Intertextuality and elitism in school stories – Julien on Darch

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Heather Julien writes: “As Sheila Ray and others have observed, most girls’ school stories written in the first half of the twentieth century centered on representations of boarding schools—an environment that did not reflect the education experience of most readers and writers. A prime example of this bias toward representations of an atypically elite education experience might be Elinor Brent-Dyer’s sixty-two-book-strong Chalet School series, which ran from 1925 to 1970. The fantasy of class privilege that Brent-Dyer’s books arguably offer does not, of course, mean that other aspects of the novels lack political and social valence. …Not only Brent-Dyer’s books, of course, are set in elite institutional environments. The boarding school setting is so central to the entire genre that Beverly Lyon Clark’s book-length genre study systematically excludes any representations of day schoolsDarch’s books bucked this tendency and demonstrate that stories set in day schools can be more intensely concerned with school life than boarding school stories, which commonly incorporate extra-generic elements of mystery, fantasy, and family stories (the three chief “intergenres” with the school story).” (pp.2-3)

“The intertextuality of Darch’s novels’ per se is not what distinguishes them. As is characteristic of much children’s literature, most school stories are intertextual and might be said to engage in what have been called “reading games” with their readers. In countless school stories—for adults as well as for children—the characters read, think about, quote, and refer ironically to school stories. Joanna Lloyd’s Audrey—A New Girl even contains a disclaimer: “The names of any girls’ school stories mentioned in this book are not, to the best of the author’s belief, those of existing books.” What distinguishes Darch’s novels is the degree to which they make sense of their own and their peers’ roles and identities in school via fictional representations. In her essay on intertextuality in children’s literature, Claudia Nelson examines texts that “use devices that may seem considerably more elaborate than the more usual practice of employing a protagonist who is said to enjoy the consumption or creation of literature but showing this enjoyment from the outside”. From this vantage point, Darch’s use of intertextuality—characters read and talk about books and magazines—is quite common.
However, while they most definitely do not fit any postmodern criteria for metatextuality, her evocations of girls reading contain more significance than simply the promotion of literacy, the provision of a bookworm heroine, the salute to fellow practitioners of the genre, or the pleasures of readerly recognition. They testify to and participate in an economy of self- and institution-building in which school narratives were the local currency. Newcomers to school are especially prone to rely on fiction as a sort of conduct book and key to mythologies.” (pp.10-11)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Julien, Heather. Learning to Be Modern Girls: Winifred Darch’s School Stories The Lion and the Unicorn 32,1 january (2008) 1–21  2008

Vampires and spirituality in Meyer’s Twilight

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From mythic vampires’ earlier incarnations as objects of (negative) fascination amidst horror, at least some of today’s vampires appear to have morphed into creatures of positive moral character and objects of romantic love. What accounts for the current widespread appeal of vampires to teen girls in the US?” (p.264)

“The affinity between girls and vampires is not new. Large numbers of the teen viewers of the 1960’s gothic vampire television soap Dark Shadows were girls. And vampire characters long existed in fictional literature and film as coded representations of sexuality sometimes in the form of irritable male vampires such as Dracula who seduce women with their gaze; other times as a cinematically safe way to depict “illicit” lesbian relationships, as in the early film Dracula’s Daughter, or somewhat more recently in The Hunger. In earlier times when women’s desire was even more suspect than it is today, vampires were a helpful trope for getting it onto the page or screen, as it was the irresistible vampire’s fault, and not the woman’s, for being seduced. Vampires have longed served this useful purpose in legend and fiction.” (p.264)

