Héloïse

Reading the letters of Pierre Abélard, one gets a good sense of his character: he is pompous, entitled, and conceited.  His letters are close to unbearable.  Héloïse, by contrast, is much easier to read, and her letters rarely feel like manifestoes of self-importance, but the personal testaments to a woman under extreme circumstances.  Of course, they both went through horrific hardship.  Yet it is only Héloïse that I ended up having sympathy for, despite Abélard literally haing his genitals cut off, presumably unanesthetized.

Héloïse was between ten and twenty years younger than Abélard when they met, when he sought to seduce her for her class and intelligence.  He manipulated his way into her home and under the guise of lessons, began an affair with the much younger woman.  She then did what he wanted.  She entered a convent when he encouraged her too, though she resented being told to do so so soon before he entered a monastery (she was devoted to him and would have followed regardless, so why push her to do it so early?)  In their letters they discuss at length the place of marriage for women especially, yet she preferred to be Abélard’s mistress, bound by love, than wife, bound by institution. But is it romantic when the sacrifice was ultimately made for him alone, so that marriage would not mar his career? (by which I mean the initial act of denying marriage — he certainly suffered for this too).  She performed these acts of sacrifice out of love and devotion to an unlikeable, self-centered man (it’s really hard not to judge him), who was driven to begin their relationship out of his own pride and lust.  And she, in her letters, questions him on this: was it just lust?  Or did he actually love her?

Héloïse seems to be a woman trapped by many circumstances: she was a victim of her time, for certain.  But would her life have been better without Abélard?  What would her life have been like if a man hadn’t been so very determined to seduce her to satisfy his lust — would she have had any recognition today, or would she have had a traditional marriage, or would she have still ended up in a convent?  Both Abélard and Héloïse went through horrible things because of their relationship, but reading their letters it is difficult for me to see it as a relationship of true love and ill-fated romance, when the whole thing feels like the unfortunate consequences of male entitlement.

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The Art of Cuisine

I will be trying some of the vegetarian recipes periodically, and so cannot comment on the quality of the food in this cookbook (I’m a bit short on funds and cooking is expensive).   Mostly this is just interesting, and a good read, for what people ate and how (that is, with upwards of 5 pounds of butter per dish).  The variety of food is amazing, as are the descriptions and quantities.  And the illustrations, of course.

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Here is an excerpt from my favourite recipe, ‘Stewed Marmots (Civent de Marmottes)’:

“Having killed some marmots sunning themselves belly up in the sun with their noses in the air one sunrise in September, skin them and carefully put aside the mass of fat which is excellent for rubbing into the bellies of pregnant women, into the knees, ankles, and painful joints of sprains, and into leather shoes.
Cut up the marmot and treat it like stewed hare which has a perfume that is unique and wild.”

That’s it, that’s the whole recipe.  For every fifteen normal recipes, there is one or two like this, which makes reading the whole book worthwhile even if you would not normally read (or skim) an cookbook cover to cover.

8/10

Mephisto

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I read Mephisto, by Klaus Mann, and for the most part liked it.  It was clever and funny without ever mocking the gravity, danger, and oppression of Nazi Germany — Mann is able to satirize the Nazi elite in a humourous manner while continuously reminding the reader that comedic frivolity, excess, hypocrisy, and ignorance are part of the horrific violence of the regime.  I am also personally interested in 1920 and 1930s European art movements and politics, and the novel covers theatre (avant-garde and leftist) extensively, as well as influences from Russia and France.  So that was great for me.

However, I didn’t know how to deal with the character of Juliette/Princess Tebab, an African-German dancer.  She is, one the one hand, described as beautiful and resourceful, as well as an extremely talented dancer.  When the protagonist, actor and theatre director Hendrik Höfgen, asks her to leave Germany, she contemplates the racism of this request and her own German heritage, as well as why this heritage should be ignored because it is not ‘purely’ German, something which feels radical even today when being non-white effectively means ‘You are Other.  You do not truly belong Here.  Where are you really from?’

Less favourable in Juliette’s character is the stereotyping and fetishism.  She’s beautiful, but constantly referred to as ‘The Black Venus’ — you cannot forget her race.  More than this is the overt racism: descriptions of her thick, rough, dark skin, for instance, as well as her cruelty.  In the novel she treats Hendrik meanly, and they form an erotic, sado-masochistic relationship where she beats and humiliates him to his delight.

