Marine: Angela Carter and America

Hello all!

I am a PhD student at Cardiff University, proudly representing TLW in Wales. My research focuses mostly on the portrayal of objects and materiality in the work of Angela Carter. Naturally I couldn’t miss an opportunity to talk a bit more about her. While my research doesn’t directly concern itself with transatlanticism, it is worth looking at Carter for an example of a British writer’s critique of America.

If you’ve been one of our attendees from year 1, you’ll know that we invited Dr Heidi Yeandle (Swansea University) to tell us about her research into Carter’s portrayal of America. The case for reading her work in a transatlantic light is therefore a well established one, with researchers like Yeandle, but also Sarah Gamble, and Edmund Gordon’s recent biography. Carter’s relationship to the continent was a fraught one on multiple emotional, cultural, and political levels. Her first experience of America was a trip to the ‘US of A’ after she’d won the Somerset Maugham literary Award for her novel Several Perceptions (1968). Then accompanied by her first husband Paul Carter, she took a road trip around the country before embarking on a plane to Japan. A month there led to some drastic changes: she left Paul and filed for divorce, and what was supposed to be a short stay became a 2-year long expatriation that lasted until 1972. While her trip to America was comparatively shorter and less eventful, Carter still acknowledges its effect on her imagination in the essay ‘My Maugham Award’ she wrote in 1970:

‘In America, I saw a great many hallucinatory midnight bus stations and lived in a log cabin in a redwood forest for a while. I heard the windbells of San Francisco and the picturesque cries of the street traders of the Haight-Ashbury quarter … ‘hash … lids … grass’ I made a sentimental journey to the jazz museum in New Orleans and looked at a glass case containing Bix Beiderbecke’s collar studs and handkerchief through a mist of tears. […]’[1]

The enumeration goes on. Carter compares the effect of the travels she undertook around that time with an ‘enormous barrage of imagery’ (204). Indeed, her writings bear the mark of an American inspiration, particularly her novel The Passion of New Eve (1977), set in the USA, and replete with allusions to Hollywood and the cinema industry. In addition, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) takes place in an imagined South America – a homage to the continent of Magical Realism and Borges, who Carter had started reading while travelling in Asia.[2]

When she returned to America more than a decade later, Carter’s career had blossomed. She had published her novels The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and The Passion of New Eve (1977), and the short story collections Fireworks (1974) and The Bloody Chamber (1979). In her polemical essay The Sadeian Woman, she had put forward radical ideas about the politics of sex, pornography, and pleasure. During the 1980s, Carter lived in the USA three times in total: in 1980, as a teaching fellow at Brown University; in 1985, for a similar position at the University of Texas, Austin; and in 1986, to work at the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa.[3] Unsurprisingly, her journals from the decade testify to her growing interest in American history, but also in contemporary American culture, with topics ranging from snake fights (yes, yes) to urbanism – on a random note, she took extended notes on the malls she visited there. Nevertheless, Carter remained very ambivalent in her assessment of her temporary home country. Her notes from that time reveal her frustration:

‘It’s a culture so entirely without sensuality that I find it very difficult to work here. It’s not something I can talk to Americans about, either; the sensuous apprehension of the world was written out of the script very, very early on.’[4]

The short stories that she wrote during the decade, later anthologised in Black Venus (1984) and the posthumous Old World Wonders and American Ghosts (1992) show Carter working out her frustration with the American ‘script’ by exploring foundational myths. Carter’s America, home to Edgar Allan Poe, Lizzie Borden, Cotton Mather and John Ford, is a ghostly land, haunted by puritanism, violence, and repressed European paganism. It is also a colonised land, and the figure of the Native American appears in various guises throughout the collections. To conclude this (very) short introduction to Carter’s transatlantic aesthetics, I will leave you with her own depiction of the American continent, taken from the story ‘John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore”:

America begins and ends in the cold and solitude. Up here, she pillows her head upon the Arctic snow. Down there, she dips her feet in the chilly waters of the South Atlantic, home of the perpetually restless albatross. America, with her torso of a woman at the time of this story, a woman with an hour-glass waist, a waist laced so tightly it snapped in two, and we put a belt of water there. America, with your child-bearing hips and your crotch of jungle, your swelling bosom of a nursing mother and your cold head, your cold head.

