Author Spotlight: Sarah Kane

“My main source of thinking about how violence happens is myself, and in some ways all my characters are me. I write about human beings, and since I am one, the ways in which all human beings operate is feasibly within my understanding. I don’t think of the world being divided up into men and women, victims and perpetrators. I don’t think those are constructive divisions to make, and they make for very poor writing.”

I am convinced that the theatre is part of the most fundamental of human needs. I believe that if a city is destroyed by a bomb, the people first of all look for food and shelter, and having provided these necessities they start to tell their stories.”

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 Sarah Kane is one of the most popular playwrights of contemporary British theatre. Her works are almost twenty years old now, but her influence continues to be latent in theatre. She is one of the most talked about playwrights of her generation, as well as one of the most studied authors by academics and fanatics alike.

 Kane penned five plays: Blasted (her most famous and controversial) was first performed in 1995; Phaedra’s Love (an adaptation of Seneca’s play, which she also directed) in 1996; both Cleansed and Crave were first performed in 1998; and 4.48 Psychosis (which was performed posthumously) in 2000. She also wrote the script of a short film called Skin, which was aired by Channel 4 in 1995. Her work was experimental in both content and form and with time it almost started lacking structure. Her last two plays actually take a formless structure – they have no established plot, no characters as such: they could be branded as a form of poetry, a stream-of-consciousness for the stage.

 Her work is not specifically feminist (as it is not specifically anything, really): she refused to be classified by any specific label, and insisted that she did not have a “responsibility as a writer.” She stated that “[t]he only responsibility is towards the truth, as awful the truth might be” and insisted that she did “not feel a responsibility towards the audience or to other women.” She made a special point as well to make it clear her work was not about “sexual politics” and she believed that an emphasis and a focus on specific themes such as those was problematic and socially damaging, given that “[a]n overemphasis on sexual politics (or racial or class politics) is a diversion from our main problem. Class, race and gender divisions are symptomatic of societies based on violence or the threat of violence, not the cause.” That is why her work is so difficult and almost impossible to classify, because she made an almost deliberate effort to tackle a wide arrange of topics. Even so, she openly analysed the dynamics experienced by the human being in relation to the extremes of love. She was a writer of connections, and the reader will not only find connections that bind all of her plays together, but will also be able to analyse her texts in regards of what connects the events and actions within each scene or within each act.

 Her first three plays, as well as her short script, feature as main characters a female and a male lead. Kane takes that setting and establishes a different relationship for each play, although it could be argued she explores similar themes in all of them. I am going to focus on three of her plays: Blasted, Phaedra’s Love and Cleansed, because I believe they are the ones that deal with topics more specific to what Faceless Ladies is all about. However, if you are interested in theatre and have never read Kane, or if you are really interested in what you are about to read, as a Kane enthusiast I encourage you to read all of her work.

tumblr_m64w1oNcGY1rxdllao1_400 Blasted features an ex-couple that has reunited in a hotel room to spend the night. We don’t know the relationship these characters used to share or the one that they have now, we only know that there is something off about their relationship, that there is a very noticeable age different between them, and that- as Kane mentioned herself: the spectator can tell there is a power inequality between both characters. It is because of the problems in the power balance in that relationship that in between the first and second scenes Cate (the female main character) is raped by Ian (the male main character). This is not an act that can be seen in the play, but Kane mirrors this horror several times afterwards, bringing it to the surface through several reenactments. The horrors of daily domestic acts of violence are explored and linked to the horrors of full-scale war. There is a clear and deliberate connection between domestic violence and warfare violence, linking the acts of rape and the acts of death just as well – as Kane mentioned “part of killing someone is raping them” and that is why she chose to have both the act of domestic violence held within the familiar sphere, and the acts of war held within the social and political sphere happening at the very same hotel room. As Kane put it “[t]he unity of place suggests a paper-thin wall between the safety and civilisation of peacetime Britain and the chaotic violence of civil war. A wall that can be torn down at any time, without warning.”

 One of the most interesting aspects of Blasted is Cate. There is a certain mystery surrounding this character: she is a young girl that has chosen to be in a hotel room with an older, abusive man. Her transformation during the play is unexpected, and the fact that as a character she goes through several phases, exploring several social roles, is clear. She is a problematic character in the sense that she is a complex, humane character. She commits mistakes, and she finds herself transformed out of the tragedy she experiences. All of the characters in the play go through an inner transformation: they are forced to face the highest forms of pain and the most unimaginable horrors and then they are forced to endure it, and start over again. This dynamic clearly affects the way they interact with one another. If at the beginning of the play Ian was in power because of the actions he had performed on Cate – both in the past and during the action held within the play – at the end, the events he has experienced – which are only a consequence of his own actions – have transformed and changed such power. Personally I do not like to say there is a reversal of power roles in Blasted, I believe the play is much more complex than that, but that there is a power shift is undeniable. Both Ian and Cate are able to suffer through the events, and the play ends with both interacting, perhaps similarly to what they did at the beginning, but they do it with a different attitude as their development has been so great.

