Lenelle Moïse is an award-winning "culturally hyphenated pomosexual poet," playwright and performance artist. She writes jazz-infused, politically-charged performance texts about Haitian-American culture and the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality. Moïse blogs regularly for Showtime's OurChart.com. At 20, she co-wrote the screenplay for a Rodrigo Bellot film, Sexual Dependency, which has been screened at dozens of international festivals. Moïse received an MFA in Playwriting from Smith College. Moïse regularly performs her autobiographical one-woman show Womb-Words Thirsting at colleges across the United States and her newest musical Expatriate was produced Off-Broadway at the Culture Project in July 2008 and met with standing ovations and critical acclaim.
Page 373 July 11th, 2010
Today - years after TGN Project launched - I am rereading Adrienne Rich's 1980 essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence." I am struck by Rich's citation of the obnoxious line on this page, "I was stuck fast in an emotion common to women of our time, that can turn them bitter, or Lesbian, or solitary." Rich argues that "Any theory or cultural/political creation that treats lesbian existence as a marginal or less "natural" phenomenon...is profoundly weakened thereby, whatever its other contributions." She goes on to call for feminist theory/expression that goes beyond tolerance and tokenism. Interesting! And, for me, relieving! I am reminded that we should continue to address and challenge the homophobia imbedded in seminal works like TGN and other texts in the feminist canon - past, present and future. Here's a link to the document: http://blogs.qc.cuny.edu/blogs/0908N0582/adrienne%20rich.pdf
On the blog January 6th, 2009
I'm with you, Nona. As someone who came of age in the binary-busting, Third Waving 90s, it's hard for me to accept Anna as a feminist prototype, never mind a role model. When people talk about TGN as a feminist text, do they really just mean that it's a book that claims a "war between the sexes?" Is that war still being waged? Do WOMEN struggle with MEN or do ALL PEOPLE struggle with and suffer under the hyper-capitalist, imperialist patriarchy? The whole "Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars" thing never did it for me. But maybe it would have done it for me in the 70s? TGN is certainly about a woman who feels disempowered. And yes, today's pop feminism is promotes a somewhat elusive girl power. But I long for a popular movement (and book!) that questions and disrupts our obsession with power all together.
Page 383 December 20th, 2008
This love-torture dynamic between Nelson and his wife--the random all-knowing hostility of helpless soulmates--is what Anna achieves with Saul. On UK p. 551 she says, "I was aching with the need for Saul, and I wanted to abuse him and call him names. Then of course he would say: Oh poor Anna, I'm sorry, then we would make love." Anna observes the toxic codependency between Nelson and his wife, goes home and creates a similar situation for herself. Saul becomes her Nelson, Anna's own American live-in pain-dealer. As far as who comes off worse, I think the husbands and wives are on equal evil ground in this novel. On UK p. 556, Anna decides: "I felt towards him as if he were brother, as if, like a brother, it wouldn't matter how we strayed from each other, how far apart we were, we would always be flesh of one flesh, and think each other's thoughts." Twins of neurotic pain-giving! Anna and Saul eventually develop the ability to literally finish each other's sentences...
Page 179 December 19th, 2008
Clitoral, vaginal--why not go GLOBAL? : http://www.globalorgasm.org
Page 376 December 19th, 2008
Reading your comments, I am reminded of a passage that comes later, where Anna concludes "that any act she might make would be without faith...but simply a sort of provisional act, hoping it might turn out well, but with no more than that hope. Yet from this attitude of mind she might very well find herself making decisions that would cost her life, or her freedom" (UK p.566). Time and time again, I see Anna acting out of senseless hope, diving head first into humiliating relationships with emotionally unavailable and/or sexually spooky and/or infantile and/or psychotic men. She shows herself no mercy, throws caution, sanity, self-preservation and prophetic dreaming to the wind, just to get laid or to get created or to avoid becoming "bitter, or Lesbian, or solitary" (Online p. 373) "Words have no meaning" emerges as Anna's mantra. If this is true than "real" is meaningless and "man" is meaningless. According to Anna nothing matters (physically or otherwise)--not even love--but do it anyway. Even if it almost kills you. Even if it drives you mad. Hope for and pursue and make excuses for and cradle Tarzan and Bond and Michael and Paul and Stalin and Prince Charming--even if everything in your women's experience, politicized gut and basic intuition tells you that his love is a fleeting illusion, that he will fail you, that your unhappiness is inevitable, that his protection is a figment of your imagination. Anna compulsively veers off onto Dead End roads--ignoring the signs--because she is lost, hopeful, curious and absolutely cracking up.
