Review of Drowning is Inevitable

Reviewed by: Lily

Olivia has spent her whole life struggling to escape her dead mother’s shadow. But when her father can’t even look at her because Olivia reminds him of her mother, and her grandmother mistakenly calls her “Lillian,”  shaking a reputation she didn’t ask for is next to impossible. Olivia is used to leaning on her best friend, Jamie; her handsome but hot-tempered boyfriend, Max; and their wild-child friend, Maggie, for the reality check that her small Louisiana town can’t provide. But when a terrible fight between Jamie and his father turns deadly, all Olivia can think to do is grab her friends and run.

In a flash, Olivia, Jamie, Max, and Maggie become fugitives on the back roads of Louisiana. They’re headed to New Orleans, where they hope to find a solution to an unfixable problem. But with their faces displayed on all the news stations, their journey becomes a harrowing game of hide-and-seek from the police—and so-called allies, who just might be the real enemy.

Shalanda Stanley’s breathtaking debut novel explores the deep ties between legacy, loyalty, and love, even as it asks the question: How far would you go to save a friend?  

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Damn. This novel (by Shalanda Stanleywas compelling, page-turning, breathtakingly written and to be honest, sad. Everything moves so quickly, and you can feel the character’s confusion and panic as things quickly get more and more out of control. They are kids, teenagers, but everything is falling apart as they try to save each other.

Also, how wonderful is to see strong platonic girl-boy friendships? Despite the fact that this is everyday in real life, it is hardly represented in books/television/etc.  It’s really refreshing and the friendship between Olivia and Jamie was beautifully written. The other two main characters, their friend Maggie and Olivia’s boyfriend Max were strong, fully formed characters. The four of them interacted realistically and those interactions furthered the plot. And family wasn’t forgotten either, something else that is often absent in YA novels.

The novel had an almost….otherworld feel. It was firmly set in our world, but the storytelling style and theme of Olivia constantly confused with her passed mother and the details of the town, St. Francisville, made it seem like a story being told by someone long ago, in a Shakespeare play, or folklore tale. A great deal of these can be attributed to Stanley’s writing style.

Feminism Rating: 9/10 – all female characters are strong and fully formed. The absent/tragic mother trope is a little old, but Stanley spun in a new, interesting way. Also, the main female character had a platonic relationship with a boy–again, this is incredibly rare in novels. There wasn’t any mention of POC or LGBTQ characters, which has lowered its overall feminism score (to get a full one, a book needs to be intersectional).

Triggers (highlight to see as they contain vague spoilers): Drug abuse by parent, tense situations, death of side character, slightly suicidal thoughts, big emphasis on suicide of MC’s mother. 

Notable Quotes:

“I learned while you were talking.” He studied my palms. “Your scars cross over the lines in your hands, like you have two lives… One to mess up and one to get right.”

“If I had my way, Jamie could have gone to sleep somewhere in the corners of his mind, and I’d wear his body like a suit.”

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A Feminist Perspective On Doctor Who Season 9

General Verdict:

Lily: The finale season of Clara Oswald was a surprising, over-promoted, and intimate season. The first half of season nine was a mixed bag for me. Some the plots felt lackluster and the constant “will Clara die/Clara you are so reckless what have I DONE” moaning from the Doctor got on my nerves. Like, come on dude, we get it. We get it. Jenna Coleman is leaving. Don’t rub it in.

 However, the finale (“Heaven Sent/Hell Bent”) has pushed season nine’s total rating for me up considerably. It gave possibly one of the best companion sendoffs, and gave Capaldi and Coleman a chance to shine with their characters intricacies. And while the overpromotion of every episode left the majority of them feeling like they had not lived up the hype, it was generally good television to pass the 45 minutes.

And let’s face it. If Jenna Coleman is in it, I will watch it; which is why I was even still watching Moffat’s Who.

Rose: I enjoyed this season of Doctor Who more than I’ve enjoyed many of Steven Moffat’s seasons of Doctor Who. I’ve been frustrated in the past by the show under his tenure’s convoluted plots, hectic pace, and inconsistent writing of female characters. He improved lots of those things this season and I give him kudos for that. The strongest element was the relationship between Clara and the Doctor, a strong platonic bond as close as family ties.

