Behind the Cover Art
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The Women's Issue:
From Rory Gilmore to Jo March, this article features and celebrates women. We dive into Jane Austen’s clever masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, look at mothers and daughters in the Joy Luck Club, explore the female rage in film, rediscover Rory Gilmore, celebrate the sisters in Little Women, and read Donna Tartt with a new perspective.
An Enduring Love for Little Women
Why is Little Women as loved today as when it was first published? In this article, Emily Garrow examines sisterly bonds and the ambitions of characters in an attempt to figure out why.
Images: Rotten Tomatoes
First released in 1868 and quickly followed by its sequel Good Wives in 1869, Louisa May Alcott’s highly celebrated novel Little Women has been warming souls since the 19th century. In addition, film makers have been adapting the novel for the big screen for a little over one hundred years. The first motion picture of Little Women was shown to audiences in 1918. Since then, a further four adaptations have premiered in 1933, 1949, 1994, and 2019. What is it about Alcott’s story that is so appealing to readers and audiences one hundred and fifty four years later?
Little Women tells the story of four sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March as they try to find their place in a society where women’s options were limited. It focuses on their relationships and what they learn from their own and each other’s mistakes. The sisters explore platonic and romantic love as they mature, while finding they have to regularly adapt their views of the world.
According to Britannica’s page on Louisa May Alcott, ‘Little Women created a realistic but wholesome picture of family life with which younger readers could easily identify’. While Alcott’s target audience were children, I believe the love for Little Women extends much further than that. The themes of the novels are also pertinent for adults because they remind us of not only the easy joy we had when we were younger but also how far we have come since then.
Back in 2019, I went to the cinema to see Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women. I had been drawn in by the excerpts from the powerful speeches the women give in the trailer. I hadn’t read the book or watched any of the other versions, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The lights went down in the cinema and there was Jo (Saoirse Ronan) attempting to sell her stories to a publisher while trying (and failing) to hide that it was her writing. I was hooked.
The transition to the younger years of the March sisters with its chaotic, but reassuring, atmosphere felt authentic. They look out for each other but also bicker and argue. They aren’t perfect nor is any sister suggested to be better than the rest. I found myself being reminded of growing up with my older sisters. In particular, the scene where Meg and Jo return home from a party after Meg twists her ankle, reminded me of the times my sisters would come home and share their stories from a night out. It made me nostalgic to watch these sisters act much in the same way we do.
I purchased the book as soon as I got home. Although watching a movie and reading a book are completely different experiences, I found the novel just as alive as its motion picture counterpart. It felt like Little Women was a peek into the lives of real sisters,not fictional ones. This is partly because of Alcott’s writing skills but also, as noted by Erin Blakemore on Biography.com, Alcott structured the novel around her life with her own three sisters. By directly linking the novel to her life, Alcott helped create the essence of what life is like in a household predominately made up of women and ultimately made it relatable to people, like myself, more than a century and a half after it was published.
Little Women captures the comfort of family and friendship in its pages, bundling it up like a dose of reassurance waiting to be administered. Whatever age you are, the March family offers a welcoming home for the readers and viewers alike. Nevertheless, it is not just the depiction of a supportive family that has made Little Women so popular; Alcott also incorporates the important topic of women’s rights.
The confinement women were subjected to and how little was offered to them is exemplified at the beginning of the novel when young Jo exclaims:
‘It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy’s games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy’ (Louisa May Alcott, Little Women).
Jo’s distaste for being a woman lies in the expected behaviour and interests of women according to the society they lived in. As Jo’s natural conduct does not conform to these rules, she is left feeling like being a woman isn’t right for her; she wants what the men are allowed to do instead. Thus, Alcott illustrates the frustration of wanting something that is only just out of reach because society has deemed it inappropriate for your gender. Jo’s strong opposition to how society expects her to live her life remains a powerful message in today’s society as women are persistently told what they should and should not do.