What makes it possible to walk up to a girl in a bookstore or library and expect to start what can become a brief yet substantive conversation about Twilight? My conversations with girls happened in the context of two interesting social developments among U.S. youth. The first of these concerns the widespread acceptance within mainstream U.S. culture of interest in fantasy, paranormal encounters and the possibility of experiencing supernatural forces. Several decades of film and the recent popularity of fantasy fiction works such as J.K. Rowling’s seven novels published between 1997 and 2007 as the popular Harry Potter series (Rowling 1999a, b, 2000; Rowling and GrandPré 1998, 2003, 2005, 2007), and television programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Whedon, 1997) paved the way for interest in vampires and supernatural phenomenon to be treated as mainstream and “normal” rather than as an odd dabbling in the occult.
The second development is related: the widespread experience of increased religious pluralism in the US creates and supports an openness to (or at least tolerance of) a wider variety of religiously oriented beliefs and practices, such that interest in supernatural creatures is no longer treated as necessarily oppositional to dominant religious groups such as Christian churches. Lynn Schofield Clark’s (Clark 2003) ethnography addresses young people’s fascination with supernatural phenomenon in relation to American evangelicalism in the late twentieth century, suggesting that the popularization of supernatural characters through the media led to a general acceptance of such figures. I would contend, following Clark’s argument, that for many people supernatural figures such as vampires, witches, and ghosts, became religiously insignificant during the twentieth century.…” (p.265)

“The first reason […] that girls like vampires so much is because the advertising industry stimulates their desires for them, and then provides a way to (temporarily) satisfy those desires through consumerism.” (p.266)

A second reason girls today are so drawn to vampires and to Twilight has to do with the power of reading/viewing as a social practice. Reading popular young adult fiction is not merely an individual activity for girls even though they may engage in it principally in private settings. Rather, reading is a social practice (Cherland 1994) of which sharing the “book world” with others is an important dimension in situating the identities of readers. […] the social practice of reading/viewing Twilight situates girls in a set of activities that are “approved” for girls: fantasy and star-fandom are socially acceptable ways for young teens to experience and express their desire even as these activities function to cement the bonds between young women who share the experience.” (p.266)

“As Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990) notes concerning social practices, choices such as which genre of fiction one reads may appear to be “arbitrary,” but in fact these choices take place within a habitus of social practices that give them legitimacy and participate in the construction of subjectivity in ways that tend to reproduce unjust power relations between women and men. Who reads (and who does not), and the types of literature encouraged (or discouraged) for different groups within the society are not random matters, but are practices that participate in structuring the positioning of groups in relation to one another, such as women and men.” (p.267)

“Power relations are embedded in the ways society structures reading. That is, reading is not a politically neutral activity but a social practice in and through which people are differently positioned.” (p.267) “As a social practice, part of the appeal of reading Twilight comes from the ways girls use it to support and enhance their relationships with each other.” (p.267)

I think it is worth noting, having quoted her quite a bit here (I really liked her thinking!), Mercer concludes: “When I step back from it all, I find myself more than a little concerned about desire’s distortions. I worry, for example, that many young women reading books like Twilight will not have thoughtful companions who can help them distinguish between anger and care when sexual desire seems linked to both. It concerns me that young people with spiritual hungers may only be offered weak or broken cultural images, such as fictional vampire characters in teen romance fiction, around which to wrap their deep longings for communion with Divinity, when in fact what they need and seek are far more complex symbols that invite participation in their meanings. At the same time, though, I understand that girls make multiple uses of these books: some simply enjoy them as romance fiction; others read them more critically.” (p.277)

Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)  Vampires, Desire, Girls and God: Twilight and the Spiritualities of Adolescent Girls Pastoral Psychol. 60:263–278

ABSTRACT: “Fantasy fiction long has been read for its capacity to narrate religious meanings and themes for young readers. Since its publication in 2005, Stephenie Meyer’s young adult series Twilight, in which an adolescent girl falls in love with a vampire, has become a pop culture phenomenon among U.S. teen girls. Although vampires usually represent dangerous desire, rarely have these creatures been treated as spiritually attractive figures. Using feminist perspectives on the psychology of gender and Christian feminist theology, this article offers a critical exploration of Twilight’s constructions of intimate relationships, supernatural masculinities, and girlhood, arguing that Twilight’s girl-appeal stems from its ability to tap into both the sexual and spiritual desires of girls.” (p.263)

