Midterms and This Week

I’m enjoying reading the midterms. Thank you for working on this collaborative project. It’s an experiment, and I hope you enjoyed working together.

We will take a break from keywords this week. What I would like you to do is to comment on this post by noon Wednesday on one (or more) of the following questions:

1)How does The Woman of Colour‘s use of epistolary and first person bildungsroman narrative differ or resemble the other two novels?

2) Think about the concepts of focalization and interprellation on the handout from Week 7. How do these devices fit into what you see as the didactic goals of this novel?
3) Think about other classes and moments where you’ve encountered questions of the colonial and postcolonial (Homi Bhabha, perhaps). To what extent do you see this book fitting into those questions of race, class, nation, power?

4) What spaces (you can define this term as you will, just define it) are open to women (fictional or not) to either resist or reform society? Tie this to the reading this week, but feel free to make connections. Especially if you are going outside of the 18th-century, include other identity categories beyond sex (sexuality, race, class, etc).

Week 9: Tweaking Domestic Fiction


Anon’s The Woman of Colour: Title Page (Broadview 51) to the end of Volume I (Broadview 127)


Meet in LOVE203

Comment on the blog before class.

The Woman of Colour: Volume II (Broadview 128) to end (Broadview 189)

We will meet with Prof. Roy’s course on International Women Writers. They will be reading Purple Hibiscus. We will discuss the the following topics within the context of each course’s reading for that day:

epistolary/ first person bildungsroman narrative (See Lazzaro-Weis article)
ideology: how it is made visible,  shaping subjectivity (See  focalization and interpellation handout)
colonial/postcolonial questions about race, nationality, gender/state (see Habermas and Bhabha articles)

Bring the texts mentioned in parenthesis to class, too.


9 thoughts on “Midterms and This Week

  1. Unlike Pamela and Anti-Syrena, The Woman of Colour tackles society’s oppression regarding the socially constructed yet socially real elements of race, whereas the former novels focus on issues of gender, sexuality, and class. While all three are epistolary novels, The Woman of Colour includes some letters that Olivia does not read, as the editor claims them to be “filling a chasm, and letting the reader a little behind the scenes,” (100). This idea of secret knowledge for the audience gives readers an even greater interaction with the protagonist Olivia, as the climax builds and readers feel that they have precious knowledge, as they have access not only to Olivia’s thoughts, but also to the thoughts of other characters that Olivia does not have. Giving readers this exclusive edge enables readers to empathize even more with the protagonist.

    On a more obvious level, The Woman of Colour is also in first person perspective, yet a bildungsroman narrative of a protagonist with both African and English roots. This is the foundation on which the novel builds, as Olivia throughout the novel serves as a bridge between the two seemingly opposite worlds and as a model for both other characters and readers. As seen by when she instructs the son of her antagonist Mrs. Merton and when she informs the other adults in her social realm, Olivia strives to expand the limited and myopic views between middle and upper class 18th-century Britain.

  2. As we discussed in class, the anonymity of the author of The Woman of Colour raises questions about focalization of the novel. Because we do not know the identity of the author, establishing motives for producing the text becomes less obvious perhaps than if we did know know. We know, for example, that Eliza Haywood wrote Anti-Pamela to reap the benefits of literary fad (Pamela) and to counter Richardson’s construction of gender and labor–in her other works, she often talked about the economic limitations that women had in a patriarchal society. In The Woman of Colour, the text itself is our only evidence.
    The ideologies revealed by the text, in contrast, seems rather one-sided. As revealed in the characters’ letters, the protagonist has characteristic and convictions that won’t be easily shaken: for example, her beliefs against slave trade, for religion, etc. Similarly, the protagonist positively portrays a child, not yet corrupted by the society, and an old man, who is unshaken in his beliefs.
    The choice of the main character’s background, too, is significant. Her mixed ethnicity might result in more sympathy on the part of the white readers, unlike Dido who is completely native and often falls to stereotypes. In addition, she comes from an “uncivilized” Jamaica, enabling her to see the benefits of countryside even after she travels across urban London. Through her, the author seems to envision a pastoral Utopia, just like Olivia does when she debates between socializing and withdrawing from distasteful and biased neighbors.

  3. In Pamela and Anti-Pamela we see the female bildungsroman in the ways that were discussed in Lazarro-Weis’ article. In her article she discusses the obstacles that females have to face in their coming of age stories. She argues that woman have to negotiate the male world and create their own world within it. Pamela finds her space through Mr.B by marrying him and becoming the lady of the house of B-Hall. Another argument of Lazarro-Weis’ is that female protagonist of a bildungsroman usually end up “growing down” instead of “growing up” and are forced to give things up on their way. Pamela gives up her defiant side and her writing, at the end we see Pamela call her own writing “prattle” putting down something she was so proud of in the beginning. Syrena doesn’t even succeed in her bildungsroman story because she is sent to Wales because there was no space for her to negotiate in London. Woman of Colour is a completely different type of bildungsroman and doesn’t follow the argument of Lazarro-Weis. Olivia is able to negotiate and maintain her own space in the world without a man at the end of the story. She loses her husband and finds her own home and place. When Honeywood asks her to live with him she decides that she doesn’t need that and instead decides to live her own life and go back to Jamaica. Olivia is different from Pamela and Syrena because her coming of age story doesn’t end with whether or not she could sucsessfully marry a man and create her life based on that.