Page 347 December 10th, 2008
Yes, I appreciated Lessing's self-reflexivity here. She is sort of sticking her tongue out at us! But, like Naomi, I'm not sure I agree with her...I sense my hesitation has something to do with being a playwright. My audiences don't just react in reviews, they react in the live moment...One of my first plays was Cornered in the Dark, a ritual piece for four actresses about the psychological aftermath of sexual assault. There was no way to write this play without evoking despair (and rage and grief). But I also felt called to plant moments of respite, tenderness and hope into the text. Some of my audience members were survivors, after all. I felt especially responsible for them. I didn't want anyone to walk out of the theatre feeling re-traumatized and helpless. I don't even know what the "literature of health and progress" is but somehow, on the page, in this context, it doesn't sound so appealing! I do know that I want my audience members to walk a little taller after a performance. I want them to feel opened up, affirmed, awakened, inspired and maybe even empowered. I want to challenge and push them, for sure, but (I just saw Mary Poppins two nights ago and can't stop thinking of) "A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down..." One of the running questions/themes of TGN seems to be "Who does a woman writer write for--herself, her colleagues, her critics, the working masses? And then: Is writing a form of service? Is service a form of love? What's love got to do with it?!
Page 319 December 10th, 2008
I wrestle with this familiar question all the time: What is the function of the artist in society--to reflect culture, to critique culture, to create culture , to transcend culture, or to risk solidly expressing oneself in one's moment in time? (I never ask myself this question when I am in the middle of writing/creating, of course. If I did, I'd never get anything done! But it comes up for me when I am trying make sense of a text.) I want to believe it is possible to do all of the above--if not all at the same time--with skill, complexity, compassion and aesthetic merit. Heros are flawed, process is illuminating, progress is elusive and the truth can be ugly, yes...Is it fundamentally true that our differences make us want to obliterate each other? I hope not. I see Anna deeply yearning for a male ally. I see potential allies in this scene, dissing and dodging each other--for what? I see our heroine feeling powerless and seeking power at a gay man's expense. And vice versa, as Naomi points out. I see Anna and Ronnie hurting each other simply because they are near each other and, maybe because--ironically, secretly--they trust each other? I see myself reading TGN and often feeling frustrated, super sad and disappointed. I worry sometimes but I have faith that Lessing wants me to see and feel these things.
Page 319 December 9th, 2008
Oh my goodness, that movie with Madonna and Rupert Everett?! "Next Best Thing." Oy! I don't know, Nona. I wonder if Oscar Wilde ever wrote about the subject?
Page 110 December 8th, 2008
But George doesn't have anything to offer Marie financially. ("He had a wife and two sons and a daughter. He supported his wife’s parents and his own...in that little house...they were all permanently short of money, and miserable bickering went on about sixpences and shillings. Online p. 112). Surely Marie knows he can't/won't support her which is why "she was not making an issue of" the obviously biracial child who resulted from their glaring affair. Suffice it to say, I don't really trust our narrator Anna's judgement (mostly because she doesn't trust herself). She's willing to--and to protect her pride, needs to--dismiss George's relationship with Marie as evidence of the colonial power dynamic. She's willing to cast Marie as a type of desperate, helpless prostitute in FRONTIERS OF WAR, a book she admits she isn't proud of)...But what if Marie has more agency than Anna can conceive? Are all black woman in Marie's situation completely powerless? Or is there room for subversion here? Maybe I'm pushing it but: what if George and Marie are genuinely, albeit inconveniently, fond of each other? After all, as far as we know, she isn't running off with other white guys. Just because Anna isn't ready/willing to see Marie as a complex human being doesn't mean George--by some miracle of his time--isn't. After all, he calls her his mistress, "the proper title" he would use for any white woman he was having an affair with...Not that "mistress" is such a great title but you know what I mean.