So I don’t know what to think.  Partially, I loved her character.  She was one of the only characters to stand up to Höfgen, and she was depicted as both intelligent and, in her own way, extremely sensitive.  Höfgen is the central hypocrite of the book, starting out in a Communist theatre group then manipulating his way into Nazi high society and allaying his hardly-there guilt by repeating to himself that if he didn’t suck up to the men and women giving orders for murder, he could be killed himself.  And Juliette is the only one to stand up to him, getting what she wants from him through exploitation and manipulations.  She is one of two characters who, by the end, actively express rage at Höfgen; the other is a minor actor who supported the Nazi party.  So in that regard, she comes out on top as one of the most lucid and active characters in the book.

Still, the characterisation of a Black woman who is a rough, violent nightclub dancer/prostitute and engages in scandalous sexual behaviour where (and I’m not saying these are my politics but dominant ideals) she takes on a masculine role with a feminised Nazi hypocrite, is not exactly my definition of progressive.  And though by the end I felt that she was my favourite (and only really likeable) character, while reading it was often painful to see the racist descriptions that Mann ascribes to her.  So I don’t necessarily know how I feel about the novel, and I think that Mann probably had relatively good intentions in creating her character.  I still feel uncomfortable.

“Let’s live while we can, since we know we’ve all got to die.”

I’m trying read more and write more.  I don’t have much to say about The Satyricon, except that it was entertaining for the most part, and perhaps more scandalous than the Fellini film which was a surprise to me.  I greatly enjoyed the scene of Trimalchio’s feast, so here’s another food post with what they eat:

