Modernist Angst- Misogyny Essay, Research Paper
Modernist Anst; Misogyny in Satire
The position of women in society has been exemplified in literature as misogynist, and although things have started to change in the last hundred years or so, one sees that women are still portrayed in a poor light. In essence, the idea of women being contemptuous, having a blatant disregard for authority dates back to Eve. Eve coaxed Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge and for such defiance, God punished both Adam and Eve, however, it was Eve s punishment that cursed her (and the rest of womankind) to the role of a scapegoat. It is not hard to imagine people routinely murmuring that it was Eve s fault, that it is Eve s fault, or that is it will always be Eve s fault for the role of women and the decline of masculinity. As for men, they have been cursed to dominate the world with the role of a stolid breadwinner. Just as this bible story has not changed to create a better depiction of Eve as less beguiling, less evil, and more caring, neither have Modernist writers who have woven societal tales of social strife. The depiction of women as conniving and despicable has not come through more clearly anywhere than in the Modernist period where women were portrayed as the Dark Horses, the archetypal forces behind social chaos and self-affliction.
The depiction of women as the Dark Horses is not just confined to British novels. The American satire by Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, aptly founds itself on a series of social events that create the same Dark Horses. Indeed, most of the interaction between the characters in the novel happens not by coincidence but by planning. Everyone plans trips to the Bellomont knowing that they will spend their time gambling, and Lily, the main character, plans all of her trips with the intent of getting something out of someone. The various visits, then, are the grounds on which the entire social analyses and gossip take place. The visits are a type of societal battleground on which alliances are formed, people make connections, and some get judged. Wharton s portrayal of Lily Bart s life is the antithesis of nobility or glory; she had every opportunity to live the type of life she dreamed about, but loses it all by committing suicide. Wharton s misogynist depiction of Lily glamorizes the most extreme degree in which an aristocratic woman will go to in order to tear her own life apart.
For the British Modernists, they have seen it fit to portray women as inherently heinous individuals. This idea has also come through clearly within early twentieth century British novels, particularly those by Evelyn Waugh and E.F. Benson. Their literature reflects a misogynist view towards women in reality. Both authors satires persuade its audience to view women through a misogynist looking glass. Thus, dictating the audience s point of view by asserting that women control men and make men women, when in fact, women have been involuntarily designated by society to replace the declining male. According to Craycraft Jr.:
In Patey s reading, the modernist crisis reflected in early [Modernist] novels is at heart a crisis of rootlessness, alienation, and disorientation of British [men,] in the aftermath of WWI. The institutions and conventions that gave direction to the manners of Edwardian England had been discarded leaving nothing to fill the void of [men returning back from war changed, barren, feminine, and less than men, ] but the vertiginous excesses of [upper-class women] ( 4).
Hence, in an ever-changing society, particularly in the case of gender reversal, women have involuntarily become the scapegoats for a declining British Empire, modeling Eve s destiny bound to her by God.
In Waugh s satirical novel, Decline and Fall, he created characters such as Lady Circumference, an emotionless upper-class bitch, and Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde, a manipulative upper-class whore. Relatively any action demonstrated by these two ladies distinguishes them as being ultimately heinous and undesirable characters. For instance, in a statement made by the Doctor regarding Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde and Lady Circumference: If there are two women in the world whose company I abominate-and there are very many more than two- they are Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde and Lady Circumference. (D.F. 75). This portrayal of the two ladies by Waugh sets the tone for a misogynist position throughout the entire novel.
As the novel unfolds Waugh makes the two women become increasingly repulsive to his audience. Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde is presented as a Latin American racist whore. Evidently, Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde is parading around with her African American footman, who is suspected by other characters as being her sex toy. Evidence of her promiscuous nature is demonstrated in her remark to Mr. Chokey: Oh you Angel! I could eat you up every bit (D.F. 103). Waugh bestows wealth and social clout to Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde, but respect for her is soon vanquished by her inhumane racist nature towards Mr. Chokey when she remarks: I sometimes think I m getting rather bored with coloured people (D.F. 106). Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde is designated as having the same stereotypical notions about African-Americans as her British counterparts. They are not a people of feelings and other human qualities, but objects to be had. Later in the novel, Waugh adds another detestable dimension to Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde. Not only does she assume the role of a man by becoming Paul s gentleman caller, but also she is the mastermind behind a prostitution cabal (D.F. 199). Little is known of Waugh s intention to vilify Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde s character, although when she affords Paul, a seemingly post-war feminine male, the opportunity to take care of some out of town business, she assumes innocence when he is extradited and imprisoned (D.F. 204). Hence, she becomes more detestable to the author s audience by the moment.