Page 331 December 8th, 2008
"‘We don’t need a dog after all,’ remarked Paul." Anna describes Jimmy as "truly homosexual" on UK p. 90 and here, like Ivor, he is likened to a dog. Anna's contempt for Ronnie and Ivor echoes Paul's contempt for Jimmy.
Page 320 December 7th, 2008
Many of the men in Anna's life are deserters, mockers, abusers, violators, cheaters, hypocrites, egotists or misogynists. And yet she craves their approval, love and commitment which they dangle before her until they are through with her. Crazy-making indeed.
Page 319 December 7th, 2008
"He gave her a quick frank look full of hatred...and he said: ‘I think after all that I do prefer your lotion to mine.’ He had his hand on the bottle, claiming it. He smiled at her sideways, challenging her, hating her openly." Reading this, I keep thinking about how one of the functions of literature is to create (and perpetuate) sociopolitical paradigms. We read not only to see ourselves reflected in the text, but to observe how a character responds to situations that we may encounter in our nose-out-of-the-book lives. Personally--halfway through the book--I struggle to identify with Lessing's Anna so am not likely to behave as she does. But certainly she is someone's possible self? Certainly she was someone's mirror/role model? This set up--that gay men hate and/or envy and/or are a threat to heterosexual women--is such a cliche! What books influenced this writing? How did this writing influence other books? Why weren't the Second Wave feminist and LGBTQ rights movements more collaborative? Are we convinced yet that women and gay men can be allies? Or do sad scenes like this (still) resonate with some?
Page 308 December 7th, 2008
Yes Laura, Anna thinks Ivor is "like a big friendly dog...dark, shaggy and friendly sitting on the floor..." (UK p.346). This word "friendly" appears over and over again. And "charming." And "harmless." I agree with Nona. This section is very similar in tone to the earlier Black Notebook passages where Paul takes the cook Jackson on as a sort of pet. Tolerance, pity and guilt cushion Anna's disgust and inherent sense of superiority but her homophobia is as palpable as her racism was. I think it's interesting that Ivor does so much babysitting. He serves Anna, just as the Africans at the Mashopi Hotel served Anna and her crew. When I read sections of this book, I often wonder if Anna/Lessing could have imagined a reader like me. How would Lessing write this section today? Anna may be "a product of her times" but, decades later, I've met people just like her. Folks still smile at those they regard with contempt. Some still expect marginalized people to behave like loyal, desperate, good-natured dogs.
Page 312 December 7th, 2008
‘That she looks like you did at her age?’ ‘Yes.’ Marion giggled again. ‘Isn’t it funny?’ At the risk of sounding like a tabloid magazine, has anyone noticed that French president Nicolas Sarkozy's hot new wife Carla looks exactly like his hot ex-wife Cecilia--only younger? They are both former fashion models with brown hair, blue eyes and high cheek bones!
Page 302 December 7th, 2008
Here's a link to the documentary: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/aalives/ Here's a link to the book: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1780_reg.html
Page 302 December 7th, 2008
"Richard said hotly: ‘She doesn’t care for me. She has no time for me. I might just as well not be there at all.’ Wounded vanity rang in his voice. And Anna was amazed. For he was genuinely wounded. Marion’s escape from her position as prisoner, or fellow-victim, had left him alone and hurt." In his brilliant PBS documentary series AFRICAN-AMERICAN LIVES 2, Henry Louis Gates, Jr notes that, post-Emancipation, former slave captors in the U.S. wrote miserably delusional letters expressing sorrow and shock that freed men and women actually *wanted* to leave the plantation. "All my people have abandoned me," the ex-masters would whine, as if power had not thoroughly corrupted these relationships. Lessing's phrase "fellow-victim" is crucial here. Because men certainly benefit from patriarchy but they (as individuals, as husbands, etc) suffer under the weight of the institution too. Allan G. Johnson writes about this in his now classic sociology text The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy.