tumblr_m6noxaB8ds1rxdllao1_400In Phaedra’s Love we are presented with a dysfunctional Royal family: an absent King, a Queen in love with her step son, a depressed Prince. As the characters are introduced, we are immediately aware of what Phaedra (the main female character, the Queen) feels for Hippolytus (the male main character, the Prince), and she also seems to be on the verge of surrendering to her love, wanting Hippolytus both to change who he is (a terrible and depressed human being who does nothing all day other than masturbating and having spontaneous and unsatisfactory sexual encounters with whoever might be interested – except for Phaedra) but also to revel in his own self so that he can be happy no matter the consequences. While this is probably Kane’s most conventional, structured and somewhat accessible play, it still has the in your face Kane signature move. In Phaedra’s Love Kane explores the dichotomy between the terms of the loved and the lover. As David Greig put it, Kane “marked out the two poles that are the extremes of the human response to love. She also exposed the bitter irony, which is that those of one pole are driven to seek out those of the other.” This brings for a need for the reformation of the self, which eventually does lead to a certain loss of such self. As Greig mentioned, “[u]nable to find love and unable to cease loving, the characters find refuge in mutability, transcending their own limits”. It is interesting to see that, while the original play by Seneca “showed Phaedra driven towards a love which respulses her, Kane portrays the emotion as one impossible to resist” (Graham Saunders). Arguably, Kane insisted on portraying a dark side of love, one that must be consumed, no matter what the consequences are.

 Another very interesting topic explored in Phaedra’s Love is its treatment of honesty, and how the need to be honest both with oneself and with society can be brutal. As Saunders put it, Kane conceived Hippolytus as a “puritan who desires brutal truth over flattery and empty rhetoric, even when that truth can be harmful to others”, both Hippolytus and Pheadra are actually brutally honest characters, accepting themselves and not hiding the most terrifying aspects of their selves to anybody. That pursuit of the truth, for Phaedra, represents making her love for Hippolytus public by both putting forward what she feels and by setting him free: Kane believed that made Phaedra the “first person to become active in the play – her accusation and later suicide liberate Hippolytus and set off the most extraordinary set of events leading to the collapse of monarchy”, and that is when Hippolytus decides to take his own personal ethics of honesty to the grave: “I’ve lived by honesty, let me die by it” he says, refusing until the very last moment to conform to society’s behavioral rules.

There could be said to be a power play in Phaedra’s Love, after all it does depict a battle between two characters, but I would argue Kane makes special efforts to make it clear nobody is successful in this battle. Because while the actions of Phaedra do compose a certain set of consequences, all characters are perhaps aware that their battle is one that cannot ever be won, no matter how many times or for how long it is fought for.

tumblr_m5ry4i16my1rxdllao1_400 So it could be said that, while Kane’s work explored violence and its roots as well as its consequences, her work also majorly focused on love and its extremes, and consequently, her work explored how both these topics intertwined. In Cleansed it was about the extreme actions the human being is willing to go to in order to prove love, and, to an extent, of the painful condition inflicted by obsessive love. Funnily enough, and while its themes can be easily linked, Cleansed and Phaedra’s Love are actually extremely different plays. While, as I have mentioned before, Pheadra’s Love is probably Kane’s most accessible play, Cleansed is probably her hardest and most violent. James Macdonald, director of Cleansed, described it as “a play about the nature of love and its relationship to brutalization. Love is a kind of madness and ecstasy.” And while Kane made a special effort in making clear that the violence is Cleansed was so extreme there was no other way to portray it than through metaphor – thus making it clear this violence was a metaphoric physical representation of an emotional occurrence, as she later on mentioned: “if you want to write about extreme love, you can only write about it in an extreme way”. She also made it clear that she intended to bring out the positive and the hopeful in this love and this brutality that was performed: “it was never about the violence, it was about how much these people love” she said. It is a play about obsession, and about the fact that “when you love obsessively, you do lose yourself. And when you then lose the object of your love, you have none of the normal resources to fall back on. It can completely destroy you.” The way this was done was portraying a set of events very reminiscent of the tortures experienced by the victims of concentration camps, taking the connection even further by “dehumanizing people before they are killed.” Once more linking apparently unrelated themes to each other, making new, somehow overlooked, connections.

What I find truly interesting about Kane is that she made deliberate efforts to make specific topics universal. In domestic violence she saw warfare, in irrational love she saw self-destruction, in incest she saw the loss of the sense of self, in obsessive love she saw torture. Kane described rape in a number of occasions, but it was never portrayed the same way twice, it was not always performed on women, either. While she focused on the nature of love, it took a different form in each play: she dealt with abusive relationships masked as love, she dealt with incest and the shades of it, she dealt with self love, she dealt with the loss of individualism within love, et cetera. Kane never wrote for or about a specific class, gender or race. Her plays talked about random people in Leeds, the Royal family, university students or drug addicts confined in a reforming institution… There was a point in her writing where characters even lost their ages and names. Kane’s writing was never about specific events or characters, it was about the human condition, and I have not had the chance to read many authors that are able to do it the way she did.

  “If a play is good, it breathes its own air and has a life and voice of its own. What you take that voice to be saying is no concern of mine. It is what it is. Take it or leave it.”

Works Cited:
Kane’s Complete Plays.
Graham Saunder’s Love me or Kill Me: Sarah Kane and the Theatre of Extremes.

Other useful links:
You can read Cristina’s last article here.
If you’re interested in reading more on Kane, Cristina runs this Tumblr about the author which might be of use.
You can also watch the short film Skin on YouTube. (*This is a very graphic and violent film).