  4. In response to the question on what spaces are open to women to either resist or reform society in and out of the 18th-century, I’d first like to draw attention to our discussion of women’s clothing. As a form of expression, clothing offered women an opportunity to either flaunt or hide their womanly perks (if you catch my drift). In Patricia C. Bruckmann’s article, “Clothes of Pamela’s Own: Shopping at B-Hal,” Bruckmann analyses our Protagonist, Pamela, from Samuel Richardson’s novel, Pamela, according to her class standing and which outfits she chooses to wear. For Pamela, who was trying to differentiate between accepting the clothing as gifts from Mr. B or if she ought to remain true to her class standing and not choose the fancier items. Bruckmann writes, “Pride in Dress is one of the epidemick Evils of the present Age [which means, in my opinion, anywhere in time], immers’d from the Highest to the Lowest, in Luxury and Sensuality. It is an Evil big with terrible Consequences, and lifts up the young Man’s Mind far about his Condition as an Apprentice” (201). In this passage, and from our discussion and reading of Pamela’s choice in clothing, we learn that the spaces women of the 18th-century and beyond are determined by how they choose to dress themselves. In Pamela’s case, she chooses to remain modest, whereas, in our reading of Anti-Pamela, Syrena has no hindrances. On one hand, Pamela is reforming society by showing that it is good to be virtuous, but on the other, Syrena is resisting social expectations of ladyship.

    Now, I’d like to apply this same idea to Olivia in The Woman of Colour. Being of a different racial background than our other two female protagonists, Olivia observes the dress of the women she interacts in society and compares them to herself. For example, when she is first introduced to Mrs. Merton, she says, “there entered a very fashionable and showy looking young woman, leaning on the arm of a tall man, of a good tough stiff figure” (71). Here, Olivia recognizes the social expectations of upper class women, as well as their behavior. As we discover by reading further, Mrs. Merton dislikes Olivia for her skin, but Olivia reestablishes – and therefore reforms – Mrs. Merton’s preconceived prejudices by not allowing this woman’s fancy dress to outshine her mindset.

  5. Both the characters of Pamela and Olivia Fairfield serve as bridges in-between. While Pamela serves as a bridge between the lower and upper classes, Olivia serves as a bridge between whites and blacks. They are also both beautiful characters, and while Pamela’s downfall relates to her class standing, Olivia’s relates to the color of her skin. However, it seems that their beauty translates to inward moral goodness and allows them to transcend boundaries that others cannot. For Pamela, she is able to transcend boundaries that other lower class servants cannot, while Olivia is able to transcend boundaries that Dido (her servant) cannot.
    These characters, therefore, navigate spaces that other women of their standing cannot. They are both beautiful and inherently good characters, and this allows them to elicit sympathy from readers.
    But both characters convey a reality about the situation and helplessness of women. They both use letter writing as an outlet. Olivia writes, “I write in order to divert my mind, for, to dwell on my own thoughts during this period of suspense, is agony” (68). Pamela, similarly, writes to cultivate her identity, which is a form of relief from her surroundings.
    This relief heightens their ability as characters to elicit sympathy. Their letters are often presented as emotional confessions, with many outbursts of emotion and despair. While sympathy can mean feeling pity and sorrow at someone else’s misfortune, it can also connote an understanding between two people, or between reader and character. This confined space of readership supposedly creates an intimacy, even if it is feigned. A one-on-one conversation is much more effective and direct than an impersonal address to an entire audience, and both Pamela and Olivia’s letters are purposely “intimate” in order to elicit a specific response.

  6. The Woman of Colour, like Pamela, is nominally an epistolary novel. Nominally, because, while made up of letters and by definition epistolary, the novel presents only one person’s viewpoint. Usually, when I think of an epistolary novel, I think of a vibrant interchange between characters, like in 84 Charing Cross Road. The Woman of Colour, while written in packets of letters, more closely resembled a journal or diary. So, in the sense of being an ostensibly epistolary novel, The Woman of Colour parallels both Pamela and Anti-Pamela. I did find The Woman of Colour far more readable than the other two, though I can’t ascertain whether this is a consequence of its journal-like narrative style, its later date in literary history, or perhaps just the particular style of the author.