While Jo is often picked out as the character with the most radical beliefs and actions, all of the March sisters are strong in their own way. Their strength is visible through their different dreams and their opinions openly clash in the narrative due to their close sisterly bond. For instance, Meg and Jo have opposite ambitions: Meg wants to marry and settle down and Jo wants to remain single and explore. In Gerwig’s 2019 version of Little Women, when Jo asks Meg (Emma Watson) not to get married, Meg replies: ‘Just because my dreams are different than yours it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant’. This line perfectly sums up that not all women desire the same way of life as Jo does, and that it is just as admirable.
Similarly, Amy’s aspirations to be an artist and to become part of high society are portrayed as valid. Amy’s sense of duty to marry for money is beautifully expressed in Gerwig’s adaptation and helps show how she is as courageous as any of her sisters. The audience can understand the pressure Amy (Florence Pugh) is put under by her Aunt March (Meryl Streep) and by society in general to marry well. Amy develops into a determined and practical character to which women can empathise with because of restraints we ourselves are subject to.
Last, but not least, Beth’s reserved nature and wish to live quietly has an enormous impact on the people around her, making her values as important as her sisters. Moreover, Beth hiding how severe her illness is so her sisters don’t worry is brave in an alternative, but not any less notable, way.
The views the sisters have on how a woman should lead her life are varied but equally worthy. Little Women begins with each sister believing they know what is right, but as the novel develops, they begin to accept one another. They learn that life is better when you respect that not everyone desires the same things. Women can have a career or choose to stay at home. They can want to marry or not marry at all. They can be happy where they are or seek out new places. The diversity of the sisters in Little Women shows you don’t need to follow the same path as another to be successful in life, making it an empowering message to all ages.
I think it is safe to say that there is an enduring love for Little Women as its message continues through our society. Women should be free to pursue their dreams without worrying how society may judge them for it.Though, women today are given more freedom, the issue of women’s rights is an ongoing problem.
If you are looking for a slice of home comfort or to reflect on the perpetual injustices women face, Little Women and its movies offer both. Whether you think you are a Meg, a Jo, an Amy, or a Beth, we can all learn something from the March sisters.
If Rory Gilmore Existed Today, We Would Hate Her
Katie Norris explores Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls as a character. She wonders if Rory Gilmore is actually a character for women to look up to or is she just like everyone else.
Image: Showbiz Cheat Sheet
Supposedly priding itself on the depiction of two imperfect female characters, you would assume Gilmore Girls would be a great source of inspiration for young women. Having escaped overbearing grandparents to start a new life in Stars Hollow both Lorelai and Rory seem to be the epitome of female power. Especially Rory, who is characterised by her love for reading and school.
In the early seasons, she is shown to be dedicated and hardworking, drawn more to books than to boys and a true example of selflessness. It felt like a breath of fresh air coming across the show at 15 to see a lead female depicted more studious than fashionable and who didn’t lose all sense of individuality when that special man did come into her life.
However, as the show progresses, and Rory is forced to move away from her small protective town and into reality, she is exposed as entitled and self-righteous, as the experience of having to work hard for something is shown to be all too much for her to handle. Perhaps she is not the perfect demonstration of female power we once thought her to be.
When she joins the Yale Daily News, she just expects to be the best writer there, shocked by the possibility that she may not be the world’s best journalist at 18. She struggles in classes throughout her time at college, again outraged that a genius like her should find learning hard. Realistically, this exposes the dangers of being protected and cushioned for your entire childhood. Rory never had to fight her own battles and was 100%the child who would leave at one a.m. on sleepovers because she felt slight discomfort. Perhaps, the true moral of the Gilmore Girls story is ‘get out quick!’ as the constant cushy small-town support, which was perhaps slightly unfounded, led her to feel a heightened sense of self-importance making her almost insufferable by season 6.
