Showing 91 - 100 of 605 annotations tagged with the keyword "Sexuality"

Summary:

This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).

The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.

Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).

Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).

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The Good Soldier

Ford, Ford Madox

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The meeting of John and Florence Dowell and Edward and Leonora Ashburnham in a German health spa is the center of a train of lies, deceptions, adulterous love triangles, and deaths. John Dowell, a memorably "unreliable" narrator, calls it "the saddest story I have ever heard" (7). His narrative distance stems partly from the pastness of the events, partly from his absence for some of them, but mostly from his ignorance or denial of realities as intimate as his wife's serial deceptions of him.

Heart disease is the central narrative trope, a literary device easily unpacked as a site of irony: Each of the two major characters who have a "heart" (i.e. heart condition) is faking it, in service of his/her serial "affairs du coeur." Florence fabricates her heart trouble before her marriage is ever consummated, using it to turn Dowell into a cardiac nurse and keep him out of her bedroom. Edward Ashburnham fakes his illness to escape his military post and take his latest love object (and his stoically Catholic wife) to Germany.

The extramarital romps occasioned by Dowell's solicitude for Florence's "heart" comprise the main gag of this novel's comic beginning. When the focus shifts to Edward, Leonora, and their ward Nancy Rufford, The Good Soldier becomes a tragedy of emotional sadism, sentimental martyrdom, madness, and moral exhaustion that leaves us unsure about who in this novel has a literal or figurative heart.

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Poor Miss Finch

Collins, Wilkie

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Lucilla Finch, a young middle-class woman who has been blind since early childhood, falls in love with Oscar Dubourg. After a head injury, Oscar develops epilepsy, and then turns blue from the treatment. Lucilla harbors an irrational hatred of dark colors, including dark skin; thus Oscar has a strong desire to hide his blueness from Lucilla until after their marriage. When his twin brother comes to visit, Oscar tells Lucilla that Nugent is the blue man, a deception that backfires when Nugent--who has fallen in love with Lucilla himself--brings in Herr Grosse, an oculist who cures Lucilla's blindness.

Her first vision is of Nugent, who sabotages Oscar by assuming his identity and making it impossible for Oscar to reveal the truth. Oscar goes abroad, becoming a nurse, but returns in time to rescue Lucilla--who is blind again--from marrying Nugent. After the brothers reconcile, Lucilla and Oscar marry and have two children; Nugent freezes to death during an Arctic expedition.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Robert and Jinnie Salesby are an English couple staying at a French resort to restore Jinnie’s health. Rather than a dramatically delineated plot, the story is comprised of a series of moments in daily life, drawn with psychological precision and depth. Robert, whose point of view the narrator explores most of the time, is characterized through his frequent shifts in perspective--from the present, shaped by his wife’s illness, to their past experiences of health and joy. As the story traces the Salesbys’ daily regimen of meals, walks, and rest, Robert’s grief and hostility regarding his wife’s illness becomes ever clearer.

The hotel’s other inhabitants, who are mostly drawn as caricatures--the American woman who talks to her dog, for example, and the Honeymoon Couple, whose vigor and sexuality provide a foil to the Salesbys’ subdued relationship--call Robert an "ox" and observe his solitariness and lack of apparent emotion. The local children react to him as if he is a figure of sexualized threat. Jinnie’s perspective is revealed only through her self-effacing cheerfulness, her appreciation of her husband, and her plenitude of that "temperament" her husband seems without.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

Most of the twenty works in this anthology are first-person narrative essays. They represent a wide range of women’s experiences of embodiment, spanning both the average lifespan and the particularity of individual lives, focusing on puberty and menstruation, weight-consciousness and eating disorders, facial disfigurement, multiple sclerosis, infertility and pregnancy, cosmetic treatments and surgery, breast cancer, and aging. A few essays offer a valuable cross-cultural lens on the experience of embodiment.

Hanan al-Shaykh’s Inside a Moroccan Bath (see this database) explores her dual experiences of being stigmatized in Middle Eastern culture for her thinness, and then having her stigma recast as value when she moved to a European city. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s "The Story of My Body," which begins "I was born a white girl in Puerto Rico, but became a brown girl when I came to live in the United States," (299) offers another perspective on the cultural instability of the criteria for female beauty. Linda Hogan’s "Department of the Interior" positions her experience of embodiment within the intertwined contexts of American Indian culture and the physical landscape of the West.

