing is not, as Jane Marcus has claimed, revolutionary, for Woolf holds woman to a polite code of behavior. On other counts, Elaine Showalter (17) has accused Woolf of being the “bad mother” for betraying feminism by her “flight into androgyny” in A Room of One’s Own.(13) While I am in sympathy with some of these reactions, I think it is important to recognize that Woolf’s style consistently weaves together contrary strands. At every moment that she issues an imperative, she immediately turns with a qualification or even – subtly – a contrary possibility. She is not, as London suggests, simply a mirror of our own desires, especially not if one can learn to read the ambivalences in Woolf’s writing as productive of multiple feminist positions.(14) One cannot simply say that Woolf is inconsistent; in the late 1920s she is playing out the tensions of dual and seemingly opposing pressures upon identity, tensions which create a web of possibilities. In Orlando the “male” and “female” strands of character combine in various ways, leaving Orlando more androgynous than essentially one sex or the other. Likewise, one might argue that the “revolutionary” feminist does not (cannot) step completely outside of the existing (patriarchal) world – a problem explicitly addressed in Judith Butler’s recent work on “gender trouble.” In A Room of One’s Own these tensions between utopian desires to escape the system and an insistent drive to change that system revolve around the metaphor of being locked in and locked out of institutions. Woman must have “a room of her own” where she can lock herself in and concentrate, where she can purge herself of the “male” society that seeks to constrain her voice and control her writing. But earlier in the essay Woolf describes her anger at being locked out of “men’s” world – out of the library – and driven off the Beadle’s lawn by the river (6-8). Over the course of this essay Woolf is asking herself whether it is worse to be locked out or to be locked in (36). The element she implicitly calls on is a kind of reversibility, a tactic of being at once both inside and outside the tradition. Thus, “A woman writing thinks back through her mothers. Again if one is a woman one is often surprised by a sudden splitting off of consciousness, say in walking down Whitehall, when from being the natural inheritor of the civilization, she becomes, on the contrary, outside of it, alien and critical” (97). The second half of this quotation has been too often overlooked; Woolf is aware of a heterogeneous heritage and calls on her readers to give up the habit of suppressing the half of their inheritance that comes from women. It is Woolf’s “splitting off” of consciousness that might interest contemporary feminism and that is developed elaborately in Orlando. If identity can be formed out of parodically identifying with a range of models (male, female, dominant culture, non-dominant, and so forth), perhaps Woolf’s own problems with essentialism can be more precisely addressed. Ironically, the one philosopher parodied the most in Orlando (if only with subtle implicitness) bears the name of Woolf’s dilemma – John Locke’s opposition between the inside and the outside is taken up by Woolf through her discussion of clothing and nature. It is coincidence perhaps that Orlando travels to Turkey under the reign of Charles the First (1625-1649), undergoes the sex change, and returns with the commencement of the rule of William and Mary, in 1689, the same year of Locke’s publication of the Essay. Locke and Hume were not necessarily direct influences on Woolf – although I would like to claim here an explicit use of one passage in Essay. As to their intersection with theories of biography, Richard Congreve, an English positivist and friend of Morley’s, had written on Locke. Furthermore, since both were given biographical representations of their period in the “Men of Letters” series, their general philosophy of fixed personal identity pervaded Victorian notions of biography. In a struggle to form and reform his/herself throughout the novel, Orlando writes, revises, and eventually publishes a long autobiographical poem, “The Oak Tree.” The poem’s title, along with other odd plot devices integrated into Orlando, suggests an allusion on Woolf’s part to Locke’s philosophy of personal identity in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Deriving his notions of personal identity from essentialist arguments about objects, Locke articulates the belief that “The variation of great parcels of Matter alters not the identity; an Oak, growing from a Plant to a Tree, and then lopp’d, is still the same Oak” (330).(15) He resists the notion that any change of the body might have an effect on one’s personal identity. Taking the “oak” as his operable example, he translates his scientific, essentialist paradigm into one suited for a human’s identity. In both cases, the exterior’s alteration (being “lopp’d,” amputated, or – as figuratively in Orlando – castrated) does not effect any change in the person’s interior self. Not only does Woolf link Locke’s example of an oak tree to the project of autobiographical writing; she also parodically adapts another example from the Essay – his explicit dismissal of the relevance of clothing to personal identity. In a key passage of the Essay Locke argues that the self “will be the same self as far as the same consciousness can extend to Actions past or to come; and would be by distance of Time, or change of Substance, no more two Persons than a Man be two Men, by wearing other Cloaths to Day than he did Yesterday, with a long or short sleep between” (336). Indeed, Orlando’s greatest alterations of personality always occur after a long trance in which s/he lies as if dead, in a seven-day sleep. Those sleeps do, in fact, leave Orlando greatly altered, and so, for that matter, does the clothing s/he wears. When Orlando’s narrator despairs that the self is “a perfect rag-bag of odds and ends within us – a piece of a policeman’s trousers lying cheek by jowl with Queen Alexandra’s wedding veil,” s/he comically postulates that this dissonant collection of various fabrics can be “lightly stitched together by a single thread” (78). Speculating that this thread might be memory, or at least “memory is the seamstress,” the narrator comments on how “capricious” a seamstress memory is. “Fabrication” can be unraveled as well as constructed. Orlando himself, as autobiographical author of “The Oak Tree,” loses the thread of his memory while trying to add a passage on the betrayal by his first love, Sasha. Memory is, in fact, as fickle a seamstress as Sasha was a mistress and both are tied metaphorically to “fabrication” by Woolf: memory being a “thread” and sash – the root of Sasha’s name – meaning in Arabic the turban of cloth one wraps around the head. In Orlando fabric, fabrication, writing, sexuality, and clothing are all interwoven. Through these metaphors Locke’s essentialist opposition between outside and inside is broken down; this opposition decays most humorously and explicitly in the scene of Orlando’s sex change. As a much-loved ambassador to Turkey during the reign of King Charles, Orlando falls into his second seven-day trance. The narrator insists that s/he would dearly love to “spare the reader” the outcome of this particular crisis, but spurred on by the trumpeted demands of “Truth, Candour, and Honesty,” the narrator observes the way in which, on a plot parallel, the figures of Purity, Chastity, and Modesty struggle to veil the “truth” of Orlando’s sex. But just as the mock-Victorian narrator must forge ahead and detail the seemingly seamy oddities of Orlando’s sex change, so these veiling figures are banished from the scene by trumpets that blast “Truth! Truth! Truth!” Orlando awakes wholly naked and unclothed on his/her bed: “[Orlando] stretched himself. He rose. He stood upright in complete nakedness before us, and while the trumpets pealed Truth! Truth! we have no choice left but confess – he was a woman” (137).(16) Orlando’s sex change parodies the philosophical search for bare, naked, essential truths. And it is no coincidence that a parodic text will unravel any fantasy of pure and perfect mimetic reference. Parody must always simultaneously point toward its “source” – here Victorian notions of biography – and humorously distort, debilitating the very act of pointing. A regress of possible origins inevitably unfolds, as the parody points to no single biographical text and as the biographer can fix no single identifiable self for Orlando. Parody thus teases out the impossibility of locating an immediate referent, a naked source of truth, a fact separable from fiction. The regressive play of locating a single source or origin necessarily also complicates notions of historical causality. How might biography or history determine the cause of a single event?(17) In this scene such classic motifs as unveiling and nakedness are re-organized around questions of sexuality, and what is “revealed” or “unveiled,” the “truth” of Orlando’s sex – that he is a she – points only to the essential instability of essence, the reversibility inscribed within the “truth.” What is essential here is to be without an essence. What is revealed is the reversibility of sex. This is no mere playful fancy on Woolf’s part, however; it leads her to reconsider the nature of sexuality and the constructedness of gender. For here is the mystery of this crisis: although Orlando’s naked body is markedly changed, we eventually learn that no change in his/her identity has actually occurred: “Orlando,” we are told, “remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity. Their faces remained, as their portraits prove, practically the same. His memory . . . went back through all the events of her past life.” (138). If one might assume that sex is one of the single most essential attributes of identity, the self here is a collection of many possible sexualities. Note that the pronouns – their, his, her – are comfortably accommodated in a single “identity” determined by memory chains, a further mark of the disidentification present in identity. That is, there is a certain plurality and mark of difference always present in this identification. Notice too how initially the change in external, physical being has no impact on the self’s internal identification. Woolf continues to have great fun with pronouns throughout the novel. When Orlando arrives home a woman, the housekeeper who last saw her as a man is overwhelmed and keeps gasping “Milord! Milady! Milady! Milord!” (169). Her social discomfort with sexual ambiguity elicits the humor of her hysteria. If Orlando’s sex is at first ambiguous, when s/he is eventually transformed, this is not effected through a genital change. It occurs instead as a gender transformation that emerges after a change of clothing. After the sex change, Orlando goes into hiding with the gypsies in order to escape an insurrection in Turkey. Several months later, she finally sheds the androgynous Turkish pants she tossed on before escaping and begins to wear the traditional garb of an English woman. She thus finds herself abruptly faced with the task of coming to terms with her new sex. We are told that “up to this moment she had scarcely given her sex a thought,” but, buying and donning “such clothes as women then wore,” she finds herself helpless and at the mercy of chivalrous condescension. “It was not until she felt the coil of skirts about her legs and the Captain offered, with the greatest politeness, to have an awning spread for her on deck that she realized, with a start the penalties and privileges of her position” (153). Orlando has to foreswear foul language, realizes she can no longer swim or stride with ease, and experiences the pang of anxious control over the Captain’s tender ego. So Orlando’s body may be altered by the sex change, but her gender change cannot be effected until clothing – that external social trapping – pressures her to conform with social expectations of gendered behavior. These expectations work like an outside that seeps in, and clothing attracts and activates these expectations. It is as if she, Orlando, might have continued to be a he, if only by virtue of dressing as a man. And so, we are told, Orlando is herself convinced that it is “often only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness” (189). Although the clothes control Orlando as she adjusts to womanhood, she is well aware that she is the one who chooses the clothes.