  • On the tray stood a donkey made of Corinthian bronze, bearing panniers containing olives, white in one and black in the other. Two platters flanked the figure, on the margins of which were engraved Trimalchio’s name and the weight of the silver in each. Dormice sprinkled with poppy-seed and honey were served on little bridges soldered fast to the platter, and hot sausages on a silver gridiron, underneath which were damson plums and pomegranate seeds.
  • Turning his head, Trimalchio saw what was going on. “Friends,” he remarked. “I ordered pea-hen’s eggs set under the hen, but I’m afraid they’re addled, by Hercules I am let’s try them anyhow, and see if they’re still fit to suck.” We picked up our spoons, each of which weighed not less than half a pound, and punctured the shells, which were made of flour and dough, and as a matter of fact, I very nearly threw mine away for it seemed to me that a chick had formed already, but upon hearing an old experienced guest vow, “There must be something good here,” I broke open the shell with my hand and discovered a fine fat fig-pecker, imbedded in a yolk seasoned with pepper.
  • There was a circular tray around which were displayed the signs of the zodiac, and upon each sign the caterer had placed the food best in keeping with it. Ram’s vetches on Aries, a piece of beef on Taurus, kidneys and lamb’s fry on Gemini, a crown on Cancer, the womb of an unfarrowed sow on Virgo, an African fig on Leo, on Libra a balance, one pan of which held a tart and the other a cake, a small seafish on Scorpio, a bull’s eye on Sagittarius, a sea lobster on Capricornus, a goose on Aquarius and two mullets on Pisces. In the middle lay a piece of cut sod upon which rested a honeycomb with the grass arranged around it. An Egyptian slave passed bread around from a silver oven and in a most discordant voice twisted out a song in the manner of the mime in the musical farce called Laserpitium.
  • While he was speaking, four dancers ran in to the time of the music, and removed the upper part of the tray. Beneath, on what seemed to be another tray, we caught sight of stuffed capons and sows’ bellies, and in the middle, a hare equipped with wings to resemble Pegasus. At the corners of the tray we also noted four figures of Marsyas and from their bladders spouted a highly spiced sauce upon fish which were swimming about as if in a tide-race. All of us echoed the applause which was started by the servants, and fell to upon these exquisite delicacies, with a laugh. “Carver,” cried Trimalchio, no less delighted with the artifice practised upon us, and the carver appeared immediately. Timing his strokes to the beat of the music he cut up the meat in such a fashion as to lead you to think that a gladiator was fighting from a chariot to the accompaniment of a water-organ.
  • At length some slaves came in who spread upon the couches some coverlets upon which were embroidered nets and hunters stalking their game with boar-spears, and all the paraphernalia of the chase. We knew not what to look for next, until a hideous uproar commenced, just outside the dining-room door, and some Spartan hounds commenced to run around the table all of a sudden. A tray followed them, upon which was served a wild boar of immense size, wearing a liberty cap upon its head, and from its tusks hung two little baskets of woven palm fibre, one of which contained Syrian dates, the other, Theban. Around it hung little suckling pigs made from pastry, signifying that this was a brood-sow with her pigs at suck. It turned out that these were souvenirs intended to be taken home.
  • While we were speaking, a handsome boy, crowned with vine leaves and ivy, passed grapes around, in a little basket, and impersonated Bacchus-happy, Bacchus-drunk, and Bacchus-dreaming, reciting, in the meantime, his master’s verses, in a shrill voice.
  • The tables were cleared off to the beat of music, and three white hogs, muzzled, and wearing bells, were brought into the dining-room. The announcer informed us that one was a two-year-old, another three, and the third just turned six. I had an idea that some rope-dancers had come in and that the hogs would perform tricks, just as they do for the crowd on the streets, but Trimalchio dispelled this illusion by asking, “Which one will you have served up immediately, for dinner? Any country cook can manage a dunghill cock, a pentheus hash, or little things like that, but my cooks are well used to serving up calves boiled whole, in their cauldrons!” […] Before he had run out of wind, a tray upon which was an enormous hog was placed upon the table, almost filling it up. We began to wonder at the dispatch with which it had been prepared and swore that no cock could have been served up in so short a time; moreover, this hog seemed to us far bigger than the boar had been. Trimalchio scrutinized it closely and “What the hell,” he suddenly bawled out, “this hog hain’t been gutted, has it? No, it hain’t, by Hercules, it hain’t! Call that cook! Call that cook in here immediately!” When the crestfallen cook stood at the table and owned up that he had forgotten to bowel him, “So you forgot, did you?” Trimalchio shouted, “You’d think he’d only left out a bit of pepper and cummin, wouldn’t you? Off with his clothes!” […] “Since your memory’s so short, you can gut him right here before our eyes!” The cook put on his tunic, snatched up a carving knife, with a trembling hand, and slashed the hog’s belly in several places. Sausages and meat- puddings, widening the apertures, by their own weight, immediately tumbled out. [this is followed by great applause, obviously]
  • When my glance returned to the table, I noticed that a dish containing cakes had been placed upon it, and in the middle an image of Priapus, made by the baker, and he held apples of all varieties and bunches of grapes against his breast, in the conventional manner. We applied ourselves wholeheartedly to this dessert and our joviality was suddenly revived by a fresh diversion, for, at the slightest pressure, all the cakes and fruits would squirt a saffron sauce upon us, and even spurted unpleasantly into our faces.
  • The dainties that followed this display of affability were of such a nature that, if any reliance is to be placed in my word, the very mention of them makes me sick at the stomach. Instead of thrushes, fattened chickens were served, one to each of us, and goose eggs with pastry caps on them, which same Trimalchio earnestly entreated us to eat, informing us that the chickens had all been boned
  • Thrushes made of pastry and stuffed with nuts and raisins, quinces with spines sticking out so that they looked like sea-urchins. All this would have been endurable enough had it not been for the last dish that was served; so revolting was this, that we would rather have died of starvation than to have even touched it. We thought that a fat goose, flanked with fish and all kinds of birds, had been served, until Trimalchio spoke up. “Everything you see here, my friends,” said he, “was made from the same stuff.” With my usual keen insight, I jumped to the conclusion that I knew what that stuff was and, turning to Agamemnon, I said, “I shall be greatly surprised, if all those things are not made out of excrement, or out of mud, at the very least: I saw a like artifice practiced at Rome during the Saturnalia.” [it’s actually made of pork]

I had to look up what some of these things were.  Dormice are a specific type of dormouse (as in the character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), also called the edible dormouse.  Fig-peckers are unborn chicks.  Both were delicacies in Ancient Rome.  Vetches are a type of legume, but I couldn’t find anything about ‘ram’s vetches’ unless it was referring to ram feed.  It does seem that vetches could be used in bread-making, which might mean something.  But I’m not really doing enough research into the topic.

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The Triumph of Bacchus, Cornelis de Vos

At least the Priapus-based dessert sounded good.

Arrogant Men, Humble Women

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I recently read Walden.  

I did not enjoy it.

The first fifteen pages or so were misguidingly lovely; politically inspiring and beautifully written.  Then came the boredom.  The technicalities of living and creating life in the wilderness were presented in dull lists and dry descriptions.  But compared to the sentiments that came next, boredom was welcomed.