By the ‘Year in the Life’ revival of Gilmore Girls, Rory’s character descended even further. After finishing the original series, I truly didn’t think she could get much worse than dropping out of her beloved College, stealing a boat, and throwing everything Lorelai did for her back in her face by living with grandparents for almost a year, but the writers came back stronger than ever for Rory’s downward spiral. Worst of all, I don’t even think it was intended. We very much get the impression that we are meant to root for Rory, and even feel pity for her as she struggles through adulthood. However, instead of facing Rory with real challenges, they show her turning up to interviews utterly unprepared, believing her name alone would be enough to secure her the job, having an affair with a married man whilst also in a relationship and ultimately winding back up in Stars Hollow where she remains to be worshipped despite how far she has fallen.
So, Rory Gilmore: Entitled, self-righteous and ungrateful somewhat broke my heart. As a young teenager I looked up to Rory and felt like I should model myself off her, admiring her work ethic and love for reading. However, it seems the show just uses this nerdy girl aesthetic as a superficial veil for yet another spoiled brat female lead, who doesn’t achieve success, whilst all her male counterparts do. Even Jess, her high-school dropout boyfriend, publishes a book whilst Rory ends up pregnant and back at home with Mum pulling on dead ends from her childhood.
‘Everywhere, strangeness’: The narration of Donna Tartt novels
An analysis of the narrators of The Secret History and The Goldfinch and how their experiences of displacement shape the two novels from Eleanor Grant
Image: Wikipedia, Amazon
Donna Tartt’s approach to writing is different from most writers of contemporary fiction in more than one way. In a career spanning nearly forty years she has written just three novels, each over the five hundred page mark, with over a decade taken between each book’s publication. She has not settled comfortably into one genre, beginning her career with 1992’s The Secret History, a murder mystery set in a college campus, followed up by 2002’s The Little Friend, a southern gothic mystery and 2013’s The Goldfinch, described by critics as a ‘Dickensian’ bildungsroman. Her writing is sporadic in where it happens too. Tartt has previously revealed that she lives in and out of temporary accommodation while she writes her novels, preferring to split her time between hotel rooms scattered around New York City and her ‘dacha’ in rural Virginia. Travel and a sense of aimlessness are fundamental to the construction of Tartt’s novels. Consequently, this displacement is something of an affliction from which her narrators suffer greatly.
By nature, The Secret History is an introspective novel. Following a tight-knit group of Ancient Greek students at a liberal arts college in New England as they scheme to murder one of their friends, it is narrated by Richard Papen, the newest, and most observational, member of the group. The others are initially suspicious of Richard, who they question relentlessly at their first class together (‘He was like a policeman with the questions’ Richard remarks about Henry, the group’s ringleader) but eventually come to tolerate his presence whether they enjoy it or not. Much like The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway who he often compares himself to, Richard’s narration provides us with an insight into the group dynamic, one which becomes increasingly hierarchical and strange as the novel progresses.
Richard never truly integrates into the group, as he is always aware of some intangible, unconquerable distance between himself and the other five members of the class. Unlike the others, Richard is unfamiliar with snowy Vermont, having relocated from Plano, California with no funds or connections to Hampden College. His lack of wealth, which the others seem to have in abundance, fuels his insecurities, encourages him to invent multiple backstories for himself, or what he calls a ‘new and far more satisfying history […] a colourful past, easily accessible to strangers’. Jibes from the others, such as Henry’s mocking ‘What sort of pens did they teach you to use in California?’ only make him more desperate to gain the group’s approval. In response to their rejection, Richard rejects any notion that he might be Californian and poor, looking down on the likes of roommate Judy Poovey who ‘seemed to think that because she was from Los Angeles we had a lot in common’.
