Disgruntled With An E

As you may have noticed, I spell my name with the ‘e,’ because how could a woman who grew up with Anne of Green Gables not?

So I watched Anne With An E with trepidation. The actor playing Anne is wonderfully cast. She captures Anne’s brashness without being sentimentalized, although her material doesn’t allow her to flesh out the whimsy that is so integral to the character. Imagine Anne without the scene in which she manages to capsize her boat while imagining herself the Lady of Shalott? Only to be mortified when Gilbert comes to the rescue?

The first carriage ride to Green Gables reveals what could have been in Anne With An E. Anne’s allowed to be whimsical as she renames the avenue and properly charms the middle-aged, taciturn bachelor. I didn’t mind the flashbacks in the first episodes. Montgomery doesn’t hide the fact that Anne’s life experience prior to Green Gables was harsh. She was a child of eleven who had already been raising other women’s children and keeping house and dodging men who drank too much. I appreciated the choice to reveal her background, although at times it may have dwelt a little too melodramatically upon what was a horrifying experience, but more horrifying in its mundane slights and tasks than in its great terrors, like being whipped by a man who then keels over dead.

However, overall, the series simply isn’t successful. Joanna Robinson has a great account of what went wrong in Vanity Fair. She refers here to the minister’s advice that Anne stay at home and learn the skills necessary for being a good wife:

This cruel, pervasive attitude ignores the fact that, historically, Anne has been surrounded by other educated women—like her beloved teacher, Miss Stacy, or the girls who go with her to college. Anne Shirley is not the first girl on the planet to crack a book. These misogynist sentiments not only do the good men of Avonlea a disservice (Anne considers the kindly Reverend Allan in the book a “kindred spirit”) but construct an unnecessary obstacle to Anne’s success. Anne with an E seems to think Anne’s triumphs are only noteworthy if she’s continually told she can’t succeed, when in fact her unfettered brilliance needs no such clumsy opposition. It also seems to think that Anne needs a radical feminist makeover when, in fact, the story of her success was feminist in its own right.

This is core to my discontent with the series. I loved Miss Stacy when I was a child, happily reading the books. I was the brightest in my own class at school and my chief intellectual nemesis happened to also be a boy. My own Miss Stacy was actually a male teacher, but I absolutely appreciated how much of a relief it was to Anne to find a teacher who would encourage her love of writing and literature. To not feature Miss Stacy in any version of Anne of Green Gables? Particularly when the novel is chocked-full of great female role models for Anne?

Her name is Miss Muriel Stacy. Isn’t that a romantic name? Mrs. Lynde says they’ve never had a female teacher in Avonlea before and she thinks it is a dangerous innovation. But I think it will be splendid to have a lady teacher, and I really don’t see how I’m going to live through the two weeks before school begins. I’m so impatient to see her […]

She dresses beautifully and her sleeve puffs are bigger than anyone else’s in Avonlea. – Anne of Green Gables

There are two things to note. Miss Stacy is an intellectual mentor. She encourages Anne to go to college and to take her education seriously. Indeed, Marilla rescues Anne in no small way because she sees a bright girl and knows she should be in school. The novels are a celebration of women’s education. Which is why I was so disappointed that in rearranging events, the series has Anne helping to save Green Gables by becoming a cleaner. There’s only glancing reference to her intelligence and her experience in the class room, both of which are so integral to the novels. We all know that Anne goes to college and that she helps support Green Gables by moving home and teaching, continuing to study in her spare time. She goes on to earn her B.A.. Even Gilbert is deprived of his intellectual ambition in this adaptation, setting off to the docks where in the novels he works himself almost to death to become a doctor.

Miss Stacy is also a fashion mentor. The puffed sleeves do appear in the latest adaptation, but no sooner do they appear than they are forgotten, cast aside for a strange subplot about Matthew’s childhood sweetheart, as though a middle-aged man would still be pining for a girl he barely spoke to when he was a child. Anne’s love of fashion is not inconsequential. She learns to dress for the person she wishes to be – she understands that puffed sleeves have power and can lend her consequence. The novels never trivialize femininity or the interests of women. Anne can be an intellectual giant and still obsess over puffed sleeves.