(18) Throughout the novel Orlando engages in cross-dressing.(19) As a woman Orlando occasionally pulls on a man’s breeches and cloak so that she might go roving about the countryside with the same freedom a man experiences in his nightly wanderings (215). In this manner she meets Nell, a friendly streetwalker who gives her the odd sensation of first being mistaken for a (male) lover and then, when discovered a woman, being made into a friend and confidant (215ff). Orlando thus experiences herself as different in response to gender expectations inspired by means of cross-dressing. The impact of clothing extends also to categories of class. As a man Orlando uses clothing to disguise himself as lower class (123 and passim), in order to spend time away from the constraints of the upper classes, mingling with the men and woman of local pubs and byways. Clothing, however, is not always just clothing in Orlando. The parallel between the biographer’s duty to relay “Truth, Candour, and Honesty” and the necessity of revealing sexual “truths” in the scene of Orlando’s awakening suggest another figuration: that of language and, specifically, of writing. The biographer struggles to write the “naked truth” about Orlando, but the revelation of his sex change tells us little. Likewise, Orlando later gets embroiled in the struggle to “say what one means and leave it.” What she finds in trying to abandon metaphor, however, is that simple statements get no closer to the truth. Sentences like “The sky is blue,” are no more or less true than “The sky is like the veils which a thousand Madonnas have let fall from their hair” (101-02). As with Sasha, so with language; Orlando must conclude that both “are utterly false” (102). In light of this suggestive parallel to language we might notice how cross-dressing happens somewhat unintentionally as well, in Orlando. That is, sometimes the “fashion of the time” obscures a person’s sex and gender, and confusion results. The first thing we learn about Orlando is that “There could be no doubt of his sex,” although the narrator admits that “The fashion of the time did something to disguise it” (13). Such ambiguity becomes important when Orlando comes of age. His first “true” love, Sasha, is remarked as “a figure, [either] boy’s or woman’s, for the loose tunic and trousers of the Russian fashion served to disguise the sex” (37-38). Orlando is ready to “tear his hair with vexation,” so certain is he that the figure is a young man’s and “thus all embraces were out of the question” (38). The figure, however, turns out to be that of a woman and an affair ensues. Sexual determination is thus not secured prior to affection in Woolf’s novel, but fixing gender becomes an important part of courtship, at least prior to the twentieth century. As Woolf approaches the modern era, she ironizes gender stabilization and comes very close to valuing homosexual love explicitly. At one point, cross-dressing is used to introduce homosexual possibilities when Orlando, as a man, is wooed by the Archduchess Harriet. Harriet later reveals himself to have been Harry all along (178). He confesses that he had been so swept away by Orlando’s beauty that he had disguised his sex to press his suit (115ff). Orlando’s rejection of Harriet-Harry allows the story to elide homosexual relations; we later hear, however, that Orlando’s elaborate cross-dressing allowed her to “enjoy … the love of both sexes equally” (221). So Woolf writes in some ambivalence around this issue. While Orlando can participate in the changing re-constitutions and articulations of her gender through her dress, clothes can also sometimes contrarily coerce her behavior. Woolf tests the question of whether “it is clothes that wear us and not we them” when she turns to what was, for Woolf, the most socially coercive of eras, that of the Victorians (188).(20) As the Victorian age descends, Orlando faces her third crisis as she attempts to resist the “Spirit of the Age,” which dictates marriage. Not in the least inclined to matrimony, Orlando’s “natural temperament,” we are told, is to cry “Life! A Lover!” not “Life! A Husband!” (244). The narrator goes on to explain that “Orlando had inclined herself naturally to the Elizabethan spirit, to the Restoration spirit, to the spirit of the eighteenth century…. But the spirit of the nineteenth century was antipathetic to her in the extreme” (244). Here, Woolf takes on the question that troubles contemporary debates about feminism and psychoanalysis. Is there ever room for rebellion or resistance on the model of social construction?(21) Woolf seems to judge that there is not room for resistance, but this is only when extremes are postulated in advance. If the external world and inner self are polarized with respect to questions of influence, then on Woolf’s model here the individual loses control over his/her self. One result of this conflict, in Orlando’s experience of the Victorian era, is that she can no longer write. While trying to work on “The Oak Tree,” Orlando finds that words suddenly abandon her. Once she admits that it is “impossible” for her to write, however, she suddenly sees her own hand and pen possessed by “the spirit of the age.” Spilling out “the most insipid verse she had ever read in her life,” her pen creates a parody of Victorian poetry. While still ill from this “involuntary inspiration,” Orlando becomes aware of a strange tingling in her left ring finger, the first sign of coercion toward marriage (238-40). Eventually, she will utter words like “Whom … can I lean upon?” at which point the narrator observes, “Her words formed themselves, her hands clasped themselves, involuntarily, just as her pen had written of its own accord. It was not Orlando who spoke, but the spirit of the age” (246). Language can thus function independent of the author’s will – what, to the reader, might resemble something of a parodic extreme of anxieties about deconstructive and psychoanalytic theories of language. In order to regain control of her writing, Orlando must give up her preferred social position of the single, sexually ambivalent subject. To save her writing, Orlando contemplates conformity. Rational capitulation, however, does not bring about Orlando’s fall into conformity. It is rather the fabric of the age, literally, that drags Orlando down and overwhelms her avowed passion for independence: She stood mournfully at the drawing-room window . . . dragged down by the weight of the crinoline which she had submissively adopted. It was heavier and more drab than any dress she had yet worn. None had ever so impeded her movements. No longer could she stride through the garden with her dogs, or run lightly to the high mound and fling herself beneath the oak tree. Her skirts collected damp leaves and straw. The plumed hat tossed on the breeze. The thin shoes were quickly soaked and mud-caked. Her muscles lost their pliancy. She had become nervous lest there should be robbers behind the wainscot and afraid, for the first time in her life, of ghosts in the corridors. All these things inclined her, step by step, to submit to the new discovery, whether Queen Victoria’s or another’s, that each man and each woman has another allotted to it for life, whom it supports, by whom it is supported, till death them do part. (244-45) Woolf thus again takes a form of mental pressure and turns it into a palpable, physical effect; the heavy crinoline of the Victorian age imprisons Orlando’s person and weakens her resolve for independence. In her final attempt to avoid social transformation, Orlando rushes out onto the heath (a favorite sport in English literature), she trips (for Orlando is rather ill-coordinated), she breaks her ankle, and gives herself up for dead in the fields. Just at this moment, in parody of Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, and the novel that closes in marriage, a young man rides up. Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine jumps off his horse and exclaims, “Madam . . . you’re hurt!” to which she stunningly replies, “I’m dead, Sir!” (250). Resurrection immediately occurs, and “A few minutes later, they became engaged.” The snap effect of this capitulation to the Victorian spirit is played up as parodically extreme here, and is tinged with a certain horror. After Orlando’s long resistance, her instant and gleeful reversal marks a feminist shock.(22) As it turns out, however, Orlando’s conformity is not absolute, nor was her capitulation ever complete. Eventually Orlando achieves a comfortable gender ambiguity in the modern era. This ambiguity, or androgyny, is remarked by Orlando’s spouse, Shelmerdine, shortly after their engagement: “You’re a woman, Shel!” Orlando cries. “You’re a man, Orlando!” he cries. And, after “a scene of protestation and demonstration,” they settle back into their assumed sex roles and sexes (252). But not precisely. Soon after, Orlando reflects on the way her marriage – which turns out to be strikingly nontraditional – has given her an odd freedom: She was married, true; but if one’s husband was always sailing round Cape Horn, was it marriage? If one liked him, was it marriage? If one liked other people, was it marriage? And finally, if one still wished, more than anything in the whole world, to write poetry, was it marriage? She had her doubts. (264) Although she conforms by virtue of marrying Shelmerdine, Orlando resists the particular demands of Victorian marriage and womanly roles. She finds that she has conformed just enough to slip by unnoticed in the age, while she may also maintain a resistance to further constraint. After her marriage, Orlando asks herself if she has satisfied the demands of the age and if she might again write in her own hand. She reflects that “the transaction between a writer and the spirit of an age is one of infinite delicacy” and finds to her great relief that “she need neither fight her age, nor submit to it; she was of it, yet remained herself” (266). It is the degree of conformity (and nonconformity), unmeasurable as it is, that determines the space left for resistance to an undesirable paradigm. That is, Orlando takes the category that is forced upon her (marriage), but she subverts it by negating many of its more traditional constraints. Our inability to mark what is world and what the individual has lent great anxiety to contemporary debates