California, for Richard, is a source of embarrassment, and the more questions he is asked about home, the more elaborate his lies become. When he dines with Bunny, the group’s most outspoken member, and is asked how his father earns a living, he answers oil, knowing full well his father runs a gas station. Bunny misinterprets his answer to mean that the Papens own an oil well, which Richard does not deny, and his lie changes Bunny’s view of California, which he ironically describes as ‘The Golden West’. As Richard cuts ties with the real ‘disposable’ Plano, a California far removed from his dazzling reimagining, his attachment to the group, and his desperation for their approval, grows stronger.
It is at this point that we see Richard’s involvement in the murder become less a possibility, and more a foregone conclusion. Yet it is only as he reflects on the events leading up to the murder that he acknowledges his own deceit, and the part it played in his willingness to go along with it (‘I am a Californian by birth, and also, I have recently discovered by nature. The last is something I admit only now, after the fact’). Richard’s need for his life to be defined by something other than the mundanity and forgettability of his past, in some ways allows him to justify the murder to himself. After all, as he tells us in the opening section of the novel, ‘At one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell’.
Unlike Richard, the displacement Theo Decker faces in The Goldfinch is unavoidable, and triggered by a singular event which changes the trajectory of his life. On a visit to the Met Museum in New York City, thirteen year old Theo and his mother are involved in a terrorist attack which sees his mother killed in an explosion. In the aftermath of the attack, a stunned Theo finds himself sharing a moment with an older gentleman who seems to want him to rescue a painting, the one his mother had returned to look at just prior to the explosion – Carel Fabritius’ 1654 work ‘The Goldfinch’. Too bewildered to process the magnitude of what has just occurred, Theo escapes with the painting in search of his mother, unaware she has died in the attack. As if propelled by the force of the explosion itself, a rudderless Theo, with no relatives willing to take him in, finds himself torn in all directions. At first, he is looked after by the Barbours, the family of his childhood friend Andy, whose Park Avenue apartment is a world away from the normality of Theo and his mother’s old life.
As if to juxtapose Richard’s experience in The Secret History, the surprise appearance of Theo’s absent father and new girlfriend Xandra takes Theo west across the country to Las Vegas, a section of the book about as long as the deserts are dry. It is in these air-conditioned, sand-blown chapters that Theo, a born and bred New Yorker, meets Boris, a Ukrainian-Russian immigrant living just down the street from his new house. The two form a thick and fast friendship, based on very little other than the need to keep the other alive as they are never checked in on by their increasingly absent parents. In Boris, a physical manifestation of the displacement of his new life, Theo finds an outlet for his grief as the two begin taking hard drugs and drinking to escape from the harsh reality of everyday lives. ‘I was so preoccupied in trying to block New York and my old life out of my mind that I hardly noticed the time pass’, Theo tells us. All the while the painting he rescued from the explosion, the one tangible reminder of his mother, becomes an increasingly cumbersome and guilt-inducing burden.
As he gets older and the search for ‘The Goldfinch’, one of the many paintings suspected stolen from the Met, becomes more high-profile, Theo makes the terrifying discovery that someone has taken the painting from him. The search to get it back, and return it to a place of safekeeping – without incriminating himself in a high-stakes fraud case – takes Theo back to New York and eventually to Amsterdam where the novel opens, and closes. Like Richard, Theo’s displacement comes to define a fundamental period of his life, colouring his adolescence and early adulthood in grief. ‘My whole life’, as he tells us ‘was balanced atop a secret that might at any moment blow it apart’ but unlike Richard, he is not content to have it derail his future. His final words to the reader are urgent, telling us ‘That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it’.
In short, this remains the fundamental difference between Richard and Theo’s displacement. While both experience dramatic events which derails years of their lives, and struggle with the guilt they induce, one narrator chooses to remain in the past (‘I only have to glance over my shoulder for all those years to drop away […] a picture that will never leave me’), while the other is content to return the painting to its rightful owner (or ‘the next generation of lovers, and the next’) and allow other events to shape his narrative.
Weight of a Mother’s Expectations
An exploration of the ways in which Amy Tan shows how the bonds between mother and daughter are tested by the weight of a mother’s expectations and aspirations for their daughter.