However, speaking of Gilbert earlier… the series turns him into a saint! The power of the slate cracking on his skull is completely sapped, Anne’s righteous fury and indignation rendered bizarre.

The 1985 adaptation, Anne’s cheeks puffed with outrage, captured the real spirit and satisfaction of the slate incident.

I may never forgive the series for what they did to Gilbert.

Indeed, I’m trying to forget the final episode altogether…

 

Getting Gaston Right

(Note: some spoilers for the recently released film.)

Everyone who knows me knows I was looking forward to seeing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (2017). I have often joked that my PhD thesis was inspired by Gaston’s biceps and it’s actually, absolutely true. I was really interested in how the transition from animation to stage production was achieved and Gaston’s sheer physicality in the animated feature made a great case study. I won’t deny that research was fun. I took Eisenstein’s theory of plasticity in animation and applied it to theatrical performance.

I felt confident about Luke Evans’ casting from the moment I saw him singing with Australia’s first Gaston, Hugh Jackman, on the Jonathan Ross Show. The big expressions and gestures? The physique? The deep voice? Check, check, check.

 

Jacqueline Durran retained Gaston’s colour palette for the film, particularly that explosive red (my PhD supervisor was in stitches when he noticed I’d written that the colours of Gaston’s costume detonated strength and violence). The transition from animation is particularly successful. Stage productions replicated the cartoonish appearance of Gaston’s wardrobe with its bright, bright reds and yellows, and even added a little extra definition to pectoral and stomach muscles with some judicious padding and painting. Durran’s costume for Gaston is earthier and more wearable, so to speak. The suggestion of the military about his frock coats and the loose linen shirts shift attention from his physical to his sartorial display, which works just as well for the character. He remains larger than life without pumping up his biceps to rival Popeye’s.

It’s difficult to pin down why Gaston is such an attractive figure, despite being completely awful, malicious, and terrifying. I remember speaking to one actor who had played Gaston and he professed to being very confused about the women who gathered at the stage door to see him! Yet, there it is. Indeed, recently Gaston proved a hit at Disney World, as reported by GQ. And on io9, Katharine Trendacosta argued for a Gaston prequel: “It wasn’t exactly that Gaston had depth so much as he walked a line of menacing and hilarious that just worked.” Emily Asher-Perrin on Tor.com further reflects: “Luke Evans gives a fantastic turn as Gaston, but it isn’t merely his performance that stands out—it is that manner in which the script addresses Gaston’s toxic masculinity with far defter strokes that its predecessor. Gaston isn’t just some big burly alpha male who gets what he wants with the application of muscle and bullheadedness; the film reveals this construction to be a lie, and instead chooses to focus on how men like Gaston truly operate in the world.” Perhaps it’s that latter point that makes him all the more chilling. The film, while allowing us to laugh at his brazen narcissism, also offered us the opportunity to baulk at his malice and manipulation. The film went deeper into his villainy by showing how it operated in the community itself. This was no solo-villain, living on the fringes of society like a Maleficent or Ursula or Scar. This is a villain in complete command of the populace and they love him, even as he despises them.

The truly terrifying aspect of Gaston is perhaps that I realise I’m fascinated by him too.

Why Is Belle Indecent?

This is a post about Belle’s drawers, in a way. Again, please note, minor spoilers regarding the recently released film, Beauty and the Beast (2017).

One of the things that struck me in the film was that Belle was often running about with her underwear showing! How embarrassing! This was, of course, an effort to create a more ‘feminist’ wardrobe for the active heroine, but for a viewer familiar with fashion history, it could be perplexing. There were a flurry of articles about Emma Watson not wearing a corset, ascribing this to her desire for Belle to be unimpeded and active. However, corsets of the time were designed to support women’s activity and… basically… to support their bosoms! There were no bras. Corsets helped prevent painful bouncing situations. (Hilary Davidson has an interesting Twitter thread on the issue.)

The animated film was not, needless to say, historically accurate and there’s no reason for the film to be so. However, the film does reproduce the intricacies of eighteenth century fashion, so Belle’s fashion choices do strike me as overtly anachronistic.* No wonder the villagers thought she was odd!

In an interview for Fashionista, costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, discussed many of the choices.