Thoreau is obnoxiously arrogant.  He writes frequently of how living alone in the wilderness is something everyone can and should do.  Students could cheaply build their own cabins in the woods instead of complaining about the high prices of  housing.  One can easily eat wild succulents boiled in salt water with woodchuck meat instead of go to a restaurant and spend money.  Rather than making a point about the trap of oppressive and exclusive capitalist luxury, the whole thing feels like a brag.  ‘I’m so much better than you because I can live off of stale bread and boiled weeds.’  And more than that, it feels inauthentic.  He’ll mention modes of help, horses to carry lumber for instance, but argue, ‘Oh, yeah, I had the horses, but really I did most of the carrying, they barely helped me, I didn’t really need them.’  The book is simply irritating, without any way of proving how much Thoreau really roughed it in the wilderness, and a sense of being spoken down to by a man whose superiority complex  is derived from his ability to be content eating rodents and denying himself yeast in bread-making.

By coincidence, I discovered around the same time that I was reading Walden the documentaries on Hannah Hauxwell.  Though dated especially in their treatment of gender, they provide a look at a woman who is charming, pleasant, engaging, and authentically living on her own outside of society.  You can watch them here:

Audrey at Home

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Audrey Hepburn is probably my favourite actor.  I’m a bit obsessed with her.  I wish I was her.  So the chance to eat like her is very exciting.  Luca Dotti, her son, exploits Audrey Hepburn for all she’s worth, so this book is perfect for fans.  Opening his introduction with an anecdote about being “Mrs. Dotti’s son,” not Audrey’ Hepburn’s, it seems a little silly to have a whole book about looking in on the star’s secret personal life, a life peppered with stories that often involve her Hollywood career and star friends.  She really just loved to stay at home, eat some pasta and chocolate cake with her sons and dogs in front of the TV, because she’s just a normal person!  A normal person who’s best friends were the wives of Yul Brynner and Gary Cooper, who socialized with Gregory Peck and Robert Wagner.  Here’s a snapshot of her sunbathing with Givenchy.  Here’s a little story about how here Oscar was tucked away on a bookshelf because she didn’t care much about it.  She only cared about pasta.  But just don’t forget she had an Oscar, OK? Insert jokes about how Audrey was the Fairest Lady and how her whole life was a Roman Holiday.  But she was just your typical average housewife and mom!  Also a UNICEF hero.  Don’t forget it!

I shouldn’t be cynical and negative, since the recipes are fun and as a fan of Audrey Hepburn I kind of love the whole thing, though as a vegetarian there isn’t too much I can try.  Also I can enjoy something while seeing it as a very transparent attempt at exploiting celebrity, an attempt veined with misogyny which posits the role of housewife/mother as the most noble and desirable.  But I also love pasta, and it reminds me of when I spent a year eating pasta at least once a day, which gave me a lot of time to experiment with sauces and toppings.  I found that I really enjoyed a light spaghetti for lunch with garlic, olive oil, and finely chopped spinach so that it was sort of like a spinach pesto, and then a linguine with tomato sauce of mushrooms, carrots, garlic, onions, and imitation ground beef (this was when I lived in Dublin so it was Quorn brand, and that really absorbs sauce much better than anything I’ve had in Canada) for dinner.  More recently, I like spaghettini (which cooks fast) or linguini (which suits this dish better) with olive oil, chopped artichokes, parmesan, and lots of pepper and perhaps a splash of red wine.  Or a nice tomato sauce with olives and hot peppers.  My favourite meal was, and maybe still is, pasta with a simple lettuce salad (vinaigrette is very easy to make and much tastier than anything store-bought; I started with Julia Child’s recipe and ended up with something closer to an eyeballed amount of olive oil, then equal parts dijon mustard and wine vinegar close to about a tablespoon each. Then add garlic salt and pepper to taste) and a cup of tea (I drank orange pekoe with milk and sugar); I got the idea from a Haruki Murakami short story, and ended up eating pasta every day for close to a year.  It was a good idea, and I remember enjoying the story, though I feel as though I’ve outgrown Murakami somewhat.  I have fond memories of his writing and his food obsessions, but the way he treats his women characters is juvenile sexism at best, violently misogynist at worst.  His work perhaps merits revisiting, but whether or not I have outgrown Murakami, I can say for certain I have not outgrown spaghetti.

Back to this book, I made eight of the recipes over a few weeks.

Salads

Tricolore Caprese Salad: it’s supposed to have avocado but mine was no good and I left it out; it was still good, despite my mistake:

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Peach Salad: also straying a bit from the recipe, which called for fresh mint.  I could not find any and left it out.  It was still good, but it’s hard to make sweet peaches bad.

