I am choosing to focus on Byatt’s inclusion of feminism and the feelings of intrusion, exclusion and dismissal the feminist characters in the novel feel. Such feelings indeed have an impact on the character’s feeling of being capable of possessing what they desire to possess as they have not been given complete opportunity to do so.
I will discuss Beatrice’s conversation towards Maud about the exclusion and even persecution she felt at Prince Albert College, as the women had their own, “pretty” seminar room separate from the males and did not have a hand in the decision-making process which took place at the pub, another place that they were forbidden to enter (ppp. 240). Byatt appears to use this conversation to unveil the suppression of women in academia in the 20th cent. and that their attractiveness and youth was likely the main reason they were tolerated at all, but that once they grew older and lost these things there began a “witch-hunt” against older women who desired to put their two cents in.
I will discuss the journal entries of Ellen Ash. I will focus on her chess games with Herbert Baulk who tells her she “plays well for a lady”, and who invades her dream and completely suppresses her power in the chess game they play within it. He does so by stripping only Ellen’s Queen’s ability to perform any move she wants. Ellen sees this as a reflection of female suppression in real life, and important to note is when she feels necessary in an entry after the dream that she did indeed win at chess again, as this is a feat she wishes to possess and hold dear as she feels it is a triumph against Baulk’s dismissal of her abilities as a lady. I somewhat feel this is relatable to Val’s essay on “The Male Ventriloquist” that was described as “good work” but dismissed because it must have not been her work (pp. 16). Val’s abilities too have been dismissed and her writing is “good” but only because the examiners are of the opinion it was written by Roland. Baulk and the examiners have robbed Ellen Ash and Val of their right to possess a victory.
I will discuss LaMotte’s “Fountain de Soif” which is described as concealed and difficult for the knight character to get to. The fact that the voice of the Fairy Melusina, who dwells in the fountain “sings no more” when the knight disturbs her (ppp. 266) is indicative of the intrusion of the male voice and opinion within the safe haven of the female, for the Melusina’s female language has become “dumb before the intrusive male” (ppp. 267). I will relate this to Maud’s reading of The Great Ventriloquist about Ash and how she is dismayed by the fact that Ash may have influenced LaMotte in any way. Maud is reluctant to study Ash’s poetry, I think, because she does not want to find evidence that he was able to intrude into LaMotte’s writing and therefore suppress her artistic expression and ideas with his own.
I will finally discuss Maud’s description to Roland about her relationship with Fergus and how she disliked the noise and distraction he made as he argued his opinions which he believed to be superior, and did so by saying “another, cleverer, louder thing” overtop someone’s else voice (ppp. 294). He therefore appears the hold authority over Maud and anyone else he suppresses with his louder, more powerful voice.
1. To what extent do certain means of suppressing one’s attempts to possess something effect their ability to do so?
2. If Maud did not feel so strongly about LaMotte’s influence by Ash, would her reading of LaMotte change? Would she be more open to reading Ash?