Its central paradox resides in this: that the top half doesn’t know what the bottom half is doing.[5]

Marine.

[1] Angela Carter, Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings, ed. by Jenny Uglow (London: Penguin Books, 1998), p. 203.

[2] Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2016), p. 143.

[3] See Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2016), for a detailed chronology.

[4] Cited in Gordon, p. 314.

[5] Angela Carter, American Ghosts & Old World Wonders (Random House, 2012), p. 21.

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Guest Blog: Deborah Snow Molloy and her New York Gals

Hello everyone,

It’s lovely to be here, thanks very much to the team for welcoming me in a guest spot. I’m a part time, distance scholar writing from a very warm corner of Kent, and proud to be doing my PhD at the University of Glasgow under Laura’s steerage.  My project focusses on female mental illness in New York fiction of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, with a particular interest in the relationship between the city and female distress.

On first glance there wouldn’t appear to be much transatlanticism contained within my project, but as I sat and wondered how I could write this blog I realised just how many of my texts include a journey across the Atlantic. New York City is a liminal space, situated as it is on an archipelago at the edge of a continent, a place where fact and fiction blur.  It was a site of both entrance and exit as people came and went through the harbour, before air travel was possible, following a dream or escaping a nightmare.

Djuna Barnes describes Manhattan in a wonderfully evocative piece written in 1917 about a boat trip round the island;

“New York rose out of the water like a great wave that found it impossible to return again and so remained there in horror, peering out of the million windows men had caged it with.[1]

She goes on to recount her dismay at the amount of refuse the city dumped on the wharf and the proximity between the rotting waste, an insane asylum and a home for old men. As she tells it, the waifs and strays of the city are lumped together in one unsightly mass on Randall Island, on the opposite side to the luxurious cruise liners docked in Chelsea. It is perhaps not surprising that Barnes left New York in 1921 to become one of the Lost Generation writers in Paris, though she continued to write about the city of her youth, and ultimately did return.

Edith Wharton, a TWL favourite, similarly left the Big Apple behind her in favour of a continental existence but could not escape the lure of New York in her writing. The extended Wyant/Manford clan run away from New York in Wharton’s Twilight Sleep (1927)and Kate Cleophane makes a brave return to the city in A Mother’s Recompense (1925), only to flee again from “the Babylonian New York which seemed to sway and totter toward her menacingly[2]. Wharton wrote the blurb for Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)in which we follow Lorelei Lee from New York over to Europe and back again on her increasingly sociopathic adventures. Helga Crane’s internal divisions are externalised as she shuttles between Harlem and Copenhagen in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) whilst Angela Mory seeks to leave the strain of prejudice and pretence behind her as she leaves the city for Paris in Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun(1928). These ladies flee the verticality of the city for the horizontal space of the liner deck and the wide, blue ocean, looking to escape from their troubles but often coming right back to them.

Sonya Vrunsky in Anzia Yezierska’s Salome of the Tenements(1923) makes the crossing from Europe as a child, full of potential and hope for a new life, only to find clinging poverty and disillusionment in the East Village,

“on the ship to America, the sea, the sky called to me ‘Fly, fly, free, like the sea-gulls!’ But I was roped off, herded, like cattle, in the steerage, choked with bundles and rags and sea-sick humanity.”[3]

Her struggles to reconcile her Russian, Jewish heritage with her love for her American, Protestant husband forms the transatlantic heart of the novel. Betty Smith offers a similar vignette within A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1944), as Aunt Sissy satisfies her baby-craving by adopting the illegitimate child of a young immigrant girl, who returns to Sicily with her parents after the failure of their American Dream.

Fannie Hurst is one of my more forgotten authors, though she was a best-seller for years.  She captures both the beauty and the terror of New York in her short story “The Vertical City” (1922).

