13 September 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 65

SURPRISE! *Jumps out from behind the sidebar and tosses confetti* There's more! =D

If the "Two or Three" Book Club actually met in a real world setting, we'd all have killed each other by now we'd all be having a movie night to celebrate right now. If only because of one last point I want to make about Far from the Madding Crowd. (Actually, it was one of the first points, but there was more to say about it than I originally realised.)

As I've mentioned, I saw one of the movie adaptations many years ago, and it coloured my approach to the novel when I finally started reading it. You could say that it coloured that approach blonde.

"Some rash acts of my past life have taught me
that a watched woman must have very much circumspection
to retain only a very little credit . . ."

Now I know why the light-haired Julie Christie was cast as black-haired Bathsheba in what is still the best-known version of Thomas Hardy's novel. It's the same reason English Essex Girls and American Valley Girls are usually pictured as blondes. That is, director John Schlesinger recognised that Bathsheba Everdene was not just any girl, but a certain and very specific type of girl. And we who are surrounded by visual media in a way Hardy never was have seen her repeatedly and can recognise her instantly. Let me give you a bunch of examples . . .

A 20th century girl named Bathsheba
would have totally shortened it to Buffy

What's really interesting about Joss Whedon's long-running teen series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is its mythology. Every generation has its own Slayer, who comes into her super strength and fighting abilities when the last Slayer dies. I hope you noticed the feminine pronoun, because the point to underline is that the Slayer is always a young woman.

One critique of the show is that it bases its heroine's "Girl Power" on pure fantasy. In real life, there is no way that someone with Sarah Michelle Gellar's bird-like build would be able to beat up a regular guy, much less huge, hulking villains (yes, usually male) who attack her in a pack. Take this video compilation of some of her fights, which makes suspending disbelief fun . . .

So it's not realistic. Who said that was the point? On the contrary, the entire subtext of the Slayer mythology is that there is always more to the young woman tasked with saving the world than her appearance. To underestimate her because of it is to be worthy of a stake in the heart . . . or a beheading . . . or some other gruesome death . . . You get the idea.

Buffy cornered the market narrative on the Pretty Blonde Girl type in the 1990s, but if you're not into Paranormal Fantasy, the next decade had another character worth, uh, looking at . . .

For those who haven't watched Legally Blonde, here is a (relatively) spoiler-free synopsis . . . After Elle Woods's politically ambitious boyfriend breaks up with her because she is a "Marilyn" (blonde) and he needs to marry a "Jackie" (brunette), she is determined to prove him wrong by getting into Law School and doing as well as he does in their classes. Again, everyone underestimates her because of her pink and fuzzy personality, but in the end, we get the same moral we do in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: being a good Law student, like being a good hero(ine), is not just about fitting the stereotypes.

You'll remember that this is exactly what Bathsheba says in Chapter 10 about being a good farm manager. Although she isn't quite able to pull it off without Gabriel Oak as her bailiff, we see at the end that her true abilities and value lie in another area. 

Incidentally, busting out of the stereotypes was something Elle herself had to learn

In Legally Blonde 2, Elle goes to Washington, D.C. and tries to get a bill which she really believes in passed. My understanding is that the sequel was so bad that it slammed the door on the whole franchise and Reese Witherspoon needed to produce an atrocious direct-to-video third movie so that the second would look good by comparison. But let's not think that the story stops there. 

You see, the character of Elle Woods didn't pop out of nowhere. Legally Blonde is the sequel-in-spirit to the high school movie Clueless, and Elle Woods is the the older version of Cher Horowitz.

Now that you see it, you'll never unsee it. =P Yeah, you're welcome. And the 90s were cooler than I thought, aye? LOL! Anyway, the point is that isolated stories may stop, but archetypes keep going. At the end of Clueless, Cher, a naturally talented negotiator, is helping her father out with an actual case--but it's not certain whether she will pursue her own career in law. Six years later, Legally Blonde came out and gave us a definite answer.

What's not clear, however, is how high Cher/Elle's political aspirations would have ultimately gone, and since it has been a decade since the sequel came out, we may never know. The current cinema trends favour dark-haired heroines who take themselves way too seriously, which means that the Pretty Blonde Girl has been taking a back seat for a while.

Not that I begrudge Bella Swan her moment . . .
Turnabout is fair play even for archetypes!

