marshtide: (Default)
[personal profile] marshtide
Social interaction - even online - sure does take a lot out of me sometimes. Argh.

But in better news, I finished reading Victoria Benedictsson's Money, and it was a really damn interesting book. I've mentioned a bit about it before, of course, but let's take this from the top: it's a novel written in Sweden in the 1880s, and was a contribution to an ongoing debate taking place at the time to do with marriage and the imbalance between men and women, double standards and all. A lot of the work concerned with the topic was by men, particularly Ibsen, and I guess Strindberg as well, so in that this is a book about issues concerning women's situation that was written by a woman it is, for its time, unusual. Interestingly, Benedictsson struggled to have her work taken seriously - it was dismissed as being about women's stuff, basically, and therefore not very important. Ibsen's A Doll's House, on the other hand, while also concerning issues with marriage and criticizing the way the whole institution worked at the time, was extremely controversial, but not, as far as I know, dismissed as unimportant!

The book is about a girl, Selma, who is married at the age of sixteen to a much older man without really knowing what marriage involves, because of ideas about keeping girls pure. She simply has no idea, particularly about sex. The book is about how she deals with her situation, really; it's about her journey through to... age 23, I think, and the conclusions she comes to about marriage. It really is an attack on marriage - a very carefully worded one, but all the same.* The attack is based on the inherent inequality - a situation in which men come to the marriage armed with far more knowledge of sex, are the ones who hold property within the marriage, and the ones who can be forgiven for sexual indiscretions too - and on the fact that for a certain class of women there were few options for supporting themselves besides marriage. Benedictsson, herself in an unhappy marriage to an older man, goes so far as to describe it as like prostitution: one sells oneself for money in order to survive. I seem to remember that there are characters who express similar views in A Doll's House, actually, though I'm only familiar with that piece from reading about it. I've neither read it nor seen it produced. Anyway! It was a real issue at the time, for the reasons mentioned above - particularly that women didn't hold property and weren't encouraged or allowed to earn their own living.

The book isn't perfect. I was worried when I began it that I wouldn't be able to get into it, because Selma seemed as though she had potential but things about her world-view were really frustrating and I wasn't sure about the direction it seemed to be headed for a while right at the start. This, of course, is kind of the point, as later sections showed. I did get really into it, actually, once I'd reached the point of her marriage; I was really interested to know what would happen to her and on the whole I wasn't disappointed by what did. She also does develop into a really interesting person. I thought she was pretty great. Striding around with a riding crop didn't hurt either, and nor did the female homoeroticism that crept into one of the later sections. Ahem. But the real point is that she's a good character, which is to say, flawed and interesting and with her own kind of strength and quite a bit of development. She also has strong views and expresses them.

I did think the message felt a bit... well, I've mentioned how carefully worded it felt, in that sort of balancing-act way of not wanting to push things too far, whether for fear of being unpublishable or fear of attracting too much criticism to deal with, and it did sometimes feel a little compromised as a result. Mostly I think it got through, though. I'm sure that a few other things struck me as not quite as great as they could have been, though I foolishly didn't make notes so don't expect elaboration. Oops. Overall, though, I liked it. Quite a bit, actually. I'd recommend it.

In short: proto-feminist literature I am really glad I read!



* In the afterward to the translation I read there's a little information regarding letters she wrote to a friend while writing the book, talking about what she felt she could and couldn't say as a female author and how she felt she had to worry about these things in a way a man probably wouldn't - particularly, open discussion of sex was problematic for her, and the book is very much about sex, so one finds oneself reading between the lines. To be honest, all that considered, it still feels really pretty frank considering when it was written.

Date: 2010-05-15 05:19 pm (UTC)
annotated_em: close shot of a purple crocus (Default)
From: [personal profile] annotated_em
Ooooooh, sounds interesting. Wonder if we have it in the library... *goes off to investigate*

Date: 2010-05-16 04:03 pm (UTC)
peoppenheimer: A photo of Paul Oppenheimer at the Australasian Association of Philosophy meeting. (Default)
From: [personal profile] peoppenheimer
Thank you for the review!

Date: 2010-05-17 02:05 am (UTC)
lyras: Sparkling tree (Default)
From: [personal profile] lyras
I did a degree in Scandinavian Studies, including plenty of literature options, and don't remember Victoria Benedictsson being mentioned once. :( Of course, A Doll's House was all over the syllabus.

So thanks for this post - I'll be seeking out this book.

Date: 2010-05-17 03:18 pm (UTC)
geeksdoitbetter: (Default)
From: [personal profile] geeksdoitbetter
hello, there

i'm not certain of the proper DW protocol - i've added your journal to my reading circle and wanted to let you know

Profile

marshtide: (Default)
Toft

December 2012

S M T W T F S
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30 31     

Style Credit

Page generated Apr. 27th, 2017 04:57 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags

Most Popular Tags