Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Emancipation of Women

Last week we studied four female authors, from different countries, all of whom lived in the 19th century.  All the characters in the stories/poems suffered oppression of some kind, usually at the hands of the men in their lives.

Born in Galicia, Spain, Emilia Pardo Bazan (1852–1921) was the only child in a well–to–do family. žAt age sixteen, Pardo Bazan entered into an arranged marriage with José Quiroga, a law student.  They were separated in 1885, reportedly because of the controversy surrounding Pardo Bazan's writings.

We read Bazan's story entitled "The Revolver."  In the short story, a pretty young woman marries an older man, and they have a happy first year together, until the husband becomes irrationally jealous.  He tells his wife he will not bother her about where she goes and what she does, but if she makes any move he mistrusts, he will take his revolver and shoot her in the head.  As you can imagine, she lives on eggshells and her health suffers.  Her husband dies four years later and she discovers there were never any bullets in the gun -- no solace to her broken heart.
Our second reading was by Higuchi Ichiyo, žBorn in Japan (1872-1896) she died young, at age 24, from tuberculosis.  žHer ‘realism’ has a distinctly Japanese tone.   žHer father was a peasant farmer, but bought a place in the Samurai class.  Her story, "The Thirteenth Night," is about a night when the Japanese watch the moon, and a young wife, Oseki, leaves her oppressive husband and son and comes home to her parents. As she describes the emotional, verbal abuse heaped on her by her upper-class husband, her mother sympathizes with her -- but her father convinces her to return to her husband.  He is wealthy, and has secured a job for Oseki's brother, and respect for her parents.  She must do her duty, even if it means suffering, for the sake of her family.

       The third author we read and studied was Rassundari Devi, born in the Bengal region of India in 1810 (date of death unknown).  She wrote the first autobiography by a Bengali woman, titled Amar Jiban.  The title character is married in a Hindu ceremony when she is just 12 years old, and is torn from her family to go to her new husband's family home.  She is terrified and unhappy at this abrupt change in her life.  Interestingly, the husband is largely absent in the story.
       Finally, we read about Emily Dickinson, born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830. Emily Dickinson lived in a self-imposed exile for the latter years of her life, and wrote almost 2,000 poems.   Here is the poem we attempted to understand:
My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master's Head -
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I'm deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--

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