Here's a quick survey of Pretty Blonde Girls in recent media. Let's see how many you recognise!. . . In 2010, a new teen series opened with the discovery of a Pretty Blonde Girl's body and goes on to suggest that even death is just an appearance you shouldn't be fooled by . . . In 2011, the Pretty Blonde Girl who was also the most unconvincing high school movie villain ever got her own direct-to-video spin-off in which she proved, contrary to appearances, that she could be the underdog in the right setting--such as Broadway! . . . And maybe we do still see Cher-Elle Horowitz-Woods on TV today, in a supporting role as a prestigious law firm's blonde senior partner, who was promoted not because she was the best candidate for the job, but because the first senior partner (Yes, a male--did you guess?) thought only that it would look good to have a woman in a top position. Interestingly, she's not also a Pretty Girl. Which only goes to show that there's more than one way a woman can "look good."

There's also more than one place to find this archetype. All media is storytelling media these days--and has been for quite a while. And during the 80s and most of the 90s, the news media told us the story of a Pretty Blonde Girl from real life who was torn between people's idealised visions of her and her own desire to build something that would endure beyond the ephemera of her image. 

How she got from one to the other is a media epic

Say what you like about Diana Spencer, but you have to admit that she succeeded in that. And one day in the future, we may also be able to say that she was "of the stuff of which great men's mothers are made."

I wish I could say that our own decade's real-life Bathsheba is Taylor Swift, who made the Forbes Top-Earning Celebrities Under 30 list by leveraging the Pretty Blonde Girl archetype for all it was worth--which has turned out to be a cool US$55 million. And we seem to have a good case when we watch what is still her best music video . . .

. . . one in which she plays the Pretty Blonde Girl in reverse
as well as assorted other archetypes of girlhood . . .

. . . but the direction she has gone since then, baiting her ex-boyfriends but letting Kanye West off the hook, reveals that she is not the Slayer who will save the music industry. In fact, these days, her archetype is closer to "Maneater" (ROFL!)--which is completely different from what we're discussing here.

Remember that Hardy, Schlessinger, Whedon, et. al. are telling us that it means something when a young, good-looking girl inherits an estate on which hinges the welfare of many others: she may not be the type you'd want in charge of it, but you have to admit that what is behind her image is what counts. If you're only seeing the image, then you're missing the point. For instance, did you know that Paris Hilton's billionaire grandfather has said that the seemingly empty-headed heiress works harder than most CEOs he knows? . . . Well, now you do.

Behold Your Queen

It's also no accident that Hilton's career didn't take off until after a sex tape was leaked. There's more than one way to get caught bathing on a rooftop. ;-)

Seriously, she may make an excellent mother yet. And she has a finger in the real estate pie. Her son will totally be our Solomon the Builder. At least he will be as soon as she realises she wants a child more than she wants another chihuahua. =P The point remains the same: don't judge by appearances, people! 

Image Source: a) Far from the Madding Crowd poster, b) Buffy the Vampire Slayer poster, c) Legally Blonde poster, c) Diana Spencer, d) Diana, Princess of Wales, e) Paris Hilton


Angie Tusa said...

I had never thought of the Cher/Ellie connection before, but you're right, it is quite strong once you notice it!

I think if a book character I had a fondness for was a brunette but cast as blonde in the movie version, I would be upset, regardless of what archetype Hollywood was trying to follow in their choosing. But I'll admit that's mostly me speaking as a brunette who would feel slighted. :)

Sheila said...

I have watched ... let's see ... ZERO of the movies/shows you mention! And I don't know much about Princess Diana either, except that every time I cut my hair short people compare me to her.

Sometimes I think I should have been a brunette. I guess I'm annoyed at the assumption that I shouldn't be smart because I'm blonde. I'm not particularly pretty or unpretty, so it's not that. It's just that I'm blonde. Not a Popular Girl though, which Bathsheba definitely is.

I mean, I fit the stereotype in some ways, I guess. I'm nice, I like to talk, I like to have fun .... but I don't have much of a sense of humor, I am not giggly, and I am too much of a tomboy. It disappoints people, I think. It's like in Betsy, Tacy, and Tib (oh *please* tell me you've read those! they are so delightful!) how Betsy tries to be mysterious because she's taller and brunette, and lectures Tib to laugh more and be cuter because she is small and blonde. "People expect it," she says, "and they're disappointed that you are so serious."

On another note, if we were having this book club in person, maybe no one would be dead, but I probably would have stood up sometime today, solemnly poured my drink down someone else's shirt front, and stalked out of the room. (I am ashamed to say I actually did this once or twice in college.) Apparently the internet raises my tolerance level. I just rant to my husband and he says "why do you read this stuff if it makes you so angry?"

Um ... because ... because ... Thomas Hardy?

Can't figure out how to tie any of the above back to Bathsheba.

Enbrethiliel said...


