Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Opening Monologues: Toby Bell

This started out as a monologue, and turned into a whole first scene.  The original plan was to put a modern woman, writing under a male pseudonym, in the same room as George Sand and George Eliot.  That lasted for about the time it took to write the scene below, when I realized that I couldn't think of a good reason why a modern woman would want to write under a male pseudonym.  So I started reading up on the Twenties, which is where I figured it would make sense for a woman to want to write as a man, as a political point, as a declaration of war, as a kind of literary suffragette.  And which is where it will probably end up some day (minus the current final line Huck Finn echo, alas) with a couple of thinly-disguised Hemingway and Fitzgerald avatars whom the two Georges can take the piss out of.  Because, y’know, they deserve it.


SHEILA:  Hamilton Murray.  Cotton Mather Mills.  Vernon Lee.  Currer Bell.  C.E. Raimond.  Martin Ross.  John Oliver Hobbes.  All British.  All women.  Women writers using male names.  A nineteenth century epidemic.  Women trying to be judged, not by the bodies they're born into, but by the things they do.  By themselves.  Their answer?  Use a man's name.  Because if they don't, the male critical establish­ment says, oh great, another woman writer, and writes them off.  And they didn't want that.  They all got written off anyway.  All but one; one didn't.  One of them actually became the equal of a man--you can tell because she's the one they still publish under her fake name, the one nobody refers to as Mary Ann Evans.  The English George, as opposed to the French George.  I see them in my mind.  George Eliot.  George Sand. 


SHEILA:  They are not happy.  They are not happy be­cause they are alone in a room full of women.  And in this room full of women, there are two other groups--the unread, and the Bronte sisters.  Who wrote as the Bell brothers, because they wanted their books to be judged honestly.  In the words of Charlotte Bronte, who published JANE EYRE as Currer Bell:  "To you I am nei­ther man nor woman--I come before you as an author only.  It is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me--the sole ground on which I accept your judgment."  Such innocence.  Because the minute Currer Bell was revealed to be Charlotte Bronte, critics started using words like unnatural.  Started saying things like, probably barren; definitely unmarried; that's why she's having books instead of babies.  Books that don't get reviewed, they get dismissed.  So if you're a nineteenth century female trying to get published, well, as one critic put it, a woman turns to writing when, quote, thwarted affection shuts her off from that sweet domestic and mater­nal sphere to which her whole being spontaneously moves.  I wonder what George Eliot and George Sand would have to say to that.  

ELIOT: [READING AN ARTICLE] "Thwarted affection has shut you off from that sweet domes­tic and maternal sphere to which your whole being spontane­ously moves."

SAND:  Mangez moi.  As if the only women who can create are unfulfilled cre­ators.  As if we are all frustrated mothers.  I have two children!  I also have a brain.  I had the brain before I had the children--but to listen to these men, the only thing I can do with my brain is lobotomize it.  As if I am supposed to spend my life sitting around knitting all day like Penelope wait­ing for Ulysses.  "Frus­trated mothers."  I am a frus­trated woman!  Are all male writers frustrated fathers?

ELIOT:  My dear George; didn't you know?  The term "male writers" is redundant. 

SAND:  Mangez moi.

ELIOT:  You know the way men think.  They believe that in a woman, the urge to write is simply a digital expression of the urge to procreate.  They see us and they say, how mar­velous--another woman who thinks a pen is a penis.

SAND:  Ah yes, the almighty phallus!  You know what I say to that?  Mangez moi.

ELIOT:  What does that mean, exactly?

SAND:  It means, eat me. 

ELIOT:  Oh my!

SAND:  And I will say it to the face of anyone who thinks for one egotistical moment that all I want out of life is his phallus.  This is the great lie men tell them­selves--how you say, their fallacy.  They know so much about life?--they know nothing.  Life?  Life is a four-star res­taurant where the waiter comes up to you and says, "Bon­jour, mademoi­selle, and what would you like to order?  For you we have two dishes, especially prepared by our finest chefs.  The first is a life of drudg­ery and bore­dom.  The second is a life of drudg­ery, bore­dom, and motherhood.  Easy choice, no?  Excuse me--you would like to see a what?  A menu?  I am terribly sorry, mademoiselle--the menu is for the men."  And you know what I say to that? Baisez moi en levrette.  [TRANS­LATING] Fuck me like a greyhound.


SAND:  "That sweet domes­tic and maternal sphere to which my whole being spontane­ously moves?"  Blow me; blow me raw.  My whole being spontane­ously moves to kick­ that son of a bitch in the seat of his baggy pants--who is this, who wrote this?

ELIOT:  [HANDING HER THE ARTICLE] Mister George Henry Lewes.

SAND:  When I finish with him, he will be George Henry Loser.  Where is he, where can I find this pimple on the face of humanity, so I can pop him?

ELIOT:  In the drawing room, actually. 

SAND:  He's here?

ELIOT:  He's the man I live with.