Page 274 December 4th, 2008
A sweet!? A diet!? Argh!
Page 211 December 3rd, 2008
"‘Well I remember when you used to be so active, rushing around doing things. You don’t now.’ ‘Any activity being better than none?’" This reminded me of UK p. 177 when Julia says to Anna, "But I don't think any man is better than none." Ella is to Paul as Anna is to Communism?
Page 274 December 3rd, 2008
I think Anna longs to erase her femaleness, Naomi. All those other smells listed on UK p. 304--sex, sweat, skin, shit--are universal human smells. Both men and women release these--and thank goodness! But menstrual blood, which Anna detests, comes from women, exclusively. Homegirl doesn't want special treatment. Jack's "You smell lovely, Anna" followed by her relaxation really annoyed me. She is so pleased with herself for fooling Jack with the perfume version of a "woman's smell" which conceals the natural "woman's smell" of her period. Why do some women keep their periods secret from men? When I was an undergrad and budding radical feminist, I challenged myself to discuss my periods with my guy friends. Their shock was often followed by relief. Some had spent entire childhoods with mothers and sisters who kept them in the dark about that good old regular champion of a visitor some call "Aunt Flow." Why keep something so recurrent so mysterious? How do the secrets women keep from men benefit us?
Page 268 December 3rd, 2008
"The two personalities — Janet’s mother, Michael’s mistress, are happier separated. It is a strain having to be both at once...I make myself shut out all thoughts of Janet until the proper time...I control my response to him..." Self-compartmentalization. Self-control. It's all so devastating! Why is Anna keen on playing the role of the happy housewife heroine when the performance makes her feel so insecure, resentful and "perversely" disappointed? It can't be because she wants to keep Michael. He--cruelly and clearly--tells her that her efficiency turns him off. But Anna cannot imagine how to demonstrate her love for this man without playing the doting, dutiful, sexually detached stereotypical housewife. And yet this very role--this tired, overplayed, comfortable-old-shoe of a stock character--is who Michael cannot imagine staying romantically involved with. What does a woman's love--a mother's love, a lover's love, a daughter's love, a sister's love--look like? Anna seems to express her woman's love through feigned serenity and service. She hides herself, splits herself, limits herself, loathes herself. Depressing!
Page 120 November 25th, 2008
"Jackson is a tool he uses to communicate with other white people." So true, Naomi. It's all very chilling. I think Jackson knows he is being used but what is he supposed to do? Kick Paul in the shins? "He would wait at the back door of the kitchen until the time Jackson was due to go off after lunch, and then ostentatiously walk with him across to the wire fence that enclosed Jackson’s cottage..." It's harassment!
Page 198 November 25th, 2008
"1st Sept., 51..." Here, I thought of Ella's mortal fear of icy ovaries (UK p. 198). How interesting that non-penetrative reproduction is juxtaposed with violence, homelessness, consumption and other forms of devastation.
Page 166 November 25th, 2008
"They went up the stairs, and Ella was thinking: I suppose we’ll have some coffee and then he’ll go. She was quite genuine in this. And yet, when he again made love to her, she again thought: Yes, it’s right, because we’ve been so close together all evening." In love making, Paul is in action and Ella, comfortably, allows herself to be acted upon. This encounter reads a bit like an out of body experience. It reminded me of the lyrics of Ani Difranco's song SWIM: i was floating above myself watching her do just what you wanted poor little friendly ghost wondering why her whole house feels haunted Ella is a bit of an electrical outlet. She waits, she receives, she reacts. Meanwhile, they are doomed and she is in complete denial.
Page 152 November 25th, 2008
I am reminded of Spike Lee and Woody Allen--how in their earlier films they always appeared as some fictional version of their silliest selves.
Page 132 November 25th, 2008
"Because I’d rather die than have to live through any of that again." At this line, I thought, "Imagine how poor Jackson and Marie must feel."