“All who would see the sky must gaze upward between these rockets of frenzied architecture, which are as beautiful as the terrific can ever be beautiful.”[4]

Literary New York is an uneasy place, full of noises and motion that unsettle its inhabitants. The population ebbs and flows with the tide, and whilst characters do seek to escape it is hard to break free from the shadow of Lady Liberty.   Its many contradictions result in a disorienting map of broken lives, where only the toughest can survive, but there is also an undenial allure to the City by the sea.

As a final thought, I would like to recommend Lauren Elkin’s book Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London(2016) to anyone looking for a slightly different literary read. In it she documents her own transatlantic travails through several major global cities, set against a back drop of insightful literary criticism.  A native New Yorker, she considers the ways that women interact with unfamiliar urban spaces in a self-deprecating and witty manner, retracing her own footsteps via the works of Jean Rhys, George Sands, Martha Gellhorn and more.  To give her the last word:

People move to New York from all over the world, drawn to what it stands for: work, success, freedom, acceptance, glamour…To approach the city from somewhere else amplifies it’s power. There are so many viewpoints on the city that ‘New York’ – the idea – is filtered in the imagination through millions of tiny windowpanes.”[5]

[1]Djuna Barnes, “’The Hem of Manhattan’ [New York Morning Telegraph Sunday Magazine, July 29, 1917]”, pp285 – 295 in New York: Djuna Barnes, edited with commentary by Alyce Barry, 1989, (Sun & Moon Press: Los Angeles),

[2]Edith Wharton, The Mother’s Recompense, 1986, (Virago Press Ltd: London), p36

[3]Anzia Yezierska, Salome of the Tenements, 1995, (University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago), 34

[4]Fannie Hurst, “The Vertical City”, 48-62 in The Vertical City,2015, (Jefferson Publication: USA)

[5]Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London,2016, (Vintage: London)

Get to know the TLW team: Kari and the Hollywood Novel

Hello everyone! Over the summer, each member of the TLW team will be writing a post to tell you a little bit about what they’re reading and researching at the moment. Today it’s our resident film buff, Kari Sund!

***

I hope you’re all having a great summer and that everyone has had the chance to enjoy the rare Scottish sunshine! My reading is strictly taking place outdoors now (even in rain – I’m stubborn!) so I thought I would focus this blog post on one of the novels I’ve been reading over the last few weeks, Dorothy B. Hughes’ In A Lonely Place (1949). I’ve just re-read this thrilling American crime novel, and I’m hoping that a small taster will convince anyone who hasn’t encountered it before to give it a read.

In a Lonely Place is both a fitting and an unconventional summer read. It’s set in sunny Los Angeles in the 1940s, and the location plays an important role as we follow the main character, Dix Steele, driving around Hollywood, Beverley Hills, and other well-known West Coast locations. We find out very early in the novel, however, that Dix is a serial killer, and many of these routes are the same ones which he uses at night to stalk his victims before raping and murdering them. What might initially be perceived as a sunny and glamorous setting for a novel quickly becomes an extremely dark and disturbing place.

Dix Steele is an ex-World War II fighter pilot. He is originally from the East coast, was based in England during the war, and now lives in Los Angeles. The opening chapter sets the scene for the rest of the novel: Dix reconnects with Brub, his wartime best friend who is now a detective in the LAPD, and he stalks two girls through the dark streets of the city, murdering one of them. He also bumps into his stunning neighbour Laurel Gray, for the first time, immediately falling for her. The rest of the novel follows Dix’s inner narrative as he juggles his secret life as a serial killer, with the seemingly normal persona of a young man falling in love with a girl, and socialising with his best friend.

What seems like love to the outsider, is arguably a desire to possess and control a woman who commands more respect than him. This is obvious from the first time Dix meets Laurel;

“The girl didn’t move for a moment. She stood in his way and looked him over slowly, from crown to toe. The way a man looked over a woman, not the reverse. Her eyes were slant, her lashes curved long and golden dark. She had red-gold hair, flaming hair, flung back from her amber face, falling to her shoulders. Her mouth was too heavy with lipstick, a copper-red mouth, a sultry mouth painted to call attention to its promise.” (21)

It is evident that gender roles are being reversed in this encounter with Laurel, and Dix’s overbearing need to possess her after this is akin to his urge to kill. It is this element of Hughes’ writing which lead to it being interpreted as a feminist story.