SAND:  That man out there?--wrote this?--and you haven't slit his throat yet?

ELIOT:  It was written long before he met me.  Would you like to hear what he says about menstruation?

SAND:  Why is it that men are always telling us about menstrua­tion?

ELIOT:  Oddly enough, that's what Henry's wife said.

SAND:  His wife?  You are living with a married man?  My dear Mister Eliot--you have unsuspected depth.  We are the Trojan Horses, you and I.  They have let us into their walled city and now, we can attack them from within.

ELIOT:  Attack them how?

SAND:  With fire.  The sword.  Revolution.  We will use their own weapons against them.  The pen.  The sentence.  The period--no, that's our weapon.

ELIOT:  You forget.  The men around us are not Trojans.  They are Philis­tines.  They obey different laws.  They will never treat us as equals.  At best, they will use us as weapons.  They will accept us, which will drive a wedge between us and our sisters.  They will elevate us, which will discourage our daugh­ters.  And they will appropriate us, which will reas­sure their sons and brothers.  But they will never treat us as equals, not until the day that they publish our novels under our real names, and not the pen names we were forced, by them, to use.  No, my dear friend.  As long as women are the unique repositors of progenity, our efforts at self-expression will be given no more attention than those of a talking cow.  And a man may listen to what a talking cow has to say, but it is not the voice of an equal.  It is the voice of a creature whom God made to provide milk and meat.  That is what men see when they see us.  Milk and meat.  Any­thing more, and there must be a man trapped in that cow's body.

SAND:  Like a Trojan Horse; you see?  Dressed as men, using men's names.

ELIOT:  And how honest is that?  If that is the only way that I can be heard, then it is not my voice.

SAND:  And if I use my own voice, and sign my own name, then I am not a writer, I am a woman writer.  I say we must beat them at their own game.

ELIOT:  And I say we must ignore their conventions and create our own.  I yearn to write the story of a woman who lives in unwed happiness with a married man.  I cannot.  I can only write it with my life.  But that is the story behind every­thing I write.  The one I live.  The one I can never put to paper.  God knows I've tried.  But I cannot find the words.  I do not have the language.  I do not know the words to describe who I am when the men leave the room.  [A WEAK LAUGH] If a woman falls in a room and there are no men to hear her, does she make a sound?  [RUB­BING HER HEAD] I'm getting a migraine.


ELIOT:  [A SIGH OF PLEASURE] Ah.  Where have you been all my life?

SAND:  [WHERE ELSE?] In France.

ELIOT:  Ah yes; dining at the four-star restaurant.  I like that image; the menus are for the men.  I will tell you something I have learned about menus and men.  There is another res­taurant--a restaurant in London--where the waiter comes up to you and says, "Excuse me, miss, but you're the main course on today's menu.  Would you like to take a turn in front of the gentlemen over there?  Or would you like to just sit here till you grow old and die?"  Eat me indeed.  Because how are we chosen by these men with their menus?  As far as men are concerned, there is one thing and one thing only that matters.  One question that defines a woman's limits.  If the answer is yes, then there is no end to what she can achieve; within limits.

SAND:  And the question?

ELIOT:  Is she beautiful, or not beautiful?

SHEILA:  "Was she beautiful, or not beautiful?"  That's how George Eliot begins a novel called Daniel Deronda, the last novel she ever wrote.  "Was she beautiful, or not beautiful?"  Already you know who's thinking this--it's some guy--the title character, actually.  And already you know that he's trying to figure out where this woman exists in his uni­verse.  Is she beautiful, or not beautiful?  What I want to know is, why is it that a woman's story never begins until a man notices her?  Why can't a woman just stand up and say, "Excuse me--I have a story"--no--no, "I am a story."  I am a story here.  And in my story it doesn't matter if I'm beau­tiful or not because my story has nothing to do with men.


SHEILA:  [BEAT; RELUCTANTLY] Well, maybe one or two men.  And a lot of boys.  Two men tops.  But they are not the center of this story.  I am.  It's not about them.  It's not about me happening to men.  It's about them happening to me.  Where are the stories about men happening to women like earth­quakes happen to San Francisco?  Like hurricanes happen to Puerto Rico?  Like mange happens to your pet schnauzer?  Every woman in the world is one of those stories.  I'm one of those stories.  But I am not part of somebody else's universe.  It doesn't matter if I'm beautiful--what matters is who I am, and what I can do.


SHEILA:  [CONCEDING] Okay; all right--in most stories, who I am is a girlfriend, a poten­tial girl­friend, or an ex-girl­friend; and what I can do is stand there and look beau­tiful.  Well not this story.  This is my story.  You don't know my story unless you know me.  And you don't know me unless you've read a book by Virginia Woolf called A Room Of One's Own.

Copyright 1999 Matthew J Wells

1 comment:

candy Simmons said...

Is this part of whole or is this the whole? Either way, I like, can you send it to me via email?