Romanticising Passion

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Fiction is a breathing, unpredictable creature. It is created by one human being (or several) and consumed by many others (or just a few) but it certainly is something that cannot be controlled. Once it has left its nest and seen the light of day, it will take whatever shape and form it takes, and there is nothing that can predict what that will be. There are so many elements at stake (from media, to society, to historical context, to audience) that will influence it, and it is truly difficult to determine what path each creature will take. Because of the status of fiction, there are stories that become extremely popular (for whatever reason) and that begin to take a form (or, say, a reputation) that creates and feeds a different idea and that result in a different product of what it was originally planned.

         It is safe to say by now that we live in an age where fandoms heavily influence and determine the path of fiction. Fandom is a blanket term I will use to describe “readership” or “viewership”, et cetera. Television shows are not only influenced by ratings (more so than by criticism and awards), they are now sometimes even funded by their targeted audience as well. The way fans respond to particular storylines will determine the direction of those (something I personally find terrifying and that I wish would stop: let’s stop killing these authors), and with that, the readings that the spectators choose to give each specific fiction product, will take a form of its own, one that will be very difficult to shake off. Not to mention the fact that the way these fictional products are created has changed as well, fanfiction is now being acquired by big publishing companies, the concept of self-publication does not sound so crazy anymore, and television shows are not only being funded by spectators but are also being distributed by a wide number of platforms (from paid services such as Netflix, to more public platforms such as Youtube).

             What am I trying to get at? Think about Romeo and Juliet. What do you think about when you think about Shakespeare’s famous play? Do you think about romance or do you think about the demise of two families? Do you think performed theatre? Written text? Film? I mean, Romeo and Juliet were two twelve year olds that met at a party, fell madly in lust, married the following day and died the next. That’s the extent of the story. You can perceive its theme as one thing or the other, but when you look at the facts, you have to wonder what happened for society to take a product about adolescent infatuation and death and turn it into a tale of star crossed lovers. I have obviously heavily reduced the true themes explored in the play, but I am trying to get a point across: Romeo and Juliet is a popularly known product, and most of the time it is inaccurately perceived.

Image4There are a few specific cases which have always struck me particularly, because they seem to have taken a form that detours so greatly from what it is that it continues to shock me that they can be interpreted so differently. For instance, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina* is a very long and rather in depth analysis of the different forms of relationships held within Russian society. It clearly establishes the line between three different marriages (Oblonsky & Dolly, Levin & Kitty, Karenin & Anna) at the same time that it deals with how these marriages deal with extra-marital relationships (Oblonsky and his many lovers, Levin and Levin (sic) and Anna and Vronsky). Each relationship is different, it deals with social disaster and defiance differently, and each example is a further proof of the difference and the uniqueness found in the human being. The novel focuses on all of these relationships and how they both intertwine and affect each other, and it does it almost in equal parts. Vronsky and Anna’s relationship is at the center of the novel and it is clearly a contrast to the rest of the relationships in the way that it deals with something perhaps different to love. It is a tale of obsession – an unhealthy and maddening obsession. An obsession that drives both parties mad, that from the very first moment, starts to deteriorate, destroying more than it can actually take. Whether if these characters willingly and consciously defy society, and how that is explored in the novel, is another story, for another day. What is clear is that Tolstoy clearly deconstructed these relationships to attempt to understand and contrast the nature of love and infatuation, as well as the nature of compromise and commitment. However, one can’t help but thinking about how differently this story seems to be perceived by the popular masses, and one can’t help but wonder if it is all a matter of advertisement or a matter of perception. When did Vronsky and Anna’s story become a tale of cross-star lovers? When was a 900 page long novel about Russian society reduced to the passion between two of its characters? Was it the way it was advertised and sold to modern audiences? Was it the reading it obtained from certain readers, or the reading it failed to obtain from other reading circles? What makes a tale of an emotionally destructive relationship turn into a love story?

                  Image3Another of the most misinterpreted stories of all time, in my most humble opinion, is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. It is the story about a broken home with very broken characters that experience all kinds of abuse and despair, where its main characters share one of the most terrifying emotionally destructive relationships ever written, and yet it continues to be perceived, by modern and older readers alike, as one of the most beautiful love stories of all time. As a young and very impressionable literature student, I was horrified when we read the novel for class and I got to know these characters – mainly Heathcliff. I had always perceived him (by what  I had heard other teachers say or what I had gathered from popular culture) as the epitome of the romantic hero, the epitome of the tortured lover… when in reality Heatcliff was the clear definition of an abuser (an abused abuser, no doubt, because Brontë’s work is complex, I am not attempting to deny that) who kept destroying everyone around him, not only those who had not treated him rightly in the past, but especially those who attempted to love or help him in any way.  After reading a lot of critical work on Wuthering Heights, I feel strangely weird writing such a short paragraph and such finalising sentences on one of the most complex characters (in one of the most complex works) of literature, but I believe it is necessary to acknowledge Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship for what it was: a physically and emotionally abusive relationship, which was self-destructive, composed of two characters so self-absorbed in their own obsession for the other, that they failed to see the reality of their context. Still today Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship continues to be sold as the story of a passionate love affair, and I find it sickening and worrying that we continue to believe in the idea of love as a painful act. What Heathcliff and Cathy felt for each other was not love, it was an unhealthy need for the other, an unhealthy need of possession. Love is about equality and respect and possession should never be a part of such equation.