Durran: “We took elements of those 18th century things and added them to Belle. So her pockets, for instance, are an 18th century thing. It’s just that people didn’t wear them outside like she does. They wore them inside the dress, hidden. But we just put them on the outside [like a tool belt] to look extra useful.”

Okay, pockets as tool belt. That’s fine. However, imagine the ‘magic’ of whipping her tools from her skirts! The pockets were accessible and useful to the wearer, but were more difficult for thieves to pick. It would have been very odd in the period for Belle to be wearing pockets outside her skirts.

Durran: “And she had her skirt that she hikes up into waist and, to make that possible, she wears bloomers underneath, which are almost like her wearing trousers. But she doesn’t wear trousers because she’s a girl in the 18th century.”

The ‘hike’ really did kind of annoy me. It looked like she had her skirts caught in her knickers! I’m sorry. But it was rather indecent in a village of eighteenth-century costumes. The ‘trousers’ were light and flimsy and looked like the undergarments that would emerge particularly in the late eighteenth-century for women. These were, however, at the time often regarded as racy and even indecent, rather than as liberating for an active woman. Women certainly wouldn’t have shown their bloomers while walking down the street at that time – it would be the equivalent of a woman walking down the street in her knickers today, really. And, in fact, trousers weren’t entirely unknown in a woman’s wardrobe of the time. Marie-Antoinette, after all, wore trousers for riding, as evident in Brun’s painting:

An actual pair of trousers would have looked much better than a skirt hiked to reveal flimsy bloomers that probably wouldn’t have withstood all that horseback riding. Imagine Belle’s poor thighs! A sturdier material for the bloomers may have been a nice note to the later Bloomers movement, too, which definitely had feminist motivations.

I’ve already blogged about my concerns with the yellow ballgown. It did look pretty and it was better in motion, particularly from the back, but a little more oomph would have balanced Belle with the Beast. The lightness of the satin organza, painted in gold rather than embroidered, did look pretty and floaty, but I still longed for the textile splendor of the gowns of the period, particularly next to the richness of the Beast’s wardrobe. However, it’s when she rips her skirts off that the problems really start. She’s running about in her chemise and petticoats – her underwear, basically. Sometimes petticoats and chemises were worn to show – to peep out from the intricately laced and flounced gowns, however, not really to be worn on their own.** It’s a chemise and undergarments, furthermore, that don’t fully look like they were worn beneath the gown in question, as a friend seeing the film with me noted. Not to mention that along the way she has picked up some boots. If she changed for boots, couldn’t she have changed the gown to something more practical, rather than later rip it off and run about in underwear? An eighteenth-century gown would have taken a little while to unlace from, but Belle’s gown seemed simple enough to take off.

The concluding ballroom scene also featured an anachronistic Belle. White and cream dominated among the gowns of the supporting women and the floral print of Belle’s white, semi-transparent gown was consequently a bit lost, particularly when the prince is wearing a beautiful blue brocade with silver lacing that is entirely in keeping with the period. Anachronisms are not unusual in costume design – Outlander rather cleverly plays upon them – and Beauty and the Beast is certainly not authentically eighteenth-century. However, I couldn’t help but think Belle was consistently anachronistic in a way that the other characters were not. This is partly a conscious move, but not altogether successful.

This is in keeping with a few other choices designed to make Belle more active, but that, to me at least, fell a little flat. There was much discussion of Belle becoming an inventor. She does rig a kind of washing machine to do her laundry, but she doesn’t share this innovation with the other women and the mechanics of her rig would monopolise the fountain, making it unlikely to be a real time-saving device for anyone but Belle herself. There’s no indication that she’s about to run out and receive a patent for her device, either, unlike, for example, eighteenth-century inventor, Sybilla Righton Masters. It does give Belle a chance to teach a young girl to read, but her attempt is easily frustrated by the male teacher.

The magical ‘book’ that can transport Belle and the Beast to Paris has antecedents in earlier tales in which Beauty is able to watch operas and plays from around Europe in the Beast’s castle. In Planché’s translation of Villeneuve’s tale, he describes the technology that permits Beauty to see all kinds of theatrical entertainments. It sounds oddly like television!