Twilight’s fandoms and critically interactive readerships

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Some really great critical material came out of the phenomenon that was ‘Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga’. One of those pieces, by Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010), looks at the way the Twilight Saga evidences a particular kind of relationship between author and reader – a particularly critical, interactive readership. Here are a couple of the points Hendershot Parkin makes:

The Twilight saga’s enormous popularity is closely tied to its author’s tense relationship with her fans. Meyer’s frequent interaction with fans via online media disrupts their expectations and leads to competing interpretations.” (p.61)

“I would suggest that, […] the more fans interact with and read the books, the more the constructed world of the texts becomes collectively defined and anticipated. When the fandom’s collective vision of the textual world is undermined, fans personally feel deceived and misled and resist the altered structure. The fandom then turns to the most accessible outlet for its frustrations—the Internet—which gives a united voice to its displeasure and a venue for its action against author and text.” (p.61)

The constant scuffling and ensuing stalemate between Meyer and the Twilight fandom encourages us to consider the Twilight saga as a model for thinking about how online media has changed horizons of expectation and equalized textual ownership. In Textual Poachers, Jenkins argues that “fans operate from a position of cultural marginality and social weakness” (26) and that, in inhabiting such a weak position, “fans are peasants, not proprietors” (27). In his more recent study, Convergence Culture, he admits that fandoms have grown into a more participatory culture, rather than remaining in a culture of isolation. While he certainly captures the essence of online fandoms with the term “participatory culture,” he still fails to recognize the real power to influence ownership that fandoms have garnered through co-operative Internet use. The Twilighters certainly do not exist as “peasants.” Full-fledged “participants,” they enact a constant tug-of-war with Stephenie Meyer for proprietorship of the Twilight saga.” (p.81)

feminist criticism and the discussions between author and fans over how to interpret the texts…

The friction between Meyer and the Twilight fandom appears most visibly in feminist responses, which are in turn complicated by a connection to the romance genre, and in disagreements over what is “canon” in the series. Online communities and conversations, then, develop a sense of ownership in fandoms by creating a more shared horizon of expectation that is centred on its fans. As Meyer shows us, the result is that, by engaging with fans, authors actually empower their fandoms in a way that tips the balance of power and the ownership of text toward the reader.” (p.62)

“In an interview with MTV, Meyer admitted to enjoying questions about Bella and feminism because they give her the opportunity to set the record straight by explaining her version, an indication of the level of control Meyer likes to retain over her creation.” (p.67)

remaining faithful to the internal canon of the series – fans’ reactions to the pregnancy and what it shows about the author-text-reader relationship

“…a large body of the fan reaction to Breaking Dawn was […] acerbic and accusatory, indicating the personal level at which the fans felt betrayed by Meyer’s alleged departure from her canon. The Twilighters’ horizon of expectation had grown so concrete and was so disturbed by the last book that they rebelled against it. […] As Bella’s pregnancy is confirmed and her attachment to the unborn child grows, the fandom’s attachment seemed to sever. Instead of leaving the fan community and the books behind to move on to more satisfying reading, however, many Twilighters continue to participate in the fandom by expressing their disappointment and by focusing on their love of the first three books in the saga.” (p.71)

An overwhelming fan consensus on Renesmee’s birth suggests that Meyer’s failure to prepare fans for the possibility of Bella’s pregnancy, coupled with her insistence that the vampire-fathered child fits into the established Twilight canon, created a sense of betrayal. Between accusations of stealing from fan fiction, physiological problem solving, and comparisons with other vampire media, Meyer emerges from the Breaking Dawn release not as a celebrated author of the final instalment of a saga with a cult-like following, but rather an author accused of unfaithfulness to her own canon—accusations, it should be pointed out, made possible and even forcible through massive online agreement in forums, blogs, reviews, and other such discussions.” (p.73)

choice, free will and Bella’s easy out – how this evidences fans unique relationship with the series…