Angie -- As a fellow brunette, I was also highly annoyed when I read the book and finally discovered that Bathsheba was originally blonde! But I think we've lost a bit of the context in which her dark hair also meant something. Someone once told me that in the early nineteenth century, the classic "English rose" type of beauty was characterised by blonde or light brown hair, and it was definitely appreciated, BUT whenever someone entered that scene with black hair, she suddenly got all the attention! Maybe in another hundred years, the gingers will dominate the screens. ;-)

Sheila -- I'm really sorry, but I haven't read the Betsy-Tacy books. (Or haven't read them yet? I might do another children's lit themed readalong in December and this series could still make it!)

Having seen that Betsy and Tib were first introduced in the 1940s, I was first surprised that the stereotypes about hair are older than I thought . . . then surprised that I was surprised. =P Come to think of it, doesn't Amy March of Little Women come off as the silliest of the March girls, when she's probably the most serious one? Louisa May Alcott based the March girls on her own sisters, so the blonde hair on the youngest likely wasn't an artistic choice, but I wonder how much it has affected impressions of Amy through the years.

I'm really not sure why fuzzy thinking is associated with blonde women. My first boss once told me that he would get me a big bottle of peroxide for Christmas so that my hair would match the rest of me. (ROFL! But you probably don't find it so amusing? =P) There was also a time when I was blonde in all my dreams--which made for interesting dream diary entries in the morning!

The Far from the Madding Crowd readalong has definitely been . . . interesting . . . in ways that I could never have predicted. ;-) I do think, however, that if we had all met in the same room, the dynamics would have been very different!

By the way, did you watch the whole You Belong with Me video which I've embedded here? I was wondering what you thought of it. I'd ask a more specific question now, but I don't want to prejudice your viewing if you haven't seen the whole thing. =)

Belfry Bat said...

The only thing that really occurs to me about a blonde Bathsheba is that she can't mock the blondeness of Troy's keepsake lock of Fanny's hair.

Enbrethiliel said...


That also occurred to me while reading the book. Of course, that is easily remedied by casting a non-blonde actress to play Fanny.

Which wasn't done in the movie, by the way.

love the girls said...

Miss E. writes : "There's more than one way to get caught bathing on a rooftop. ;-)"

That never occurred to me. Who was seducing whom?

I've always felt sorry for Paris Hilton, she seems like a nice girl who is lost.

And Sheila, Can I assume you were thinking of me?

Please be assured that when you choose to pour drinks down "someone else's shirt front", I am more than glad to do my part and suffer it with a mirthful smile of enjoyment.

And I really like your phrasing given that it leads one to think that you likewise solemnly pour drinks down your own shirt front.

Btw, I always argue with a smile, and almost never write anything unless I think it's fun and entertaining, (to me). And take other people's writings in the same light and enjoyment. I blog for entertainment.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG! I'm surprised it took you so long to get here, when this post is FULL OF BABES!!!

Does your question refer to the original story? I think that it could go both ways. Unless it was customary for Jewish women to bathe on rooftops, Bathsheba must have known that she would be seen. Whether she just wanted to tease onlookers or to catch someone (and to be caught herself), of course we can't know. And if the latter case is true, there's that the other question of whether or not she was aiming as high as the king.

In Paris's case, she has always been in total control of our perception of her.

love the girls said...

Miss E.,

In both instances. With Paris Hilton I bought the intended line.

But was is far more fascinating is you comment on Bathsheba. Given the circumstances, and given how she apparently rather easily went to David, she was getting what she wanted. Which also makes me wonder about the rest of the story, such as did Bathsheba force Davids hand to take her baby as his own?

Smart girls manipulating the situation by using men's lust appears to be a theme that runs through Matthew.

Have you read this ?: http://www.wf-f.org/12-1-Wiley.html

Enbrethiliel said...


That's an interesting article. Her style almost drove me crazy ("Get to the point already!"), but I like her analysis. Of course, her thesis is a little different from yours. If you had to spell it all out in the end, how would you say Mary fits into the theme of "smart girls manipulating the situation by using men's lust"?"

love the girls said...

Miss E.,

Mary doesn't fit in. But it does fit Bathsheba into the lineage in a way I had not seen or read of before. I had always seen her as passive when she's perhaps the most active participant of her entire drama.

David wrote the laments while she watched her son inherit a throne.

Enbrethiliel said...


The new appreciation I have for the biblical Bathsheba floors me.

As for my question, I meant, how should we see these four other mothers in the light of Mary's own motherhood?

love the girls said...

Miss E.,

I really don't know other than in ways they all appear as various opposites or contrast to Mary.

What they do all have in common is seeing themselves and motherhood in a traditional manner that almost could not be further removed from the modern standard.

