Tag Archive | adultery

Narratives of Domesticity

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It is commonly forgotten that the bourgeoisie was not born in France, neither in England, but in the Netherlands; it was not born in the 19th C. but as early as the 17th C., but as usual small countries and ‘rare’ languages fall in oblivion. Witold Rybczynski, a Scottish architect living currently in Canada, has a wonderful book which just fall in my hands some days ago: Home: A Short History of an Idea (1986). This book is a little jewel written by a humanist architect, what can be called a mini version of Philippe Ariès huge work.

Rybczynski approaches the idea of home historically, since its birth until nowadays. The concept of home different from that of house was born in the bourgeoisie, as such, it conforms the values of the former which, clearly, remain until today. The author has a wide knowledge on history and the arts, and he continuously provides artistic and literary examples of his statements. The one I wish to focus on in here is his comparison between 17th C Dutch paintings and Jane Austen narratives.

Rybcznski shows the first representations of domestic space in Dutch paintings to exemplify the first idea of domesticity and privacy, arguing how ‘there was one place, however, where the seventeenth-century domestic interior evolved in a way that was arguably unique, and that can be described as having been, at the very last, exemplary […] In short, at a time when the other states of Europe remained primarily rural […] the Netherlands was rapidly becoming a nation of townspeople. Burghers by historical tradition, the Dutch were bourgeois by inclination’. However, the Dutch 17th C has not left bourgeois literature as has done the 19th C in other European countries, instead it left pictorial representations of domestic space:

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The above painting by de Witte in 1660 is not only a domestic painting but it also contains the bourgeois topic per excellence: adultery. One can carefully see a man hidden in the bed of whom Rybcznski introduces an explanation, hence a narrative, and a domestic narrative. This painting is thought of as domestic space, wanting to englobe the whole of the home in the depiction of several rooms. The woman playing the piano with half-open curtains, the daylight suggesting a non-orthodox hour for intimacies as the owner of the house might be working, the clothes untidily left on the chair: all that narrates a story. Like him, and other contemporary painters, Jane Austen, a century later, ‘single-handedly invented, and brought to perfection, what could be called the domestic genre of novel-writing, the literary equivalent to the seventeenth-century Dutch school of interior painting’. This comparison between painting and writing is very interesting, and they show the same social and class frames in two different moments and times. This historical difference confirms domesticity as bourgeois topic: Austen belonged to the late 18th C. new English bourgeoisie, the concept of home landed to Enlgand, which was also heir of Dutch tastes in interior design.

Austen scenes are typically feminine; women present the whole narrative perspective, it is a world conformed indoors and managed by women and their topics. Love and marriage, as well as real estate, are favorite talks in the drawing or tea room (and it might be reminded that the so tea British tradition came from the Netherlands in the 17th C.). As Rybcznski says, Austen’s plots are simple, no big tragedies or dramas are told, but she has become a national figure, why? Apart from Austen’s deep insights in the human heart, it is indeed a sense of domesticity what her texts bring out: home sweet home, the British nostalgia for quiet familiar and well-being scenes.

On the Psychic Home

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Roger Kennedy develops the concept of ‘psychic home’ from a psychoanalytical perspective in his book The Psychic Home (2014) whose theory may feel complemented with that of Jung and Heidegger’s approach to dwelling, as well as providing an interesting relationship between the importance of the bourgeois interior and the emergence of psychoanalysis. Kennedy argues that it is a human need to have a sense of home: ‘We need to feel at home in the world – it makes us feel secure, it provides the base from which we can explore’ (2014: 12). This sense of home is found inside the human being, it belongs to his interiority being extremely related to the physical construction of the house. This strong relationship is expressed through a continuous interaction between the inside and the outside: the psychic house is fed trough the physical space, while the physical interior becomes yearning and expression of the psychic house.