about the constructedness of subjectivity. Paul Smith, for example, has voiced concern that Julia Kristeva’s more recent philosophy of the subject leans away from a dialogically constituted subject – one that identifies with a range of possibilities and responds to the world – and tends toward a description of a subject who would “understand and accept that its own crisis is not out of phase with the social but is more nearly the truth of the social.” Smith argues that the imperative to “stop worrying and love your crisis” would “make the analysand conform to a pregiven social world.” What Smith and others like him are concerned about is conformism or forced collaboration, the collapse of heterogeneous drives. Judith Butler attempts to answer such concerns, as well as to take issue with a view that post-structuralist theories of the subject threaten to undermine the possibility of political action. She sharply identifies a problem for movements of social change, emphasized in Michel Foucalt’s recognition that institutions and juridical systems of power produce the subjects they eventually come to represent. “Feminist critique,” Butler argues, “ought . . . to understand how the category of ‘woman,’ the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought” (2). What Butler offers as a possible avenue away from such a cyclical dilemma is an awareness that one does not necessarily just imitate the model, and hence is not deterministically bound to repeat the conventional model of “woman.” Rather, one can “locate strategies of subversive repetition” and parodically repeat, yes, repeat – but with a difference (147-78). “The task,” as Butler notes, “is not whether to repeat, but how to repeat or, indeed, to repeat and, through a radical proliferation of gender, to displace the very gender norms that enable the repetition itself” (148). Butler labels this form of subversive repetition “parody.” While I would not go so far as to say that all parody is subversive(23) (it is not clear whether Butler believes this or not), I do believe that the form of parody that Butler describes – one that presses toward heterogeneous mixtures of the norm and the contranormal – carries with it the politics she describes.(24) Her model offers parody and cross-dressing, in particular, as acts that cross boundaries and allow one to perform subjectivity in a dialogue with social expectations for conformity – to resist without fully breaking with, to remain politically active within the system without conforming to it. Butler addresses the same early philosophical debates over humanist individualism and determinism to which Woolf responds; moreover, Butler’s concerns about subjectivity, as they inform contemporary feminism, are interconnected with Woolf’s own ambivalences, embedded as they are in American feminism’s current identity crisis. Woolf’s hope, as she first confided it to Sackville-West, was to “revolutionise biography in a night” while also working to “untwine and twist again” the various strands of Sackville-West’s character (Letters 3:429). The two actions are inextricably related; to “revolutionise” biography – the science of the self – one much be weaving together disparate strands. Woolf goes further and weaves strands of herself together with references to Sackville-West, thus inscribing the paradoxical representation of one self constructed from two (or more), and thereby only loosely tied. And all this through the practice of writing. Writing has a psychologically constructive function for Woolf, one that helps the author re-determine herself. In “A Sketch of the Past” (1939), Woolf reflects on the difficulties of biographical writing: Consider what immense forces society brings to play upon each of us, how that society changes from decade to decade; and also from class to class; well, if we cannot analyse these invisible presences, we know very little of the subject of the memoir; and again how futile life-writing becomes. I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream. (80) The tension between self-control and historical influence here signals Woolf’s changing sense of the historical process, her interest in causality. This interest is also necessarily directed toward concerns about how one writes about the self, a process that Woolf seems to believe will give her back to herself. In A Room of One’s Own she urges young women to find their voice (and, I suggest, their selves) through the act of writing. Woolf believes that she can free herself from undue social influence only by describing the stream that surrounds her, and, while she is here “caught” in the stream, at other moments her writing suggests a more active engagement with the influences that surround her. In the act of writing the (auto)biographical narrative of Orlando, Woolf can address questions about her own (and women’s) sexuality and subjectivity – how these things are determined by context or predisposition – through strong identification with the biography of a woman whose name, Vita, holds in it the Latin meaning of life, life force, and – biography. I point toward this close relation between “the self” and biography that constructs the self through language in order to emphasize the ways in which Orlando’s surviving question – that of who Orlando is – and Woolf’s genre, parodic biography, are integrally related. I would like to suggest through a reading of Orlando that notions of the self are intricately linked to writing for Woolf, and that the essence of a word functions just like the essence of a person, clothed in social conventions and full of indeterminacy. Locke’s essentialist doctrine of personal identity in fact trembles when he begins to reflect on language in the Essay (476-77). Referring to the “double use” of words, Locke divides the use of language into two projects: that of recording autobiographical notes to the self, and also that for conveying ideas to others (to express truths). He articulates an uneasy concern about the “doubtfulness and uncertainty of [words’] signification” on account of there being no relationship between words and ideas but that which man artificially imposes. It is as if words might be the fabric that veils the truth, but Locke is nervous about the project of unveiling. He worries that “no one has Authority to determine the signification of the Word Gold” (486). Mastery, authority, and control over the self (and one’s word) – these are issues as well for Woolf. Of the novel that precedes Orlando, Woolf admits she has inscribed an ambivalence about her own power as author. When her friend Roger Fry writes a long letter in praise of To the Lighthouse, he confesses that the “symbolic meaning” of the Lighthouse escapes him. Woolf writes in response that “I meant nothing by The Lighthouse. One has to have a central line down the middle of the book to hold the design together. I saw that all sorts of feelings would accrue to this, but I refused to think them out, and trusted that other people would make it the deposit for their own emotions – which they have done…. I can’t manage Symbolism except in this vague, generalised way” (Letters 3:385). Woolf’s habit of writing in ambivalent symbols that admit of a variety of definitions is a way of giving some partial authority to her readers, which creates more conspicuously this double/multiple-mirror effect. Likewise, readers of Orlando, as noted, identify with Orlando’s formation of “identity” variously. This is perhaps because subjectivity itself in Orlando is increasingly depicted as a mesh of various optional identities. The present moment of the novel – its closing day in October 1928 – finds Orlando constantly invoking her own history, recharging her memory, and re-narrating her past (298ff). She calls to herself, “Orlando?” upon which we are treated to a long reflection on personal identity, which concludes with the exasperated query: “How many different people are there not – Heaven help us – all having lodgment at one time or another in the human spirit?” These alternative selves (some two thousand and fifty-two, the narrator speculates) are “built up, one on top of another, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand” (308) and all are attached to certain weather, locales, circumstances, and people, and so can be triggered on appropriate occasions. The conscious self then struggles to form a dominant identity of them all; Orlando undergoes this exercise shortly before the novel’s close. One is left to ask, much like an echo of Orlando herself, what if anything constitutes Orlando’s identity. Has anything remained essential or even consistent throughout the history? Various strands, such as memory and her ownership of the estate, might be suggested. But memory lapses and Orlando travels about. The one truly persistent aspect that remains with Orlando throughout her life may seem more arbitrary than essential; only her name, “Orlando,” truly remains the same. Moreover this name (Orlando) is also the name of Woolf’s fictional text (Orlando), which points up something significant about biography. That is, once the corporeal body is gone, only the textual body remains. Orlando ends abruptly with the appearance of an odd, elusive goose that flies beyond Orlando’s nets. Earlier, Orlando recalls how she has always been “Haunted! Even since I was a child. There flies the wild goose. It flies past the window out to sea. Up I jumped (she gripped the steering wheel tighter) and stretched after it. But the goose flies too fast…. Always I fling after it words like nets (here she flung her hand out) which shrivel as I’ve seen nets shrivel drawn on deck with only sea-weed in them. And sometimes there’s an inch of silver – six words – in the bottom of the net. But never the great fish who lives in the coral groves” (313). Whether this is all merely a wild goose chase, as J. J. Wilson has suggested, or some moment of serious personal strife, Woolf admits that the fish (or goose), the self, or the “essential truths” about one’s life, will never be caught, nor in a sense will they ever be lost, for there will always be silver dregs at the bottom of the subject’s net, interestingly figured as the curious residue of language. It is in a sense only this residue that both invites and resists our insistent refigurations, our attempts to make Woolf conform to our societal demands. Thus in Orlando Woolf has already, in the process of playing out her own anxieties about conformity and identity, anticipated our attempts to clothe her writings in our own desires. She offers, as always, both a sympathy (a partial identification with our desires and requirements) and a parody that resists such reductive (or “fishy”) attempts to fix a single subject position within our nets. NOTES 1 Critics all concede that Vita Sackville-West is Orlando’s primary model. Woolf solicits her response to the novel’s premise early on: “Suppose,” she writes, “Orlando turns out to be Vita; and it’s all about you and the lusts of your flesh and the lure of your mind” (Letters 3:429). With Sackville-West’s permission, Woolf goes on to model Orlando’s various lovers on Sackville-West’s own. Lord Lascelles, who unsuccessfully wooed Sackville-West from 1912 to 1913, appears as the Archduchess/Archduke Harry (Letters 3:433n). Violet Trefusis, one of Sackville-West’s early lovers, gets transformed into Sasha (Letters 3:430 and Diary 3:162). Vita’s own family history, Knole and the Sackvilles, supplies Orlando’s distinguished ancestry and the description of Orlando’s estate. Orlando further shares Sackville-West’s literary aspirations; his/her poem, “The Oak Tree,” takes large pieces out of Sackville-West’s “The Land.” Like Sackville-West, Orlando exhibits a penchant for transient sexual attachments as well. 2 In her diary (3:163) Woolf reflects that she is writing Orlando “half in a mock style,” but trying to strike a balance between truth and fantasy. Woolf’s brand of humor is parodic, modeled, I believe, on Jane Austen’s lightly satiric tone. Orlando’s parodic twist is suggested immediately in the preface, in which Woolf thanks the “many friends” who helped her along with her project. “Some are dead,” she notes, “and so illustrious that I scarcely dare name them, yet no one can read or write without being perpetually in the debt of Defoe, Sir Thomas Browne, Sterne, Sir Walter Scott …” and the list continues. Woolf’s preface simultaneously performs the gesture of thanking those who assisted her project while also parodying the genre’s constant hat-tipping, source-naming, and allusion to key literary figures. 