A Brief History of the Cat Lady

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From the tenth to the eighteenth centuries, countless thousands of cats across Europe were tortured and burned to death alongside the women whose “familiars” in witchcraft those cats were presumed to be.  Sometimes the cats themselves were believed to be witches.  The women were usually single and often elderly.  Medieval and Early Modern society’s mistrust of single women, cats, and any bond between the two lingers in today’s conception of the “cat lady.”  Like her persecuted “witch” predecessors, the cat lady is our culture’s envisioning of the woman who has failed to remain within the social order, who lies precariously outside it.  Continue reading “A Brief History of the Cat Lady”

Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen

For readers of fantasy, novels, and YA lit: we have an interview with the great Roshani Chokshi, author of this year’s highly anticipated novel “The Star-Touched Queen.” Check it out!

Today, we’re very pleased to feature Roshani Chokshi, the amazing young woman who authored this year’s highly anticipated YA fantasy novel, The Star-Touched Queen.

Continue reading “Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen”

What to Read Next? Victorian Heroines Edition

This post is part of a mini-series by I.C. on female characters, both heroes and villains. Find the rest of the series here and here. 

victorian-2Those Acro Collective readers who incline toward the bookish will agree with me that there’s nothing better than a complex heroine in whose struggles you can become invested.  Victorian novels are particularly rich with such characters, coming as they do from an era in which women were beginning to call their society’s strict gender roles into question.  Below are five heroines of Victorian fiction whom you’ve hopefully already met.  (If not, do!).  Based on which one you prefer, I’ve suggested other novels, either other Victorian novels or contemporary novels set in the Victorian era (or both), with similarly engaging female protagonists.    

If you like Jane Eyre, from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) Continue reading “What to Read Next? Victorian Heroines Edition”

Gothic Horror, Female Emotion, and Crimson Peak

The fear that you are going crazy, that you are imagining the things that wound or haunt you, is one our culture is always ready to confirm in women. We have been culturally conditioned to distrust our own minds, our own responses to the world around us. The writers of Gothic narratives have always understood this…In any situation of intense pain or fear, whether medical or domestic, being told repeatedly that you are imagining things or “making them up” creates a hell of Gothic isolation.

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,    

One need not be a house;       

The brain has corridors surpassing   

Material place.

-Emily Dickinson

 

Near the beginning of Guillermo del Toro’s new horror movie, Crimson Peak, a group of Victorian socialites describe the heroine, a young, aspiring American novelist named Edith Cushing, as “our very own Jane Austen,” cattily adding of Austen: “She died a spinster.”  Edith replies, “I’d rather be Mary Shelley,” adding, after a pause, “She died a widow.”

Beyond this exchange’s underlying dialogue of marriageability, Edith’s preference for Mary Shelley situates Crimson Peak in the genre of Gothic terror which runs from Anne Radcliffe to Shelley herself to Charlotte Brontë to Daphne Du Maurier and beyond.  Edith’s rejection of Austen implies that this movie is not a send-up of the Gothic genre, as Austen’s satirical Northanger Abbey is, even when the film self-consciously trots out the most worn conventions of the genre.  More subtly but even more importantly, Edith’s preference signals the film’s distance from the worldview that produced Austen’s satirical novel: there will be no shaming of the female protagonist’s overheated imagination here, as there is via a pedantically mansplaining male figure in Northanger Abbey.  In Crimson Peak, all the heroine’s fears are confirmed—along with some terrors that never occurred to her before they were revealed, though they probably occurred to the viewer with any experience of Gothic tales.

In the Gothic tradition, female feelings and fears are central.  Continue reading “Gothic Horror, Female Emotion, and Crimson Peak”

Studio Ghibli says goodbye with “When Marnie Was There” [Spoiler-Free Review]

Studio Ghibli’s latest and perhaps last offering, When Marnie Was There, is a strange and compelling turn into the Gothic, signaled to us by its abandoned mansion, haunted grain silo, and little girl maybe-ghost. But the movie also delves deeply into some of the studio’s best storytelling centered on the growing pains of young women, like its slightly lighter and more fantastic peers Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Like any good coming of age tale, it makes room for sweetness and allows for bitterness. But unlike its more famous counterparts Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Marnie’s focus is less on a magical world and more on the dark possibilities of self-loathing internalized by young women struggling to find their way and worth.

**no spoilers**

Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter
Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter

Studio Ghibli’s latest and perhaps last offering, When Marnie Was There, is a strange and compelling turn into the Gothic, signaled to us by its abandoned mansion, haunted grain silo, and little girl maybe-ghost. But the movie also delves deeply into some of the studio’s best storytelling centered on the growing pains of young women, like its slightly lighter and more fantastic peers Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Like any good coming of age tale, it makes room for sweetness and allows for bitterness. But unlike its more famous counterparts Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Marnie’s focus is less on a magical world and more on the dark possibilities of self-loathing internalized by young women struggling to find their way and worth.

marnie2
Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter

Our protagonist, Anna, opens a window onto mixed, found, interracial families and issues with abandonment—themes that many Ghibli movies touch upon without exploring as fully as Marnie does. Primarily, this movie melds a ghostly mystery with the joy of struggling toward a fulfilling girlhood friendship. Is this movie feminist? Not overtly, perhaps not intentionally. But like the rest of Ghibli’s most memorable protagonists (Kiki, Chihiro/Sen, Mononoke, Arrietty, Ponyo—all young women!), Anna reminds us of the intermingled heart-swelling joy and pain of learning to like oneself, to struggle in a new and unfamiliar place, and to succeed. More than other Ghibli films I’ve seen, it is less about external struggle and more about learning to love oneself despite a self-perception of deep unhappiness, of self-dislike, and of failure.

Photo @ghibli_intl / Twitter
Anna and Marnie. Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter

When Marnie Was There is a sentimental movie, one that works to bring emotion to the surface. Its resolution is, without giving too much away, fairly neat and obviously packed with emotional force. I admit, I am very susceptible to this. Ghibli movies, for me, have always toed the line between joyous consumption of the sentimental, and my ingrained, ~*disaffected youth*~ sense that to purely enjoy sentimentality is deeply uncool, deeply “unintellectual.” But the value of allowing oneself to both look at a text—movie, novel, whatever—with both uncritical pleasure and critical understanding cannot be overstated. When Marnie Was There reminds us both of loneliness (that preciously parsed intellectual theme) and its antidote, the love-laden ending. It allows us to live for a moment in that precious Ghibli world of mysterious harbor towns and windswept landscapes (isn’t it always windy in these movies?), where it’s always summer and it’s always possible to slowly, dreamily, be alright.

Link Roundup!

Good reads and important feeds from around the interwebz. Most are new, some are old, all are mind-expanding.

Good reads and important feeds from around the interwebz. Most are new, some are old, all are mind-expanding.

  • Thanks to my girl Maya for bringing this to my attn: The Huffington Post’s Barbara Sostaita writes on the anxieties, costs, and considerations of being a WOC in academia. “To do scholarship is to do autobiography.”

  • Chloe Wyma writes for the Brooklyn Rail on The Guerilla Girls Broadband, activists and artists who take the names of historically forgotten women and “have carried on the Guerrilla Girls’s tradition of wit and righteous anger while embracing digital activism to expand their critique beyond the confines of the art world.”

  • From Gimlet Media: Starlee Kine takes on the small, beautiful mysteries in life through a great new podcast called “Mystery Show.” Her second case is one of my favorite radio stories, in which she tracks the intersection of one soon-forgotten book and pop queen Britney Spears.

  • An old one but a good one: novelist Vikram Chandra on elegant language, the beauty of code, and sublime programming that combines both.