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Things are against us because of Lucy Ellmann’s review – feminist pyrotechnics | essays

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Things are against us because of Lucy Ellmann’s review – feminist pyrotechnics |  essays

I.In 1938, three years before her suicide at age 59, Virginia Woolf published Three guineas, a long-form essay on patriarchy and its seemingly inevitable trajectory, war, a blunt indictment of the fascism that was then sweeping Europe and beyond. His most conspicuously pacifist work, Three guineas it was contentious for its time. He argued that the subjugation of women in the domestic sphere (in particular, Woolf refers to “the daughters of educated men,” women of his own privileged class) is reflected in an equitable lack of representation in the public domain of education and influence: “The public and private worlds are inseparably connected … the tyrannies and the services of one are the tyrannies and the services of the other,” he wrote. As part of a solution, Woolf proposed supporting three causes with one guinea each one: specifically, a society to avoid war, a campaign to rebuild a women’s university, and an organization to encourage professional employment for women. Always stylish Three guineas yet it throbs with justifiable rage and fear. His battle cry and the recognition that the personal is also political would inspire, for example, the women peace activists of the 1960s, who took several of his phrases as anti-war slogans. “Set fire to the old hypocrisies,” Woolf urges. Unsurprisingly, its central themes have not been dated.

Lucy Ellmann, whose momentous one-sentence, little-over-a-thousand-page novel on the flow of consciousness Ducks, Newburyport (2019) confirmed her as Woolf’s literary heir – she continues her own provocative scrutiny of the public and private (including a version of Three guineas for the 21st century) in a first non-fiction collection of 14 pieces. (In typical Elmannism, her list of contents is presented as a “Table of Discontents.”) Using the main issues of the present as a backdrop, with special emphasis on the disempowerment of those who identify as women, the book’s themes include objectification. , sex, aging, culture of rape, war and climate emergency.

Ellmann’s controversy is a potpourri: a wildly funny, poignant, depressing, cap-based play of linguistic gymnastics, hell-bent on reprimanding the deleterious forces of prevailing misogyny, focused especially on the United States (where he was born) and Britain (where he was born). vivid). since his adolescence). In the title essay, Ellmann points to the chaotically ugly presidency of Donald Trump and his legacy. Elsewhere, he criticizes the perniciousness of the so-called “beauty” industry, especially its influence on vloggers and influencers as young as 12 (“Morning Routine Girls”) and the environmental damage caused by air travel and ecotourism and its possible links. to the Covid-19 pandemic (“The lost art of staying in place”). In “The Woman of the House,” she explores the feminism behind Laura Ingalls Wilder’s still popular work. Little house on the prairie series (now rightly criticized for its casual use of racist stereotypes, which Ellmann acknowledges), and inA Spell of Patriarchy ”extracts the sinister nuances of #MeToo in the Alfred Hitchcock film. Bewitched. These are both beautifully written studies.

Several of the trials have been published and modified previously, others have not appeared until now. From the new, one of the best and most rugged of the collection,Three Strikes ”, focuses on the legacy and relevance of Three guineas – and, as with much of the book, it rarely fails. “I behaved well. It did not work. Women are still oppressed, men continue to run the show, “says Ellmann in the opening of the piece, which is made up of more abundant text footnotes (” footnotes are the outsiders within a text, and they are the complacent underdogs in any essay on female subordination, “she clarifies.) The searing statements cover a handful of cultural landmarks from Aristophanes to Audre Lorde.

“The fact that” is the most prominent and most frequently cited phrase in Ducks, Newburyport, and here Ellmann, in a monologue with extras, also reviews facts and statistics. Her unstoppable exclamations of horror: “Why is female life so cheap?” – share a space with pauses in the text where the narrator / Ellmann, like his protagonist in Ducks, participates in some domestic or private action: “break to hang up the laundry”; “Pause to caress the husband’s cheek.” Meanwhile, she advocates for her own three guineas: “There are three forms of strike that I would recommend: a housework strike, a labor strike, and a sex strike. I can’t wait for the first two. “

Things are against us It is, for the most part, entertaining without being harangue. Carefully negotiating a gloomy world, the phrases remain joyful constructions, while their author identifies the lived experience as “bathed in artificial light, we are really back in the Middle Ages.” Crime writers and their fans should probably avoid the essay “Ah, Men”, in which Ellmann’s mischief extends to criticizing genre fiction as “an escape”, and especially crime fiction, which in the opinion of Ellmann glorifies violence against women. (Although, as she points out, she is not trying to prevent anyone from reading what she likes: “censorship is even worse than the vice of writing horrible fiction.”) Ellmann’s position is that “refusing to read crime novels is a feminist attitude “. act ”, whether written by men or women. (Patricia Highsmith is “well prepared for an arduous plane ride” and Agatha Christie’s works “are only good for people with colds”). It seems obvious to say that not all books have to be intellectually stimulating to be enjoyable, which Ellmann concedes in this piece, even if the point is somewhat elaborate. “Let it burn!” order Woolf in Three guineas. At its brightest, Ellmann’s pyrotechnics are to savor.

Lucy Ellmann’s Things Are Against Us is published by Galley Beggar (£ 9.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, request your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.

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