The Companion:

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Lily:  I originally meant for this to be relatively moderate entry of a paragraph or two, but it turned into 700 words (apparently I have a lot of feelings about Clara) and then into its own post which you can read here. In summary, I loved Clara’s ending immensely, but felt that she could have been featured more throughout the season.

Rose: I like Clara a lot and I think this was her best season yet. Poor Danny Pink – I know Clara missed him terribly, but as a character, she was better served by his absence. This season, the story could be about her, not her romance, and how she’s grown to be more and more like the Doctor. Her ending was probably the most satisfying end a companion has ever had!

The Doctor:

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Rose: I love Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor. He brings a steely determination but can still be funny. He’s much less warm than David Tennant or Matt Smith – yet it’s clear how much he cares for Clara. The fact that he looks elderly adds a different nuance to his character. David and Matt were clearly chosen partially for their youthful good looks. That’s not to say that they aren’t talented – they definitely are, especially David. And I enjoyed his youthful good looks as much as the next person! But having a doctor who isn’t selected or marketed for his appearance does change things. The focus is on his inner life, his adventures, his conflicts. He’s not as charming, but he’s compelling.

Lily: Peter Capaldi/12 is one of my favorite Doctors. He clearly loves being the Doctor, just as David Tennant did, and brings that enthusiasm to the role, as well as to interviews. He can play a very three-dimensional character, with many nuances and is fascinating to watch. I wasn’t sure about an episode with only him (guest starring an occasional imagined Clara) but I found myself interested throughout the entirety of Heaven Sent.  

The Plots:

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Rose: It’s been a mixed bag this season but better overall than many Steven Moffat seasons. The thing that’s always bothered me about Moffat-era plots is that they tend to be convoluted, with too many complications, twists, and turns that turn out to be plot-holes on closer examination. There were still some things that didn’t make sense but overall, he did manage to streamline and simplify the plots in most episodes this season. The one episode that stood out as really terrible was “Sleep No More.” The plot was just really flimsy, no excitement at all and the villains made no sense.

Lily: Some of the plots felt redone (ex: “Sleep No More” and “Under the Lake/Before the Flood” had pretty much the same scenario) though the finale was terrific. I actually enjoyed “Sleep No More,” simply because it was a break from the endless Clara foreshadowing and it wasn’t a two-parter. I am not entirely fond of the two-parter–some worked well, such as “The Magician’s Apprentice/Witches Familiar,” and other felt too drawn out. I think having more individual stories would have given us more time to see the Doctor/Companion relationship while they were having adventures. Two-parters allowed for more melodrama.

Overall, I agree, a mixed bag.

The Doctor and Companion Relationship:

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     Clara: One of us… one of us will…. I don’t think I could ever forget you.                                      The Doctor: Clara, I don’t think you’re ever going to have to.

Lily: The Doctor and Companion relationship was obviously a focus of the season. After the events of Last Christmas, the Doctor’s season 7 fears of Clara dying came back into full swing, but this time, she had the same fears for him. Many times during the series they were separated for the majority of the episodes. This would annoy me because I like to see Coleman and Capaldi in the same scenes together, but its purpose was clearly to illustrate the length the two would go to be reunited and to keep the other from death. I do think that would have still worked if they had the ‘one of them might die while separated/Clara I put you in danger’ crisis not quite as often. If they had it less, they would have time to show more of why they cared so much about each other—how much fun they had traveling together etc. We got that in snippets, but more would have been better.  

However, the episodes did serve their purpose of showing us how far they would go. The Doctor was willing to use O’Donnell and then Ashildr as test subjects. He used O’Donnell to test his theory, and (I believe) saving Ashildr was done partly because he felt it was the right thing to do and partly because he wanted to see how immortality worked (very badly in Ashildr case). Clara had already jumped into his time stream to save him (and let’s not forget, she saved the universe too—without the Doctor, the planets, the stars, the universes would have been harmed or gone). She was willing to work with Missy, willing to break rules, encouraging him to break rules to save himself. Of course, this all culminated in the Doctor almost dying for 4.2 billion years to save her. She almost died to save him, thousands of her, with some versions actually dying, back in Trenzalore. I suppose it was only fitting he did the same.

In the end, season 9 was a story of love. Not the traditional kind of love story per se, but there are many types of love and they all have stories.