Page 120 November 25th, 2008
Paul's so-called friendship with Jackson strikes me as artificial. Jackson tolerates Paul because the race/class structure requires him to be accommodating and polite to every white man he meets. Paul exploits Jackson's politeness, invading his kitchen workspace and even soaking up his off-time. Ultimately, this time-consuming "friendship" costs Jackson his coveted gig as an, albeit overworked, cook. A friend regularly tells me stories about his stint, years ago, as a gardener in NYC. He insists he abhorred working for the liberal rich folks of the Upper West Side and preferred gardening for the conservative rich people of the Upper East Side. He recounts something like the following, "The Republicans left me alone. They gave me a separate bathroom to use and my own small refrigerator. They kept me firmly in my place. But the guilty Liberals were always pestering me. They would never let me use their bathroom but they would always interrupt my work to chat me up and pretend we were friends."
Page 119 November 25th, 2008
"And when we got back to town we knew that, as Paul remarked, our holiday had not done us much good." At this point in the Black Notebook, I realized that much of it is about how these hard-working socialists play, exhaustively, in Africa. And that Anna's nostalgia is about the recreation and romance not the physical/intellectual/emotional hard work.
Page 113 November 25th, 2008
Dare I suggest that Anna's "instinct" that George's sexuality is so intensely beyond her own is related to the fact that he chooses black lovers? In the Western world, blackness has always been stereotypically yoked to hypersexuality and--even in females--hypermasculinity. After all, in this passage, Anna admits her racism (which she genteelly calls resentment). Her fear of/desire for George seems to reflect her fear of/desire for Africa. George exploits/indulges in Africa sexually while Anna and the Colony Crew exploit/indulge in Africa as mere tourists. Her comrades righteously sound off about "the color line" and fantasize about teaching African workers how to revolt against it but, at this point in the novel, they don't seem to engage with the Africans around them in any real, intimate, human way. In contrast, via his illicit, ongoing relationship with Marie (and subsequent siring of her biracial child), George gets closer to blackness than any of them dare. His "forbidden love" is corrupted by power, guilt and hypocrisy but there is an undeniably human exchange between George and Marie: basic, consensual sex.
Page 112 November 25th, 2008
When I learned the fate of the Boothby's cook's family, I was retrospectively appalled that Anna had recast Marie (the cook's wife) as a "dirty black girl"/a victim of forbidden love/a brazen but humiliated prostitute in FRONTIERS OF WAR (see UK p. 73). Given Anna's jealousy, this seems to be a simplistic and vindictive portrait of George's African lover. Granted, Anna's purported jealousy in itself is simplistic and delusional. If she were offered the reality-check-inducing Red Pill, I seriously doubt she would enjoy swapping lives with the cook's wife or any one of the black women George became taken with before or afterward.
Page 110 November 25th, 2008
"Why should a beautiful girl like Maryrose look at me at all?" On UK p. 129 we find out that George enjoys affairs with "African women particularly." This made me wince after reading, "George needed a woman to submit to him" on UK p. 126. How interesting that black women are classified as so readily sexually accessible to this bumbling wreck of a man when Maryrose and even Anna (despite her quiet lust) refuse him. And George's main African lover, Marie, the cook's wife, is never physically described. We know all sorts of details about Maryrose's appearance: she has long, shining hair and tanned arms. But the only word we have to conjure an image of Marie is "black." That his mistress is black seems to seal Anna's perception of George's sexual power. In these pages, "black" remains mysterious, illicit, hidden, unfortunate, obliging, taboo, disgusting, discardable yet--oddly-- enviable. Meanwhile, Maryrose, stays on her sad post-incest pedestal. Note their similar names: Maryrose vs. Marie. Fixed female archetypes, different sides of the same tired coin. The worshiped, white, unattainable virgin (a flower) vs. the debased, black, adulterous whore. Ah, sexist racism.