Hughes makes no secret throughout the novel that Dix and “the strangler” are one and the same. Many critics have remarked on the nature of the novel as “less a “whodunit” than what we might term a “whydunnit”” (Telotte). I found, rather, that the pleasure in reading this novel came from the experience of piecing together Dix’s history of murder as he gradually unfolds past events to us. It’s like being in a police interview room and hearing a confession, not necessarily of why a man has killed – because Dix never directly reveals this – but of when and how he has killed, and then being able to draw our own conclusions about why.

Some readers may be familiar with the 1950 film-adaptation of the novel, which diverges from Hughes’ storyline in interesting ways. In Nicholas Ray’s film, the viewer is left in suspense about whether Dix is the serial-killer until the very last scene. Though the movie-version of Dix (appropriately played by Humphrey Bogart) is a flawed man with severe anger issues, he is ultimately **!spoiler warning!** innocent of murder. On first watching the film, I assumed that the reason for this change was due to the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code. The Hays Code laid out industry moral guidelines which American-produced movies had to adhere to. These guidelines dictated what could and could not be depicted on screen. Amongst the many topics prohibited were miscegenation, sex, drug use, and it was also not permitted to show or encourage sympathy for a criminal. This meant that the hero of a film could not be allowed to get away with a crime, especially not murder! The impact that the Hays Code had on scriptwriting, adaptation, and film production during this era was huge, so it was surprising to learn that this plot divergence was completely unrelated, and a directorial preference. In Film Noir, Alain Silver advises that the original script saw Dix trying to strangle Laurel, and claims that it was Ray’s decision to change this, with Ray allegedly saying “I just can’t do it. Romances don’t have to end that way . . . They don’t have to end in violence” (474).

I’m not going to try and argue that this novel is overly transatlantic, but there are definitely aspects of relevance which struck me. The war preoccupies much of Dix’s thoughts and memories, and Hughes juxtaposes the overseas experiences of men like Dix and Brub, who have both killed in a way which was accepted and unquestioned by society, with the difficulty that they often experienced trying to integrate back into “normal” society and behaviour. Furthermore, as we see with Dix, many men experienced a completely different quality of life during the war. Dix reminisces about the days when he was a well-dressed hero who commanded respect regardless of what his social background was. When he returns home, he struggles to move back into the social class he belongs to. Though he is not poor, he is also not wealthy, and is required to work for a living. As an alternative to this, Dix prefers to scrounge off a comfortable uncle under the pretence that he writing a book, all the while longing to have the leisure-class lifestyle which he constantly sees promoted around him in California. By basing Dix in England during the war, Hughes makes the chasm between these two lives even more pronounced. The men’s time in the air force seems completely disconnected from their lives at home in America, and they know very little about each other.

If you have an interest in crime, detective, Los Angeles, or Hollywood fiction then I would highly recommend In A Lonely Place. Not only was it a gripping page-turner on the first reading, but like all my favourite works of literature, it was even better on a second reading. When we think of American crime fiction, we tend to automatically think of authors such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and the hard-boiled style. It’s certainly not a genre often associated with women writers, but Hughes’ work stands at the top for me.

Though quite different from the novel, the film adaptation is also fantastic, and now regarded as a classic film noir. If you are interested in seeing it on the big screen, then the Glasgow Film Theatre have screened it around November-time for the last two years, so do keep your eyes peeled if you think it’s something you might enjoy!

***

Next week we’ll be introducing one of our new committee members, so stay tuned!

 

Additional reading:

You can read a free excerpt from In A Lonely Place here.

I also enjoyed this take on the novel as a feminist story, from Glasgow Women’s Library.

 References:

Telotte, J. P., ‘The Displaced Voice of “In A Lonely Place”’ in South Atlantic Review, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan 1989), pp. 1-12.