What does Belle, our heroine who longs for the greater world, do with this magic? Beast is excited to arrive in Paris, but they land in a tiny attic and it turns out that Belle used this magic simply to discover the truth about what happened to her mother. This is certainly laudable, but again, the focus is upon Belle. For a heroine who longs for more, she is remarkably centred on her own self. Once she finds out her history, she just wants to go home. Even though Notre-Dame is right outside the window! Perhaps, as the Beast suggests, it’s too touristy!

I did enjoy the film, don’t get me wrong. The problem is, I think the male characters became more interesting! The Beast certainly became more fully fleshed out and I did love the portrayal of the Beast as a wicked young Prince, in particular. The make-up was gorgeous! Gaston hit all the right notes, too. However, in a tale that celebrates Beauty, I felt she became rather lost, vocally and sartorially.

 

 

*I was disappointed that in ballroom scenes, the women wore white and cream gowns. The gowns of the period were a festival of colour and while the white gowns drew attention to the prince, they were also a little less exciting than they could have been. Of course, replicating historical fashions is always problematic for fairy-tale film. The Slipper and the Rose (1976) populates its ballroom scenes with pastel confections, meaning that its Cinderella doesn’t really stand out as much as she might.

** The chemise a la reine would have been an interesting fashion note for Belle to have adopted. A simpler, unstructured gown, it was popularised by Marie-Antoinette.

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What Could Belle Read?

Fragonard, The Reader

(Note: some minor spoilers of the recently released film.)

Beauty has always been a reader. Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve tells us Beauty enjoys reading and was deprived of the pleasure when her father was obliged to sell his books. Beauty is delighted to find a great library in the Beast’s castle: “Her great taste for study could easily be satisfied in this place, and could easily guarantee her against the dulness [sic] consequent on solitude” (Planché, Four and Twenty Fairy Tales). The 1991 Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, made much of Belle’s love of reading, promoting her literary interests as a feminist quality. Moreover, Belle is reading a fairy tale in the animated film, one in which the heroine fails to recognise her prince charming before chapter three. It is a metafictional nod that actually occurs in the tale’s pre-history.

Before Villeneuve presented “Beauty and the Beast” to the world, tales of young women and beasts were already common fodder for fairy tale authors. Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy presents us with two interesting antecedents for the tale, “The Ram” and “The Green Serpent.” In “The Ram,” Merveilleuse is exiled by her father, the king, for not showing him love and respect in the grandiloquent manner he expects. She finds herself in a pastoral paradise of streams running with Spanish wine, trees hung with dressed partridges, and dark places where it rains lobsters and white pudding. This freakish landscape is presided over by the Ram, a prince who has been transformed into a sheep. He is bedecked in diamonds and pearls and carries her off in his great, verdant pumpkin coach, while his companions, a whole herd of enchanted sheep, sip coffee and sherbets. The tale follows the path of “Beauty and the Beast,” with Merveilleuse returning for her sisters’ weddings under assurances of later rejoining the Ram. However, her father recognises her and is so contrite, he presents Merveilleuse with his very own crown. She forgets all about the Ram in the excitement of becoming Queen and the Ram consequently dies of a broken heart at the gates of the palace. So much for romance.

It is “The Green Serpent,” however, that foreshadows “Beauty and the Beast” more closely. The heroine, Laidronette, is cursed to be ugly by a fairy who has a complex about her height. Indeed, Laidronette’s name indicates her ugliness, not her beauty. She chooses to remove herself from court, but on her travels becomes lost at sea. The Green Serpent wishes to help her, but she finds him too monstrous and rejects him, even in her plight. Instead of being lost, however, she is rescued and bestowed in an incredible palace, courted by an invisible lover who, of course, is the serpent. She reads a book about Psyche and Cupid, but while she sensibly believes she should learn the lesson of the tale and not seek to uncover the nature of her mysterious lover, her family convinces her otherwise. It is the kind of metafictional twist we see in the animated film three hundred years later. Laidronette’s actions unwittingly abort the breaking of the curse upon the prince/serpent and so she must go through a series of trials to be able to finally, consciously, break it. In the process, she is herself made beautiful.