3 See Marxism 375 and Political 136. James Naremore also argues that Orlando and Between the Acts “present history as a kind of a pageant, where the costumes change but the actors remains the same” (195). Gillian Beer argues as well that history changes only the outer lights, while humans remain essentially the same. 4 Critics have in part begun to pick up on this motif in Orlando. Sandra Gilbert, for example, argues that each change of clothing constitutes an identity for Orlando. 5 For several articles giving serious thought as to how we might reconsider Woolf’s impact on contemporary American feminist thought, see the special issue called “feminist miscellany” of Diacritics, 21.2 (Summer – Fall 1991). See especially Rachel Bowlby and Bette London. 6 London here is concerned that “in remaking Woolf – or any other figure – as mother of feminist literary criticism … we risk creating a mirror to magnify our own achievements” (20). 7 London also points to Judith Newton’s emphasis on A Room of One’s Own as a call for a canon of women’s writing, and she notes as well that Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar extend this project in their work. 8 Woolf parodies the Victorian insistence on bare facts, the resistance to imaginative construction. In “The New Biography” Woolf suggests that, though fiction and biography are conceptually incompatible, they are necessarily always mnterwoven arts. She there recommends the use of what she calls “creative facts” to reconstruct the personality as well as the historical life. 9 Fredrick Harrison, G. H. Lewes, Richard Congreve. 10 For eleven years, starting in the year of Woolf’s birth, Stephen worked on sixty-three volumes of the Dictionary, contributing over 370 entries and editing a mass of others. See Leslie Stephen Men, Books, and Mountains 13. The biographer’s task, for Stephen, was to bring order to the chaos of available material, to provide the framework that would allow the subject to speak for itself. Although Stephen, like Woolf, argued that biography should be classified as an art, he favored a much more condensed and less imaginative approach than the one Woolf chose. 11 She uses this in contradistinction to Morley’s and Stephen’s emphasis on the lives of great men. In “Women and Fiction” Woolf remarks that “the history of England is the history of the male line, not of the female” (44). Her “Lives of the Obscure” gives a female line to women writers, and a history of struggle against social constraint and disappointment. 12 Cited in J. J. Wilson 179. 13 Woolf opts for Coleridge’s model of the “androgynous” artist. She imagines a mind that might be a mixture of male and female gender traits, a mind such as she has just sketched in Orlando (98). She complains that men of her time write with too much of the male side of the brain. She complains, in general, that “it is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly” (104). By merging the two, she argues, the anger that can damage a woman’s writing will be disassembled. 14 See London 20. London makes an important case for turning toward figures besides Woolf in our struggle to revise notions of feminism. While I would not argue to erase Woolf, who seems to operate as a strong map of American feminism’s unconscious and conscious struggles, I would say that by turning to a broader range of figures we might ease up on the more competitive and critical urges that make Woolf a figure who does seem, in a sense, to have grown disproportionately large. 15 Locke promotes the notion of a solid essence, composed of unchanging attributes of the object. This notion of an object’s essence was applied to theories of personal identity into this century. See Book II, chapter 27, where he argues that consciousness (or memory) is alone constitutive of consistent character. David Hume expands on and contradicts Locke’s theories in A Treatise on Human Nature (1739-1740) and An Equity Concerning Human Understanding. In Book I, part IV, section VI of Treatise, he argues that the self is only a fiction that we construct through memory. Hume, however, is invested in refuting religious notions of the soul which Locke’s work supports. Consequently, Hume links the body to the self, whereas Locke insistently separates the two. 16 This moment is not only a coming-out narrative; it is also a feminist gesture. Woolf is placing woman into a national history that largely excluded her, a point she remarks with great energy in Three 33. One might also note, as does Carolyn Heilbrun, that this tribute to Sackville-West goes one step further and returns to her the home and estate she would have inherited had she been male. 17 Within the construct of the story, the cause of Orlando’s sex change is puzzling. It may have been necessary, as Orlando’s only possible escape from the marriage contract found near his body during this trance. Orlando was apparently secretly married to Rosina Pepita, a dancer of uncertain origin, who had borne him several illegitimate children during his stay in Turkey (132). On a broader scale, general social upheaval (the Glorious Revolution of 1689) might suggest the need for transformation. One might even speculate that cross-dressing in Turkish pants, which was not only a favorite trick of Sackville-West’s but a popular practice among English women in the 1920s, linked gender ambiguity and Constantinople in the minds of Woolf’s contemporaries. Karen Lawrence, for example, reads Orlando’s sexual transformation as intricately linked to her trip to Turkey. Marjorie Garber argues that wearing Turkish pants brings about the sex change. Orlando is, however, naked here. Moreover, he seems to have worn English dress at least occasionally. The narrative leaves ambiguous the question of whether or not Orlando wore Turkish dress except before his bath. However it occurs, the sex change stands out as shocking and a-contextual, both in its narrative expression and by virtue of the humor Woolf wrings from such a shock. 18 Sandra Gilbert has argued that “Woolf’s view of clothing implied that costume is inseparable from identity – indeed, that costume creates identity” (394). Gilbert, however, fails to acknowledge the trauma of the transformations in Orlando, and so all tensions between historical, social, and individual determination drop out. 19 I believe that the novel’s title refers to Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, which also deals with questions of cross-dressing. A romantic epic from the Italian Renaissance, Ariosto’s poem was written over the course of his life, starting in 1502 and finishing only some thirty years later at the time of Ariosto’s death. Orlando likewise writes “The Oak Tree” from the novel’s inception, in 1500, until 1928. In Ariosto’s long series of cantos, sensual love is the prevailing passion, as is its analysis in Woolf’s novel. Most significant, however, is the use of cross-dressing in Ariosto’s poem. Marphisa, a fearless and respected woman warrior, dresses as a man, jousts in the wars, and is famous for her ability to fight like a man. Moreover, the women of her city are said to keep the men home, “to ply the distaff, broider, card and sow,/In female gown descending to the feet,/which renders them effeminate and slow” (lxxii in Canto XIX). Gender categories are thus scrambled between cultures as they relate to the performance of cross-dressing. 20 The narrator comically dissents from the view that, if man and woman had “both worn the same clothes, it is possible that their outlook might have been the same too” (188). We are given instead the suggestion that “the difference between the sexes is, happily, one of great profundity. Clothes are but a symbol of something hid deep beneath.” But this opposition breaks down almost immediately in the narrator’s rather haphazard ramblings: “Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place” (189). Clothes, we are told, merely anchor temporarily one side of the androgynous nature to which the parodic oscillations in the narrator’s perspective have given rise. 21 The model to which I refer here is a Freudian notion of developmental, Freudian subjectivity, where personality is formed by early crises. This model is established for Woolf, as I have argued, through Strachey’s work. This fits into a much more precise sketch of social constructiveness in contemporary writings by Michel Foucault, whose work takes up the same concerns that seem to be motivating Woolf. Judith Butler’s work, discussed below, is clearly indebted to Foucault’s own struggle with these questions. 22 At the 1990 International Symposium on James Joyce, Sandra Gilbert read this moment of Woolf’s acceptance of “the new” in contradistinction to Joyce’s repetition of “the old” in Finnegans Wake. (Gilbert’s argument is developed in what I understand to be an early draft of her introduction of her and Susan Gubar’s No Man’s Land, Volume 3, forthcoming from Yale University Press.) In fact, the “new,” as it is invoked here, is accompanied by a return to the old tradition of marriage. Marrying herself to Shelmerdine, Orlando opens herself to new experiences, but she also conforms to tradition. This scene can be misconstrued if not read closely. Sue Roe, for example, argues that “The Oak Tree” “can only be written when Orlando recognizes that she wants to be married, just like everybody else” (97). Roe’s book proves to be one of the best on questions of writing and gender, but here she makes a disturbing slip. 23 In fact, depending on the aggression and application of its gesture, parody is seen as either bitingly satirical or benignly ironic. It can be light-hearted and playful or, per Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” model, willfully aggressive toward its target. Both Margaret Rose and Linda Hutcheon are concerned with this ambivalence. Butler builds her notion of parody off of a more deconstructive model, one that emphasizes the play in parodic gestures. See Richard Kearney’s and also Jacques Derrida’s formulations of parody in Spurs. Derrida most powerfully develops a notion of parody implicitly in “Double.” 24 Butler points out that “the deconstruction of identity is not the deconstruction of politics; rather, it establishes as political the very terms through which identity is articulated” (147, 148, passim).