                 I believe our society has made a special effort in glorifying the pain in love to the point that the lines between love and abuse have started to get blurred. As a society we have a duty to learn to discern between extreme emotion and obsession. It seems to be a very small barrier, but we have to be able to realise what composes each. Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights are not studies on love, but studies on how destructive an obsessive emotion – which might have stemmed from love – can turn out to be.  It is true that art is what we make of it, and we might read whatever we want to read in both these pieces of literature, but I always found it particularly harming that two stories that clearly attempt to point out problematic relationships, have ended up being icons for that which they attempted to denounce.

* I would like to point out Joe Wright’s 2012 film adaptation of the novel, which was an incredible effort and which has been, I’m very sad to say, strangely overlooked by critics and viewers alike. It is an astounding deconstruction of the novel, done in a refreshingly metaphoric way, and I cannot recommend it enough. This adaptation is very objective in its portrayal of these relationships and it does not glorify the love affairs or the tragedies of its characters.

You can read Cristina’s latest article here.

The World Was Hers for the Reading: May 2013

We consider ourselves well read ladies that are constantly on the lookout to continue finding new reads to nourish our minds. We have decided to start a collaborative and interactive section where we will discuss books we have recently read and we hope for you to give us feedback about them or perhaps others as well, helping us discover new favourite reads. Without further ado: Welcome to The World Was Hers for the Reading!

85767Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler. First published in 1990.
Reviewed by Cristina.

A referent when it comes to feminist theory, what you must take into consideration if you decide to read Butler, is that she is a philosopher, and therefore her way of approaching feminist criticism is through philosophy. Gender Trouble is an in depth analysis of the ways in which society and the human being build and continue to shape the concepts of gender, sex and being, and she does this through the deconstruction of other writer’s works. She examines the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Claude Lévi-Strauss,Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault amongst others… And while Butler has many interesting and complex things to say, perhaps my complain about this work is that she spends so much time deconstructing other people’s work that I found myself wishing she had spent a bit more time elaborating on her own theory, which is not precisely easy to come to terms with. I do recommend this if you are interested in the field, you may not entirely agree (or entirely understand) what she is talking about all of the time (I know I did not) but that is the beauty of it.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.First published in 2013.
Reviewed by María.life-after-life-e1364310158304

Let me preface this by saying that I love Kate Atkinson. She has a unique and interesting voice and she always writes really complex female characters. Maybe that’s why Life After Life, despite its success and hype, was just a disappointment to me. As it was, I found it had a great premise that ultimately went nowhere. What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? The book promises so much and yet delivers few little. Ursula, the main character, seems to be the punching bag of history; she drowns, is raped, beaten and ultimately killed by her husband…and it all seems so pointless, yes she learns to live a little longer the next time but that’s about it. Kate Atkinson’s beautiful prose and lyrical narrative end up carrying the book most of the time because sadly, the story does nothing to sustain the reader’s interest.

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NW by Zadie Smith. First published in 2012.

Reviewed by Jade.

Since she published White Teeth in 2000, I had always wanted to read Zadie Smith’s work but somehow never got around to it. Then on some day back in February I decided to buy an autographed copy – score! – of NW at Vroman’s in Pasadena, California. At that time I was drawn by anything ‘London’, all coincidences really but I was watching Luther a lot, researching relocations to London etc etc. Anyway, NW was the perfect book to complement this patch of my life. London’s NW is most definitely the 5th main character of a book where 4 childhood friends’ lives intertwine in typical urban stories that feature issues of race, survival, love, struggle…. Everything feels so real and ‘close’ to the city and portrays it just perfectly. Smith’s realism is detailed, sarcastic, straight-up funny, and poetic at the same time. That kind of poetry only a city like London can offer. Just wonderful.

Jane Austen and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

This year marks the 200 anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Because of that, I come with a confession.  This might be social suicide, but I will risk it:  I think Jane Austen is terribly underrated. I truly do. I think that even Jaenites underrate Jane Austen. This isn’t a typo.

             What’s my deal? Do I live in a cave? Am I unresponsive to the events taking place in my surroundings? Look, no. I’m aware Jane Austen is probably the most talked about female classic author. There are so many adaptations of all of her novels that sometimes you wonder if they’re truly necessary (and the answer is YES, by the way: every adaptation is necessary, every reread is necessary, do not ever let the world tell you otherwise). I was about to affirm that Jane Austen is the most adapted author of all time, but a quick Google search told me it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Still, I think that had I told you Jane Austen was, you would have believed me, because it simply makes sense. It simply feels right.

              So why on earth would I say Austen is underrated? Well, nine times out of ten, I will get strange glares whenever I proclaim to the world I LUV JANE AUSTEN. Nine times out of ten, people will believe Jane Austen wrote “those romance novels” and will go away thinking their snarky remarks are… acceptable. Nine times out of ten, a news article or whatever we call it these days will describe Jane Austen as the writer that “knew all about romance, despite being a maiden herself!”