Silver, Alain, James Ursini et al. Film Noir. Ed. Paul Duncan & Jürgen Müller. Taschen, 2012.

 

“Out of the Shadows”: Forgotten Transatlantic Women Roundtable Discussion

Tuesday 29thMay, 1.30pm, The Kelvin Hall seminar room, free.

It’s a beautiful day in Glasgow, we hope that all our followers have had a chance to get out in the sunshine. Here at TLW HQ the weather has been getting us excited for conference season, and so today we bring you a short post about the TLW Roundtable discussion which we will be hosting at the Glasgow University College of Arts PG Conference on Tuesday the 29thMay.

Laura will be introducing our roundtable discussion by speaking about why she started the Transatlantic Literary Women series. She will also be looking at two forgotten literary women who were overshadowed by male partners or family members: Zelda Fitzgerald and Alice James, as well as Edith Wharton. Sarah will be focusing on Polish-born, Jewish-American writer, Anzia Yezierska and Nella Larsen. She will also exploring how BAME women scholars have recovered forgotten writing, and how essential it is for universities to include diverse curricula. Finally, Saskia will be covering Brazillian writer, Clarice Lispector and African American author, documentary-maker and social activist Toni Cade Bambara.

In addition to the TLW Roundtable, the conference will be hosting a range of excellent keynote speakers and workshops. On Tuesday 29th Dr. Michelle Keown, Senior Lecturer in English Literature (University of Edinburgh), will be kicking off the conference with her keynote address. Wednesday 30thwill see Glasgow University’s own Dr. Benjamin White start the day with his keynote talk ‘Animals in displacement,’ and workshops on Sign Language and Creative Writing. The conference also has a wide and diverse range of papers being presented by an array of panellists over the course of the two days.

We look forward to seeing you all at the roundtable on the 29th, and to the fascinating discussions that will ensue from exploring the achievements of these forgotten women writers.

You can register for the event here (registrations closes on the 17th May), and also head over to the Connections Conference website to see the full programme that the committee have lined up for us, it looks like a great couple of days!

Kari

 

 

 

 

Suffragette Spotlight: Annie Kenney

Ahead of our upcoming Suffrage Centenary Celebration at the People’s Palace Museum (26th and 27th May 1-4pm), the TLW team have been posting weekly blogs about inspiring women who fought for suffrage. Today’s blog focuses on Annie Kenney.

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“As I was one of the leading actors in the first play, so I was one of the leading actors in the last.”
— Annie Kenney, Memories of a Militant

Kenney was born in 1879 to a working-class family near Oldham, and Marie Roberts describes her as “the most readily identifiable representative of working-class women” in the Women’s Social and Political Union (xi). One of eleven children, Kenney went to work in a local cotton-mill when she was ten years-old. Starting out as a ‘half-timer,’ she would work in the morning before going to school in the afternoon. At thirteen years-old she switched to full-time employment in the mill, undertaking shifts as long as twelve hours. It was in this role as a weaver’s assistant that Kenney had one of her fingers torn off.

Kenney continued to work in the mill for 15 years, during which time she helped fellow workers to read, and take an interest in literature. She became involved in the trade union movement, and throughout her life was heavily influenced by Robert Blatchford, the English campaigner and journalist who launched an affordable weekly socialist newspaper called The Clarion.

In 1905, as a member of the Oldham Clarion Vocal Club, Kenney heard Christabel Pankhurst speak. This inspired her to join the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by the Pankhurst family in 1903. In the same year that Kenney joined the WSPU she attended a Liberal rally in Manchester with Christabel, where they repeatedly interrupted Sir Edward Grey to question whether women would be given the right to vote. The two women were removed and later imprisoned for the alleged assault of the police officers who ejected them from the rally. Kenney was imprisoned for three days, the first of thirteen prison sentences throughout her life. In 1913 she was sentenced to a lengthy 18-months which was temporarily interrupted by her release under the Cat and Mouse Act.