The live action Beauty and the Beast (2017) retains the sung line about the fairy tale, but there are so many other literary references, that it loses some of its power. It is terrific to see a wider range of reading represented. I was, nonetheless, a little disappointed to see more focus on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which doesn’t work metafictionally with Belle’s own story. I did enjoy the Beast’s response to it, however, and his immediate determination to introduce her to some wider reading! Quite so! Nonetheless, it would have been nice to see more female authors represented – for instance, rather than give Villeneuve’s name to the patriarchal horror that is Belle’s village, why not allow Belle to read Villeneuve’s actual literary works? The heroines of previous tales rely upon feminine advice and stories in understanding their own fates. Indeed, when Beast is caught reading about Arthur and Guinevere – Belle teasing him that it’s a romance – it becomes more about Beast reading about male characters and interests.

What could Belle be reading? Of course, it would be delightful if she were reading Villeneuve’s “Beauty and the Beast” or even d’Aulnoy’s “The Green Serpent” or “The Ram,” but here are some other options:

Margaret Cavendish, The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World or The Female Academy

Aphra Behn, The Fair Jilt

Henriette-Julie de Murat, “The Pig King” or “Bearskin” (in this case, Beauty is in animal form)

Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier, “Marmoisan” or “The adventures of the discreet princess”

Claudine Alexandrine Guerin de Tencin, The Siege of Calais

Françoise de Graffigny, Letters from a Peruvian Woman

Eliza Haywood, Fantomina; or Love in a Maze

Louise d’Épinay, L’Histoire de Madame de Montbrillant,

Of course, the film does plump for more recognisable works, although “A Crystal Forest” by William Sharp is rather more obscure and was actually written much later than the period in which the film is ostensibly set. Part of the problem, however, is that people aren’t exposed to the history of women’s writing to the degree they are exposed to men’s writing. Indeed, I was somewhat vexed to see Paul Young quoted in a Huffington Post piece on the film: ““[’Beauty and the Beast’ is] a story written and published by a woman, with a strong female character at its lead, who is very reflective and intelligent and she makes her own choices, which is not something you saw in French literature or in French society at the time.” Perhaps it was not as common or well-known, but it was certainly not completely unknown in the eighteenth century or even earlier.

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Writing the Gilmore Girls

We all have different opinions about the Gilmore Girls Netflix episodes. I think in many ways, the negative responses are an oddly positive sign of how far we’ve come in what we demand of our television shows. Yes, it is basically a show about privileged white women. That has its set of problems and many of those problems have been exasperated in the past decade. However, while the body shaming in the pool scenes was an off-note, it doesn’t detract from the years of positive representation of Miss Patty and Sookie. Never once did the show cast any aspersion upon their weight – they were whole, successful, sexual, and attractive figures. And while there could be more diversity in the casting, that doesn’t take away from what great characters Lane and Mrs Kim, Michel, and even Gypsy and Ceasar have been. I’m also tickled pink to see Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeting about watching the series from the start – I like a nice cultural convergence!

And, honestly, being a musical theatre geek, no, the Stars Hollow musical scenes are not too long. They are perfect. I love them.

However, that’s not what I wanted to write a quick blog post about. Rory’s story in the revival has been the most criticised. Often justly! There’s no denying that she is annoying and we all wanted better from her and for her. I cringed the moment I realised she was with Logan. The bit that particularly intrigued me, though, was Jess’s suggestion that she write the story of the ‘Gilmore Girls.’

I found it oddly satisfying and very frustrating. It felt like a perfect beat, echoing Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. The heroine is stuck, seemingly rootless and directionless, and a man tells her ‘write what you know.’

Of course, two problems. First, a man tells her – why is it always a former or current love interest?* Seriously? Why do they need the man to sweep in and tell them what to write? Secondly, write what she knows?? That advice always frustrated me. Why do female authors always get that advice? Why is there an assumption that they should stick to writing about their own lives, rather than exploring all sorts of exciting alternatives? There’s nothing wrong with writing about one’s own life, of course, but it’s often treated as the sole option for the female author. While I think there is a nice rounding out of the themes in Rory writing about her mother and herself, I miss the Rory who went out on the campaign trail with Obama, who wanted to be in trenches reporting on wars. I actually wouldn’t have even minded a Rory who took the Stars Hollow Gazette to great new heights, whiskey in her desk drawer and all. She could still be a contender. She loves that paper.

In my mind, I’m just going to imagine that she remains as editor of the Stars Hollow Gazette, gets motivated by those last four words, and digs in and makes a life for herself with or without a baby.

