Monday, April 19, 2010

The beginning of a post

If I tried to save these notes until a finished draft was ready, they'd never get published. Here's what I have so far.

I watched Coco Before Chanel last night, which is part of what got me thinking on this subject. At the end of the movie, a line of text appears informing the reader that Coco Chanel never married. This is followed by information about her career and about how she successfully broke into a male-dominated world. I felt a flash of annoyance like, "Where in this text does it fit in that she never married? Why is that the first line?" Because to a lot of movie watchers, that's important. When I first heard a friend talk about the movie, she told me it was a sad movie because Coco does not marry her lover. If she did marry her lover, but her career tanked, would we still call it a sad movie?

I am not sure at which point in my life I stopped identifying with Disney princesses (have I ever blogged about how I also wanted to be blonde and blue-eyed when I grew up?), but at some point I crossed over to where I identified with characters like Audrey Tautou's portrayal of Coco Chanel. Successful, driven women who say things like, "I don't intend to ever marry."

When I was 22, I wrote a term paper about The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and a second Victorian novel, whose name and author I won't name so that I don't spoil the story for anyone. The title of the term paper was "A World Outside of Loving." The title came from the following passage, spoken by George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver:
I don't know what may be in years to come. But I begin to think there can never come much happiness to me from loving; I have always had so much pain mingled with it. I wish I could make myself a world outside it, as men do.

In the second Victorian novel covered by this term paper, the author does everything she can to marginalize her main character. Which Victorian authors seemed to love doing. Make the character a woman, make her an orphan, make her a feminist ahead of her time, make her homely, make her poor. If these authors were writing today, their heroines would be biracial and growing up someplace like rural Kansas.

Toward the end of the novel in question, the marginalized heroine experiences a miracle; she finds a man who can love her and whom she loves back. But he has to go on a voyage before they can get married.

The novel ends with a cryptic description of a storm at sea and something dramatic like, "Oh, the tragedy!" Most readers use this as evidence that the heroine's love died at sea, leaving her further marginalized and reinforcing the point that misfits like this character are doomed to be lonely.

One of the key points of my term paper was this: Maybe the heroine's lover did not die at sea but returned safely and married her. I argued that the tragedy was the heroine's loss of independence. For if there's one strength these poor, homely, orphaned, marginalized characters have, it's the incredible independence and resourcefulness that they gain as a result of having no one to depend on.

I have more to say on this topic, but that's all for now.

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