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And that is why it is with great sadness that I said goodbye to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last week. Because The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is not merely an adaptation of Austen’s work, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries takes Austen’s work a step forward and that is, in my humble opinion, what adaptations should be all about. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has not only adapted Pride and Prejudice to a modern setting successfully, creating a narrative that is both fluid, relevant and realistic, but it also has incorporated the 2.0 era into it, retro alimenting itself, in a very post-modern way (the show exists thanks to the wonderful mediatic world of Youtube, so the show is a big and long love letter to Youtube as a platform as well). It has also managed to adapt the novel culturally and socially into this day and age, and what is more, it has done it right.

pfi_b6ae6a73079d65ff9c582f4f582ea3e9               Pride and Prejudice is a protofeminist novel (protofeminist being understood as a text that contains feminist elements, literary wise, but that was produced in an age when feminism still had no name as such, and had no movement attached to it). As such, the revolutionary tones of Elizabeth as a protofeminist heroine have been translated into today’s settings in Lizzie as well. Elizabeth is a very revolutionary character for the times, this might come out as a shock but there are a few of her qualities as a character that make her so: consider the fact that she rejects Mr. Collins because she dislikes him, when Mr. Collins is actually the only way out of the incredibly poor economic situation of the Bennets. By marrying Mr. Collins, all of her sisters, as well as her mother, would not have had to worry about their future upon their father’s death. By rejecting him, she is refusing to sacrifice her future happiness for her family, as well as refusing to accept to play by society’s rules (those that denied women a right to inheritance, thus forcing them to attach themselves to a man as a piece of property). But that’s not the only thing making Elizabeth a revolutionary character: she is outspoken, critical and opinionated. The Lizzie Bennet’s Diaries’s Lizzie refuses a very juicy job offer from Ricky Collins in a time and age when not only her family but also herself need economic income desperately. But she does not want to “sell herself” to a kind of field she does not like, she prefers to stay true to herself and find her own way, rather than following her family’s wishes. She is also opinionated and outspoken, of course, and refuses to follow society’s rules (which is not seen as clearly as with novel-Lizzy, but can be found in the little details: she refuses to sell herself to a job, she refuses to maintain relationships, as well as forming acquaintances with people she dislikes, et cetera).

The show takes special care for making all of these characters, not just Lizzie, three
dimensional. Each character has their special purpose and even their personal subplots (as can be seen through the creation of additional secondary Youtube channels for certain characters that had a ‘back story’ in the novel but that could not be easily explored in the series). All of these characters have dreams and hopes, they have good qualities as well as flaws.

                   Lizzie wants a future, she wants a career. She moves for her family and friends but she’s thirsty (albeit slightly terrified) for change. She’s professionally driven, and extremely loyal. She’s valuable to herself and wishes to be independent, and she wishes to achieve such independence by herself. But she’s not the only character like that, this adaptation takes special care to make all characters refreshingly modern. Jane herself, who in the novel was described as a lovely creature but that was mostly exploited in regards of her love story with Bingley, is here given a very interesting career, one with which she fights for and one she puts before her love life on a number of occasions. She refuses to put up with the behaviour of those around her (as novel-Jane didn’t, in a way) and puts her own rules when it comes to forgiving and rekindling her relationship with Bing Lee. Lydia, somewhat underexplored and dismissed in the novel, considered the mindless, accelerated and promiscuous sister, is here given a different turn. The adaptation took special care to construct a back story that dealt with her romance with Wickham, giving it a frightening abusive twist (taking a look at the cheerful, lively Lydia of the first episodes, and the Lydia under Wickham’s influence as well as Lydia post-web-scandal was too heartbreaking).

VJIQw3BMyU             Not only our females have purposes, the way in which Collins, Bingley, Darcy and even Wickham are portrayed is admirable just as well. The most obvious instance is Bingley: Bingley’s proposal to Jane was revolutionary because he was marrying for love, to the woman his family somewhat disapproved of. In a modern setting, dating somebody your family disapproves of would not be enough, so what Bing Lee does it not only come back for Jane, he also refuses to confine himself to the family expectations by quitting his medical career, and decides to do things his own way, at his own pace. Only then, when both Jane and Bing have found themselves individually, then, and only then, do they decide to start something together.

               Still, and getting somewhat personal, I have to say my favourite of all is Charlotte. The way in which the adaptation has incorporated Charlotte into the narrative, allowing her to bloom as a character, creating an incredible bond between her and Lizzie and at the same time not condemning her choices, which so easily contrast with Lizzie’s, making her a very driven, loyal, independent, outspoken, successful, unique  and ultimately powerful woman, is simply brilliant.

          I’m afraid there is no short article that could make any justice to this adaptation, I would gladly write a dissertation on it, and even then I would still feel I am leaving details unexplored. But I tried to pick some representative examples to try and explain why I feel the way that I do. As I mentioned, I am a big Jane Austen fan, and as such I’ve seen many obscure adaptations of her work. But, as such a fan, not all of those have been particularly pleasing. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, however, has managed to do beautiful things with Austen’s work, and it has made me incredibly proud, week after week, to see that I am not alone in seeing her work as something other than a prolonged exploration of romance. Austen’s work was about women fighting their environment, and Lizzie Bennet is the proof of that.

          If you are so unfortunate as not having been able to follow this wonderful experiment live, you can change that right now by clicking right here, and starting from the very beginning. Be warned, though, it’s 100 episodes, and you will laugh but you will also cry (and squee, probably).