Mrs. Circumference, who is essentially the extreme opposite of Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde in physical form and in personality, is in essence an obese and emotionless socialite. While her sun, Sir Tangent has been shot, she demonstrates pure heartlessness when she callously blames Prendy, and makes no effort to comfort her son (D.F. 89). Another aspect of Mrs. Circumference s character, which Waugh bestows upon her, is her extremely egocentric point of view. Many of the characters in the novel, including Dr. Fagan, appear to be more than gratified to have her in their presence, but when she is out of ear shot she becomes the topic of repulsion and mockery. Waugh s pen has, then, successfully produced an abhorrent character. This is likewise for a female character named Nina Blount in his novel Vile Bodies. In this satirical jab at the Britain s high society, Waugh develops another emotionless parvenu whore named Nina (perhaps an allusion to Zola s Nana). Nina, who has professed her love (all of about ten minutes of it) to Adam, soon breaks his heart for Ginger s money (V.B. 260). In other words, she voraciously seeks new wealth among different lovers. Waugh s depiction of her demonstrates an inherent appetite for control, wealth, and social stability.
Representative of Adam s character is his inability to take control of his own life. He has become, like Paul, the epitome of what would appear to be a post-war feminine male, obliviously searching for a place in society. Waugh s portrayal of the two characters demonstrates a case of role reversal, which during the Modernist period would be certainly viewed as conflicting in a masculine oriented society. Not only does this make its mark for a blatant hatred of Nina as a stereotypical controlling woman, it also designates a power struggle between masculinity and femininity. Waugh has created an authentic reality by which male power is constantly being truncated by the so-called vertiginous female spirit.
In an attempt to right this cyclic chain of events, Waugh uses symbolism as the means to close the novel. Chastity, a girl whom is anything but chaste, has sex with the Major in a car in the middle of a war (V.B. 321). Waugh depicts Chastity as the platform on which the Major (all of manhood) regains its dominance and power within British society.
Like Waugh, another British Modernist, E.F. Benson has taken a similar misogynist position in an attempt to satirize the behavior of British high society. Although Benson s novel Miss Mapp has an Edwardian overtone, more so than Waugh s novels, it depicts the life of one of England s most accomplished female socialite, Miss Elizabeth Mapp. Who appears to be the darkest horse out of the three novels. Benson develops her character in such a way that is in fact appalling to the reader throughout the entire novel.
As the audience first encounters Miss Mapp, Benson presents her character as having fervent superstitions and an unmerited anger for the people of Tilling (M.M.1). By introducing Miss Mapp in such a dim light at the onset of the satire, Benson is able to curtail his audience s view of Miss Mapp by viewing her through a misogynist looking glass. Ultimately, allowing Miss Mapp s character to be depicted by the audience in two ways: her character is either renounced to a degrading and humiliating ???? role, symbolically representative of all womankind, or a heinous plotting bitch, which establishes her as an archetypal enemy to all mankind. Benson also makes evident that Miss Mapp is rather unappealing to the eye: [She] was not a lady of lean and emaciated appearance. She was tall and portly, with plump hands, a broad, benignant face and dimpled, [with] well-nourished cheeks, which for those of the audience that were expecting Benson to incorporate in Mapp s character a dimension of beauty, for some hope of physical appeal, were sadly mistaken??? (M.M. 23).
Either way, Benson is seemingly portraying Miss Mapp to the audience through a misogynist looking glass and by doing so, Benson does not afford the audience to view Mapp s character in a more virtuous light. He curtails the audience s perception of Miss Mapp to be nothing less than detestable, mentally and physically. This is also evident when he juxtaposes Miss Mapp with other characters in social situations in the novel. For instance, when she is, at the last minute, invited to play bridge at Isabel Poppit s place, Mapp analyzes the situation assuming there is a motive behind the invite, and in retaliation she devises a scheme to conveniently make herself the odd-numbered guest at the bridge party to throw off the festivities (M.M. 32-33). Every chance Benson puts Miss Mapp in a social situation she lashes out in a blanketed fit of paranoia and morbid sense of pleasure, feeding her appetite to be more and more controlling and masterminding as the novel unfolds. This also holds true for Mapp s encounters with Tilling s two drunken post-war feminine males: Major Benjy and Captain Puffin. In an attempt to be the winner of an on going power struggle throughout the satire, which symbolizes femininity versus masculinity, Benson places Miss Mapp in a position of control. At the close of the novel an unsympathetic Mapp is playing golf with the saddened Major Benjy after which the death of his supposed soul mate, Captain Puffin, has occurred (M.M. 232).
Elizabeth Mapp s longing to be placed at the apex of the social pecking-order of Tilling, designates Benson plight to make her utterly appalling to the audience. Hence, carrying out his duty to punish Elizabeth Mapp, modeling her after God s punishment of Eve.