In The Joy Luck Club, Tan inevitably portrays the reality of the daughter wanting, yet failing, to live up to their mother’s expectations of her. It is a pattern, embodied in the experiences of the first-generation Chinese American daughters in the novel and resonating with the wider struggle of many children of immigrant parents, who try to forge their identities against the backdrop of their parents’ vision for their futures.
The first of these daughters who we are introduced to is Jing-Mei, who is left with her mother Suyuan’s mysterious legacy. It feels unattainable to Jing-Mei due to linguistic and cultural barriers between them, and her mother’s reluctance to talk about her past. This is presented to us from the opening page which uses niche Chinese expressions as a metaphor to represent how their mother-daughter bond is shaped by their language divide, inevitably producing blank spaces where understanding and empathy should be. Tan puts this nicely by Jing-Mei simply saying, “I can never remember things I didn’t understand in the first place,” (p.19) which becomes a prominent theme in the narrative of Jing-Mei, as she is left behind to tell her mother’s story without having been allowed to know anything about her past. Subsequently, the reader is confronted with the impossible position of the daughter subjected to the weight of her mother’s expectations, without being given the key to unlock what these are or look like. This is further embodied by Jing-Mei’s inability to hold down a job, which Suyuan sees as Jing-Mei not measuring up to what she envisioned for her.
However, the unattainability of this vision comes across in the introduction to the first section of the novel ‘Feathers From A Thousand Li Away,’ taking the form of a parable. It tells the story of a chinese woman immigrating to America with a swan which she tells her hopes and dreams to. When giving the swan to her daughter, it represents that the daughter will “know [her] meaning” and that the swan is “a creature that became more than what was hoped for.” Yet, this conversation and process of the transcribing of these maternal hopes and dreams onto the daughter never happens. Arguably this is because the mother first needs to overcome the difficulties posed living in America, like learning the dominant language of ‘perfect American English.’ In addition to this, there are the socio-economic barriers imposed upon immigrants by the government, represented by the ‘swan’ being taken away by immigration officials, leaving her only with ‘one swan feather’ (p.17), symbolic perhaps of the loss of the attainability of this vision. Another interpretation of this passage is that the removal of the ‘swan’ represents that of Jing-Mei’s two sisters from Suyuan before her journey to America. Subsequently, the singular ‘swan feather’ can be viewed as representing the last of Suyuan’s hopes and dreams resting on Jing-Mei. Subsequently, Jing-Mei’s inability to satisfy Suyuan’s expectations could be because they were intended for her other daughters first. This can be supported by the final line of the novel, in which Jing-Mei is reunited with Suyuan’s lost daughters: ‘Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish,’ (p.288) which similarly uses physical features, like with the swan, to portray a mother’s expectations as ingrained in the very being of the daughters.
As well as Jing-Mei, it is worth noting how the other daughters Waverly, Rose, and Lena are also presented as struggling under the weight of their mothers’ expectations of them. In Waverly’s case, this struggle to understand her mother’s motives is symbolized by the comparison of her mother to a chess opponent, whose decisions are made by unpredictable, yet strategic moves. As a result of this, Waverly is presented as trying to fight against her mother’s will. Lena is portrayed as similarly defiant and lacking understanding of her mother Ying-Ying, but to the extent that Lena alters the meaning of Ying-Ying’s mandarin in the process of translating it into English, to make it more socially conventional. In this case, Tan portrays a complete detachment between the mother and daughter as ironic, causing Lena to become the mirror image of Ying-Ying. Ultimately, we see through Lena that Western culture and society doesn’t completely meet expectations in terms of transcending gender roles and stereotypes as Ying-Ying had perhaps anticipated.