Christabel Pankhurst fled to Paris in 1912 to avoid imprisonment, and Kenney was placed in charge of the WSPU in her absence, demonstrating the high degree of influence which she held in the organisation. When the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918 it granted women over the age of 30 the right to vote if they passed certain property and education requirements. After partial suffrage had been won, Kenney dropped out of political life. She married and gave birth to her son in 1923, and published her autobiography the following year.

Many feel that Kenney’s efforts in the fight for the vote have been “undeservedly neglected,” (Roberts, xv) and this often relates to a further belief held by some that working-class efforts for women’s suffrage have also been overlooked. Krista Cowman voices this in her 2018 article for the New Statesman, stating that “When women finally got the vote, the stories of many working class suffragettes were quickly forgotten. Few of them had the time or contacts needed to publish autobiographies and most could not afford to travel to London for the meetings of the Suffragette Fellowship, a militant old girls’ association that tried to preserve their campaign’s history. As we celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act that gave votes to at least some British women in February 1918, we should remind ourselves of the sacrifices made by many ordinary and anonymous women, who risked their livelihoods and reputations alongside their more affluent companions in the fight for equality and citizenship.”

In exploring the various women to cover for the Suffragette Spotlight series, Kenney seemed a particularly fitting figure as she is an inspirational woman both within and without the context of female suffrage. For a generation of young women today, many of whom have experienced a setback in the age that they can hope to reach traditional life-milestones such as starting a career, a family, or buying property, Kenney is an example of someone who refused to let her age, class, gender, or finances, restrict her aspirations and achievements in life. She became a member of the WSPU when she was in her mid–twenties; arguably her greatest life achievement of helping win women’s suffrage was reached when she was in her late thirties, and she was in her early forties before she married and started a family. Despite having to start work at only ten years-old, she succeeded in educating herself through self-study and correspondence courses – encouraging fellow working-class women to do the same – and reached leadership status in the predominantly middle-class led organisation of the WSPU. She experienced the physical consequences of the dangerous working-conditions in Britain in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, but also helped ensure that future generations would have the opportunity to change these conditions by voting for their chosen representatives in government. Kenney exists as both a historical hero who was willing to sacrifice a great deal for a cause she believed in, but also as a rousing reminder that if a woman from her humble background could achieve so much, over a century ago, women today need not let their own goals be limited by the societal expectations which are often imposed on them.

Keep an eye on our website for more blogs like this one, or follow us on Twitter @transatlanticladies using the hashtag #TLWsuffrage. And if you want to learn more about ground-breaking suffragettes, make your own rosettes, and learn about women and the vote, join us at the People’s Palace for an afternoon of crafts, talks, and a look at Glasgow’s suffrage collections!

Kari
References and further reading

Kenney, Annie. Memories of a Militant. London, Edward Arnold & Co., 1924.

Roberts, Marie, and Tamae Mizuta. Perspectives on the History of British Feminism. Routledge/Thoemmes, London, 1994.

Cowman, Krista. “Let’s not forget the working class suffragettes” in New Statesman, 6 February 2018.

Information on Kenney can also obtained from the Working Class Movement Library.

The British Newspaper Archive gives access to articles which mention Kenney.

The Annie Kenney Project is an ongoing campaign to have a statue of Kenney erected in Oldham town square.

Picture courtesy of LSE Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women: Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite_Yourcenar-Bailleul-1982.10.04.Bernhard_De_Grendel_(11)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By Margarida Sao Bento Cadima (University of Glasgow)
Remember to join our online book club on #ForgottenTLW on Wednesday 28th February, 7pm – 8pm, on Twitter.

Marguerite Yourcenar was a Belgian-born French writer who was the first woman to be elected to the Académie française in 1980. While she is not exactly a forgotten writer, she is very much overlooked as a transatlantic writer. She was born Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour on 8th June 1903 in Brussels to a bourgeois family of French origin. During her childhood, Yourcenar travelled through Europe with her father. She visited London, France, Switzerland and Italy. Some places would have more of an impact on her than others, such as visiting the Villa Adriana in Tivoli, which was to be the setting of her most famous novel Memoirs of Hadrien.