Rose: I agree with Lily. Clara and the Doctor have a great relationship but all the “Clara is going to die” stuff is a bit heavy handed. I really liked how the Doctor sacrificed for her, just as she sacrificed for him. And it was such a satisfying ending for Clara, who got something incredible – her own TARDIS, her own adventures, and her own companion (though I don’t know that I’d want to travel with Ashildr). Their relationship ties back to what I was saying earlier about the Doctor not being eye-candy, which is a contrast to Ten and Eleven. Twelve and Clara’s relationship is also a contrast to that of Nine, Ten, and Eleven with their companions. Rose was starting to fall for Nine and fell head over heels for Ten. Martha was in love with Ten. Donna, of course, was different – she didn’t want “to mate” with Ten! Amy had Rory, but that didn’t stop her from flirting with Eleven. And Clara had a crush on Eleven. Clara and Twelve’s relationship is a return to the close but platonic relationships of the Doctor and their companions in Classic Who. Now, I actually really liked Ten and Rose’s story. But I was starting to get a bit tired of Doctor-Companion romance at this point so I found a truly platonic relationship refreshing.  

The Feminism:

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Rose: I have to give Steven Moffat kudos for big improvements in his women characters and their stories. This used to be one of my biggest problems with him. Even in otherwise well-written stories, his women characters existed mostly to serve the romantic interests or character growth of men – he started doing this early on, e.g. “The Girl in the Fireplace.” There were a few notable exceptions, like Jenny and Vastra. (What happened to them, by the way? I want a Paternoster Gang webseries!) Anyway, perhaps Moffat has listened to that criticism and worked to improve. Throughout this season, both one-episode and recurring storylines featured smart, brave women, often in leadership roles, with interesting stories. Occasionally there was romance, such as in “Under the Lake/Before the Flood,” but it wasn’t the only aspect of these women’s characters. Plus, Moffat showed once and for all that it IS possible to have a female, non-white Doctor! In one of my favorite moments, the Gallifreyan General regenerated from an elderly white man to a young black woman. She was relieved to not be a man anymore, saying “How do you deal with it – the ego?” This proves that it isn’t just Missy who can switch genders during a regeneration – it seems that any Time Lord can.

Overall, while I think the time is right for Moffat to think about moving on and bring in a new showrunner, this season has made me feel much more optimistic about the future of women characters on the show. And there are new possibilities for more complex gender dynamics. When major characters can be a woman at one moment and a man the next, it raises so many interesting questions. Do Time Lords have an internal gender identity that remains consistent, or does it change when they regenerate? How close is their understanding of gender identity to ours? Is the gender that they happen to regenerate into completely random or are certain Time Lords more likely to regenerate into a certain gender? Can a Time Lord regenerate into a gender other than binary “man” or “woman”? Does sexual orientation change when a Time Lord’s gender changes or does it stay the same? In fact, are all Time Lords non-binary pansexual aliens?

I highly doubt that any of these questions will be answered next season, but it’s fun to think about!

Lily: The feminism certainly stepped up this season. Moffat’s track record on this has been notoriously cringeworthy–just click here for a list of statements (warning: lots of misogyny and occasionally jokes that border on rape jokes). This season was a welcome change in some respects. Probably the pressure from fans–many of whom are ones who identify as female–to change pushed him or pushed the BBC to push him to do so. 

Some people mentioned back when it was airing that they had issues with some of the poses on the posters. The Doctor is always centered, and there is one where Clara is literally looking at him to the side while running forward (sort of a hard feat). There are similar issues with the Amy seasons, but the Davies posters had the Doctor and Companion on more equal footing.

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Totally easy to run from explosion while staring at another person (side note: I love that outfit can I have it please?)

As I’ve mentioned in my Clara post I thought her ending was wonderful. She got to explore the universe for a long long time and got her own TARDIS (take that Clara haters. She is Clara Who) but I also felt like her character was often pushed towards the side of the storyline. She didn’t feature in as many scenes that she should have been, especially since Jenna Coleman holds the show together. This was disappointing to me, especially after what Season 8 left me hoping.

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Michelle Gomez as the Master was another good choice. The character could have possibly been one that was another one of Moffat’s Strong and Tough Females (River, Tasha Lem, Madame Kovarian) but Gomez brought a perfect interpretation to it. I sincerely hope Gomez returns.

Other than that, I think Rose summed it up nicely. I hope we get to see the General again, as well as more female timelords.