Their identity is their being actual mothers, and not the propositional motherhood as found advocated by Catholics such Pia de Solenni where actually having babies is accidental to motherhood.

The modern notion is a disembodied view, not unlike architects who design buildings for movies for virtual reality walking through.

The modern notion looks to a woman's nature, but not to the reason for that nature as if the end is secondary.

We have separated ourselves not only from the land, but from ourselves and our own nature.

With someone like Pia de Solenni who is not married and living in the modern world it's almost as if what she is doing is consoling her not having a baby to hold by telling the world she doesn't need an actual baby to be a mother.

The women's movement sold the lie of careers and many women discovered the lie too late and lost their opportunity to be mothers. And now we have Catholics selling careers as if being motherly in a career is being a mother.

In contrast, the women in Matthew went out of their way to be actual mothers who did what they could to advance their children as opposed to advancing themselves.

Sheila said...

LTG, like I said, I don't have much of a sense of humor. I don't argue for fun, but only because I care deeply about the subject. It upsets me sometimes, to lie awake nights thinking of the right response only to have everyone else toss off brief replies that makes me suspect they're just teasing me.

E, I finally got a chance to watch it, and oh boy, was that ever my adolescent fantasy. I watched "She's All That" at a sleepover at 13 and all I could think was, "Really? Am I going to get a chance to remake myself in high school so that I'll finally be popular?" But it wasn't so much about being popular as about a few specific people I wanted to like me.

When I was seven, I was in love with the boy next door. We spent pretty much all our time together. We were up in a tree once when he told me he loved me. Pushing my advantage, I said, "So are you going to marry me?" "No," he said, "I'm going to marry Natasha on the corner because she's prettier. But you can be my girlfriend."

Sigh. I could not imagine how he would choose a girl he never talked to over the one who was his best friend.

Hence all the bitterness... even though, in retrospect, it saved me from a lot of superficial guys, so my first romance of any kind was with my husband. Definitely positive.

What's your question?

love the girls said...


I care about the subjects, I also realize what I, or you, say about them has absolutely no bearing on them beyond what we can learn about them via conversation.

My arguing for the sky is blue will make it so, nor will someone see it as blue or otherwise because of what I say.

And so what I do is I treat the subjects according to what they are, and I treat the circumstance of the conversation according to what it is.

I'm interested in knowing what is true. I also know there are zero consequences to whether I am right or wrong because it doesn't make wit of a difference practically speaking whether I am right or wrong.

Interestingly enough though, my blogging for entertainment is for practical reasons, it breaks up my work. Which is what I'm doing when I'm on the computer.

No rest for the wicked or architects, (is there a difference?), but we are allowed the amusement of blogging.

love the girls said...

In contrast to Sheila,

I come at this from the opposite end. I was of the popular set, (unlike sister right above me, I wasn't the most popular, but up there), and remarkably good looking or so I was regularly told by girls, especially by my older sister's friends.

When I was a senior during Christmas break I met a girl at a party who had lived just down the street from me since 2nd grade, and regretted immensely my folly at not even giving her a glance all those years because she was not of the popular set.

She was the girl I had always been looking for, but was blind to seeing her until that night.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Actually, I think you tied them all together pretty well! The odd woman out is not Mary, but Pia de Solenni, who does seem to want the honours of motherhood without actually becoming a mother.

Sheila -- The You Belong with Me video seems to be every young girl's fantasy! Unless, of course, she's already the Popular Girl. Then again, how would I know about them? I don't think I've ever been friends with someone who was at the top of the high school hierarchy (To this day, I still gravitate toward fellow Awkward Nerds), so I've never been able to ask.

Believe it or not, it's my turn to say I haven't seen a movie you have! I'm not sure why I missed She's All That the first time around, but I do want to try seeing it now. If only for a brunette heroine. LOL!

Now I'm really embarrassed (and kind of sorry, too), but I can't remember the question I wanted to ask you about You Belong with Me. =( It would have had something to do with stereotypes, but I really can't recall it! It'll probably come to me later, but when it does, I'll e-mail you instead of asking it here.

Sheila said...

LTG, all I can say is, considering what your ideas are, I'm rather glad you don't take them too seriously, much less act on them.

E, it would be fun to crosscheck all the movies we've watched. I grew up in a family that favored war movies and action flicks, so it kind of shows. The only girl movies I ever see are with my sisters-in-law (all seven of them!), except for a couple special ones that my *husband* had to introduce me to! (That would be Return to Me and While You Were Sleeping.) So it may be that I've seen quite a few you haven't, because the sort of movies I've seen, I rarely see you review.