        You might also be interested in taking a look at Hank Green’s video where he explains the way the idea came to him and the reason why he chose Pride and Prejudice to develop as a web series:

The Cycle of Violence: This is NOT Business

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. You can find the first reaction here, written by Cristina. And here is Jade’s piece.

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I loved Maria’s piece on Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. It raised so many questions and thoughts were just popping up in my mind. Before I start my reaction to it, I’ll be honest and say I haven’t read any of Ravenhill’s works – and will proceed to change that as soon as possible – so I’m not going to dissection his beliefs but rather try to find my own answers to Maria’s questions in her essay…and create new ones.

I mentioned this in my first article here on Faceless Ladies but I’ll say it again, I proudly don’t have a TV. As a consequence of this, sometimes I can avoid being exposed to things that would just make me sad and frustrated. And more than anything, I can avoid being exposed to HOW these things are shown or told to me, which is a big part of my unhappiness with modern information. I believe the news in general have become pointlessly violent and really not informative at all. The news have become entertainment…often times untasteful, tacky and absolutely disposable.  After a small piece about Syria and how 100 children died in a raid, let’s talk about the Golden Globes with a big smile. News have become entertainment, and yes, they’ve accustomed us to violence, cynicism, and to being completely insensitive, cold. Blood, boobs, and guns have become all the same thing and  NORMAL. There are no limitations and there seems to be no common sense as to what should be said, how and what should be shown. So the more they talk about a certain thing, the more people think it’s normal, an everyday thing. And the more people will actuaMarito investe la moglie e poi la cosparge di benzina dandole fuoco.lly DO that thing. This obviously applies to abuse on women. The other day on the internet edition of a very popular Italian newspaper, I opened an article about a woman, Giuseppina, who was first run over and then set on fire by her husband in front of people in the street. She died on Valentine’s day. Now, this is not normal. Is this normal? How can it be normal? Why has it become normal enough that we just skip through it? Why have we become so accustomed, and as a consequence, bored by it that we don’t really care anymore?  A few days later, an article was published about Giuseppina’s funeral and how many women there took it as a chance to voice their rage and frustration. That article was never on the front page of the website. Was it not worth it? I’m not sure.

In the past 3 or 4 months, for some strange reason, abuse on women has been ‘trendy’ – for lack of a better word, I apologise. Of course this is a double-ended sword. It certainly sheds some light on the issue in general, which is good. But on the other hand, it makes it disposable and it  may take just a couple of weeks before we’re talking about something else even though the problem is still there. Now, is this sudden ‘trend’ just a coincidence due to the increasing popularity of movements such as One Billion Rising? Or maybe due to the focus on gender equality? Are pDomesticViolenceeople finally realizing how retrograde our society really is? I’m not really sure. And as a consequence of all this exposure, is abuse on women becoming (un)fortunately a literary trend, too? Now, I’m sure Mark Ravenhill feels enraged by it but sometimes I find myself wondering whether everyone writing and filming about it feels the same in an honest way or if they’re just riding the wave.

Finally, I wish I could ask Ravenhill about the fact that “he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap.” Alright. So abuse on women in literature and theater is ‘interesting’…but how, in what way? ‘Interesting’ because they have to go through some sort of struggle? Or just ‘interesting’ because it’s a multi faceted issue? And yes, if it is interesting, why does he think that that’s the only thing he can write about so a woman’s role is honored? Is it really possible that abuse is the only interesting thing that can happen in a woman’s life? Does abuse deal with a woman’s struggle to find herself? Again, I’m not sure and I truly hope Ravenhill isn’t being so reductive when referring to a woman’s experience. Let’s look at it this way: when a man needs to find himself, he will do a number of things, for instance he will alienate himself from society and live in the woods (like in Into the Wild) but a woman seems to need some kind of abuse to have the same kind of epiphany.  (I had never thought of struggle as a gender-specific issue…) As a consequence, it also seems that a woman requires a man to find herself. Now I’m really not sure about this either. Actually, I really don’t think so. There are a billion things going on every day in any woman’s life and the majority are very interesting, the majority deal with some sort of struggle, and some sort of path to self-awareness.

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Keira Knightley in CUT, Women’s Aid Campaign

I agree with Cristina’s article in a lot of ways, and I also think violence on stage and on the page can be amazingly helpful to raise questions in the viewer’s and reader’s mind but – as she says so perfectly – “I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction.” My problem with this is that we will never really know where the author’s honesty is and as Maria and Cristina pointed out in their wonderful pieces, we’re running around in circles. I’m fine with that, life is an ellipsis of experiences and feelings that repeat themselves but, call me naive, I hope we never lose touch with our inner critic and honesty in place of mere entertainment.

The Cycle of Violence: Can Violence Fight Violence?

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. Here is Cristina’s piece.

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 Maria and I have been friends for quite a long time now, and as such, we have been theatre (as well as cinema) companions. We have read many books recommended by the other, and we have watched quite a dozen hundred television shows as well. We consume fiction together, and we tend to discuss it at length. The thoughts and ideas she poured into her article are thoughts I have discussed with her on a number of occasions, and something that I always find endearing is that sometimes we take turns: as one talks about her thoughts, and is unable to find the answer, the other nods, knowingly, perhaps muttering several “I knows”. That’s the point, actually: whenever we talk about this topic, we find ourselves unable to find the answers.

