the dancers dancing

The Dancers Dancing follows in the tradition of the bildungsroman by following the main character, Orla, as she descends to the Gaeltacht to further her knowledge of the Irish culture. The “coming of age” story of Orla’s journey to the Irish College reflects more her gain in experiences of relationships, secrets, and other thirteen year old girl relations rather than her expanding expertise in the language. Orla’s jealousy of anyone who threatens her friendship with Aisling, her decision to longer be friends with Sandra (which I feel was rubbed onto her by her mother’s comments), the secrets she hides from the people she calls her friends, and focus on herself and her appearance are the natural juvenile thoughts of a girl her age that is trying to fit in.

As Orla focuses on her relations with the other scholars, trying to fit in by hiding secrets out of shame, she dismisses her familial relations. She wishes her Auntie Annie did not exist because she fears the other children will laugh at her. She decides early on that she will have to choose her friends over her family and backs it up on page 161, “This is the Gaeltacht, a land of the child. What matters is the length of your hair and your skirt, the sweetness of your smile and your voice and your Irish, the lightness of your step, your ability to make friends.” Orla’s focus around making friends takes precedence over her desire to perfect the Irish language. She spends much time with Aisling discussing other girls’ bodies, complexion, and hair in English. On page 159, the girls are talking about how they would love to have fair hair. “All in English of course. You couldn’t, really, have this kind of completely enjoyable and intimate conversation in Irish. Irish was for quite other matters, mostly related to school.”

Her consistent English and dismissal of familial relations also occurs as she talks about her Auntie Annie and then goes on to say that she actually looks normal; she looks like Orla. She is disgusted with this thought and realizes that she doesn’t want to look like any member of her family, furthering her attempt to fit in by distancing herself from her family.

We learn in this section Orla’s reasoning for avoiding swimming with the others; her Auntie Annie lives near the shore. When Orla has no choice but to go swimming, she ignores Auntie Annie. Her declination to acknowledge Auntie Annie by anything more than a wave demonstrates her adolescence. Although her fears that the others will laugh prove wrong, she is embarrassed of her aunt and refuses to go and talk to her.

Orla’s decision to use English while having enjoyable conversations and the embarrassment her family places upon her display a sense of desire for liberation and her wish to become her own person.


The Dancers Dancing

First and foremost I feel like this story has started off everywhere. I do not know what is going to happen next. Not in the sense of the author keeping me guessing, but with each chapter being about totally different situations. The only thing that I seem to be of any conflict so far is Sandra not being able to live with Orla and Aisling. I can see future problems coming up in the story with this one situation specifically.

Something else that I’ve noticed is the relationship that Aisling and Orla have with Jacqueline and Pauline. The two pairs seem to keep going back and forth with each other. Like in the beginning when the girls first met, Jacqueline and Pauline were not very nice to Orla and Aisling; but Orla and Aisling seemed to get the girls back with a teacher announced the classes and standings of the girls. Orla and Aisling are apart of a higher class than the other two girls. Even though the girls are treating each other this way, it seems like they secretly want to friends. On page 49 it says, “…pleased to be pulled back into Pauline’s circle…” This is almost like Orla and Aisling do want to have a friendship with Jacqueline and Pauline even though they act snotty towards each other.

This story so far has reminded me of the story The Connor Girls in a way. The girl in The Connor Girls wanted to go to the party so bad, but in the end wanted to be back with her mother. In this story these girls have been sent off to school, but would rather be back with their mothers as well. On page 50 where Pauline broke out into a chant saying, “They say that in the Gaeltacht ; The food is very fine ; You ask for Coca-Cola and ; They give you turpentine ; I don’t want no more of Gaeltacht life! ; Gee ma, I wanna go! ; Where do you wanna go? ; Gee ma I wanna go ; Home!” Basically the girls want to be home.

Written on the Body Mini-thesis_Chelsea Dermody

I am not sure why this failed to dawn on me until this section of the reading, but I realized as I was reading today how truly feminist this novel is. Winterson seems to making an attempt to assert feminism throughout this novel.

One of the most prominent examples of this feminist approach is the characteristic of the novel we have been fighting with ourselves over from the beginning—Winterson’s decision to leave the narrator ungendered and unnamed. What better way to assert equality between the sexes than to write a novel whose main character, the story teller, has an unidentified gender! Way to blur the lines, Winterson!