Dickens’ Estella and Brontë‘s Catharine and the Evil Representation of Victorian Femme Fatale as an Aspect of Gothicism

In My Research Papers & Essays on February 13, 2011 at 8:33 am



This paper seeks to apply the characteristic of ‘Femme Fatale’ as an aspect of Gothic Fiction on Victorian female characters, whom rarely had been labeled as gothic women. The Femme Fatale is known for her mysterious and seductive personality that ensures her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, however this often led them to tragic death or forsakenness as soon as they satisfy her egoism! So far her ability to mesmerize her men is indicated throughout history as supernatural power, some books referred to her as witch and vampire and others as monstrous creature or even a demon. Hitherto it was away before the mid-eighteenth century, the Femme Fatale personality had developed into a new conception to persevere the demands used by novelist and intellectuals in exposing the Victorian socioeconomics environment. Besides, the paper studies the twisted qualities of Femme fatale from a blood-spattered seductive woman towards a charming educated lady who disobeys authority of patriarchal man’s stream in Great England. In quotations the paper tries to Gothicize certain characters ‘Estella Havisham’ in Dickens’ Great Expectations (1860) and the character of ‘Catherine Earnshaw’ in the novel of Wuthering Heights (1847).


Although several studies have appeared over the last decade or so, on female characters of Victorian fiction, however, minority has fully referred to the relationship to some of them as gothic women. Thus, this research paper concerns about the aspect of analyzing the ‘evil’ representations by two different heroines ‘Estella Havisham’ and ‘Catherine Earnshaw’ as females whom been investigated within as gothic women of nineteenth-century fiction. Both characters demonetarized of what distinctively called a ‘Femme Fatal’ in types of behavior during the modern revival of its conception. Besides, this research paper examines the dissimilar production throughout the novels fabrication by each novelist individually, where they produced their socio-cultural environment through the quality of women’s Fatalism. Together Charles Dickens and Emily Brontë had exemplified a new adjustment over their protagonists to represent new classifications in the novels of Great Expectations (1860) and Wuthering Heights (1847) Dickens, as a male presenter of ‘Estella’s’ fatalism opposed to Bronte as the womanish presentation of ‘Catharine’. Hence, the assumption of their novels, had realistically represented social norms and great deal of Victorianism, moreover women had been accurately portrayed in the subordinate social position that norms and mores had relegated them forwards by the femme fatale qualities.

Review of the Literature

Both of Harmon and Holman defined the word ‘Gothic’ in their book The Handbook to Literature, to its various referents by each contextual usage. The term Gothic refers (1) In history as a language, to Goth specification of Germanic tribes all through ancient times, then the meaning was broadened to mean Teutonic[1] and later medieval[2] (2) In architecture its modern referent to the art of medievalism movement which portrays the revival of its constructions (3) In Literature, fundamentally refers to a genre[3] in which horror and romance are main elements (241-42).

In another hand, Gothic fiction is Largely approved as the first Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s publication of The Castle of Otranto (1764) which remains the perfect source of Gothic conventions, and the piece that influencing writers up to the present day. Mostly Walpole’s novel contains supernatural incidences, huge bleak castles, and complicated characters with emotional sublimity bring in all the familiar “Gothic trappings” of tradition (Snodgrass 11). As Elizabeth MacAndrew noted;

…The first work in a conventional genre not itself conventional, but an innovative break from the past, subtitling his work ‘A Gothic Tale,’ Walpole consciously labeled his writing to use a term still associated at the time with barbarism[4] and the ‘Dark Ages’.  (275)

Progressively Gothic fiction expanded to cover diverse portions, where its effect depends thoroughly on “pleasing sort of terror, an extension of essentially Romantic literary pleasures with prominent features including psychological and physical fear, mystery, supernatural elements” (Snodgrass 19). Yet, the aspect of deadly-woman or a ‘Femme Fatale’ is earliest term recorded in the English language -borrowed from French- in 1912.

A modern study done to clarify that the expression ‘fatale’ is etymologically linked to ‘fate’, and the Fates are three ancient goddesses who regulate birth, life, change and regeneration- the cycle of the existence. Thus universally, the term femme fatale refers to a popular creation of the Fates. Except that patriarchal judgments grouped woman into two; “good girls” are associated with niceness and toothlessnessty whereas a “bad girl” or femme fatal is always a dangerous abyss, the black hole and the one that has some bite. In short, the femme fatal represents as outlawed form of female divinity, influence, brilliance, sexual agency, independence, vengeance and death-power (Caput 328-29).

Part One: Femme Fatale and Reasons behind Revival

English literature reached its peek by the age of Victoria; fiction was an abundant felid for authors and thinkers to inscribed. Thus due the period many themes are exposed with many reasons to explain why one of Gothic aspects the ‘Femme Fatal’ had attracted and still so much interest among the readers. Assumingly, it’s the new femme fatale unique characteristic that differs from the fixed portrayals dangerous gothic woman of the old medieval themes, whom is easily figured out and categorized!

Due the modern revival, Victorian Fatal Females gained the obscurity of socioeconomic class by violating the boundaries of law boldly, mockingly, and rebelliously. Wherever these actions were an extreme prohibition towards the patriarchic England (Hedgecock xviii). Yet again the personality spins on the Victorian femme fatale is unlike the old concept of martyred fallen woman, however she scars or threats but she never wearies the reader by the curiosity to unravel her mystery nor to have power over her. Hence a predictable conclusion the femme fatale will always be rewarded with tragic endings or short living victory, as reasons for her deceitful conspiracy and rubbing benefits of a wealthy man who was in love with her and whom she arrogantly destroyed (Hedgecock 1-3).

Over again the mid-nineteenth-centaury fatalistic women are different from old historical figures; her feminine and incurable nature does not always bear a sexuality, which is obviously rapacious; she instead represents more importantly some social and cultural changes, by the myriad problems of Victorian society. Subsequently the femme fatale of the eighteenth-century is introduced as; middle class educated woman, who enters mainstreams of Victorian culture without being detected as dangerous or deadly.

At first she needs sort of sneakiness because the necessity of power and suppressive force of patriarchal judgments. Therefore she is young and attractive, so far dangerous with border used to persuasive a blend into society. Until the plot develops, usually other characters reared her as innocence lady for her reticent manners and modest physical appearance (Hedgecock Ch. 1).

Jan Marsh[1] in her book The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood[2] contends that the image of the femme fatale became a crucial figure in the Pre-Raphaelites vocabulary as well as that of the decadents. She says:

…Gazed, fascinated but repelled, at women of a curious frigidity, cold but sensual, erotic but invulnerable.'” and that “‘Their attitudes are piped with a fear of female malevolence, and characteristically they attempt to control this fear by boiling down the variety of the individual experience into the image of a single symbolic figure.  (144)

However, Marsh also recognizes that in this:

…Boiled down” femme fatale, “women are rendered decorative, depersonalized; they become passive figures rather than characters in a story or drama… women are reduced to an aesthetic arrangement of sexual parts, for male fantasies.  (145)

Marsh’s words direct smartly a spotlight to common features of Victorian femme fatale chrematistics; she summed up in lines the universal themes of the all-new woman by the beginning of the late eighteenth-century to the modern world. On the other hand, in the book of the Femme Fatale in Victorian Literature: the Danger and the Sexual Threat. Jennifer Hedgecock established persuasively that:

…Being a “femme fatale” was neither caused by nor was a simple reflection of such a woman’s moral failings; it was instead a rejection of their condition of “fallenness” and of their limited economic options—a conscious strategy adopted to secure for themselves the social position and standard of living possessed by comfortable middle-class women.  (11)

Also, Hedgecock explains how the existing social regulations are so circumscribed a woman’s life possibilities that conflicts between those within the reigning social order and those on the margins of it were inevitable:

…Given women’s constrained possibilities and the society’s exclusionary presuppositions about them, donning a respectable disguise to hide one’s manipulative striving for success could conceivably be construed by a Victorian woman to be a rational strategy.”  (13)

Part Two: Estella as a Victorian Femme Fatale

In a period of time, when middle-class women begin organizing more radical feminist movements[3] in his Great Expectations, Charles Dickens reflected this outcome by his creation of Estella’s fatalistic character. Dickens designated her as dangerous as feminine as the new femme fatale materialized due the era of Victoria. The personality of Estella is the literary signpost of the changing roles of woman in the nineteenth-century fiction, and which later foreshadows protestation against society’s treatment of woman.