In 1921 she published her first poem Le Jardin des chimères under the name Yourcenar, an anagram of her family name that she would adopt as her legal name in 1947, the year she became an American citizen. Her first novel entitled Alexis was published in 1929, and its style is heavily influenced by André Gide’s prose. Traveling had a great impact on Yourcenar, in 1938 she published a collection of short stories entitled Oriental Tales.

The year World War II broke out, Yourcenar moved to the United States with her partner Grace Frick. They met in 1937 when Frick was in Paris doing research work for her thesis, which she started at Yale University and completed at the University of Kansas. Frick and Yourcenar were partners in every sense of the word, with Frick being also a literary scholar and the translator of Yourcenar’s texts to English. For the next forty years they would make the northeast of the United States their home. Yourcenar took a place teaching comparative literature at Sarah Lawrence College and later they bought a house together (which they called “Petite Plaisance”) on Mount Desert Island which is in Northeast Harbor, Maine. If you are ever in the area you can visit it! There, Yourcenar passed away on 17th December 1987 and was buried beside her beloved Grace Frick, who died 8 years prior.

Despite having spent almost five decades living in the United States, Yourcenar never made it a subject of her fiction. In fact, from the shores of the New World, Yourcenar was writing about the Old World. In this light, it is interesting to think what kind of impact that transatlantic experience had on her literary production. Her best-known novel is entitled Memoirs of Hadrian and it was published in 1951 This novel was written entirely in her home in Maine. Yourcenar hesitated about who would be the protagonist of her novel: the choice came down to the Roman emperor Hadrian or the Persian mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam. The title makes it clear with who she went for in the end.

Memoirs of Hadrian is a historical novel recounting the life of Roman emperor Hadrian, in the form of a letter to his successor Marcus Aurelius. In this long letter, the emperor discusses his love for Antinous, life, death, and philosophy. These meditations were not only crossing time, but also crossing place. Writing from a country that was not her birthplace, Yourcenar was concerned with the question of homeland and where does one belong. Through Hadrian she writes that: “The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books.” Ultimately, Yourcenar was a universal writer, more than a European writer, who deserves to be thought of through the perspective of her transatlantic existence.

Have any Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women you want to tell us about? Remember to join our online book club on #ForgottenTLW on Wednesday 28th February 7pm – 8pm. Follow us on twitter @atlantlitwomen

Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women: Hollywood novels by women

So far in our blog series on Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women we have covered a wide range of fascinating and talented writers, including Clarice Lispector, Anzia Yezierska, Lorine Niedecker, and Toni Cade Bambara. Rather than focusing on a specific figure, today I will be looking at two works within a larger genre, the Hollywood novel.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Hollywood novel genre: it began in the 1910’s, continues today, and is made up of novels written about Hollywood and the film industry. At a glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that the genre has predominantly male contributors, as it is a genre in which women’s contributions are frequently overlooked. Most critical studies focus on the most well-known Hollywood novels like Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon (1941), and Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? (1941). One rare female work which is repeatedly recognised is Joan Didion’s first novel Play It as It Lays (1970). Despite the frequent focus on male writing within criticism, bibliographies of the Hollywood novel reveal a surprising amount of works by women. The two examples which I will be discussing today are Frances Marion’s Minnie Flynn (1925), and Katherine Albert’s Remember Valerie March? (1939).

At the beginning of Minnie Flynn, Minnie is a teenage factory girl living with her family in New York. When Minnie becomes romantically involved with a minor actor, she manages to get a foothold in an East Coast film studio. After a rocky start as a struggling extra, Minnie succeeds in ‘making it’ as an actress, and her career takes her to Hollywood. Success doesn’t last, however, and in a tale which is now a familiar Hollywood story, we witness both Minnie’s rise and her fall. Throughout her success, Minnie is consistently reckless with money, worshipping material possessions over all else. She is also taken advantage financially by her friends, family and romantic partners. Though it is difficult to feel sorry for a character who is often arrogant and greedy, Marion still manages to successfully evoke our sympathy in depicting how difficult it can be to distinguish genuine from artificial affection when you are in a position of power, wealth, and celebrity. In Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (1998), Cari Beauchamp tells us that Marion intended for Minnie Flynn to be ‘a warning to the thousands of women she saw pouring into Hollywood full of optimism and without the slightest idea of what lay ahead’ (154). In addition to depicting the pitfalls of fame, Minnie Flynn acts as a valuable account of the film industry in New York and Hollywood. It also explores the practice of acting, and the relationship between an actress and director.