Kennedy differentiates between the interior home and the domestic space: the first one been approached as a given entity, while the second one belongs to a particular historical context. Indeed Histoire de la Vie Privée shows a complete development of domestic space being its high moment found from the French Revolution onwards, especially during the bourgeoisie. This differentiation is important to oppose traditional feminist critique as it shows how the sense of home may be set apart from the material relationship to the house, in other words, feminism fails to differentiate the relationship between the woman and her inner home from that of the material house, and that may be due to its general materialistic approach. However, following Kennedy, the history of the inner home is that of the human being: the value of home belongs to him, as Heidegger says ‘to be is to dwell’ (147); but the historical development and expression of this interiority is subjected to change, and to the materiality of the world. Thus, bourgeois domestic space should be approached from its particular context, as expression of both human interiority and social interactions. This relationship is what can lead to a conflict which is experienced by the adulteress as a central figure in part of the bourgeois novel.

Kennedy establishes the relationship between the development of domestic space and psychoanalysis based on the idea that, in fact, psychoanalysis somehow belongs to the home’s interiority, and to the inner space both psychically and physically (2014: 20): it belongs to the subject who inhabits the house. Thus the psychic home finds a strong correlation with domestic space in the bourgeoisie which is highly concerned with the cultivation of the inner space in both metaphorical and literal meanings:

 ‘One could say that the older notion of the interior as the spiritual and inner nature of the soul became, in Freud, wedded to the emerging notion of the double nature of the interior as site of dream and material reality to create a new notion of private life and of the human subject. The psychoanalytical interior, or what I shall put forward as the notion of a psychic home, becomes a revolutionary account of the human subject, one that challenged bourgeois domesticity while providing a comfortable space for exploration of its conflicts’.                                                                                             (2014: 24)

 Indeed, psychoanalysis is the product as well as the end of the proper bourgeoisie or Victorian domesticity and its core values. Kennedy approaches the discipline as a result of the strong sense of interiority domestic space brought to the individual who was not freed from inner conflicts, but far from that, those were actually caused by the same domesticity. One can then suggest with Kennedy how psychoanalysis was born from the negative side of domesticity: its conflicts; therefore, being the new discipline a cure but nonetheless also a challenge for Victorian values; the end of the restricted and disciplined sexuality, and the beginning of new experiences of the body.

On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck

“On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck”, Theatralia. Revista de Poética del Teatro XVI. 2014, 227-235.

With this article I aim to introduce the topic of adultery in Georg Büchner’s work with a focus on female sexuality, and the relationship between sex, murder and madness. Adultery appears as a final trigger for madness and murder, which is seen as a substitute for the sexual act between the spouses, especially from the husband’s perspective, when the wife’s adulterous relationship with her lover avoids sexual contact with her legitimate husband. Behind that, the social context where the story develops is especially important for the author’s social critique of German politics in the 1830s under the kingship of Prince Metternich.

Mme Bovary as Literary Example of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Claims

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Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), mother of Mary Shelley, was a feminist author who wrote in 1792,  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, an exhaustive critique of women’s education in her time, and their consequent place in society. To a contemporary reader, Wollstonecraft’s feminism may be similar to Christian or conservative feminism: she bases women’s right to education on its importance to be a good female Christian, that is mostly, to be a good wife and daughter, and, simultaneously, she exalts the virtue of chastity. Wollstonecraft’s text gives to the reader a good insight of what might be going on in genre relationships at the end of the 18th C. The author repeatedly shows her distress with the position women were left to: objects of desire. The lack of intellectual education was the cause, according to the author, of adultery and debauchery in marriage and within the family, affecting the whole of society. Women’s education taught them to be superficial limiting themselves to elegance and in being worshipped by men, or, and that is the dangerous point for Wollstonecraft, by seducers: ‘The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them’.

