Monday, 2 April 2012

Women and Death review

Dear readers,

Well I thought it high time for another review. This review is on Women and Death: Linkages in Western Thought and Literature by Beth Ann Bassein. I hope you will enjoy it. 

I have to admit that I was less taken with this book than I expected to be. In this book Ann  Beth Bassein tries to portray the ways in which women are linked to death in Western culture. What I found the most problematic of this studies is that Bassein's idea of Western culture seems to be limited to the English speaking parts of America, France and England. With this her study necessarily generalizes quite a bit and the reader cannot help but think it best if she had restricted her work to either American or English literature (or perhaps both).

 After reading a few chapters it becomes blatantly clear that apart from a study of the relation between women and death, this book also has the function of a feminist pamphlet with the goal to dissolve the association between these two topics. Throughout the book Bassein banters one author after another for forcing their characters to die or to live death in life. In the case of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa she accuses the author of being unnecessary cruel towards the female protagonist, just because she was a woman. As such Bassein chooses to ignore the edifying purpose Richardson explicitly said that he wished for the book to have. It was supposed to provide the reader with an image of what could happen if they did not follow the rules as they were indicated by parents or even society as a whole. Bassein also accuses Richardson, as well as a few other writers, of providing the reader with an unrealistic image of women. I found this claim extremely strange as the books she chooses to launch this claim against belong to the genre of Victorian fiction.

At times one almost gets the feeling that Bassein is almost pro-adultery as she argues in the case of, for example, Madam Bovary, that the female protagonist is unjustly punished for her choices, as Flaubert forces her to die a cruel death. I suppose this argument is based on the assumption that Bassein makes that men who commit adultery do not get punished in a similar way in the Victorian novels. However, one had only to look at novels such as Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy or The Tennant of Wildfell Hall to discover that such an assumption is not necessarily just.

All in all I believe that this book might have benefitted greatly if the author had not so strongly expressed her personal opinion and would have tried a more theoretical approach to offer an explanation for the existence of the link between women and death. For those of you who are interested in the relation between women and death and would like a more indebt exploration of the connection between the two, I would kindly refer you to Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic by Elisbeth Bronfen instead. Though please note, that one has to be armed with a good understanding of theorists such as Freud before one approaches this book. For, if you are not, this book might prove to be quite the hurdle.