The first three books of the Twilight series revolve around choice, namely Bella’s life-altering choices such as pursuing a relationship with Jacob or Edward, getting married, and changing into a vampire, suggesting a privileging of free will in the series’ canon.” (p.74)  “…in the first three books, autonomous choice plays an integral role in plot development and establishes itself as an important canonical feature of the Twilight saga.” (p.75)

“There is a strong feeling in the Twilight fandom that besides taking the final choices away from her [Bella], Meyer rendered her previous choices less meaningful by the happy ending to the saga, in which she gets everything and everyone she wants.” (p.75)

“Summing up these common fan responses, K. Bray writes that “Breaking Dawn betrays the story of Eclipse and makes Bella’s struggles and difficult choice almost meaningless—she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything after all.” While online discussions offer a multitude of different views on how the saga should have ended and what exactly Bella should have been forced to give up, the common thread that ties them together is the feeling that she should have given up at least something. All these reactions in their many and varied forms, from respectful to flaming and biological to comparative, show how closely fans adhere to canonical precedent and the horizon of expectation and how such adherence fuels ownership claims throughout the fandom.” (p.76)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010) ‘Breaking Faith: Disrupted Expectations and Ownership in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter, pp. 61-85

Some of the critics she refers to (and which sounded interesting) include: Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Essay manga

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Another essay on manga, which I’m not really working on just now, but don’t want to ignore…. In  it, author Akiko Sugawa-Shimada describes the way in which ‘Essay Manga’ can be used to explore the gender politics of Japan and (she posits, p.181) elsewhere.

Having begun with a brief overview of the situation for women (in terms of gender imbalance) in Japan, Akiko Sugawa-Shimada writes: “In order to consider such socio-cultural situations of women, female ‘Essay Manga’ comprises some of the most important cultural texts. As discussed later, female Essay Manga is important in terms of its crossover appeal not only to regular manga readers but also to non-manga readers. This type of manga also serves as a means with which female readers cope with their hardships concerning marital relationships, domestic chores, and gender discrimination. Essay Manga is defined as a type of auto-biographical graphic novel developed in Japan, whose major authors and readers are adult women. According to Kazuma Yoshimura (2008), Essay Manga differs from so-called ‘story manga’ (comics with an ongoing plot) in terms of the form, themes and the artistic style: (1) Essay Manga usually consists of a small number of pages, (2) it is usually not published in manga magazines, but in women’s magazines, or information magazines targeting general readers, and (3) whereas story manga printed in manga magazines are usually compiled into a 112 mm × 174 mm size book (comic tankobon), Essay Manga is often published as an A5 or a B5 hardcover book. Typical themes of Essay Manga are daily lives and the personal experiences of the artists. Their artistic styles are typified by overtly simplified drawings, simply-formed panels and layouts, and characters with large round dot eyes (Yoshimura 2008, pp. 196–198; author’s translation).” (p.170)

ABSTRACT: “This paper explores how representations of women in the Japanese female ‘Essay Manga’ of  Rieko Saibara and Tenten Hosokawa serve as a significant site through which issues on current Japanese marital life and family can be traced, and how Japanese female readers understand them. In Everyday Mum, based on her rebellious life with her alcoholic and dying husband, however, Saibara deftly crystallizes how Japanese housewives/mothers who are shackled with domesticity negotiate with gender norms. In My Partner Became Depressed, Hosokawa illustrates her life with her husband who quit his job due to depression. Numerous Japanese housewives/mothers with depressed partners used her manga to openly discuss this issue. Both detailed daily lives of women with their families are vividly portrayed in simple drawing styles in a uniquely funny way.When reading their Essay Manga, Japanese female readers keep themselves detached from their reality and take pleasure in unruliness of women.” (p.)

