"Alternative Selves" and Authority in the Fiction of Jane Urquhart
The article engages with "alternative selves," a concept found in The Stone Carvers by a Canadian writer, Jane Urquhart. Her fiction is first seen in the context of selected texts by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro, who explore the clash between female characters' conventional roles and their "secret" selves. My analysis was inspired by Pamela Sue Anderson's A Feminist Philosophy of Religion, which stresses the need for "reinventing ourselves as other" in the face of biased beliefs and dominant epistemology. In particular, my article refers to Anderson's concern with Kant's imaginary from The Critique of Pure Reason, where "the territory of pure understanding" is projected on the island, while desire, chaos and death are identified with the sea. Seen through the prism of a feminist reading of the philosophical imaginary, the sea becomes the female beyond. Urquhart's three novels: Away, The Stone Carvers and A Map of Glass dissolve the opposition between Kantian island and water, by showing how reason is invaded by desire and death, and how the female protagonist embodies the elements that have been repressed. Urquhart's fiction, which is "landscape driven," provides the image of a dynamic relationship between the qualities that form a static binary opposition in Kantian discourse. Mary in Away, Klara in The Stone Carvers and Sylvia in A Map of Glass all subvert the dominant epistemology by following their desire, which becomes "a positive energy" and not "a deviation from a good rational norm," to refer to another concept by Anderson. Urquhart's Mary, Klara and Sylvia have to contend with power vested in collective beliefs and stereotypical construction of femininity. By venturing into the liminal zone beyond the territory of "pure understanding," the three protagonists regain their voices and discover their authority. The article ends with the analysis of a Homeric intertext in A Map of Glass, where Sylvia identifies with Odysseus "lashed to mast" so that he would not respond to the call of the siren song. Reading Homer's passage on the siren song, one realizes that the use of the Kantian imaginary turns Ithaca into the island of truth, and the sea into the stormy beyond, identified with desire, death and femaleness. While the Odyssey suppresses the dangerous message of the siren song, Urquhart's fiction rewrites it and reclaims it as positive inspiration for the female protagonist.
The article offers a reading of “Through the Panama” by Malcom Lowry in light of an intertext connected with Polish literature. Lowry mentions a short story “The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall” by the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, the Nobel prize winner for the whole of his literary output. What Lowry stresses in his intertextual allusion is the perilous illumination that the eponymous lighthouse keeper experiences. The article contends that the condition of the lighthouse keeper anticipates that of the Lowry protagonist who in “Through the Panama” fears death by his own book, or, to take Lowry’s other phrase, being “Joyced in his own petard.” Basing her analysis on Mieke Bal’s idea of a participatory exhibition where the viewer decides how to approach a video installation, and can do so by engaging with a single detail, Filipczak treats Lowry’s text as a multimodal work where such a detail may give rise to a reassessment of the reading experience. Since the allusion to the Polish text has only elicited fragmentary responses among the Lowry critics, Filipczak decides to fill in the gap by providing her interpretation of the lighthouse keeper’s perilous illumination mentioned by Lowry in the margins of his work, and by analyzing it in the context of major Romantic texts, notably the epic poem Master Thaddeus by Adam Mickiewicz whose words trigger the lighthouse keeper’s experience, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose text is quoted in the margins of “Through the Panama.” This choice allows to throw a different light on Lowry’s work which is also inhabited by echoes of futurist attitude to the machine and the Kafkaesque fear of being locked in one of the many locks of the canal “as if in experience.”
The article engages with the video installation Madame B by Mieke Bal and Michelle Williams Gamaker. The work was premiered in the city of Łódź in Poland (between 6 Dec. 2013 and 9 Feb. 2014). The author makes use of the exhibition brochure by two artists published by the Museum of Modern Art, and the recording of a seminar held by Bal and Williams Gamaker after launching their work. The article focuses on the innovative audiovisual interpretation of Flaubert’s famous novel. Basing the argument on the concept of framing created by Bal, the author applies it to Bal and Williams Gamaker’s exhibition by relating it to the history and culture of the Polish location where it was first shown. Above all, however, the article discusses the importance of quotation and indistinction in Madame B, where the artists quote from (among others): Louise Bourgeois, Maya Deren, Artemisia Gentileschi, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Kentridge and Sol LeWitt.