    With respect to the first-person narrative bildungsroman aspect of the three books, I think that while all of them represented different facets of the bildungsroman type, none presented an archetypal bildungsroman narrative. For example, the story of Olivia Fairfield, though it included a sort of personal growth and development, did not really include any parts about her education (and her tale ended not with her establishment in society but with her return to Jamaica [which, examined through a colonial lens, might even be deemed an abdication of society]). It would have been rather interesting to read a bit about Olivia Fairfield’s education, as she is clearly very well read and educated (if the footnoted references are to be believed).

    It’s interesting: all end differently (Pamela marries Mr. B, Syrena is exiled to Wales, Olivia returns to Jamaica), and Pamela, with her “establishment in society” as wife of Mr. B, seems at face value the one who best approximates the bildungsroman narrative. But for some reason, her story seems the least true to that type; perhaps because there is so little real character growth.

  7. One thing that I found particularly interesting in reference to these novels as bildungsromans was the varied conclusions to the three novels. Pamela¬ was the only novel of the three that ends in any sort of positive fashion, although her marriage to Mr. B— does beg questions about the positive nature of the novel’s conclusion. With respect to the conclusion, the reader could argue that Pamela does undergo a personal transformation as she transitions from being a lowly servant to the wife of Mr. B—. Regardless, there still exists space to argue Pamela’s transformation, as she personally does not change, only her situation changes. More explicitly, I couldn’t help but feel that Syrena and Olivia fell outside of the bildungsroman paradigm due to the trajectory of the storyline. In Anti-Pamela, Syrena stays unwaveringly true to her lifestyle, a decision that leads to her castigation to Wales. Syrena does not come of age in any discernable fashion. If anything, she stays so true to herself and does not grow up, causing her poor fate. I relate Olivia more similarly to Syrena, as I don’t really feel she undergoes any of the drastic changes necessary for a bildungsroman. Olivia faces great adversity, both in her move to England and her problematic marriage to Augustus, but she ends up regressing back to the life she was living at the beginning of the novel by moving back to Jamaica.

    My personal understanding of a bildungsroman involves a personal change in a young protagonist that serves a positive purpose. With respect to Syrena, I continually felt that she remained a stagnant character, and her unwillingness to change ends with great personal consequence. As for Pamela, although she only arguably changes, the novel does justice to her societal education and shows the ways her situation comes to change, distinguishing it as a bildungsroman. Olivia exists in an in between world, wherein she does come to new experiences and does grow up, only to retreat back to her old life at the novel’s conclusion.

  8. I am interested in the question of spaces available to women to resist and/or reform society. Eliza has already touched on this topic, so I am looking to expand on her ideas; Through Pamela and Syrena we as readers see attempts at showing the benefits of virtue and the power of resisting social expectations, respectively. Dress, however, is not the major factor in The Woman of Colour. Eliza highlights the Olivia’s acknowledgement of Mrs. Merton’s clothing and her choice not to allow her “fancy dress to outshine her mindset.” A discussion of clothing as capital for reform and resistance further highlights the impossibility of concealing race when viewed in comparison to class and sexuality. While Pamela and Syrena toy with dress and appearance either for their own benefit or to take a stand, Olivia does not have that ability when it comes to race.
    I am particularly interested in the spaces open to black and multi-race women during the 18th-century versus those of white women. The cover of our edition of The Woman of Colour is a snippet of a painting by Johann Zoffany. The image, “Dido and Lady Elizabeth Murray” (1799), represents Dido Elizabeth Lindsay, the supposed daughter of a Royal Navy captain and an enslaved woman whom he rescued and took to England. Lady Elizabeth Murray, also pictured, was Dido’s cousin. The painting, with a description, can be found on the UK BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/africans_in_art_gallery_03.shtml.
    I bring this painting to our attention because of I hope to discuss it in class. Our cover only shows a portion of the image (Dido’s face), causing us to miss out on the discrepancy between the two girls, in position, dress, and color. The physical space each woman takes up within the canvas is a direct correlation to both the space she is allowed in public life and the unavoidable difference in race.

  9. Both time and space of the novel conjure thoughts of colonization. Time in the sense that the novel is set immediately following the abolition of the British Slave trade; location in the sense that she must travel from Jamaica to England (and then back to Jamaica), emphasizing the journey and the continual oppositional views on the two lands. In one regard, colonization can be seen as a civilizing mission/white man’s burden where those who have come to the new territory impose the idea of inferiority. This is why it is significant that Olivia has a voice, especially one that is heard and heeded. (Mrs. Merton’s constant belittling remarks towards Olivia suggest the lasting marks that colonization leaves). Olivia, however, defies this certain constructed perception in terms of race and gender. For example, she decides to quit the residence of Mr. Fairfield and in addition refuse Mr. Honeywood’s proposal as a husband. Her decision to return to her homeland reinforces her strength, which is not necessarily dependent on the companion of a man such as Pamela and Syrena. This epistolary novels calls into question race, gender, and class.

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