Finally, through Rose the reader is confronted with the character’s guilt and struggle to live up to the rigidly conservative notions of her mother An-Mei. Tan presents this failure to live up to the impossible and contradictory expectation of balancing religious faith and life in America, whilst maintaining a Chinese identity through the narrative telling of Rose’s youngest brother, Bing’s, death. This comes across in the narrative from the portrayal of Rose’s focus on her brother’s Mathew, Luke and John, arguably representing religion through the use of the well-known biblical names, as resulting in the neglect and tragic loss of Bing, arguably symbolic of Chinese identity.
In conclusion, Tan presents the ways in which mother-daughter relationships are intrinsically formed from expectations and visions that are unable to be fully passed down from mother to daughter because of the way in which it combines flagrant idealism, their mothers’ personal history (which they refuse to impart to the daughters) and nuances lost in the language barrier.
Book endnote for quotes: Walker, Alice, ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ (Vintage, 1998)
Title: In Defence of Mrs. Bennet: Curated Attitudes Towards Women in Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen is a sneaky and very clever lady. At first glance, her book Pride and Prejudice seems like simply a funny and sweet romance, but is that really all it is? In this article, Ellie Stewart examines Austen’s use of unreliable narration to explore gender relations and the internalized misogyny of both the characters and the reader.
Image: Third Hour
Pride and Prejudice is perhaps one of Jane Austen’s most famous works and it has maintained favour with readers throughout the ages. The story follows the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five daughters, as she navigates the world of the British aristocracy in the 1700s. The estate that the girls live at with their aging father and nervous mother is entailed to the next male relation upon their father’s death, thus the girls are pushed towards marriage both by social pressures and their mother as she seeks to ensure their future. The book thus centres around the subject of matrimony, explored through three of the sisters and one of their friends. This book makes a tactful exploration of gender roles and misogyny through the utilization of an unreliable narrator regarding the differing treatment of the women and the men in the story.
Throughout this book, we are encouraged to trust Elizabeth and her point of view. She is witty and charming, with a distinctively independent and romantic outlook on marriage for the time. Early in the book, we are presented with a rather disparaging account of the women in the story aside from Elizabeth. Her sisters and her mother are described as silly and flighty, and the women outside their family who engage in feminine activities are similarly spoken of. As women with relatively little fortune or inheritance, the Bennet sisters must marry respectably to hold their place in society, something that Mrs. Bennet is keenly aware of. Throughout the book, she curates several plots to get one or another of her daughters married well, only one of which succeeds.
The narrator presents her fixation on the marriages of her daughters as silly and frivolous. She is too loud and embarrassing, and her engagement with the activities that would be required of women of that time are looked down upon by both Elizabeth and her father who frequently berates and makes fun of his wife and other daughters. Many of the actions that Mrs. Bennet takes throughout the book, while they are presented otherwise, are made to ensure the future of her children as her husband ages. It is here that Austen deploys the unreliable narrator. We are made to see the ridiculousness of the women of the family, so obsessed with silly things like marriage and socializing, we are shown that we must empathize with Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth for being saddled with such a family. We laugh along with them as jabs are made at the women, allying ourselves with them against the inferior pursuits of the mother and sisters. They are lofted above them in all forms– Mr. Bennet a man uninterested in society, and Elizabeth a woman uninterested in the customary roles of women at the time, only saved by her proximity to men.
If we fail to recognize the unreliability of the narrator, we laugh along with Mr. Bennet and Lizzie in the jokes that are made at the expense of the other women in the family. If later in the book, we make note of the unreliable narrator, we may lose faith in the accuracy of these reports and the jabs made towards the women of the family gain an unsavoury taste.
Women outside the family are also not exempt from this condemnation. This can be most notably seen in Lizzie’s friend, Charlotte. Throughout the beginning of the book, Charlotte is presented as exceedingly practical and, like Lizzie, she is somewhat distanced from the stereotypically feminine in both her behaviour as well as a continued insistence of her plainness. She is able to be respected by Elizabeth and her father for as long as she maintains these distances, however, once she decides to marry Mr. Collins, she plummets in their eyes. While all those who have read the book will agree with the negative view of Mr. Collins, Charlotte’s decision to marry him is an action based wholly in practicality, and thus shouldn’t lower her in the eyes of Lizzie and Mr. Bennet, but once she takes this step towards traditional femininity, she drops in esteem.