Page 107 November 24th, 2008
Or maybe confusion, dissatisfaction and inadequacy are simply the badges of youth? Or maybe bridled insecurity is a consequence of being Western, urban, middle-class, intellectual, and progressive? I offer this because I see both women and men (secretly) doubting and loathing themselves. I think whatever self-possession Anna assumes Paul owns, or whatever power Paul projects, is a performance. I think men are well-rehearsed in projecting power. The patriarchal paradigm--even in this Communist circle of comrades--demands an unyielding male potency. But I doubt Paul feels adequate when he is all alone, without a woman to smile down on, in the dark.
On the blog November 20th, 2008
A quote on the back cover of my UK edition calls this novel "ambitious." Lessing certainly is ambitious to expect/invite readers to weed through Anna's sketchy, hesitant, process-oriented, sometimes insightful, rambling journal entries before we get to her actual novel. This book is a play within a play within a play. And the 7 of us have also become players! And so have all the patient people who log in to participate in The Golden Notebook Project. I suspect that some readers occasionally find our marginal comments boring. Will they continue to bear with us as we bear with Lessing's Anna?
Page 70 November 19th, 2008
Person vs. personality. Character vs. characteristics. Knowing vs. understanding. It seems Anna feels most comfortable and honest when she can PAINT with her words. Listing Willi's opposing attributes troubles her writer's mind, but using words to conjure up an image of him relaxes her. Maybe this is why so many good, long novels are turned into quicker films? "A picture is worth a thousand..." Willi is STIFF but his ROUND spectacles glitter. He is formal and gruff but there is clumsiness and humor there too. Portraits make room for the ironic details. But lists make complexities read like blunt contradictions. Kirsten discusses Lessing's imagistic writing in the Forum (see p. 188).
On the blog November 19th, 2008
"How can I put down my thoughts about a sentence or two in this book before I have read it all, chewed it over, put my analytical brain to work to make clever sentences about it?" This really resonates with me, Naomi. I think something similar every single time I'm about to hit "Send" on this site. Remember when we had our first meeting and I talked about the vulnerability inherent in exposing process? One of the reasons I am a writer is because I can draft, consider, change my mind, re-draft, re-consider, edit, flesh-out, and polish before my thoughts are formally presented to the public. Like Nona, I feel like those of us who have read (and loved) The Golden Notebook have an advantage over those of us who haven't. I don't know where Anna is going. I still have no idea what Anna's about. Some readers are commenting in the Forum about pages a good 100 beyond what the 7 of us are discussing in the margins! I find myself feeling sad about this. After all, I can't converse with folks about a page I haven't read yet. I want to. But I can't.
Page 106 November 19th, 2008
I had a guy friend who once earnestly insisted that romantic relationships between women would never be "balanced" because there was "too much yin" in the dynamic! I was so stunned when he argued this, especially because I had always admired him for being rather sweet and cuddly and nurturing--all those supposed feminine traits. His embodiment of an alternative to traditional masculinity was one of the reasons I sought to befriend him. I was, frankly, more into his yin. Willi and his lot are described as 'sissy, wet and soft" on UK page 103. Does he know he is perceived this way? Is this why he invests in upholding the gender binary? (I abhor the word "sissy," by the way) The whole "Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars" thing truly blows my mind. What about the Venus Boys and the Mars Girls, or Venus and Serena Williams for that matter? I really appreciate the term "gender roles." Gender does feel like a performance sometimes, doesn't it? What would Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama say to a fellow like Willi? Would he have even been able to imagine them? Can Anna imagine them?
Page 72 November 18th, 2008
"But at the word homosexual, written — well, I have to combat dislike and disquiet. Extraordinary. I qualify the word by saying that already, only eighteen months later, they were making jokes about ‘our homosexual phase’, and jibing at themselves for doing something simply because it had been fashionable." Ah, those fashionable homosexuals! You know, I've only ever met them in fiction...These myths about homosexuality--that it is a childish phase, or a solely political choice, or one of many activities that one could indulge in to successfully create "a mood of irresponsibility"--are what I find disquieting. The notion that queer(ed) sexuality is a manifestation of anarchy (as opposed to something natural, or in the range of human possibility) sadly, ignobly persists. Why else would folks feel so determined to preserve the so-called sanctity marriage?