As a quality of femme fatale, Estella’s portrayal is quite disturbing as her detachment and unemotional self-analysis has resulted in her being described as “unnatural” and “monstrous” (qtd. In Holbrook, 482). In the book of Dissenting Women in Dickens’ Novels: The Subversion of Domestic Ideology, the ‘She-Dragon’[4] is Ayres’s personal definition over the character of Estella, whish implies Femme fatale characteristics, he declares;

Estella is the exact opposite of an angel-in-the-house. Instead of submissive, she is willful and domineering. Instead of gentle, kind, and tender, she is calculating, malicious, and hard. Instead of reserved, she is acrimonious. Instead of internalizing her suffering, as was expected of a good Victorian woman, she inflicts suffering on men. Instead of using her beauty and her inner qualities of strength to attract men for their own good, she attracts men for her own purpose. This is not to imply that Estella is a healthy, assertive prototype of the nineteenth-century woman. She is, nonetheless, a woman who has been trained to garner agencies of female power and to use them to balance the scales.  (9)

Besides, Dickens’ astounding implication in his novel suggested, to a degree in which an independent like Estella is viewed as a threat to the fabric of Victorian culture. In Great Expectations with, “‘You must know,’ said Estella, condescending to me as a beautiful woman might, ‘that I have no heart- if that has anything to do with my memory.'” (235; ch. 29).  Estella in the quote discloses her incapability of love to Pip or anybody else because she was not taught to love herself at very beginning of her childhood, she justifies her picture of Love, as a prohibited feeling to admit, a public humiliation and an indication of self-weakness. Hence, by emphasizing on the harmful effects of restrain and passivity on woman through Estella’s characterization, lead us to take a look at the complicated roles that woman play due the Victorian society.

Estella in the same way as a lethal woman, and a new revival over the form of femme fatale, is a part of this evolving assertiveness on the part of woman roles. She is as an accurate disturbance out of the damaged reality of her patriarchal society. Seeing that quote of her says; “‘so,’ said Estella, ‘I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.” (356; Ch. 38).

Yet her certifying lines “I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born in opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality, and against the arguments of my best friends.” (29; Ch. 4). Entails a declaration on her developed state of rebellion dissatisfaction, within her respond to Pip, she presented these unconstrained woman of nineteenth-century whom are breaking both legal and moral laws as they struggle for self-reliance.

In the same way as a nineteenth upper-class lady she is a single and highly educated, and as a femme fatale she has escaped the polar definition of domestic or fallen woman- is a threat to bourgeois ideology in where she threatens to destroy the structure of the family and obscure the definitions assigned to domestic woman (qtd. In Hedgecock, 9). However, Jarmuth argued that Estella marries Drummble in order to gain his wealth and title (173).  Her decision to marry him can only be explained as an overt act of self-destruction. She is cognizant of the fact that he is inferior to her in every way, and she realizes that he will physically abuse her, where her assumption in its place.  As the quote uncovers;

‘For I have seen you give him looks and smiles this very night, such as you never give to- me.’ ‘Do you want me then,’ said Estella, turning suddenly with a fixed and serious, if not angry, look, ‘to deceive and entrap you?’ ‘Do you deceive and entrap him Estella?’ ‘Yes, and many others-all of them but you.’  (307; ch. 38)

During this chit frank dialogue, Pip was questioning Estella, ‘why?’ being a wolf in meek. So far, it reveals Estella’s inner intonation as a femme fatale, who is a bitter manipulative cold woman, in addition to a mocking vindictive towards affectionate feelings such being in love.

Part Three: Catherine Eranshaw as Victorian Femme Fatale

The same approach can be found in Emily Brontë’s depiction of the central heroine of Wuthering Heights.  Catherine Earnshaw, who from her early days is far from being a lady of a natural eminent virtue, is placed evidently through the genealogy of Gothic heroines.

As a feminine presentation, and as a knower of women’s impediments, Emily Brontë constructed her femme fatale, Catherine as a character that cannot be placed in categories of good and evil, but is instead a complex character. This involved complexity demonstrates to audiences that women have the right to be complex and yet very complicated to be defined or categorized. Hence, here comes into sight the first fresh feature of new Victorian femme fatale by a female novelist.

Catharine or Cathy does not follow the stereotypical moral injunction; instead, she is divided into (as well as between) her lovers, and struggles to have them both; she cannot choose one of them, but wants them to co-exist in her life; in Wuthering Heights, “Well, if I cannot keep Heathcliff for my friend–if Edgar will be mean and jealous, I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own. That will be a prompt way of finishing all, when I am pushed to extremity!” (107; Ch. 11). This quotation reveals an anti-thesis of a conventional Victorian heroine. Catharine is violent, passionate and not afraid to voice loud her opinions, and this is what the new femme fatal all about. Because, Femme fatal has this obscurity of socioeconomic class which violets the law boundaries, daringly, and rebelliously.

Catherine’s very persona exudes dark desire, as a feature of femme fatality, which was a daring literary step for Bronte to take; it predestined violation where it meant to be a “good” woman. Thus she constantly criticized for not being an ideal to look up to she is manipulative and capricious; “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath..” (74; Ch. 9)

Subsequently, Catharine, shifted in her adulthood, to gain the ability to be cruel and manipulative and yet still be pursued and loved, “Terror made me cruel; and finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes…” (22; Ch. 3) and she confuses again in:

If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it…Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.  (74;Ch. 9)

Where she flouts society’s definitions of what is morally appropriate by daring to love daring to love two men, her proclamations of love for Heathcliff are almost transcendental in their timbre, especially when she claims that they are one and the same person. Unlike the femme fatale Estella Havisham, Conger found that Catharine Earnshaw got ability to have internal conflicts, “increases the psychological complexity of the Gothic heroine, and broadens immeasurably the bounds within which femininity may move”(qtd. In Fleenor, 100).

However, though facing internal conflicts, these conflicts arise from the heroines’ struggle against the external world (Gilbert and Gubar 274).  This education is one, which is upon all ladies of society, designed to repress the desires of the original self. When Catherine is forced to learn this lesson, it causes a fragmentation of her personality, doubling her identity and led to Fatalism.

Catherine’s eventual decision to marry Edgar Linton, both Gilbert and Gubar argue, was not actually a choice, but instead a product of her forced education. She is not given any meaningful choices, as she herself perceives that marrying Heathcliff would turn them both into beggars, and there are no other men of status in the area:

It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire. (73;Ch. 9)

Catharine Earnshaw her by this actions can no longer be rewarded for good. As a Victorian femme fatale is must rewarded for her dishonesty and manipulation, and for the wealth benefits from men who destroyed, lead her to tragic ending, short lived life- death.

The Victorian re-invention of a ‘fatal woman’ is noticeably resulted from the anxiety growth within women of Victoria during her conformation against the patriarchal domination over England along advent of the feminism movement. Thus, the damage of sexes power-balance has threaten the fixed submissive nature of women at that period, and thus it had been replaced by a spiritual formulation on femme fatale whom became a powerful prototype for the New Woman in England at nineteenth century (Fleenor iv).

Therefore, the similarity that both ‘Estella Havisham’ and ‘Catherine Earnshaw’ shared, and which had been presented by Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte as Femme Fatale is by terror they had subjected, in order to form a character be worthy of discovery.  On the other hand, Gilbert and Gubar[5] explained somehow that upon entering into sexual identity in a patriarchal world, a woman must learn to repress her own impulses, and must girdle her own energies with the iron stays of ‘reason’ (101).

Works Cited

Ayres, Brenda. Dissenting Women in Dickens’ Novels: The Subversion of Domestic Ideology. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1982.

Caputi, Jane. Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power, and Popular Culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin/Popular, 2004.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. N.p.: n.p., 1964. Print.

Fleenor, Juliann E. The Female Gothic. Montréal: Eden, 1983.

Gilbert, Sandra and Gubar, Susan. “The Female Imagination and the Modernist Aesthetic.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 1986, 13:1-2.

Harmon, William, C. Hugh Holman, and William Flint Thrall. A Handbook to Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Hedgecock, Jennifer. The Femme Fatale in Victorian Literature: the Danger and the Sexual Threat. Amherst, NY: Cambria, 2008.