Similarly, while it can be widely agreed that she is not a very nice person, Miss Bingley is also overly condemned for her actions. Elizabeth views her attachment to Mr. Darcy as wholly motivated by a desire to marry him, and while she may be right in part, legitimate advice that she offers regarding Wickham is dismissed and testaments to Darcy’s character are disregarded as merely the result of her having designs on him. Even once Elizabeth comes to forgive Darcy for his interference in Bingley and Jane’s relationship, Miss Bingley’s relatively marginal hand in the matter is not forgiven even though she may have acted out of similar concern for her brother. Thus in these two cases, the unreliability of the narrator enforces the misogynistic tendencies that Austen curates. We are once again encouraged to align ourselves with the man and disparage the shallow and petty actions of the woman.
This can be seen too in the treatment of the men throughout the book. A clear case is that of Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth’s partiality to him and eagerness to endear herself to him made her blind to his more questionable actions until she is told the truth by Darcy. Relatively soon after meeting and engaging with Elizabeth, Mr. Wickham stops pursuing Lizzie and begins to pursue a young woman who had recently received a large inheritance. Elizabeth is exceedingly allowing of this behaviour citing his financial status as an appropriate motive for his preference for the other girl. This directly contrasts with her treatment of Charlotte, who had a similar and far more redeemable motive for her acceptance of Mr. Collins. In Wickham’s case, he once had access to a fortune, and as a man has far more options in terms of making money as opposed to a woman.
Charlotte had very little fortune to offer and as a woman had very few options for making money to sustain herself. Yet Elizabeth’s partiality and leniency towards the behaviour of men allowed her to rationalise Wickham’s far more suspect treatment of a woman as morally acceptable as opposed to Charlotte's practical actions as deserving of reproach. Here the unreliable narrator becomes clear, we begin to realise that Lizzie’s perspective may contain some misogyny and that we have been complicit in it. This is even noted by Elizabeth herself when Wickham’s true nature was revealed to her and she sees her mistaken judgement. Nowhere is this error more clear than in Lizzie’s interactions with her father.
Mr. Bennet’s mistreatment of his daughters and his wife is something that Elizabeth only avoids as a result of her being his favourite. At the beginning of the book, we are encouraged to laugh along with his jokes and covet his relationship with Lizzie, however as the book progresses and his actions may be subject to a more critical eye. Elizabeth herself even seems to recognize the flaws in her father’s behaviour, however refuses to acknowledge them. Her mother and her sisters suffer at the hand of his mockery and she is only spared in her distance from them. It is only after the loss of Lydia to Wickham that Mr. Bennet’s carelessness with his daughter is recognized.
Austen creates curated and unreliable narration in order to coerce the reader to participate in the misogynistic structures that Elizabeth takes part in. We are drawn in, viewing the world as Elizabeth does, and alongside Elizabeth, we are punished for it. The novel is approached without the expectation of this fallibility, and as it slowly is exposed to us we realise that we have partaken in the very acts that the title denotes. Austen thus encourages the development of a more critical and cautious approach, not just to literature but to the evaluation of one’s own actions and opinions.
Good For Her: Women’s Rage and Revenge in Film
What makes films about female revenge so cathartic? Laura Bennie explores how after many years of use solely to motivate the revenge of men, stories of women’s rage in film have become so popular.
I can’t say if it's a universal experience, but I do know for a lot of women I know it is not unusual to watch a film with a female protagonist committing unspeakable violence in the name of revenge, and think ‘good for her’.