Page 71 November 18th, 2008
"Yet he was the most middle-class person I have known...he was for order, correctness and conservation of what existed." Decadent, inhuman Willi sounds a lot like Anna's therapist, Mother Sugar, whose world view was described as "traditional, rooted, conservative, in spite its scandalous familiarity with everything amoral" on UK page 26.
Page 52 November 10th, 2008
I *love* Alison Bechdel's work.
Page 52 November 10th, 2008
It's funny, I would have expected Anna to say something like, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," but she offers the opposite as what is honest and "real" for (heterosexual?) women. How sad that Anna believes the fastest way to establish warmth and intimacy with Molly is to pontificate about men! I must admit that, these days, when I gather with a group of women friends (most of them feminist), we don't really discuss our problems with men. Granted, a number of my women friends are lesbians but still...We might talk sourly about institutions and administrations and individual jerks who are taking obvious advantage of the patriarchal paradigm, but a "what's-wrong-with-men session" would bore me to the core. Maybe this is because I don't depend on men for romance or financial stability? In any case, for what it's worth, feminism taught me to be loyal to the idea that we should all, regardless of our gender, feel equal and free.
Page 15 November 10th, 2008
Meditating on the title of this section, I wonder what "free" really means? Since this text, first published in 1962, slightly predates the second wave of feminism, "free" might just mean "unmarried." Are Anna and Molly early models of the "women's liberation" MOVEMENT or are they simply, individually, "liberated women," in that they don't financially depend on men? In other words, is their decision to remain single a POLITICAL decision or a personal preference? (I know, I know. "The personal is political" but still...) Would these characters encourage other women to live as they do? Or do they secretly envy the married women (like Marion) whom they also claim to pity? It's interesting to me that when these "free women" meet alone, they spend so much of the scene talking about men and affairs with men and other people's marriages.
Page 63 November 9th, 2008
It's true, these days, when it comes to consuming novels (or plays or films and other forms of fiction) "authenticity" seems to upstage imagination and craft. Many readers expect writers to be eye-witness-news scribes rather than philosophers. As a reader, my ears perk up at the seductive subtitle "based on a true story" but I also recognize that the truth (or "a truth") can be woven into good fiction. Personally, I feel most grounded as a writer when my memory is doing a rough tango with my imagination.
Page 15 November 7th, 2008
Anna seems to be in a somewhat dire state. Her pronouncement that "everything's cracking up" seems to be completely ignored by Molly and rudely interrupted by unexpected Richard's phone call/impending arrival. It's interesting that Anna, who the narrator tells us "had always left when Richard was expected," decides to stay this time. Why is Anna more willing to brave Richard's presence? What is so different about today, I wonder?
Page 19 November 7th, 2008
I love (and underlined) Molly's phrase at the bottom of this page, "different as chalk and cheese." The alliteration is a thrill. Imagine eating chalk! Imagine writing with cheese! I'm struck again by Molly's insistence that she and Anna are nothing alike. She even laughs at Anna's reassertion that, perhaps, the two friends are "not so different." Why does Molly want to feel so singular? What does Anna know about the two of them that Molly isn't yet hip to?
Page 16 November 7th, 2008
I must admit, I also find it disturbing that these two share a therapist and, worse, joke about her together! It seems counterproductive, as far as therapy goes, to mock your analyst/ potential healer...Both women strike me as rather rebellious in this section. They share an impulse to question and perhaps undermine authority. Calling the "shrewd" Mrs. Marks "Mother Sugar," softens her conservative persona. I also think it's interesting that while Anna asserts the position that people find she and Molly "interchangeable," Molly insists that they are "so different in every way." Are they, really? Even when they're drawn to the same therapist?! I can't wait to find out.
Principal funding by Arts Council England.
HarperCollins, the publisher of The Golden Notebook, digitized the book for us and generously gave permission to reproduce it here in its entirety at no cost.
Additional support from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and New York University