Understanding is placed as touchstone of domestic virtue and social freedom, while mere female slaves will never really understand their duties becoming thus completely vulnerable and morally weak. Wollstonecraft claims that her contemporary females obeyed without understanding, and, mostly were flattered by their husbands-to-be which supposed that once passion finished, the wife may be in need of another flatterer. If there is an author Wollstonecraft attacks is, easily to imagine, Rousseau who created the ‘angel of the house’ which pervaded the whole 19th C and beyond. Rousseau related knowledge with evil, therefore women should not need the reasons but the aims they were intended to achieved. Wollstonecraft’s reply is: ‘The great misfortune is this, that they both acquire manners before morals, and knowledge of life before they have from reflection any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. The consequence is natural. Satisfied with common nature, they become a prey to prejudices, and taking all their opinions on credit, they blindly submit to authority. So that if they have any sense, it is a kind of instinctive glance that catches proportions, and decides with respect to manners, but fails when arguments are to be pursued below the surface, or opinions analyzed’.

Women, follows the author, only learn to imagine and dream with romantic and passionate love; they are taught how to please and expect a perpetual worship from their husbands for the rest of their marriages without any need for intellectual affinities or friendship. The relationship between imagination and adultery, as well as the exaltation of feelings in women brings close the figure of Mme Bovary, especially in this comment: ‘I own it frequently happens, that women who have fostered a romantic unnatural delicacy of feeling, waste their lives in imagining how happy they should have been with a husband who could love them with a fervid affection every day, and all day. But they might as well pine as single, and would not be a jot more unhappy with a bad husband than longing for a good one’. Mme Bovary is a work from 1856, and it is the work of adultery par excellence as the obsessive nightmare of the bourgeoisie. Flaubert describes a situation and a character which Wollstonecraft warned against more than half a century earlier.

Another treat of Emma Bovary is her fetichism and need for consumption, consumption to improve her body, her appearance once she is completely led astray by her multiple affairs. Emma’s debt can be seen as an unlimited desire for physical self which is fed by an unstoppable need for being desired. Wollstonecraft argues women were enslaved to their bodies because they were made weak since childhood paying not enough attention to their health, this situation endured her subjection: ‘Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adore its prison’.

Wollstonecraft finally relates the private with the public sphere, a very Victorian idea: the good inside makes the good outside. The notion of Victorian privacy was crucial (and still is, just look for example to the American relationship between politics and private life) to a welfare state, and here are already some thoughts on that: ‘Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers – in a word, better citizens’.

The author also criticizes the difference in what is expected from men and women: while women are insisted in being chaste, men are forgiven for their lust. Mme Bovary could only die, as it does Anna Karenina or Effi Briest, but there is no a bit of social critique to their lovers. However, as Tolstoi exemplifies in his book The Kreutzer Sonata, male promiscuity affects as much as female the wellbeing of marriage; being women the only bearers of the fault was of course naturally unfair but the conclusion of the whole system of thought Bourgeoisie society depended on.

Between the House and the Hut: An Erotic Approach of Space in Lady Chatterley’s Lover

“Between the House and the Hut: An Erotic Approach of Space in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” The Poetics of Space in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Culture. University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, 29 May 2014.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) is a novel mainly structured around two main spaces: Lady Chatterley’s domestic space, and her lover’s hut in the woods. These spaces articulate Lady Chatterley’s desire and sense of femininity making them highly erotic. In her domestic space Connie Chatterley lives with her impotent husband, almost always secluded in her room. Connie finds an emotional and sexual distance from her husband, which is also expressed through the magnificent architecture of the mansion. However, her relationship with Oliver Mellors, and their sexual encounters in the hut, gives her the human and emotional contact she desires. She finds her realization as a woman in the primitive: the hut in the woods. According to Gaston Bachelard, the hut is a symbol of primitiveness which gives us a high sense of protection and refuge far from the civilized and crowded houses. I argue that the hut embodies Lady Chatterley’s longing for intimacy, her refugee and sense of primitiveness where she meets again with her sexual being: the most primitive sense of femininity. Hence, body and space correlate with each other empowering the image of the hut through sexuality: Lady Chatterley inhabits the hut as well as she is inhabited by Mellors, a fact that leads from the origin of habitation to the origin of human life. In this context I will analyse the dialectics of desire in Lady Chatterley established around the domestic space and the hut.