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*In terms of Anne of Green Gables, this picks up on the miniseries with Megan Follows.

My Fairy-Tale Mixtape

When I saw Inkgypsy’s Once Upon a Time blog on fairy-tale mixtapes (inspired by Adam’s fantastic take on Andrew Lang), could I resist? Of course, the problem is that I could easily have listed all d’Aulnoy’s tales, but I have tried to restrain myself to a few key favourites. I’m sure I’d reorder this and swap out tales, but I do have a pile of grading to sort through, so I think this will have to be a ‘quickie’! I’ve also included films and novels, because I don’t see why there’s a reason to be restrictive when it comes to fairy tales!

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  1. Finette Cendron, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy
  2. Viola, Giambattista Basile
  3. The Devil and Gasparino, Giovan Francesco Straparola
  4. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  5. The Discreet Princess; or The Adventures of Finette, Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier
  6. Pretty as a Picture, Giambattista Basile*
  7. Riquet with the Tuft, Catherine Bernard
  8. How The Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One, C S E Cooney
  9. The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse, Susanna Clarke
  10. The Savage, Henriette Julie de Murat
  11. Labyrinth, Jim Henson
  12. The White Doe, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy
  13. Peau d’Âne, Jacques Demy
  14. The Pig King, Henriette Julie de Murat
  15. The Green Serpent, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy
  16. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
  17. Mandosiane in Captivity, Jean Lorrain
  18. The Old Woman’s Hide, Italo Calvino
  19. The Cave of the Golden Rose, Lamberto Bava
  20. Constanza/Constanzo, Giovan Francesco Straparola
  21. Puss-in-Boots, Angela Carter

You might notice the lack of Grimms. What can I say?

 

*Just today I was reading a blog post about a Medieval tale of a woman who sort comfort with her own model of Sir Gawain, which immediately made me think of this tale.

Hamilton: A Musical About A Scholar

How does a bastard, orphan / son of a whore and a Scotsman / dropped into the middle of a / forgotten spot in the Caribbean / by Providence, impoverished, in squalor / grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

I was a little late to Hamilton, but yesterday I was listening to a seminar paper and when the author quoted Jefferson, I suddenly had visions of the purple suited Daveed Diggs dancing in my mind. It was particularly ironic since the paper was about the representation of whiteness.

However, that’s not the object of this post – although I am awfully excited about what the hit musical means in terms of representation. No, apart from Lee’s “I’m a general – whee!”, my favourite Hamilton line identifies the founding father as a hero and a scholar. How often do we see academics as the object of a musical? Not enough! And that it comes just as the 44th President becomes the first to publish an academic paper is extra sweet. To me, the most exciting aspect of being an academic is the intellectual adventure. To see that intellectual adventure as the subject of a musical is amazing. There may be some duelling, the occasional stealing of a canon, but what drives Hamilton in the musical is his scholarship and writing. Indeed, writing is the core of the show: the letters, the essays, the words upon which the nation was established.

Today I spotted an interview (Kris Vire in Time Out, Sept. 7 2016) with Lin-Manual Miranda where he says: “And we don’t think of writers as action figures, right? We think of action figures as action figures; we think of soldiers, we think of sports stars. But this is a guy who wrote three lifetimes’ worth of work, and that is really both what got him success and also what got him into trouble. The fact that this guy couldn’t stop writing, as both his biggest strength and his biggest flaw, is the other exciting thing about him.”

Writers are people of action. It takes courage to write, to submit, to publish, to put oneself out in the arena of publish opinion armed simply with ideas.

Writers are action figures.

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Incidentally, I’m really looking forward to seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work with Disney. If you haven’t seen it yet, do have a look at his takeover of Disney’s Instagram. I’m a particular fan of his Gaston!

“Baba Bobs Her Hair” and other bits and bobs

I recently published a fairy tale over at Timeless Tales Magazine as part of their Baba Yaga issue. Baba Yaga tales are always such great fun! Who doesn’t love a house on chicken legs?

The tale has a 1920s spin, with loads of fantastic 20s slang and a little movie glamour. Just a little! This is a Baba Yaga tale, so most of the story takes place in a less than savoury setting. I also recorded an audio version of the tale, which for a little magazine patronage, you can download. I’ve been incredibly nervous about that audio! It seemed like such a fun idea to record until I started trying to get Baba’s voice right!!!