Do I think violence is needed to fight violence? No. I am actually an eerie pacifist. However, when it comes to art, I am a true believer of the in-your-face approach. I believe that in order for art to be something more than a “simple” piece of entertainment, that is to say, in order for art to be socially active as well as stirring, it must be direct, raw and most importantly, unforgiving. It must be brutally honest, and truly horrifying.

la-clh1.ca.0f.0903.scarface.0.1-02 (3)In my opinion, that is the only way for art to be completely effective. With such an approach, it will not leave the spectator undisturbed. It will create a need to question, to discuss, to debate… and most importantly, a need to reform. Sarah Kane once said she would “rather risk overdose in the theatre than in life”. That was one of her arguments in her use of violence on stage. She also wrote “I write the truth, and it kills me”. I believe all writers should write the truth, and I believe it should kill them (hopefully, not as literally as it did with her, though).

This belief of mine in the necessity for the horrifying means that I approve of violence on stage. I also approve of violence on the screen and on the page. I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction. Without an extreme, unexpected event, the audience can placidly continue with their entertainment without questioning the content they are consuming or the society they are in. The problem, of course, comes with the eternal question: What makes a portrayal of violence denouncing and what makes it senseless? Who is the one to distinguish between both? And most importantly, if we encourage this cycle of violence, can it ever have an end? If the only way to fight violence is with a performance of violence, are we really putting an end to it or are we in fact reinforcing it?

Lisbeth And so this brings me back to Maria’s article. Has our society become so immunised to violence, and specifically violence against women that the portrayal of abuse has in fact become a new kind of entertainment, a new kind of performance? The fact that the portrayal of abuse has increased and has become alarmingly explicit in recent years would perhaps indicate to that. Have creators started to cross the line between entertainment and criticism? Are we, therefore, denouncing and deconstructing the problem at hand or are we in fact reinforcing it? Is the explicit representation of violence truly raising awareness, or is it actually numbing society in the face of such a problem? Are we writing strong women that face their fears and the acts performed against them, or are we writing victims and dramatising their suffering? The fact is that the sides of the matter are not clearly marked, they are in fact composed of very complex elements, and I don’t think there will ever be a clear answer for the questions that I am posing. In my opinion, it is a never ending cycle of violence, one that I am afraid cannot entirely be unraveled. One that seems to have become more complex with time.

In fact, I have the feeling that the use of fiction in order to fight reality is slowly morphing into something else that we cannot yet identify. Martin Crimp put it best in Attemps on her Life:

Seen it- perhaps. But not seen it afresh, not seen it now, not seen it in the context of a post-radical, of a post-human world where the gestures of radicalism take on a new meaning in a society where the radical gesture is simply one more form of entertainment i.e one more product – in this case an artwork – to/be consumed.”

You can read Cristina’s previous article here.

The Cycle of Violence: The Case of Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat

ImageLet me preface this by saying that I don’t think I’m equipped to properly discuss Mark Ravenhill. And yet, in a way, I want to try. I was introduced to his work some years ago when I had to read Shopping and Fucking for a class I was taking at university. To this day I think I still haven’t properly gotten over it. The experience was hard and distressing. In that class we were expected to read the plays and then take it in turns to re-enact some of its scenes. Shopping and Fucking was not one of the plays I got to act on but I remember the experience of watching some of my classmates do it. We were not professional actors, just a bunch of English Literature students trying to understand a text that was way beyond our scope. You could hardly look for what was going on and I remember feeling a mixture of pity and awe for the students who were “on stage”.

So when we went to see the production of Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat at the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona I was excited but scared. This selection of seven out of the seventeen short plays written by Ravenhill for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival deals with the personal and political effect of war on modern life and the West’s necessity to sell the whole world into the ideal panacea of “Freedom and Democracy”.

ImageAs I dreaded, expected and hoped, the plays are violent, powerful, incendiary and necessary. They are intense and they rise questions that will nag at you for days to come. They question choices and they discuss themes such as terror, fear, love and death. And most of the main characters are women. So it should come as no surprise, then, that there were a lot of women being killed, tortured, and raped on stage. Right?

After the play ended there was a Q&A with Mark Ravenhill himself. At some point he mentioned that he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap. I think that’s commendable and very very true. And yet… I’m not sure if I’m entirely sold. I wanted to ask him why. Why all this violence against women? Was it necessary? Had he really chosen so many women to showcase how strong they can be (which really, they are!) or has it just been established that they will always be the ones being raped, beaten and abused? Five out of the seven plays performed showed some kind of abuse on women. Six if I want to be overtly precise, all of them showing situations in which women are overpowered by men and made to suffer in varying degrees of physical and mental abuse.

ImageNow, I don’t know what to make out of this. These are just questions that I ask myself because I want to understand. Have we reached a moment in time in which violence against women has become the cultural norm? Are we immunized against it? Has the representation of rape and violence against women become so permanent on the media that it just has ceased to surprise us? Or is this a necessary way to denounce a problem? Violence against women exists, and things don’t seem to be getting better so exposing it through art and in the media seems to be the logical way to shed some light into it.