Polygamous space in The Good Soldier

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‘Their rooms all gave on to the gallery; Leonora’s to the east, the girl’s next, then Edward’s. The sight of these three open doors, side by side, gaping to receive whom the chances of the black night might bring, made Leonora shudder all over her body”

This passage of Ford’s The Good Soldier (1915) suggests a polygamous or orgiastic reality trough the description of the interior space. At this point of the novel, Leonora, Edward’s wife, knows the affair between he and the maid, Nancy, moreover she does not only know it but rather accept it completely encouraging the girl to keep on her adulterous relationship as she finally has determined to divorce Edward and, in a sort of cynicism, thinks he needs the relationship with the girl. The absence of sex between Leonora and Edward is balanced with all Edward’s adulterous relationships which carry the sexual weight of the text. In the particular case of Nancy, the fact that she lives within the familiar house adds an uncanny element to  the narrative emphasizing Leonora’s incertitude on what may be happening next door.

The moment quoted focuses on Leonora’s feeling finding herself in the middle of a space surrounded by three open doors, properly speaking, three promiscuous open doors. ‘Black night’ suggest unknown faces: anyone could be anyone else penetrating into a space almost by chance as if some sort of unconscious instinct may lead among them. The fact that all three rooms give on to the gallery avoids a sense of privacy and intimacy in what is performed inside which is to say, it is performed outdoors as the open door represents the remove border. The three open doors around the hall invite any of three inhabitants of these rooms to interchange them, to cross the borders of their privacy. The sense of transgression remains in the obscurity of the rooms which even if open are dark, that is, they hide to a certain point what is happening inside, and Leonora’s shudder is the key sensation which transmits to the reader the transgression of the suggestion.

In this context, the domestic space is transgressive: the boundaries of the 19th century bourgeoise family have been violated. The high value of privacy born with the creation of the modern family as stated in Rousseau disappears according to the use of sexuality, especially, made within the domestic space.

Elisabeth Badinter, L’amour en plus (II): Rousseau, and the Nouvelle Mère

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It seems that Rousseau has really been the first creator and promotor of this new mother: the one who appears at the end of the 18th century and, even if one may acknowledge another revolution with Freud, she still pervades nowadays. Rousseau’s work Emile was literally a manual for the new mother who learnt there how to wash, feed, educate and take care of her child, it was the beginning of ‘le règne de l’enfant-roi’. The new mother was mainly the middle class woman, the plain bourgeoise, not the aristocracy or high bourgeoise neither the lowest classes but the woman whose world was the house and had no ambitions neither economic independence. The domestic space is thus this place where the new mother and the ‘new’ child inhabit, it is the sacred place of privacy where their mutual relationship took place and where the child may become a good citizen. Rousseau establishes in Emile a parallelism between the convent and the house, the noon and the mother, it is Julie, the new Heloïse one the new mothers who sanctified this new space, while the first Heloïse spent her life in a convent.

This idea is empowered along the 19th century when ‘en gouvernant l’enfant, la mère gouverne le monde. Son influence s’étend de la famille à la societé, et tous répètent que les hommes sont ce que les femmes les font’. Now she is also the governess, she should teach and educate her children at home, while the father keeps reduced to the workplace and outside the kingdom of mother and child. The aristocracy however despises this new bourgeoise mentality and aristocratic women decide to enjoy life without changing the previous attitude towards children. One of the best writers to depict this reality was Balzac who often shows the difference between la mère et la séductrice.

Another important figure in the 19th century is the family doctor: he helps the mother in all her concerns. The doctor is very present for example in Mme Bovary (especially in the form of pharmacist), or The Awakening, and his main role is to have plenty of knowledge of not only the physical state of the family members but also of their moral state becoming a primordial moralist against the adulterer.