Holbrook, David. Charles Dickens and the Image of Woman. New York: New York UP, 1993.

Jarmuth, Sylvia L. Dickens’ Use of Women in His Novels. New York: Excelsior Publishing Company, 1986.

MacAndrew, Elizabeth. The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 1979.

Marsh, Jan. The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. New York: St. Martin’s, 1985.

Syndy McMillen Conger, “The Reconstruction of the Gothic Feminine Ideal in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights”, in Juliann E. Fleenor (ed.), The Female Gothic, Montreal: Eden Press, 1983, reprinted in E. McNees, (ed.), op. cit., vol. 2, 415. See also Lyn Pykett, op. cit., 66-67.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature. New York: Facts on File, 2005.

[1] Is a biographer specializing in artists and writers. She has written extensively on the Pre-Raphaelite circle, including a major biography of Christina Rosetti, and also been guest curator for exhibitions of Victorian art.

[2] For further reading, Marsh, Jan. The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. New York: St. Martin’s, 1985.

[3] Also known as the Women’s Movement, Women’s Liberation, or Women’s Lib, refers to a series of campaigns which reforms on issues on Women rights.

[4] For further reading, Brenda Ayres, Dissenting Women in Dickens’ Novels: The Subversion of Domestic Ideology (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998)

[5] Award-winners and now classic studiers on patterns of influence and indebtedness among women novelists and poets including Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson.  Gilbert is primarily responsible for chapters on poetry; Gubar on prose

[1] Relating to the ancient Teutons, or the Germanic languages or their speakers

[2] Also known as Middle Ages, a period of European history from the 5th -15th century

[3] A term for any category of literature, as well as various other forms of art or culture

[4] A primitive culture that lacks major signs of economic development or modernity


Meaning and Logic: A Cross-cultural paper on the Logic of English and Arabic Double Negative Functions

In My Research Papers & Essays on February 12, 2011 at 8:25 am

A 3 pages length paper on a cross cultural Semantic grammars,  the professor asked us to limit the scope of the study on only one filed of Linguistics,  so i did not use any phonological transcriptions or PS rules in order to elaborate. wishing its helpful! = )


Under logical correspondence, Languages have various ways to express Meanings. Semantics studies the linguistic meaning of morphemes, words, phrases and sentences whereas Logic is the science of clear thinking and correct reasoning. It is used to determine the relations between statements, and to obtain conclusions from true statements (Zanuttini, Campos, et al., 2006). Moreover AlKuhli provides that reasoning principles depend heavily on meaning and thus, semantics and logic are strongly related (2002). The purpose of this paper is to perceive certain aspect of how meaning and logic are interrelated through ‘Negators’ and the aspect of using ‘doubled negation’ in English grammar, besides its functioning with Arabic Standard Grammar. By following the universal logical rule of [not -(not-p) = p] a two negatives are used in one sentence, the negatives are understood to cancel one another and produce a weakened affirmative (Exell, 1998).

Language universality comprises some words or expressions that cannot be referring expression – RE[1] or predicating expression– PE[2]. Words like (and, or, but, if, all, some and not) cannot be RE’s nor PE’s so they are called ‘Logical words’, AlKuhli (2002). To stop at a fact that all languages have logical words and all then have negation forms. Negators in English are mainly (not, never, no) and some morphemes are used to negate by opposition. However, The main focus derived to the term of Double Negative and it’s functioning in English standard and nonstandard Grammar with an application to Arabic Grammar as a cross-linguistical valid appliance rule. Since the logic of Negators is a universal aspect yet the usage of duality can be applied to some languages and not to others. As English double negatives rule cancel one another and produce an affirmative sense or makes stronger negative, the Arabic Grammar has sort of functional similarities.

In Standard English[3], Prof. J. L. Austin conducted in a lecture of Oxford (1990) that a double negative makes a positive, but none in which a double positive makes a negative. Yet, Robert Lowth observed first in 1762, the validity of a double negative occurrence with two forms of negation in the same clause. For instance, “I do not disagree” could mean, “I certainly agree” and “I didn’t see nothing,” similar to the meaning of “I saw something”, also “she is not unattractive” does not mean “she is ugly”. And as a logical application of the rule [not -(not-p) = p] is explained on ‘this lady is attractive.’

P = this lady is attractive.

Not-P = this lady is not an attractive.

Not- (Not-P)=It is not true that this lady is not an attractive=this lady is attractive= positive.

To Arabic standard Grammar, this rule is a valid application since Arabic Grammarians already have negations’ logic within the language, for instance;

P= [Asstatee’ ann aqool alhaq]                    “ I can say the truth”

Not- P= [La Asstate’e ann aqool alhaq]         “ I cannot say the truth”

Not-(Not-P)= [La Asstate’e ann La aqool Alhaq] “I cannot to not say the truth”

The out-coming result of the example shows how the Arabic negator [La] is to negate the 1st action and the repetition of [La] again is to negate the 2nd action that leads to a result of an affirmative phrase.

However the usage differs when it comes to Non-standard English where the rule of double negative is to produce emphasis of stronger negative. For example “I won’t not disappoint you” is the same, as “I won’t disappoint you” because here the use of one negative is enough to convey the meaning yet the other ‘not’ is to emphasize. This rule also is applicable to Arabic Standard Grammar. By using the repetitious insertion of precluded Not (Maa Alnafeia) which refers to the English meaning ‘To Not’, like [Maa maa zied Qadem] explained under the same previous logical rule;

P= [Zaid Qadem]         “Zaid is coming”

Not- P= [Ma Zaid Qadem]            “ Zaid is not coming”

Not-(Not-P)= [Ma Ma Zaid Qadem]                                 “ Zaid doesn’t not coming”

Therefore Arabic Grammarians set more rules over double negative forms where the usage of double Negators is not an obligation. By negating the Negators in the same clause; will result to wither positive statement or opposition.  Some forms of the rule are in (1) Condemnational Interrogation within a context of negation (Al-Estefham Al-Enkari); when a negative phrase is preceded by interrogation to disapprove, it makes an affirmative concept. This form mostly founded in Qur’anic verses as this translated verse “Is not God enough for His servant?” (The Cliques, 36), and its transliteration [Alys Allah Bekafn Abdh?] logically leads to meaning ‘God is the whole sufficient’. (2) The function of the preposition ‘about to do’ is called the rule of [Khada] in Arabic Grammar. It has many functions, though one of them is to negate its phrase in order to produce a positive. For instance [Khada Ahmad ann yamoot] means “Ahmad was about to die” by using the preposition about to in English gives the same meaning in Arabic that ‘he was about to die yet the result he did not’. Moreover, Arabic grammar has another negation form (3) by [ghair] which is similarly in meaning to English ‘Not’, yet Arabic [ghair] doesn’t negate fully but it does give a negation or opposite context. As [hatha Amrun ghairu saheeh] could possibly mean [Amrun khathib] translated to ‘this is not untrue’ could mean ‘true’.

Hence the Negators Logic of two negative in one phrase unified with meaning to produce an understandable phrase to both hearers/readers. Semantics meaning depends on rules of Logic in order to identify exactly the meaning of the context and to avoid ambiguity.

[1] Is any NP, or surrogate for NP whose function in a text, its to “pick out” an individual person, place, object, or a set of persons, places, objects, etc.

[2] is an expression that evaluates to true or false

[3] Refers to whatever form of the English language is accepted as a national norm in an Anglophone country, it encompasses grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.



I lost this part somewhere in my files, so its updated!

‘A Business of Misery’ part 1 from the buttom.

In Lacrimosaic Me on February 10, 2011 at 11:25 am

its not only yesternight, where i realized how poorly miserable is me. Since it had been a long while, long enough, 7 years maybe or more when i stared my business in misery. the ironic thing here is though the long term of experience i still make no good, i keep falling and refalling harder than never! swallowed by agony and mistrust deep inside the abyss, alone and lonely!  but business is awesomer this time, for the latest devastating action took place  in my semi-deadable life at the same while where poor me was about to quit and start a viva fresh luminous phony one, at the celebritious moment i had divorced of my past 4  hellish years with those hateful mortals of collage and with my fresh stunning graduation! Alas, im cursed till my death! my youngest sister S, the headstogest among us, was almost dead! if she wasn’t and if she wasn’t reborned by a merciful miracle.  its all started with her being diagnosed by Wilson’s disease, a liver inability to expelled copper!  long story short, she got an acute liver failure!! and 16th of July 2010 its recorded as a dark day of my darkest.  My S, my dear S now is lost, however, she got a  miraculous successful liver transplantation, a month followed an invasion of seizures attacked her poor brain to topple her 4 more months in ICU with a total cognitive loss! O Lord! its 8 months since then, i hadn’t heard her voice or saw her adorable smile! its a time where her shadow hints me at night, when i do my hair, when i eat dark chocolate and using my iPod! and more killing whenever i smile! whenever i feel high and whenever I Try To Forget! I am so unable to live normally without feeling the guilt of living without her presence next to us, her sisters! im sick of avoiding to look at her bed, room, boxes, laptop, her stylish pieces and her favorite music and anime! not even her mangic drownings! my hearts is ripped each time i push the button ‘S’ in my keyboard! My Lord, i would not dare saying why, but i wished it was me who lost her memories! i wished its me who dies! i wished its me and not her! S, my S was all full of life, happiness and energy, she loves to live, she used to love living! she was a happy teenager, not like the gloomy me, never like me. i am so sick of watching her a dead walking body, a soul-less entity, a numb skeleton of once a happy healthy past! i cannot bare setting next to her, trying to kiss what left of her bony checks! or even try after a war to hug her tightly without a fear of smashing her body! im sick of her laying in the whitish bed at D4-KFSH, im sick of the hospitalic sterile, noises of alarms and bounces, painful cries! –

i   w o n d e r,  would it reach an end! my misery?  – </3

Tears Idle Tears,

In Lacrimosaic Me on February 10, 2011 at 8:56 am

openquote And you can’t fight the tears that ain’t coming,
Or the moment of truth in your lies,
When everything feels like the movies,
Yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive… closequote

