Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Esprit Party

I was doing some research on Lady Smatter's extremely intelligent remark about Pope's view of women (ha ha) in the Esprit Party scene, and I found an interesting tidbit about feminism borrowing from Woolf, that seems to apply to our play and the power struggles going on between the sexes. I found it particularly interesting in regards to our discussions and exercises on status:

In A Room of One’s Own Mrs Woolf was angry. Her fictional narrator Mary was having problems researching her lecture. A man ordered her off the grounds and library of Oxbridge: “Only Fellows and Scholars are allowed here, the gravel is the place for me.” The rebuff at Oxbridge set off a thousand questions in her head. “Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art?” So off went poor Mary to the British Museum with a heading on a blank piece of paper, Women and fiction. On the shelves she found an astonishing number of books written by men - about women. Many derogatory. She read Dr Johnson’s dictum: “Sir, a woman’s composing is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

Then Mary discovered that men were angry with women. Here’s Pope: “Most women have no character at all.” Was his an objective statement? Rebecca West who had described a feminist as someone who refused to be treated as a doormat was dismissed by a man as “an arrant feminist.” Yes, men were angry. Fifty eight years later men are still angry and not only in England. An amused Thelma Henderson of CAFRA says the group has been abused by some as a bunch of “man-hating, ugly, lesbians.” Why are men angry with us? I dip into A Room of One’s Own.

Mrs Woolf suggests that life for both sexes is a perpetual struggle. “It calls for confidence in oneself. And how can we generate this quality? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority - it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney - for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination over people.”

Mrs Woolf continues: “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing in the magic and delicious power reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without the power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would be unknown.

“This serves to explain in part the necessity women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism. How is he to go on giving judgment, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets unless he can see himself as twice the size he really is.”

But women are also angry. Adventure, experience, solitude was not their lot, dreary housework and childrearing and modesty were. And today this anger is gearing women up for the Beijing Conference where women will meet to discuss the poverty, education and health of their sex. But anger makes women poor artists. For Lady Winchilsea, a 16th century noblewoman, “The human race is split up. Men are the opposing faction.” Her writing remained mediocre. Anger crippled her. And here, another unknown writer who despite her genius wrote badly. “One sees that she will never get her genius expressed whole and entire. Her books will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage where she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters.”

Mrs Woolf tells us: “Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished... There must be freedom and there must be peace.”

-Margi Douglas


erika said...

Thanks, Margi, for this lovely post. The idea of anger as a block to creative energy is an interesting one to me-- I struggle with my own questions about anger and its expression. For this play especially, I think we need to examine the questions of power and respect betwen the sexes. As we discussed in rehearsal last week, gender often comes into play even in the simple "status" games we were playing-- whether it is a relationship between a boss and an employee, a boyfriend and girlfriend, or two powerful people in a contest of wills (i.e. Smatter and Censor).

Magis Theatre Company said...

Thanks for putting this up Margi, yes it has so much to say about the status exercises we've been working with in our training. Particularly the freedom one has upon realizing that the status structures are bankrupt! Then of course the question, what do we do with that? Create new ones? It was surprising to see the recipe for confidence as seeing others as inferior... try to esscape it as we might, the status games show that often even noble feelings and actions have this hidden superiority.
Interesting for us to note how quickly these characters do tend to operate out of rage. Seems to pack a powerful punch. Seems to always wind up clouding things (in appropriately laughable ways for a stage comedy.) Seems to be the lesson Beaufort and Cecilia must learn

Magis Theatre Company said...

Well said ladies and gentleman, Gabe concurs. Anger does clog the Muse although it can be channeled positively but to be consumed by it and driven by it certainly will cloud ones judgement and lead to ones destruction. Excellent observation, for character, artists & ourselves. I couldn't agree more.

In terms of the issue of status, it's politics. Pure political jockeying for position. These Witlings are interesting politicians in themselves. Then again, who isn't? Guilty as charged. Peace.