The Best and the Worst:

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Lily: I honestly wasn’t that fond of the Ashildr storyline. I wanted to be, because Maisie Williams is a great actress, and DW needs more female lead roles, but I had trouble liking the storyline. It took away from the focus of the season (Clara), but the main reason I didn’t like it was the way it was handled. It was confusing, and I just felt vaguely creeped out that poor 18-year-old Masie Williams had to kiss 40-year-old Rufus  Hound.

The best was Clara’s ending and the whole episode of “Hell Bent.” I think that goes without saying.

Rose: I liked Ashildr’s storyline better than you and found some aspects of it quite touching, but it certainly had some issues. The worst for me was definitely “Sleep No More.” It was silly, but not in a good way. Many of my favorite DW episodes are very silly! Giant wasp babies and Agatha Christie, anyone? “Sleep No More? just didn’t work – the evil wasn’t menacing, the monsters looked dull, the story was paced poorly. They were trying to scare us with ordinary things, just like they did with the weeping angels and so many others but this time it didn’t work.

I totally agree that “Hell Bent” was the best! “Heaven Sent” was also excellent and any scenes with Missy were a standout for me.

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Next Post: Our top classic novels.

The Long Way Around: A Tribute to Clara Oswald

Posted by Lily

“These have been the best years of my life and they are mine.”

Season 7 Clara

Clara has always been one of my favorite companions as my friends and family–and about half of my closet (composed of a generous amount of Ross ripoffs of her clothes)–can attest. From the first episode I saw her, I knew I could watch Doctor Who again. I had stopped after A Good Man Goes to War–the plots were confusing, River Song’s storyline felt creepy and filled with poor plotting, and the Doctor was not the person I remembered.

However, in the Bell’s of St. Johns (which is the first episode I watched with her, even though she appeared earlier) Clara immediately struck me is a bright character, one that drew me into the story.

There have been complaints that until season 8 Clara’s character felt flat, somewhat blank, which was probably due to the fact her storyline had so much to do with the Doctor finding out who she was, rather than getting to know her. But even then Clara was a character that shone, one who was very much her own person, separate from the Doctor and his mystery surrounding her–this was largely due to Jenna Coleman. And let’s never forget—Clara Oswald was not just “born to save the Doctor” she was born to save the universe. Without the Doctor, the stars would go out. Planets would die; planets and people would not have been saved. Clara Oswald put that right.

In season 8, Clara was more rounded–though we even knew less about her family–and really got to dive into the adventures. Twelve was no longer so protective of her, unlike Eleven, and trusted her to get herself out of situations. Clara had a job, one she loved, that we saw her at. She had a storyline, separate from the Doctor though it still had to do with a man (Danny–not my favorite storyline) but also with her own addiction to travel/adventure. I would argue that season 8 was Clara Oswald at her best.

Season 8 Clara

In season 9, we start off seeing Clara Oswald is a confident person, an equal to UNIT. UNIT seems to rely on her expertise—expertise on both alien threats and the frustrating personality of the Doctor. Throughout the season, Clara is consistently portrayed as confident, as brave, and always kind. This season she’s all in it for the adventure, something we saw last season in the whole addicted to travel storyline.

A more unfortunate part of her storyline as the way Moffat seems to want to hammer into our heads the message that Clara is reckless, even though we don’t see this shown. We see she loves adventure, but the majority of the time she takes the appropriate caution. The Doctor continually tells her that she is reckless, continually asks her what he has made of her. He continually sinks into angst about what he will do once she is gone. Of course, this somewhat subverted in the finale, when it becomes clear (at least to me) that Clara did not die because of carelessness or recklessness but because of kindness and bravery. Perhaps Moffat intended to distract us from the true ending the whole time by making us think that she was going to die because of her ‘reckless thirst for adventure’.

I also felt her character was somewhat underused in season 9. While we had no Clara-less episodes, we did have Clara-lite ones. The Woman Who Lived is Clara-lite, with her only appearing in the end. In other episodes, namely the Witch’s Familiar, the Girl Who Died, she takes a role that could have been enlarged. Seeing as this is Coleman’s last season, I would have liked to see Clara take a more central role in every episode. Of course, not everyone loves Clara as much as I do, but considering the impact Clara’s storyline has for the season and for the Doctor, seeing as much of her as possible makes that impact hurt more.