Throughout the novel the narrator and Louise have this fluctuating balance of power. This hits on the post Carissa made on the power relationship in the first section. Louise certainly has power over the narrator, as Carissa points out. The narrator can think of no one but Louise and frequently transposes Louise in the relationships she has with other women. For example, on page 146, the narrator begins relaying a scene in which she seems to be describing Louise moving about the kitchen in the morning. She says, “The aromatic steam warmed our faces and clouded my glasses. She drew a heart on the lens. ‘So that you won’t see anybody but me,’ she said.” This description fits Louise, but it is placed right in the middle of a section where Louise is supposedly in Switzerland and the narrator has another woman, Gail, as company.

The narrator obsesses over Louise. She dreams of her in Switzerland; she relays erotic scenes (supposedly past, or maybe they are fantasies?) between her and Louise to the reader; she calls Louise’s ex-husband, Elgin, in an attempt to check up on Louise; she abandons her life and takes up residence in a dirty, old, one room cottage, quits using her college degree to translate and begins working at a bar. On page 174 the narrator says, “My equilibrium, such as it was, depended on her [Louise’s] happiness.” Louise lacks no control over the narrator.

However, the narrator is not without control over Louise either. Louise is immediately taken by the narrator, before the narrator even knows Louise has ever seen her. Louise cheats on her husband with the narrator—an act we assume she has never committed before. Louise may even engage in a homosexual relationship (if the narrator is a woman)—another act we assume Louise has never engaged in before. Louise leaves her husband. She gives up the life she knew. And isn’t it all for the narrator, or at least a result of her love for the narrator?

The phenomenon of shifting powers between the narrator and Louise, and specifically the continuous attainment and loss of power experienced by the ungendered narrator, is a great representation of feminism. Winterson seems to claim that gender does not determine power or authority. Both genders are equal. Therefore, regardless of whether the narrator is a woman or a man, she will hold power and lose power, while being unaffected by her sex. Isn’t this a powerful message?

I feel like the feminism in this novel should have occurred to me before the final section of book, but it was while reading a few strong comments in this final section that I realized the feminist message Winterson seems to be sending. Specifically, on page 172 after the narrator has visited the home of Louise’s mother and grandmother, the narrator makes a sarcastic comment on what she has just learned. She has discovered that Louise has left Elgin, even after the narrator abandoned Louise. In response to this the narrator tells us, “Instead Louise had left him. The ultimate act of selfishness; a woman who puts herself first.” This is where the feminism slapped me across the face. I read this comment incredibly sarcastically. The narrator seems to be poking fun at the idea that the ultimate act of selfishness comes when a woman puts herself fist. Winterson is careful to mention “woman” in this sentence. This comment references the traditional expectations of women—that they are to put others before themselves (as caretakers, etc.), and makes fun of these expectations.

The realization that Winterson may have been doing a little more with the ungendered narrator than appealing to our inner risqué-ness has made me appreciate this novel even more.

Written on the Body

Written on the Body reminds me a lot of Lady of the House of Love. Louise and the narrator reminded me a lot of the Countess and the soldier. Louise seems to have this power over the narrator that the soldier had over the Countess. The narrator is known for being a “dog” to the woman he is with. He is only this way because every woman before played him. Most of them were married and ended up leaving him. His revenge was to never “fall in love” again. He once said, “I had lately learned that another way of writing fall in love is walk the plank.” The narrator met Louise. From the beginning it seemed that they had a “thing” for one another. Louise was married though, just like the others. That didn’t seem to matter to the narrator this time; even though sometimes he would remind himself by saying things such as, “Whenever you think you are falling remember that ring is molten hot and will burn you through and through.” In other words saying, “Don’t get hurt by another married woman.” Louise had a control over the narrator though. He says, “A heroine from a Gothic novel, mistress of her house, yet capable of setting fire to it and fleeing in the night with one bag.” This made me look back and think of Lady of the House of Love. He also says, “But she wouldn’t call the police, she’d take her pearl-handled revolver from the glass decanter and shoot me through the heart.” This showed how much of a dominant woman she was to him.

The narrator knew that if it came out about him and Louise being together that it would hurt the woman he was with, Jacqueline. Besides the narrator having the trust issues with Louise, Louise had them with him. He tried telling her multiple times that he loved her; but she wasn’t hearing it. She told him not to say those words unless he really meant them. She wanted to keep it as friends, because she was scared to get hurt. The narrator says, “She didn’t trust me. As a friend I had been amusing. As a lover I was lethal.” She wanted him to come to her without a past. She wanted him to prove his love for her. All in all, it seemed that the narrator couldn’t get over Jacqueline. He for an instance thought about her. That seems to be the only difference between the two stories. There was someone extra making the two hold back their love for one another in Written on the Body.

