Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

A Gender (not Ginger) Post June 18, 2010

After the disappointment that was my earlier post on rank and title (I’m still reeling – it was really good but then I told myself … well, after a few more books it will be better so maybe it was WordPress telling you to hold off on that for now – at least you got the general ideas I was trying to word), I’ve decided to do the gender post tonight because … well, I just feel like being a little academic at the moment.

I know you're hardly as shocked as this AVPM .gif - but look at that boss poster!

Seriously, if you’ve never watched A Very Potter Musical on Youtube, click the .gif above and you’ll be taken to it. I have it on my iPhone – yeah, it’s ‘totally awesome.’

But – anyway. Gender. (And you totally know I just went and watched a part of AVPM).

It’s strange I’ve never really addressed this in the beginning. I guess I thought it was pretty straight forward. It wasn’t until Duchess by Night that I felt like I finally had meat to work with concerning gender.

Harriet is fantastically androgynous – I say fantastically because it really is well … fantastic because it’s different. Under the guise of self-depreciation, we have a woman that can play herself off as a male and even think that she looks better as a male.

“‘[Harriet] need offer no proof of her courage,’ Villiers said. ‘Please recall that she just carried a goose into the ballroom while wearing a nightgown. One doubts Saint George exhibited such steel while setting out to fight the dragon. Yet I am not certain …’ His eyes rested thoughtfully on her chest.

Raising her chin, Harriet reached insider her voluminous sleeves and pulled out a rolled woolen stocking. And another. A third and fourth.

Then she flattened the fabric against her chest. ‘I think,’ she said coolly, ‘that I shall look very well as a man.’

‘Indeed,’ Villiers said. ‘The idea has possibilities.’ p.31

“Actually, her legs looked shapely and strong. The truth was that while Harriet always felt smothered in women’s clothing, she was starting to think that she looked just right in breeches. Her body was a kind built for endurance, with muscles in her legs that came from the way she walked for miles after breakfast.” p.58

“The odd thing is, Harriet, that you do look masculine. I mean that you look perfectly feminine and delectable in a gown, but there’s something, oh, out-doors-ish about you at the moment. I really wouldn’t guess that you were a woman in a man’s costume. I wonder if I could get away with it.” p.59

“And he [Harriet] didn’t look too sissy in a riding jacket. He looked delicate in some lights, but he had a good strong chin. The real problem was his eyes. What man had eyes of burned velvet brown?” p.105

“‘No back talk from you, young Harry,” he said. ‘What is your name, by the way?’

‘Harriet.’

She saw the name settle in his mind, grow into a smile. ‘I like it,’ he said.

‘I like Harry better.’ p.219-220

Harriet even talks about having her own wardrobe altered by Villier’s tailor to take on this new side of her. In a way, Harriet is embracing this masculine side of her. In fact, I felt odd when, at the end, she appears with her hair done up and a dress on.

“Harriet was exquisite as a woman. Her hair was piled on her head, all the curls tamed. In a gown she was even more sensual than in breeches. Now she didn’t have a cravat under her chin, but a gown that plunged in front to show her creamy skin, her small waist … her gown’s billowing skirts made [Jem] long to tip her over, uncover her secrets.” p.349

Let’s even take a look at the name – look how easily Harriet turns into Harry. Even Jem’s name is a somewhat effeminate form of Justinian. So what’s happening here?

Lit f-ing theory time.

Let’s bring in Cixous – poststructuralist feminist theory, okay?

Briefly, in my lit theory course, we wrestled with one of her essays. We were told to read it as we’d read a piece of literature rather than theory and that was helpful – but what it came down to was: there is this sort of voice where females embrace their masculinity and males are afraid to embrace their femininity – you need to embrace both sides though to be a sort of whole being (I’m doing this from memory – if I’m wrong – jump in and correct me).

Anyway – you can see this in Duchess by Night. Harriet is fully ready to embrace this side of herself. But, as one suspects, Jem is not eager to accept he may have feelings for his own sex – a passion for it, a feminine feeling for argument’s sake.

Remember his comment on her velvet brown eyes above?

“Jem ground his teeth. Cope practically coo’ed his little retort.

He should go upstairs right now and tell Villiers that there was no way he could turn a moon-calf into a bull. But Cope was walking up the stairs And the odd thing was that Jem actually liked him.” p.105

“Jem snorted, but, on the other hand, he didn’t want to be alone with Cope. God forbid he should find himself in another discussion of hair color. Not that it was Cope’s fault exactly, but he just seemed to bring out a side of Jem that – that –

Didn’t exist.” p.109

Unlike Jem, Harriet doesn’t mind being alone with women or even chatting to them – she thinks twice, of course, but is able to carry her masculine side out just fine – telling a girl, when they are alone, that she is a eunuch. Harriet isn’t as afraid as Jem to ‘play’ with that side – yes, she’s apprehensive – but she goes further than him.

Jem only becomes comfortable around Harriet when he knows she is a female. The reader, in a moment of dramatic irony if you didn’t catch the Latin bit (when she doesn’t understand Villier’s conversation with Jem in Latin, Jem confirms in his mind that she’s a girl – he reveals this to her during sex), is surprised when during a fencing lesson where Jem is treating her like Harry, he begins to strip her with his sword (wow, that could be a total metaphor, but I won’t go there) and taunt her in a language he really would never have used if she was male and he was attracted to her/him.

It’s Jem being cocky – but revealing his insecurity.

“‘Women are so boring,’ he said softly, his thumb rubbing the line of her jaw. She jerked her head away. ‘I had no idea how arousing it was to fence with someone … with you. It made up my mind. I never thought I was that sort of man, but for you, with you, I’m going into new territory.’

‘Not with me,’ she said though [sic] clenched teeth. ‘I’m not interested.’

‘No!’ she spat.” p.216

After stringing her along, Jem does reveal that he knows her secret. But look at how cocky he suddenly is above. Would he really embrace that side of himself, if Harriet wasn’t a woman?

Yes, this is also the sex post – but the sex is just normal in this text. It’s nothing we haven’t seen in the others. What I really wanted to focus on though was the role gender played.

It’s interesting to note – I spoke of carnivalesque I believe in my ginger post … or maybe the post that was lost (wiki it if so) and in the end things do go back to normal. Harriet resumes her role as does Jem (though, of course, they marry) – but some strange gender balance is restored.

Harriet becomes a mother.

Jem the proud father.

And his daughter Eugenia now at the age to be courted.

But for a couple hundred pages, we get to see this strange play of gender and sex – and it was interesting – it’s something I could really only hope to find when reading these books. Not to demean them or anything – this book was rich pickings for things to talk about – and none of them completely negative … well, until we get to the family bit.

Yeah! word count is at 1383 – finally, I feel accomplished.

WOOT!

Now for a …

PALATE CLEASER! CLICK ME!

Reference

James, Eloisa. Duchess By Night. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

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