Frances Marion was a director and screenwriter in early Hollywood, and her own life story is as revealing about early Hollywood as her novel is. Beauchamp tells us that by 1930 Marion had been ‘the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood – male or female,’ since 1917 (9). Marion was also the winner of two Academy Awards. In 1931 she won the Writing award for The Big House (1930), and two years later the Best Story award for The Champ (1931). Details like these can hardly be lost on a modern audience, given the recent attention on gender pay-gaps in the film industry, and in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent #MeToo movement.

The relationship between an actress and her director is a theme which is taken up again in Remember Valerie March? (1939). Katherine Albert’s novel is another rise-and-fall tale of a Hollywood actress, only this time it is narrated from the perspective of her director, Conrad Powers. Powers claims to have both started and ended the acting career of the ‘first lady of film,’ Valerie March. The novel is his own personal account of Valerie’s professional career and personal life, and often takes the form of a Hollywood exposé. Through the character of Powers, Albert explores the way in which a director manipulates the emotions and life-choices of an actress to get the desired performance from her, for the benefit of the film. At one point in the novel, Powers encourages the married Valerie to have an affair with her co-star, with the justification that this will add a more convincing dimension to the film. Albert is not alone in her portrayal of this unhealthy relationship. In the popular 2017 television series Feud: Bette and Joan, this theme is taken up. Feud is about the rivalry between Hollywood stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and takes place largely during the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). We see the film’s director, Robert Aldrich, pitting the actresses against each other for the sake of authenticity. Hollywood fan-magazines and gossip columns latch on to the story, and fuel the fire between the two women to increase readership. Though Feud is a dramatized series, there is no doubt that these practices were in play in the industry, as many Hollywood histories depict.

Both Marion and Albert’s novels explore a number of similar themes. For example, both spark interesting questions on different forms of acting, particularly method acting, and what exactly makes a successful and convincing performance. Albert delves further, however, into topics such as the cult of celebrity in America, the role of the press in Hollywood, and work of publicity departments within film studios. It comes as no surprise then, that Albert was also a Hollywood insider. She worked as an actress, a studio publicist for MGM, and a feature and fiction writer for Photoplay, one of the first film fan magazines in America.

The ongoing current debates and discussions over male control within the film-industry have emphasised the unacceptable positions that both men and women have been forced into as a result of an extreme power imbalance. The relevance of Hollywood novels such as Minnie Flynn and Remember Valerie March can’t be underestimated in depicting how people in positions of power can abuse this power, and their employees. Considering Frances Marion and Katherine Albert’s active and varied careers in the film industry, they can also help to represent the achievements of women in that industry. In an era where women are increasingly viewed as under-appreciated in the industry (through both salary and award recognition) this recognition is much needed.

Thanks for reading!

Kari Sund

 

Notes and References

Sadly, these novels are difficult to obtain, particularly Remember Valerie March? I was, however, lucky enough to obtain a beautiful new copy of Minnie Flynn thanks to the fantastic work of The Hollywood Novel Project, run by Ben Smith. You can view the project’s Kickstarter, and the journey of how the first edition of Minnie Flynn in 90 years came into being, through the following link. We eagerly await the next Hollywood novel to be published by this project:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1133736285/frances-marions-lost-novel-minnie-flynn-a-new-edit.

Information on Albert’s role as a Hollywood insider comes from Anthony Slide’s Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazines. A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers. University Press of Mississippi, 2010, pp 77-78.

Information on Frances Marion is taken from Cari Beauchamp’s Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (1998), a great source for anyone who wants to learn more about women’s achievements in early Hollywood.