Irish Revel Mini-Thesis

What I found most interesting in this story was the discrepancy between a cultured town folk party and a “shy” mountain folk party. Mrs. Rodgers, the lady who may have been called the host, abandons all the girls (three of whom are drunk) in order to go likely continue an affair with Brogan. She invited Mary with the intention of having her serve the actual guests, and the other girls made fun of her practically the entire time. These things are, I’m fairly certain, unthinkable to the “shy” mountain folk.

The Courtship of Mr. Lyon/ The Tiger’s Bride Mini-Thesis

In both of these stories, the beasts have the peculiar (maybe not so peculiar for a fairy tale) circumstance of living in “haunted houses”. This does not go to say there are troubled spirits or demonic forces at work in their homes, unless that explains the presence of their rather helpful servants. Regardless, it could be better said that the beasts are the ones haunting their own houses, making it even more difficult to obtain the companionship they both crave.

A Scandalous Woman

Edna O’Brien, A Fanatic Heart: Selected Stories of Edna O’Brien, A Scandalous Woman (New York: Plume, 1985).

In the short story, “A Scandalous Woman,” Edna O’Brien elaborates on the sacrificial role that young women assume as a result of Irish cultural values and their own naivety.  The story is conveyed to the reader through the recollections of an older woman reminiscing on a cherished childhood friendship with Eily Hogan, for whom the story is aptly named.  From the onset, the narrator identifies herself as Eily’s shadow.  This is illuminated in the vignette of Eily who is portrayed as beautiful but rebellious in nature.  Moreover, the narrator’s characterization suggests that she was the meeker of the two girls (O’Brien, 23).  As such, this establishes the friendship as linear. It evolves from a point of infatuation on the narrator’s part to one of girlish mischief laced in secrecy and culminating in a regrettable dissolution.

The secrecy of the relationship resonates from Eily’s unscrupulous liaisons with a local bank clerk who has newly arrived in town.  Eily expresses her passion for “Romeo” and employs the narrator to aid her in meeting him (O’Brien, 244-245).  Reluctantly the narrator agrees in order to preserve the friendship.  However, she serves as a counter to Eily’s immorality as she bears the burdens of guilt for both of them.  Additionally, the seedy relationship of Eily and Jack serves as a prop to depict how the social pressures wrought from family tradition, sense of honor and religion serve to entrap women.  This is portrayed by the reactions of the supporting characters when the tryst is exposed as Eily’s “fall from grace.” She suffers harsh punishments such as beatings and solitary confinement which are meant to make her conform to society’s norms. Marriage to the bank clerk is also forced upon her.  The marriage serves as the primary catalyst in breaking Eily’s free spirit and leads to her eventual insanity (O’Brien, 252-263).  By the same token the secrecy also brilliantly expresses O’Brien’s theme of young women who inherently strive to escape the confines of their upbringing only to meet with calamity from which they never seem to recover.

O’Brien’s style envelopes the qualities of fairytales but in reverse. Instead of the young girl meeting her prince and living happily ever after, she is typically exiled to a life that she ardently tries to escape.  “A Scandalous Woman,” incorporates this quality not only through Eily’s experiences but also through the subtle use of metaphor and cliché.  The inclusion of dogs in the story serves to accentuate the conditions in which women live as well as foreshadows the trouble the girls incur from Eily’s downfall.  Careful analysis renders the discovery of cliché in the “mother’s warning,” “It was all too good to be true” ( O’Brien, 247). Furthermore, it delineates women’s relations to one another as overcome with competitiveness and jealousy.  This is best exemplified in the sister, Nuala, who the narrator describes as “happiest when someone was upset” (O’Brien, 241).  Clearly the cliché here is “misery loves company.”

O’Brien is to be celebrated for successfully capturing the essence of life in a rural community by delicately weaving small town cultural traits such as gossip and meddling into the story which gives the feeling that the reader is actually there.  More importantly, she triumphantly demonstrates the seriousness of violating a code of silence in that while it is detrimental for a woman to step outside the boundaries society has laid for them, it is much worse to admit to the deed itself. Although Eily denied her love affair with the bank clerk to the bitter end, it was her own body, not the narrator who betrayed her. Conclusively, the misdeeds one commits are known but to talk about them is taboo.

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