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Pastas

Spaghetti al Pomodoro:  You can find the recipe here.  Mine isn’t the prettiest pasta but it is a nice, basic sauce.  I left out the sugar as I found my tomatoes and carrots were both sweet enough.

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Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino: It’s barely a recipe but quite tasty.

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Penne alla Vodka: of all the recipes I made, this was the most disappointing.  A good enough sauce, but most definitely not worth the effort.  I will stick to the pomodoro.

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Desserts

Madeleines: I was glad that the recipe was not the traditional lemon-flavoured kind as I am not a fan of citrusy baked goods.  They make for a good tea biscuit.  I added a splash of vanilla which I think helped to make the flavour a bit less flat, as otherwise these would be very plain.

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Chocolate Cake: Very moist, and tasty.  Perhaps closer to a brownie than a cake, which I prefer anyway.

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Pears in Wine: So easy and glamorous!!

Overall, I think it’s a very novel idea to have a biography cookbook, and it’s fun.  Many of the recipes are quite easy to make, though I didn’t care for the number of them which were not actually Audrey Hepburn’s (why would I care about Luca Dotti’s wife’s cake?).  But it’s a sweet idea, and everything turned out fairly well.  I’ve also never spent this long on a single blog post.

Fetishizing Mentally Ill Women

Amour 9

Beauty sometime, in all her glory crowned,
Passing by that cleere fountain of thine eye,
Her sun-shine face there chaunsing to espy,
Forgot herselfe, and thought she had been drowned.
And thus, whiles Beautie on her beauty gazed,
Who then, yet liuing, deemd she had been dying,
And yet in death some hope for life espying,
At her owne rare perfections so amazed;
Twixt ioy and griefe, yet with a smyling frowning,
The glorious sun-beames of her eyes bright shining,
And shee, in her owne destiny diuining,
Threw herselfe, to saue herselfe by drowning;
The Well of Nectar, pau’d with pearle and gold,
Where she remaines for all eyes to behold.

Michael Drayton’s poem from 1594 describes with love the allure of the suicide of the beautiful woman.  We love to see beautiful women who are sad and fetishize their deaths, which often occur at their own hands, and this poem is a great example.  Another example is the persisting image of Ophelia, who is the perfect suicide: she is beautiful, and her beauty enhanced by her death (think of her hair flowing in the water, wet dress seeming to cling to her despite the original play describing a ballooning effect in the river, flowers adorning her as the most beautiful marker of madness, eyes glistening with tears); though her madness was, briefly, loud and strange (as mental illness often is), in the water and in death she is silent and becomes a quiet submissive beauty rather than a raving lunatic (her death prevents the irritation that comes when women are allowed to talk).  And this is how she is so often immortalized in art: the image we recall of Ophelia is one of beauty, silence, flowers, and the glorious moments before death — we don’t not think of her triggered by cruelty, or loudly condemning men.

QUEEN GERTRUDE

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

emphasis mine

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Alexandre Cabanel, 1883

By no means is  Ophelia made ugly in the play, but her death is different from its popular depiction: her clothes bloat around her like an inflatable raft rather than body-hugging wet fabric; she is out of touch with reality and sings gleefully rather than the image of her mournful expression we see in paintings; when she finally drowns, her death is muddy — characterized by filth, dirt; it is not the beautiful floral bath of her popular depictions.  The mentally ill woman is made from the already fetishized psychotic suicide to be even more fetishized: more palatably psychotic (that is to say: less vocal, more silent) and more beautifully dying.  We don’t see her die in the play but one can imagine the effect of her death on her body: bloated from drowning, hair tangled from the water, swampy from the river mud — not likely: flowing waves of hair, glowing pale skin with flushed cheeks, flowers neatly arranged about her clean dress and face.

Alexandre Cabanel, 1872 & 1883

Death, and suicide, are ugly.  The corpse is an ugly thing, the act of dying lacks beauty, and there is nothing attractive about decay.  But women have one value, and that is their beauty.  Even in death and sickness, they are only valued for their beauty — mental illness or suicide only serve to make a beauty more exciting.  So in the case of Ophelia, the problem of ugliness is avoided by depicting her pre-suicide, or depicting her death as a fantasy with little bearing on reality.  And it is disgusting that we would want to, and almost always do, turn a tragedy and illness into a fantasy.