For the longest time, women have been used to motivate the revenge of others. It is a literary tradition that is likely as old as literature itself. Since the kidnapping of Helen of Troy in the Iliad, the actions of men have been provoked by the trauma inflicted on the women in their lives. Recently, this well-worn phenomenon has been given a name: ‘fridging’.
‘Fridging’ is a term that comes from the website ‘Women in Refrigerators’ created and named by comic book writer Gail Simone. Women in Refrigerators was created as a platform for Simone and other (mostly female) comic book writers and fans to document instances where female comic book characters were “killed, maimed or depowered” specifically to further a male character's development or arc and the expense of the woman’s character in her own right. The name comes from an issue of Green Lantern (#54, 1994) where Kyle Rayner comes home to discover his girlfriend (of six issues) has been murdered by the villain Major Force and stuffed into a refridgerator. This drives Kyle to attack Major Force and Alex’s death is repeatedly used later by other villains to attempt to trick or entice Kyle, reducing her once again to a plot device. Fridging became infamous and it wasn’t long before people started noticing this phenomenon beyond the realm of comic books.
Fridging is ubiquitous in the media. It is hard to think of a popular TV series or film franchise that doesn’t feature at least one (if not multiple) uses of this trope.It’s unsurprising, then, that something in film has emerged gaining speed over the last few years to counteract this. The ‘Good for Her’ film is a trend, genre, or even cinematic universe that puts women back in the centre of their own stories. Often these female revenge fantasies where women get to drive their own plots are in genres where historically their trauma has been used solely to motivate the men that surround them. Horrors, thrillers and superhero movies are all genres that extensively profit off female trauma and so can be some of the most satisfying to watch when these stories are subverted.
Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne is one of the most commonly cited characters in discussions of ‘Good for Her’ films. Amy is a cruel, calculating embodiment of female rage. If the phrase ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ had a physical embodiment, it would be Amy. She is every man’s worst nightmare and engages in behaviours (including making an intentionally false allegation of sexual assualt) that make her most feminist’s worst nightmare, too. But there is still something cathartic about witnessing her revenge.
Dani in Midsommar is another popular example as we watch her dysfunctional relationship with her unpleasant boyfriend unravel. It is hard to talk about the movie’s true ‘good for her’ moment without giving away its ending, but for anyone who has watched it, the image of a bear and Florence Pugh’s famous frown should be enough to conjure the feeling of its ending.
One of what the most criminally underrated ‘good for her’ movies actually contains my personal favourite example of subverting the ‘women in refrigerators’ trope. DC’s Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Based on the comic book series - for which Gail Simone actually wrote for a number of years - Birds of Prey follows Harley Quinn as she finds her feet after being thrown out by the Joker who had controlled her life for many years. The plot follows Harley and the Birds of Prey as they take down a criminal enterprise to save a young girl from the villain the Black Mask.
So what drives a woman in this kind of film? Harley doesn’t have a love interest to throw under the bus. Well, instead of a woman being fridged, we are treated to a subversion of the expected to the tune of a delicious egg sandwich. In the set up of the film we see a hungover Harley in desperate search for her favourite breakfast from a local sandwich shop. The egg sandwich gets a sexy montage set to ‘I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More Baby’ by Barry White in much the same way we might be introduced to a character’s soon-to-die, one-dimensional love interest. If that wasn’t enough, we even get a classic bit of action movie dialogue to drive the point home: ‘It took losing something I truly love, for me to see’. Harley takes her rage and desire for revenge against the Joker and uses it to save the day, finding not only a community of other women, but also herself in the process. I think we can all say, despite her methods, good for her.
Good for Her movies are becoming more and more popular, both in more recent releases like 2020’s Promising Young Woman or Knives Out (2019), and rediscovered classics such Carrie (1976) and Heathers (1989). Despite the differences, these films share a common cathartic impact. Some of these women are sympathetic, some are sociopaths. Some of the things they do in the course of their revenge are passive, others are brutal and bloody. But after so many years in refrigerators, these women are the centre of their own story and someone’s gotta pay.