The article focuses on the eponymous protagonist of Isobel Gunn, a Canadian feminist historical novel by Audrey Thomas, published in 1999. Based on a real story, the novel fictionalizes the life of an Orcadian woman who made her transit from the Orkney Islands to the Canadian north in male disguise, and was only identified as a woman when she went into labour. The article juxtaposes the novel against its poetic antecedent The Ballad of Isabel Gunn, published by Stephen Scobie in 1983. In the article Gunn’s fate as a unique transvestite m(other) in the Canadian north is compared to the fate of famous transvestite saint Joan of Arc. Though removed from each another historically and geographically, both women are shown to have suffered similar consequences as a result of violating the biblical taboo on cross-dressing. Isobel’s sudden change of status from a young male colonizer to the defenseless colonized is seen in the context of managing the female resources by colonial authorities. At the same time, the fact that Isobel allows herself to be deprived of her son is analyzed in the light of insights on the maternal by Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray. The absence of the mother and the ensuing condition of her offspring’s orphanhood are shown as a consequence of reducing the position of the mother to that of an imperial servant, the fruit of whose body can be freely used and abused by the male imperial authority.
The article engages with the protagonist of The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Michèle Roberts, first published in 1984 as The Wild Girl. Filipczak discusses scholarly publications that analyze the role of Mary Magdalene, and redeem her from the sexist bias which reduced her to a repentant whore despite the lack of evidence for this in the Gospels. The very same analyses demonstrate that the role of Mary Magdalene as Christ’s first apostle silenced by patriarchal tradition was unique. While Roberts draws on the composite character of Mary Magdalene embedded in the traditional association between women, sexuality and sin, she also moves far beyond this, by reclaiming the female imaginary as an important part of human connection to the divine. At the same time, Roberts recovers the conjunction between sexuality and spirituality by framing the relationship of Christ and Mary Magdalene with The Song of Songs, which provides the abject saint from Catholic tradition with an entirely different legacy of autonomy and expression of female desire, be it sexual, maternal or spiritual. The intertext connected with The Song of Songs runs consistently through The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene. This, in turn, sensitizes the readers to the traces of the Song in the Gospels, which never quote from it, but they rely heavily on the association between Christ and the Bridegroom, while John 20 shows the encounter between the risen Christ and Mary Magdalene in the garden whose imagery is strongly suggestive of the nuptial meeting in The Song of Songs.
The article discusses the portrayal of Éowyn in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in the light of the biblical tradition of the warrior woman. The author focuses on the scene in which Éowyn slays the Nazgûl Lord in the battle of the Pelennor Fields with the help of Meriadoc. This event is juxtaposed against the biblical descriptions of female warriors, in particular Jael and Judith. A detailed analysis of passages from the King James Bible and the Douay-Rheims Bible, with which Tolkien was familiar, allows the reader to detect numerous affinities between his vocabulary and imagery, and their biblical antecedents. Filipczak contends that, by defending the body of the dying Théoden, Éowyn defends the whole kingdom; her action can be interpreted in the light of The King’s Two Bodies by Ernst Kantorowicz. Her threat to the Ringraith (“I will smite you if you touch him”) makes use of the verb that can be found in the descriptions of Jael and Judith in the Protestant and Catholic Bibles respectively. Furthermore, Éowyn’s unique position as a mortal woman who achieves the impossible and thus fulfills the prophecy paves the way for a comparison with the Virgin Mary, whose Magnificat contains elements of “a holy-war song” which were suppressed by traditional interpretations. Consequently, the portrayal of Éowyn blends the features of Jael, Judith and Mary with allusions to St. Joan of Arc. Moreover, her act of slaying the Ringraith’s fell beast reinterprets the story of St. George and the dragon. Filipczak argues that Éowyn’s uniqueness is additionally emphasized because she acts out Gandalf’s words from Minas Tirith and sends the Nazgûl Lord into nothingness.