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John Everett Millais, 1852

When we think of mental illness and suicide in women, we have images of youth, thinness, pale skin, cleanliness, and above all, natural beauty.  We love women who die by suicide, especially young ones.  Their youth and beauty is  forever preserved and they will never grow old.  They are made different from other girls because of their sadness: a depth that is there only for appeal, rather than discussion, introspection, examination; of course, you can’t go into the effects of mental illness when the person who is ill is now dead.  We love when self-destruction is fun and seems to damage no one but the girl who self-destructs: for everyone else, her life is just a sexy party; for her, she’s slowly dying and will end in a death that silences her before her self-destruction becomes less than fun and before age can claim her beauty.

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John William Waterhouse, 1894

We reduce mentally ill women to flat extremes, where they become nothing but sexy and sad.  We forget they had problems and lives outside their illnesses.  We love Marilyn Monroe but don’t talk about how troubled she was and how much help she really needed.  We love Jean Seberg but think of her as the French-chic pixie with a sad end rather than a supporter of the Black Panthers who struggled with her acting career.  Vivien Leigh is a beautiful, young glamour icon, not someone whose illness destroyed her marriage and aged her prematurely.  Edie Sedgwick is a wide-eyed party girl who’s a bit deeper than your regular party girl because she was sad; we don’t think about histories of trauma or drug addiction.  We love Sylvia Plath but broadly her work isn’t taken as seriously as men poets, and we love to remember her blonde, all-American good looks while diminishing her writing talent.

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Arthur Hughes, 1863

Plath is a good example of the most willful ignorance that surrounds mentally ill and suicidal women.  The Bell Jar is reduced to school-girl nonsense that only naive, uneducated girls seem to enjoy because they are not smart enough to read something with more depth or value.  It is seen as self-indulgent.  It is seen as shallow.  It is seen as simply not as good (complete the sentence: as the work of men).  A gross double standard: we rarely discuss the self-indulgence of, for instance, Hemingway, nor do we discuss his beauty or looks when talking about his suicide.  Yet we love to look at Plath, images of her in a bikini, in a cute dress, in a sweater looking straight at the camera, bangs curled, hair loose or up, smiling or smouldering.  We can fetishize this.  We can take her and give her a certain value.  We can consume her and her death in a way that doesn’t apply to someone like Anne Sexton, who is rarely fetishized or consumed, or Virginia Woolf, who is often mocked for her ugliness — both writers who have perhaps gained more respect for their work and talent than Plath, but who are not quite so strangely beloved.  They are loved for their skills, Plath is loved for her tragedy.  Because she fits into our model of the perfect suicide, and when we can diminish women we will.  This is not to say that she was oppressed by her good looks or that Woolf and Sexton being taken seriously rather than being thought of as primarily beautiful is a bad thing.  This is to say that the way we love to consume the deaths of beautiful women, the way we reduce women to their beauty, is disgusting.

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Marcus Stone, 1887

An issue is that there is no shying away from the reality of women’s mental illness — it’s not like the grotesqueness of it all is hidden.  The Bell Jar describe how the protagonist becomes so ugly after her suicide attempt that she is not permitted a mirror.  We have descriptions of weight gain and loss, bruised skin, bad haircuts; deaths in dirty basement crawlspaces, deaths of characters described as looking like horses.  For another example, Anne Sexton describes suicide as:

I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Opehlia
Jules Joseph Lefebvre, 1890

But we never think of how mental illness betrays the body.  We do not think of illness preventing someone from caring for themselves and descending into filth and clutter and stench.  We do not think of the scars of self harm.  We do not think of weight gain or loss from disordered eating, nor the effect on the body that substance abuse can have.  We do not think of how lack of sleep can impact appearance.  We do not consider how all of these things, going on for years, can age you prematurely, and how unsexy that really is.  Nor do we think about deaths.  Bodies bloated from drownings, faces bruised and filled with blood from hangings.  The woman covered in her own vomit after an overdose.  The exploded head from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  None of this matters when women’s mental illness and suicide is a fantasy: in that fantasy, everything is clean, no one ages, no one talks about their illness, and death is a preservation of beauty and a confirmation of an emotional depth that you never have to deal with because you don’t have to deal with problems that are dead.

The grotesque and painful reality of mental illness is unacceptable.  Sickness is unacceptable.  Women will never meet up to the standards of the fantasy, especially when things are bad.  We will never be Ophelias, and we will never be understood.  We will only be shamed more and more for not being fantasies in real life.