The finale is an episode that is a rarity, a kind of episode we do not get that often, especially in Moffat’s Doctor Who. It is a story of friendship, a beautiful tribute to Clara, and filled with a female-centric cast, with a female-centric ending. Clara’s end is fitting—for a woman that became just as much of Doctor as the Doctor was, for a woman that had commenters complaining about ‘Clara Who’ (ha!), for a woman who saved the universe and split into a thousand pieces to do so, for a woman that dreamed of 100 places to see. For a woman that was owed better. That woman got a TARDIS and the ‘long way around’.

 

See you on another planet, Clara Oswald.

 

 

Osgood and the ‘Nerdy’ Inhaler

Originally my first post was going to be about Anne Shirley and the feminism surrounding her series of novels, but I realized that needed more research. And to my shock, I also realized that I did not, in fact, own all of the novels. And writing this post requires rereading all the novels, so it will have to wait until I have gotten them from the library.

Instead, my first post is going to be about Osgood. Osgood is a character from Doctor Who, seen in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor and the season 8 finale Dark Water/Death in Heaven. She has OCD, asthma, and is a fan of the Doctor which sounds a lot like someone I know (hint: it’s me), and in addition, she’s a UNIT scientist. Now, Osgood is an interesting character, that is somewhat relatable, a character that deserved more screen time (especially in the Day of the Doctor) and is played by a talented actress, Ingrid Oliver. I love the concept of Osgood, and I love the fact she cosplays as the classic Doctors, not just the new ones.

But she does have flaws in her portrayal, most notably in the portrayal of her asthma and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This post is going to be a nitpicky and I wondered as I wrote it “is it too much? too much analyzing?” Then I decided if I had to painfully analyze obscure lines in my English classes, then I could go ahead and analyze a TV show.

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Osgood has OCD, though the only mention of it is in the above line, whereupon Missy replies “97. Queen of Evil.” Osgood’s stereotypical line is not even correct.

The reason that Osgood’s OCD is stereotypical and not the greatest is because the writers did not invest in the mental illness. It was a throwaway line, a tag line like saying “I organize my books in alphabetical order. I’m so OCD!”

Now counting is indeed a part of OCD, believe me. However I have never looked at something and quickly gone “Oh yeah, it’s totally 87”. OCD counting, at least not for me, is not rooted in instantly figuring out how many of something there is—that’s more a math skill thing, something I definitely do not have.  Now I can believe Osgood could count that quick since she is a scientist, but how quickly she can count is not part of her OCD. Instead it is giving meaning to the numbers. 87 should have meant something to Osgood—if she feels that an uneven number is a good number, then that should have made her more reassured or at least as reassured as you can get when Cyberman are invading. If she didn’t feel that uneven numbers were good, and instead spelled doom, then she should have shown some signs of panic. Instead it became just another sign that she was Nerd ™.

OCD is not a throwaway line. It is a horrible illness that can prevent a person from functioning properly. I have experienced many, many uncomfortable days and weeks struggling with some form of OCD—and it has many forms, from counting, to germs, to intrusive thoughts, and each time it seems to worm its way into my life a different way. It is not funny, and normally I would not spend two paragraphs critiquing one line but OCD is consistently mistreated by the media and society, so I like to be vigilant on it.

Asthma

I have asthma. By now, I have almost grown out of it—it’s certainly not very dangerous, but I do have times when my chest gets uncomfortably tight and I have to use my inhaler, though it was worse when I was a child. I in no way suffer with it like many people do.  However I have experienced enough to know the writing of Osgood’s asthma was very very faulty.

If someone’s asthma is so severe they have to use an inhaler when they get excited or nervous about something (ex: the Doctor winking at her) then it is, you know, not funny, but dangerous. Actually, scratch that: asthma is never funny, not ever.  However the inhaler is played for laughs—in fact it is played for laughs so often it literally has its own page on TV Tropes entitled the Nerdy Inhaler, its purpose being to signal the audience that hey, this person can’t breath, oh they must be a nerd.

This second one may be picky, I know. But suggesting someone pops their inhaler every time someone winks at them is not a good thing. People are supposed to take the inhaler no more than every four hours and the adrenaline from it can get people’s heart racing if they take it like Osgood does—an inhaler is not a long term medication, it is for emergencies or occasional use.