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I’ve also published a short piece in The Victorian Writer, “The Heart of the Princess.” I explore the glamorous history of princesses, because it never does to forget the glamour.

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I’m also happy to be in such great company in the issue. Louisa John-Krol‘s story, “The Yellow Mansion,” ends with gold slippers, which made me very happy! Kate Forsyth also has a darker take on fairy tale history. It can’t all be about sparkly things!

The Australian Fairy Tale Society is calling for presentation submissions for its annual conference in June next year. The deadline is January 29. The conference will be in Melbourne next year, which I’m really excited about! The theme is “Into the Bush: Its Beauty and its Terror.” I wonder if we’ll run into Prince Eucalyptus  in the Bush?

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Research and Mrs Exeter

I saw an excellent paper the other night, “Inhabiting an Ageing Body: Old Age, Fashion and Beauty Culture in the Twentieth Century,” by Charlotte Greenhalgh. I’ve an active interest in representations of old age. Deb Waterhouse-Watson and I wrote an essay on old age in children’s fantasy for Harleys and Hormones: Ageing, Popular Culture and Contemporary Feminism, and I’ve even been turning my own hand to representing old age in a story about Glinda. Greenhalgh focussed on an historical approach, examining first hand accounts of men and women talking about their relationships to fashion. She also used Vogue as a key source of information and, in particular, the career of Mrs Exeter. Mrs Exeter was a fictional character, but through her, Vogue explored how older women could relate to and adapt fashion. Her first appearance in the late 40s led to a successful ‘career’ right up to the early 60s. She coincided with a period in fashion that valued sophistication and experience and produced styles that suited and flattered mature bodies.

I was immediately fascinated by the character. I spent the following morning researching her. I found a couple of articles, a book chapter, a few references elsewhere. I found some old Vogue magazines and pattern books that featured her, though most were out of my price range. I was happily discovering a new interest, but around lunch time, I began to feel guilty. I said to a good friend that I was really wasting my time, because I wasn’t immediately planning to write an article. She responded that I actually didn’t need a reason to research Mrs Exeter. Besides, a reason might come along in the future.

Research in the university system today is very ‘outcome’ based. We rarely receive funding or spend time on research that won’t result in an article, a book, a grant submission. It occurred to me, though, as I looked at my haul of Mrs Exeter information, that surely part of an academic’s job is to research, to be curious, to learn? As we become more outcome-driven, our curiosity muscle weakens from neglect. We stop learning and become focussed solely on our own increasingly stagnated, intellectual contribution. Of course, outcomes are vital. My realisation is that universities are increasingly reducing support for research that isn’t tied to an outcome, yet such research is the essential groundwork for intellectual development. Even in my desire to justify my attendance at a paper – “because I have an active research interest” – signals the changing culture in which academic curiosity is becoming steadily endangered.

An Afternoon with Alice CFP

cheshire cat

The Monash Fairy Tale Salon will be hosting a curious afternoon of madness and muchness as we go down the rabbit hole in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Long before Tim Burton and Walt Disney stepped through the looking-glass, a mathematician, a Reverend and three girls went for a boating trip on the Isis. During the journey the mathematician regaled the party with a nonsense story that has become known as one of the favourite stories for children and adults alike. For one afternoon only, we will be hosting an exploration of all the impossible things we can do before breakfast. Come along and learn about the author and illustrators who shaped literary history and gave us such wonderfully uncommon nonsense. For the bold at heart (or the Queen of Hearts), come dressed as your favourite Wonderland character! This event is open to anyone who has a love for nonsense and will take place at the Theatrette, Glen Eira Town Hall, on Saturday June 13, starting at 1pm, as part of the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival.

We are looking for interested participants who would like to present papers or original work in the form of readings or performances.

Areas of interest:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland scholarship (incl. literary studies, film & TV, drama studies, gender studies)
– Live performance of Carroll inspired work
– Carroll inspired readings (incl. readings of Carroll’s work or work inspired by Alice)

Please send a 100-200 word summary or abstract to arts-fairytale@monash.edu by April 27. For more information, please contact us at arts-fairytale@monash.edu.