The only way I have of trying to make sense of things is through my reaction to the play and while I thought it was brilliant it also left me emotionally tired and preoccupied. Why are women always on the receiving end? Why can’t we subvert the roles? While it is true that movies, television and even advertising are full of degrading imagery towards women, I had never felt it as deeply as this time. Theatre, in my opinion, always obtains the most visceral reactions.

I don’t think there is a campaign to abuse women on the media or the arts, and I feel like Mark Ravenhill in particular would be the first one to criticise such a thing, but that’s exactly what scares me. It seems that in order to bring attention to it we need to show more violence, and thus the endless cycle of violence can never broken.

You can read María’s previous article here.

Review: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

“I turned the pages so fast. And I suppose I was, in my mindless way, looking for a something, version of myself, a heroine I could slip inside as one might a pair of favourite shoes.”

13562049DISCLAIMER: I will discuss the novel at length and this will lead me to reveal big plot developments so beware of spoilers.

 I feel like I need to start by saying I love Ian McEwan. I love him in a way that is difficult to express without turning into a puddle of giggly thoughts. Atonement is one of my favorite novels of all time. Whenever I read one of his books I feel like this is a man who understands human nature. That is why when I read that Sweet Tooth was coming out I was over the moon with glee. But not only were we getting a new book, it was also the first one since Atonement with a female heroine at its center. I was sold.

The basic premise for the book is simple yet deceiving. At a rather young age Serena Frome becomes a low-level recruit for England’s intelligence agency, MI5. She is supposedly hired because she is a compulsive reader (also, because she sleeps with some man?) and thus the perfect under-cover agent to infiltrate the life of writer Tom Haley in whom the agency has invested interests. Once she gets to know him it becomes impossible for her to differentiate her mission from her real feelings as she falls in love with him.

So this is a spy novel with a bit of sexy romance in it, right? Somewhere in the blurb you can even find something along the lines of “espionage is the ultimate seduction”. But is it really? Obviously it is not. What the novel turns out to be is something completely different and so much more complex and important than that. It is about women. It’s about men. It’s about male writers and a woman’s consciousness. It’s about male writers inhabiting a woman’s consciousness and making it their own playground.

From the start something in the novel feels strange. If you are a usual reader of McEwan you can sense it right from the first lines. Serena is intelligent but lacks depth. She is one-dimensional and very simple at times. She likes to read novels. She has a family. Not much of her is known prior to the moment when the book starts. She likes men. Mostly she likes to discuss the men in her life. There are facts and there are actions but there is no true self. She does not seem to grow or change. The façade of the woman is there but nothing true or interesting comes out of her. Which would be just fine in any other novel but this is in no way a character Ian McEwan would create or feel any interest in writing about.

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But of course as the book comes to a close (and much before that if you, like me, know the author) you realize that this has never been Serena’s book. It’s been Tom Haley’s all along. The fact of the matter is that towards the end of the novel Haley discovers that Serena has been lying to him and leading a double life. In order to understand her decisions he has to get inside her head and the only way he knows how to do that is by writing her. So while all along we thought Serena was the one speaking to us it turns out that it was Haley from the start. The real woman exists, but is she at all like Haley invents? Why is this important? I have read reviews suggesting that the “final twist” doesn’t work, that it lacks emotion. But this is not a book about twists. This is not a book about spies. This is a novel about writing and about the male gaze and how male writers write about women, how they try to inhabit and understand them. If Serena seems to be bland and a bit one-dimensional at times it’s because we are just scratching at the base of her true being. And if we always feel like we don’t really know her it’s because we don’t. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Serena is just an ideal; she is not the real woman. We are supposed to be disconnected from her. Once the revelation occurs everything falls into place and most of Serena’s actions start making sense. The adoration she feels for Haley, her pliability, her intellectual inferiority, and the way she seems to enjoy his sexual domination. Once it becomes clear that Serena’s inner consciousness has been rewritten and that it was never her own but Haley’s idealized version of her it all makes sense.

“I was the basest of readers. All I wanted was my own world, and myself in it, given back to me in artful shapes and accessible form.”

I have no problem with men writing women. Men have written some of the greatest works of literature about women. I also don’t think Sweet Tooth is a critique of that. But McEwan is indeed writing about men and about this idea of what a perfect woman should be like. He is writing about how Serena is just a vessel for a man to channel his own demons. Serena is just another of the author’s creations, a vacant and compliant woman, a doll if you may. Incidentally this is a recurring theme in the book as throughout the novel we can read some of Haley’s stories, one of which is about a man who falls in love with a store mannequin. It is also in these stories that the reader can glimpse the true meaning of what is going on. The stories are powerful, have depth and are hauntingly beautiful and sad in equal parts. These stories show that the writer is not unable to transmit real feelings with his words, he has beauty in him, but in trying to imagine Serena he falls short. He doesn’t understand the woman behind the face. He over-simplifies her interests and misunderstands her actions. He makes her uninteresting and boring. He writes her as he’d wish her to be instead of how she really is; complex and flawed, a real living woman. But he does so because Serena was never the focus of the story, she was only an excuse to write about himself.

While Sweet Tooth does not have the epic scope that Atonement did and it lacks its lyricism and beauty of words (for a reason) I feel like this is a much more important book. It teaches us about the politics of gender. It shows us how deeply men can misunderstand women and how fraught with deceit and wish fulfillment relationships can be. This is a book that demands to be reread and understood.