I look forward to seeing Osgood return in the Zygon two parter in season nine. However if Moffat thinks his fans are nerds that have asthma and OCD (which admittedly describes me) I want to see those illnesses fully realized. I would appreciate a character like that actually, one that was done well. I want my asthma to be shown as more than a signal and to be shown to be serious and dangerous.  My asthma may not be dangerous, but other people’s are and no one’s asthma is a laughing matter. I want my OCD to be fully expanded on and I want Osgood to represent the complexities of it. I want Osgood to be a well rounded character, a brilliant scientist, a U.N.I.T officer and a person that has disabilities that are more than joke.

Emma, Who Has “Never Been in Love”

“No man can be a good judge of the comforts a women feels in the society of her own sex.”
Jane Austen, Emma

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Cher, Tai, and Dionne in 1995’s “Clueless,” inspired by “Emma”

How right Jane is! She may have been referring to the satisfactions of platonic female friendships, but it’s my argument that Emma also has a queer subtext. It’s the least romantic of Austen’s romances, and its heroine has the least need or desire for a man of any of Austen’s heroines.

A quick refresher of Emma‘s plot: It’s about Emma Woodhouse, “handsome, clever and rich,” an heiress living in a small town in England. She lives with her hypochondriac father and is good friends with their neighbor Mr. Knightley. After introducing her governess, Miss Taylor, to the wealthy Mr. Weston – which leads to the two getting married – Emma goes on a matchmaking spree. She takes the young Harriet Smith, “the natural daughter of somebody,” under her wing, and separates Harriet from her beau, the young farmer Robert Martin, instead trying to attach her to the local vicar, Mr. Elton. But Elton has eyes only for Emma, and proposes to her in a supremely awkward scene.

Some time later, Elton returns from a trip to Bath, now married to a woman who is his equal in snottiness and shallowness. Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston’s son, also shows up, as does Jane Fairfax, niece of the gossipy but kind Miss Bates. Frank pursues a bit of a flirtation with Emma, but it’s revealed that he’s been secretly engaged to Jane. Then, Harriet confesses to Emma that she has a crush on Mr. Knightley, which makes Emma realize that she herself loves Mr. Knightley. All is finally resolved when Mr. Knightley proposes to Emma, who accepts; Harriet becomes engaged to Robert Martin; and Frank and Jane are married.

Like Austen’s other novels, love and marriage are central to the plot. But Emma is interesting in that the romance of its protagonist only becomes important at the end of the novel. Up until then, it’s the romances of others that is the focus, and the way in which those romances relate to the personal growth of the heroine. That’s different from other Austen works. For example, in Persuasion, the reader knows from the very beginning that Captain Wentworth is Anne Elliot’s one true love, often in her thoughts, and that the story can only end happily when they’re together. Pride and Prejudice is about two very specific people – Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy – and how they each learn about themselves and the world, and ultimately become complementary to each other, an ideal match.

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Emma and Miss Taylor in 2009 BBC miniseries

By contrast, a first-time reader could easily be just as surprised as Emma by her discovery of her love for Mr. Knightley. Throughout the novel, her strongest and most intimate relationships are actually with other women. This begins with Miss Taylor, her governess, of whom Austen writes, “they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached.” Despite Emma’s matchmaking triumph, she is sad to see Mrs. Weston leave the Woodhouse estate. “The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day…[Miss Taylor] had such an affection for [Emma] as could never find fault.” How common is it for a budding young queer person to believe they simply admire someone of the same sex, not realizing it’s really a youthful infatuation?

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Harriet and Emma in 1996 ITV adaptation

Next, Emma befriends Harriet Smith, a young woman from a local school. Harriet is the illegitimate daughter of “nobody knows who,” but Emma becomes convinced that Harriet’s unknown father is a wealthy man, and that therefore, Harriet’s beau, young farmer Robert Martin, is not good enough for her. She gradually persuades Harriet to distance herself from Martin, and also starts talking up Harriet’s beauty and sweetness to Mr. Elton. It’s socially acceptable – both now and when Emma was written – for women to admire each other and compliment each other’s looks in a way that’s not acceptable for men to compliment each other. But the assumption that this admiration is always platonic obscures the fact that sometimes these words of admiration, when spoken by some women, have a different context. Sometimes they mean something else.