– Goo Goo Dolls, Iris

Bulliet’s New Perspective Case of ‘Islamo-Christian Civilization’ against Huntington’s and Lewis’s Western Dogmatism

In My Research Papers & Essays on February 10, 2011 at 6:10 am

This Paper had been submitted as a fulfillment of the course of Islamic civilization and the West. I was squeezed and running out of time, i had a litterateur analysis over Richard W Bulliet’s Book, only the first two chapters. I am planing to develop this paper, once i find the time. Enjoy it


September 11, 2001 is never like any September for America! It was a titanic storm of ambivalent feelings spread throughout the globe! Mixed with Western deep emotions of being betrayed, stabbed in the back with the emotion of cheer in devious mountains caves in the East. There, once again the old black confrontations restarted and the two civilizations rushed to their history, only rushed to approve what they think are justifying reasons!

Thus, Richard W. Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia University and former director of its Middle East Institute, swallowed by an overwhelming urge to do something supportive to America as any resident after the cataclysm of the World Trade Center (Bulliet vii). Richard W. Bulliet attempted by publishing the book of The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization to detach any American confusion after 9/11 attacks. In spite of his quarrel that the book was not an “apologist for terrorism”(Kevin 1), he found it an opportunity to share with the globe his new case of ‘Islamo-Christian Civilization’. Along with a scientific disputation against the analogous dogmatism of Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis towards Islam and Muslims nation.

Bulliet is noticeably irenic in his contribution. Despite the marginalization of U.S medias, he brought a new perspective towards Islamo–European relations which diverged many Islamo-phobics. He came-up with a fresh analytical vision in the historical interactions between Islam and Christianity, and as a historian; he discriminated the fundamental relations of Islam in the Middle East with Christianity in Western Europe. A statement by Bulliet declared that ‘History is not Destiny’! (p. 6) intensified the West’s acknowledgment of “Judeo-Christian civilization” and asserted a faith on the civilizational reconciliations via the case of “Islamo-Christian civilization”. Shortly, Bulliet accept as a truth that past is not restricted by our ancestors, past is over and we can create a future where foes of the olden times are the friends of the tomorrow. He supported his statement by selected incidents; like the old reciprocated animosity between Christendom and Jews and again with Russia “rejoining” Europe after the fall of Soviet Union affords a comparison (p. 6-11).

Yet, Bulliet’s indifferentism led to a conciliatory tone advocated to Islam unlike Huntington’s and Lewis’s ones, which deliberately distorted and boasted Western superiority!  In Bulliet’s perceptions both of Huntington and Lewis promoted unfair confrontational theories regarding Islam and Muslims during the recent years and particularly after the 9/11. Thus Bulliet intended by the case to mend Western’s Islamic image before youths of West misapprehend the actualities! To argue with Islamo-phobics Bulliet provided evidence to the siblinghoodness of Christendom-Islam by a concise indication to ‘Abrahamic Religions’ that no religious conviction is primitive, we are all ‘Christians, Muslims, and Jews’ share the same origin. And in order to sustain this argument, Bulliet stated; “‘Islamo-Christian Civilization’…Intertwining of sibling societies enjoying sovereignty in neighboring geographical regions and following parallel historical trajectories.” (p. 10).

Bulliet as a prologue to his Case, rebutted Samuel Huntington’s[1] thesis “A Clash of Civilizations”, by arguing; “Civilizations that are destined to clash cannot seek together a common future” (p. 5). He assumed there is no authenticity in Huntington’s based-comparable thesis between Islamic nation in the Middle East and “…an idealized ‘Western Civilization’ based on Democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and globalization, with economic, social, and political structure…” (p. 2) and that Huntington’s scheme is never fluctuated from the old prevailed cosmic theories of modernity due to the Post-War I-II secularism. Moreover, Richard Bulliet found out a coincidental employment of civilizational clash-ness similar to the Protestant missioner Basil Mathew’s Young Islam on Trek: A Study in the Clash of Civilizations.  Although both Huntington and Mathew might vary still they made-up a resembled salvation for youthful Muslims by the first in Secularization of Islam and the other in Protestant Christianity. Hence, Bulliet objected Huntington and Mathew impractical solutions to liberalized Islam or any other creed; “It is hard to strip religious terms of religious contents” (p. 2-5). For the inevitability of civilizational class-ness goes against the Nature of World! Yet, Civilization is never confined to a certain nation, race, or religion. It is pot to various cultures and different origins of ideologies (Altweejry 2).

The historical question of Bernard Lewis “what went wrong?” is a fictitious expression according to Richard Bulliet! In the second chapter of the book, Bulliet stated a consideration versus Lewis’s analysis following 9/11 aftermath. In his statement “Its important to ask the right questions, but one cannot do so until one has explained why the question that is currently being asked does not work.” (p. 47) Bulliet drawn a vital wonder into the readers’ consideration when it comes to debate; especially into the case of Middle East to; “whose perspective is involved when the question is raised for the Middle East?” (p. 48). For Lewis in his book What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response[2] hypothesized a belief where Muslims are resentful of the West’s advanced civilization that exceeded Islamic nation in the East.  But in the prospect of Bulliet, Lewis’s assessment is erroneous for several reasons. First, the relation between Muslims and the West is prehistoric, and none can deny the geographical or the historical background. Second, Western Europe itself passed through evolution that produced cultural models like Nazism and Fascism, regardless of West it-self did not know which direction to chase. So, how Muslims and Arab nations are resented! Nevertheless, Bulliet fearlessly proclaimed Lewis’s question of “What Went Wrong?” answered itself by its self!  He addressed Lewis by “ …It’s not the unnamed ‘people in the Islamic world’, but rather Lewis himself.” (p. 53). What Bulliet meant by his address is say publicly that the actuality of the only ‘wrongness’ is in Lewis’s mind! Who observed the issue from his western dogmatic angle! Because Bulliet found the dilemma lied not only in the Arab and Islamic communities but also in the West and America (p. 55).

To sum up, Richard Bulliet sought after a rational peace in the case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. Opposed noted intellectualists of America like Samuel Huntington the instigator of “Clash of Civilization” and the orientalist Bernard Lewis for their factitious Western idealist beliefs towards Middle East and Muslims Civilization. In a scientific debate Bulliet’s book provided a fair deal of historical records, however, the book is not error-free. For example, when Bulliet referred to Islamism’s rapid triumphant in the Eastern countries for Muslims were fortunate enough to not have Pagan trips! Unlike the Christendom proceeding to the Pagan trips in Western Countries.  It is so untrue, Arab countries were extremely Pagan and Islam suffered its share!

Works Cited

Beck, Kevin A. “The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization: A Review – Kevin A. Beck.” Presence: a Center of Learning for Personal Transformation. Web. 28 Dec. 2010.

Bulliet, Richard W. The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. New York: Columbia UP, 2004. Print.

Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, 1993. Web.

Lewis, Bernard. Islam and the West. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.

“صراع الحضارات في المفهوم الإسلامي.” Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – ISESCO –. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Jan. 2011. <http://www.isesco.org.ma/arabe/publications/Civ/page6.php&gt;.

[1] Samuel Huntington coined the phrase “Clash of Civilizations” in the early 1990s after the fall of Communism, when the growing power of Islam as a civilization and geopolitical force was beginning to challenge Western hegemony

[2] Released in January 2002, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attack, but written shortly before. The nucleus of this book appeared as an article published in The Atlantic Monthly in January 2002.

In Interludes on February 10, 2011 at 4:25 am

If I were thinking clearly, Leonard,

I would tell you that I wrestle alone in the dark, in the deep dark, and that only I can know. Only I can understand my condition. You live with the threat, you tell me you live with the threat of my extinction. Leonard, I live with it too.

A Blogger, Finally

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2011 at 11:45 am

I am Here.