Thursday January 28, 2016
Ideas from the Trenches - Crazy in Love
We "fall" in love, we're "love-struck", we get "carried away" (maybe even "out of our minds") by love. These are tropes embedded in Anglo-American culture at all levels today. But they haven't been with us forever.
PhD student Elissa Gurman draws out the roots of a very powerful narrative, the Crazy Woman In Love, as it developed in 19th-century novels, and asks why even the best novelists of the time struggled to avoid its clichés, such as the way it gave fictional heroines only two options: thankless marriage or death. Elissa argues that the depictions of women falling crazily in love and leaving their rational selves behind continue to haunt our culture today, especially when dealing with issues of sexual consent.
This is the latest episode in the series, Ideas from the Trenches, produced by Tom Howell and Nicola Luksic.
Guests (in order of appearance):
Elissa Gurman is a PhD candidate in the Department of English Literature at the University of Toronto.
"Love is madness, but exalted madness, divine. The one thing a 19th century woman can do apart from have children is fall madly in love. The only substantial choice a heroine is given in these novels is 'do I marry this dude, or do I not?' … And that's why I find it so challenging to see that this one choice is co-opted by forces beyond her control. If you think about these women in love as incapable of consent and incapable of choice, we're denying them their humanity."
"In the Victorian novel, it's about trying to exist within a culture that wishes to demolish you. [These characters] are navigating through a culture that, at every turn, is disempowering them ... We continue to feed the fantasy of love as way of escaping self. It becomes that which defines you."
Drunk Feminist Films Collective is a collective of feminists who would rather laugh than cry their way through representations of gender in Hollywood films.
"In so many romantic movies, the female characters are so under-developed, and just a manifestation of the man's desire … When people are two-dimensional, relationships are so much easier! When all you have to do is kiss someone to fall in love, why wouldn't we idealize that? But it sets people up for failure in their personal relationships."
Elizabeth Abbott is a historian and writer. Her books that address intimate relationships between men and women across the ages include: A History of Marriage, Mistresses: A History of The Other Woman, and A History of Celibacy. She makes the case that European-born couples in late 17th-century New France wouldn't give much priority to the idea of falling in love with one's marriage partner.
"You didn't say 'do I love him?' It was very practical. Remember, people's emotional commitment was to their family, close friends, and their children. It wasn't as if people were staring into their husband's or wife's eyes every night ... Men and women today could learn to think [more] about marriage as a practical lived experience."
"In the 19th century, courtship is the woman's moment of power. So this notion of consent — to accept or decline — is the greatest moment of power a woman can have. Because once you consent, you lose your power because your husband will then be in control of all decision-making processes. This is why advice manuals at the time really emphasized how to make a rational decision."