Emma and Jane Fairfax in webseries
Emma and Jane Fairfax in webseries “Emma Approved”

In the second half of the book, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax enter the scene. Of the two, only Frank Churchill has any sort of romantic relationship with Emma. Yet, she focuses more of her attention on Jane than on Frank. Her flirtation with Frank is not serious and she never fancies herself in love with him; she isn’t heartbroken when it ends. But she thinks an awful lot about Jane. She’s jealous of Jane, of how everyone talks so much about how beautiful, how talented, how kind Jane is. Emma is used to being the most important young woman in the village and doesn’t like that so much attention is paid to Jane. But she gives so much thought to Jane; perhaps her jealousy holds something more.

Until her revelation towards the end of the book of her love for Mr. Knightley, Emma has little to no interest in love and marriage. “I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry,” Emma says. “Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! But I have never been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.” Unlike some Austen heroines, she doesn’t have a financial necessity for finding a husband – she’s independently wealthy. Nor does she have any crushes on other men before Mr. Knightley; as mentioned above, her flirtation with Churchill is more about something new to do, than any strong attraction to him, let alone love.

We must also deal with the fact that Emma’s engagement to Mr. Knightley is neither terribly romantic nor fully satisfying. Here’s his declaration of love: “I could not think so much about you without doting on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you since you were thirteen at least.” Emma indeed has faults, but is finding those faults – and telling Emma of them – really romantic? I don’t find it to be so. It might be fun and flirtatious, if Emma found as many faults with Knightley as he does with her; but she doesn’t. Some adaptations of the book have changed Emma and Knightley’s relationship so that it is more believably romantic; oftentimes in these adaptations, they verbally spar with each other in the way that only two people who very much want to make out can do. In the book, though, that isn’t how it comes across.

In fact, even after Emma and Knightley are married, they seem more like friends than lovers. Knightley agrees to move to Emma’s estate, so that her father won’t be heartbroken, which is certainly a big point in Knightley’s favor – who could bear to hurt Mr. Woodhouse, after all? Emma and Knightley are neighbors; they’ve known each for a long time, better than anyone else knows them. They care about each other, certainly, and there are reasons for them to get married; reasons that would have been compelling in the early 1800s. The uniting of two estates; the fact that Knightley’s brother and Emma’s sister are already married, thus making the two families closer than ever. Wealth and family were always woven into Austen’s novels, impossible to unravel from the more individual concerns of attraction and romance. Austen would not be Austen if her novels were only about two people falling in love, without the context of everything else happening around them. But in Emma, that core of romance is remarkably unimportant, compared to other themes.

I can’t say, at the end of this essay, “Emma’s a lesbian,” or even “Emma’s bisexual.” Those concepts didn’t exist when Austen wrote her novels, so there’s no way she could have intentionally written a queer character. But queer people existed in 1815, just as much as they do now, even in the small circle of gentry in a village in rural England, and a writer as sensitively attuned to human variety as Austen could write about a character who was different, in her desires, in her relationships to women and to men, from the typical young heiress of her time. Emma still gets married, just like most people did in the 1800s – including most people who, if they lived today,might identify as queer. But along the way and after, her story is not typical.

There is much implied about desire, in Austen’s novels, that is never said, but is most certainly there. It’s difficult to read Pride and Prejudice without thinking that Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are physically attracted to each other, even if that’s never said. (And that’s even without the famous wet shirt scene in the 1995 miniseries.) And when you shift the way you look at Emma, you can see someone who – though separated by years and circumstance – has a certain kinship with queer women today.

Meet the Sisters

Lily: Hello, everyone. We’re Rose and Lily, or two sisters talking about lit and pop culture. We starting this blog as a way to talk about pop culture, literature, feminism, vegan and/or gluten free eating and recipes, as well as various other opinions on our minds. Rose, what are you looking forward to in the blog?

Rose: Well, the two of us we have a lot of great conversations and I think this will be a way to expand that even further! We talk a lot, but we’re both busy too, so this will be another way for us to connect.

Lily: That will be really nice. I’m looking forward to working on a project together!

Rose:  Maybe we should talk about our name, Sisterlution, and what that means to us. What do you think?

Lily:  Sure, that sounds good. You were thinking “Lit. Pop. Revolution” and I think Mom added on the Sister to the lution, right?

Rose:  That’s right. It was a great idea and when I think about it I think about how when women such as sisters talk, it can really be revolutionary! Looking at things from our perspective is unique and it’s powerful. Speaking of that, what would you describe as “your perspective”? What lens will you be looking at things through?