Ref: Akiko Sugawa-Shimada (2011): Rebel with causes and laughter for relief: ‘essay manga’ of Tenten Hosokawa and Rieko Saibara, and Japanese female readership, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 2:2, 169-185

Summarising the Twilight product

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Firstly, I like the way Happel and Esposito summarise the production of Twilight

“The movie Twilight, directed by Catherin Hardwicke and produced by Summit Entertainment, was released in November of 2008. The screenplay was based  in the 2005 novel of the same name, which was the first of four novels in a series written by Stephanie Meyer. Meyer’s book series has sold more than 42 million copies worldwide, and it has been translated into 37 languages. The novel was adapted for the screen by Melissa Rosenburg in 2007. The popularity of the book series led to the overwhelmingly positive reception of the film. Following the books, the film was an immediate success; it grossed 70.5 million dollars on its opening weekend, and has since grossed over 310 million in box office sales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twilight (2008 film)).

The film has been very popular with young adults, and it has been marketed heavily to preteens and teenagers. Besides the usual movie marketing strategies, the marketers of Twilight invested heavily in online marketing that specifically targeted young adults. The advertising for Twilight was Web savvy, and it included easily accessible trailers of the movie, along with advertisements in heavily trafficked young adult online spaces such as Myspace, I-tunes stores, Facebook, and YouTube. The age-specific marketing strategies, along with the popularity of the book series, have facilitated the tremendous popularity of the film. Indicative of its popularity among young adults, the film was nominated for seven MTV movie awards and won five of the awards in June of 2009. Given the film’s popularity, and also its spawn of material goods and related products, we view the film as an important part of youth’s lives and, thus, a site in need of critique. We need to [-p.525] understand the ways the film speaks to, for, and about youth. It is for these reasons we have chosen to review the film. We argue that, although this movie works to interrupt some stereotypical notions of gender, overall, it sexualizes violence. We see the movie as one way in which young girls are taught to romanticize sexualized violence and, as feminists within the field of Education, we believe it is vital for those of us working with youth to critically engage patriarchal messages being sold to young girls.” (pp.524-525)

Also, their framing of Twilight in terms of postfeminism is interesting. It’s only a short article and they don’t get into any deep criticism, but still …. Their criticism of the film is based largely on what they describe as its postfeminist representation of Bella as having the right to choose any kind of relationship, even a dangerous or violent one; they explain:

Twilight’s main theme, Bella’s love for a boy who wants to kill her, sexualizes violence. Throughout the movie, Edward warns Bella about the dangers of being around both him and his family, yet she continues to put her life in jeopardy because of her love for him. The movie is consistently sensual, and the eroticism seems to be heightened during scenes involving violence. Bella’s body language during violent scenes throughout the movie is noticeably sexual; she often appears breathing heavily with her mouth open and her cheeks flushed. Also, the movie suggests that there is a correlation between her love for Edward, and how dangerous he is to her. This sexualization of violence is related to postfeminism in that postfeminism claims that women have the power and agency to choose any kind of relationship for themselves, even relationships that have the potential for danger and/or violence. Postfeminism’s insistence on individualism and assumed equality is the foundation for the audience to view Bella’s relationship with Edward as an innocuous choice that does not need to be contextualized in histories of violence against women. This ahistorical and decontextualized presentation of sexualized violence through the employment of postfeminism actually serves to uphold and perpetuate patriarchal [-p.530] (and highly dangerous) notions about love, sexuality, and gender roles. Because postfeminism assumes that women have already fought for equality and won, Bella’s choice to be with Edward is seen as a personal choice that was made autonomously, and therefore should be respected and not challenged.” (pp.529-530)

“Like Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the [Rihanna being beaten up by Chris Brown] incident encourages girls to help tame their beast, to make him into a better man. We believe Twilight encourages a similar message.” (p.530)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Alison Happel & Jennifer Esposito (2010): Vampires, Vixens, and Feminists: An Analysis of Twilight, Educational Studies, 46:5, 524-531