Some of the contributors are well-known for their texts on embodiment ( Lucy Grealy, Nancy Mairs, and Naomi Wolf, for example), whereas others are well-known creative writers (Margaret Atwood and Linda Hogan). Pam Houston’s Out of Habit, I Start Apologizing is also annotated in this database.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir purposefully intertwines a personal and professional coming of age with the chronic illness that shaped it. Roney's stories of her adolescence, college years, and beyond (she is now a graduate student approaching her fortieth birthday) integrate the story of her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes around age 12 and her changing approaches to living with, rather than simply "managing," her illness.

How diabetes inflected Roney's development as a woman, including such issues as body image; food, eating, and weight; and sexuality and love relationships, is a recurrent focus, with her unsatisfactory relationships with men often taking center stage. One chapter addresses her decision, in the face of fears about blindness, to become a writer instead of a visual artist. Other sections address travel and exercise, both explored as solo experiences and as struggles negotiated in the company of friends and strangers. Roney's experiences with family members and medical professionals in the context of her illness are an occasional focus.

While in most of the memoir Roney positions herself as an ill person in relationships with healthy people, in two sections she explores her relationship to others with diabetes: a woman her own age whose illness has made her completely blind, and her aging cat. Throughout the memoir, Roney moves from her own experience to broader philosophical reflections on the social construction of illness, especially the way that interpersonal relationships shaped by "invisible" disabilities like diabetes reflect cultural beliefs about illness and how it changes personhood.

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Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga, Tsitsi

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Tambudzai, the heroine of this female bildungsroman, travels from her small Rhodesian village to live in Umtali town with her successful, British-educated uncle and his family. She gets this chance for change and formal education when her brother dies suddenly from a mysterious illness a year after entering the mission school.

The novel, set in 1968, unites a classic coming of age narrative with the particular tensions of an African colony under European rule. While Tambu struggles to assimilate into her uncle's family, her cousin Nyasha becomes a compulsive student and develops a serious eating disorder while struggling with the biculturalism of her childhood, spent mostly in the United Kingdom. Tambu's university-educated aunt gradually rebels against her domineering husband.

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North and South

Gaskell, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Margaret Hale is raised in fashionable Harley Street along with her cousin Edith, but when Edith marries, Margaret returns to Hampshire County in the South of England to live with her mother and her father, a country clergyman. The pastoral life she has imagined is quickly disrupted by her father's confession that he is no longer able to remain true to the Church of England and will leave his position to become a tutor of adult learners in the northern manufacturing town of Milton. The traumatic relocation is exacerbated by Mrs. Hale's diagnosis with a "deadly disease" (probably cancer) soon after the move.

Margaret takes charge of most of the practical aspects of the move and then assumes charge of her mother's illness, acting as an intermediary between the doctor and her parents. As well as learning more about her own family's servant, Dixon, who has been with her mother since her girlhood, Margaret becomes friendly with textile worker Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Bessy, who is dying of consumption (tuberculosis) from inhaling textile dust. The Milton workers' activism and independence appeal to Margaret; she rethinks both class and labor relations as a result, including charitable relationships. Her strong opinions and actions bring her into conflict with the family of John Thornton, a factory owner and self-made man who is also one of her father's students.

When Margaret shields John from a stone thrown by a striking worker, however, he avows his love for her. A series of obstacles to the relationship include Margaret's initial rebuff of John and her dishonesty about her exiled brother's secret return to his mother's deathbed. Before the ending brings John and Margaret back together--as well as calming the tension between workers and factory owners--Margaret experiences not only the deaths of almost everyone she loves, but also the suicide of one of the striking workers.

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Somatic Fictions

Vrettos, Athena

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.

Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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Metamorphosis

Updike, John

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The protagonist, Anderson, has a skin cancer growing dangerously close to one of his tear ducts. An aging "idler and playboy," he has spent too many years in the sun (67). Anderson consults and promptly becomes infatuated with his facial plastic surgeon, Dr. Kim, "who turned out to be a woman, a surprisingly young Korean-American who even in her baggy lab coat evinced considerable loveliness" (67). Anderson is fascinated with Dr. Kim's body, her visible pregnancy, her way of moving and speaking, and her face. He enjoys the "bliss of secure helplessness" of the surgery itself, performed by Dr. Kim and two female nurses who "rotate[]" around him conversing as they work (67).

While successful, the surgery leaves a small bump on his face that Anderson asks Dr. Kim to correct surgically. The second surgery achieved, Anderson returns a third time for the much more ambitious project of tucking his somewhat saggy eyelids. His goal, however, is not just to tighten slack skin but to make his lids look like Dr. Kim's, "with an epicanthus" (69). The six-hour surgery is both successful and satisfying to Anderson--until he sees a photo of Dr. Kim's husband.

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