Some women we think are pretty cool

Lily:  I’ll be looking through at it through a intersectional feminist and pacifism lens. I think it’s really important to examine shows and books through a feminist lens, especially sci-fi—while television has a lot of women writers, they are more in comedies and dramas, men tend to get hired for the sci-fi genres nowadays, and as such, even with the best intentions, don’t always write women representation right. Also, it’s interesting to see how many movies and tv shows look at loss of life if it’s the bad guy as okay, hardly even noticing it, especially when looked at in contrast to a show like Star Trek back in the 60s where there was a huge pacifism feel to it and every life mattered. How about you?

Rose:  I think that you’re so right about the difference that women writers make. Mad Men is one of my favorite shows and a part of that’s because of how it depicts women. And one of the lead writers on that show is a woman, Semi Chellas. But the show hasn’t been so great when it comes to representing African-American characters. And as far as I know there are no AA writers on the show. Mad Men’s Peggy Olsen

 

Lily:  I think Agents of SHIELD does a great job–they also do a good job having more diverse women, as May is Asian and Skye is half Asian. Sitcoms generally do a great job–Hot in Cleveland, The Office, Parks and Rec. I love that sitcoms often depict full, well rounded friendships, between women and women and women and men, rather than just romances.

What are some good shows you can think of for representation of women?

Rose:  Those are all great examples!
Other than Mad Men, some of my favorites are Bomb Girls, Orange is the New Black, and Orphan Black. In all three, you see women that often you don’t see on screen at all and when you do they’re usually tokens or stereotypes. Queer women, women of color, older women, women of all shapes and sizes….and just really diverse and nuanced in their personalities and backgrounds. I find that anymore I get tired of a show pretty quick if it doesn’t have lots of good women characters, and preferably queer women.

That makes me think – what do you think of the term “strong female character”?

Lily: I think it’s a horrible misused term. “Strong” has come to mean “women that can beat people up” and a male writer will justify he has a strong female character because she can beat people up. Unfortunately, that’s not true. A good female character is well rounded, and as you said, nuanced. Take the Supergirl trailer as an example–she is wearing pink, and ‘cute, girly’ clothing so people are saying she’ll be a bad ‘strong’ female character. Despite the fact she also saves an airplane in the trailer and seems fairly well rounded—in addition to this, Clark Kent when he’s not Superman, and just blending in, isn’t exactly a typical macho guy, just like she isn’t a ‘kickass’ women while blending in. I mean, for all we know it could end up being a bad show, but the problem is not pink. It’s that pink makes people think “weak character”.

What is a female character you think is particularly well done?

Clark Kent (Smallville) and  Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)
Clark Kent (Smallville) and Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

Rose:  I agree 100%. I heard the other day that when the term was first used it was supposed to mean a character that was “strongly written,” aka just a good character. But now it usually means “physically strong” which generally means violent. And it often means a woman who doesn’t express her emotions. Seems like what it really means is a women who “acts masculine” in ways that men can understand and connect with – but who still has mainstream attractive looks. As an example of a strong female character, Betty from Bomb Girls springs to mind. She is a tough cookie because she’s navigating life and trying to survive as a lesbian during WWII which isn’t easy. But she is a big ole bundle of emotions and is 100% driven by her heart. The show doesn’t depict her emotions as a bad thing at all; in fact it’s positively depicted. She lets herself be vulnerable and its brave and admirable.

Lily: That’s really important. So often, female characters are considered ‘strong’ if they don’t show emotions.

Rose:  And it should be ok for men to be emotional and vulnerable too! I think our society has so much progress to make with that. So called “feminine” qualities are devalued whether it’s men or women who display them.

Lily:  I agree! There is nothing wrong with feminine qualities and men should be shown that it’s okay for them to show them. Also, Rose, would you like to talk more about the lens/lenses you’ll be looking through?

Rose:  Just like you, feminism will definitely be one of them. I’ll also be looking at it through the lens of queer history and culture. There are lots more shows now that depict queer characters. Do they do a good job with that? What about subtext in older works? And I’m interested in how diverse cultures are portrayed.

Lily: That will be really interesting, Rose. I’m looking forward to reading your posts!

Rose:  I’m looking forward to reading yours too!

Next Post: A study by Rose on Jane Austen’s Emma, involving the novel’s queer subtext.