My only time being friends with cool people was boarding school, where we all had to be friends so it didn't count. And even there, you could tell who the cool people were! It's not pure chance, it's something about personality types I imagine.

Sigh ... do email me if you remember.

One stereotype that always makes me laugh is "glasses=nerd" -- and then they whip off their glasses and become instantly cool, because apparently no one can tell Taylor Swift is gorgeous if she has big glasses on. That's as obvious, and unrealistic, as a Greek tragedy mask.

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : " considering what your ideas are, I'm rather glad you don't take them too seriously, much less act on them."

Miss Sheila? What am I going to act on? As I noted above, there is nothing that has been discussed that has any relation to practical life that I have any control over.

Sheila said...

Ideas matter. Let's take our last disagreement. The whole point of the concept of r@pe culture is that our ideas, especially when shared, matter.

Take this scenario: Say you have a son, or a nephew, or a grandson, or a teenage friend. He casually comments to you, testing the waters a bit, that his teacher kept making passes at him, and that he slept with her.

If you give him a fist-bump and say "Niiiice," it's unlikely that he'll share with you that he didn't want to do it, that he wasn't into her, that he had a girlfriend he'd wanted to save his virginity for, that he was considering the priesthood, or any other reason (if one needs a reason) he might have had for not being flattered. And he's not going to tell you that he went along with it because he didn't feel like he had a choice. He's certainly not going to tell you if he fell hard for her and is suffering from a broken heart, now that she won't meet his eyes and it's clear to him that she was just into him because he was a hot teenager.

He's not going to tell you any of these things because he sees that you think, like so many men do, that a Real Man would have jumped at the opportunity and wouldn't consider himself to have been r@ped.

Teenage boys (so says my husband, anyway, and some of my other male friends) suffer a great deal from the pressure to be a Real Man and not be traumatized by traumatic stuff, not be hurt by rejection, not to fall in love, and most assuredly never to cry. That's bad enough, but when it leads them to hide away their pain after s3xual @buse, it dooms them to a great deal of unnecessary anguish and possibly psychological harm.

My one comfort is that most likely, no teenage boys ever read anything you write. Hopefully no women who are into teenage boys either.

But I don't know why I'm bothering with this conversation, anyway. It seems you are never going to take this stuff as seriously as I do.

E, I think I'm going to take up a new nickname: The Blonde Buzzkill. ;D Here's one girl who *doesn't* just wanna have fun. (Do you watch Homestar Runner ever? I'm Marzipan through and through.)

mrsdarwin said...

E, I enjoy your analysis immensely, although I never even got a chance to start the book. (It's sitting neatly on the top of my to-read pile.) I am not, nor have I ever been, a blonde or a raven brunette, so I haven't had to deal with either of those stereotypes in my life. However, my hair is fairly curly, which is a whole different bag of stereotyping issues. (Which often involves the frustration of people asking, "Is that natural?" Of course it's natural! How much time do you think I have to fuss with my hair? I'm only fortunate that I can roll out of bed with interesting hair, because otherwise I'd look pretty universally undistinguished.)

I think you would enjoy the Betsy-Tacy books, both in themselves and as another window on American culture, about thirty years later than the Little House books (which I still expect you to finish posting on).

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I "know my memes" enough to comment on Homestar Runner! And I'm a little surprised you'd describe yourself as Marzipan! She seems like the fuzziest hippie chick ever, while you mix your sustainability with sense. =) (Heh. Sense and Sustainability could be your Jane Austen parody novel. ;-) How about it?)

Mrs. Darwin -- Thanks! =) I don't think I've given curly hair too much thought as an archetype, though I've certainly given it a lot of thought as a style! I'd love to have curly hair. Brave curly.

love the girls said...


None of the prior discussions went beyond, or at least none of mine, went beyond looking at the society in general, where as your comments here are in the particular and not about society of which I have zero practical control over.

Further, let me be clear, there is a radical difference between understanding fallen nature and the effects of sin, and accepting them as good the world does. I raise my children counter the culture, in virtually all respects, including the modernist notions on sex because the sex saturated society we live in is caused by those modern notions of which the feminist movement is one.

I watch my children closely because I am not naive to what actually does go on, and that supposed victims can be willing, and its foolish to think they will see themselves as victims.

Secondly, if you want to actually protect your sons, then it is best to understand how fallen nature does actually operate in boys, as opposed to wanting boys to be like girls because wanting isn't getting.

To put it simply, when it comes to sex boys are for the most part under the sway of the concupiscible appetite where as girls are under the appetite of the Will and thus their objects are not the same.

Sheila said...

LTG -- society is made up of people and their individual decisions and ideas. You affect society simply by living.

E, I meant I'm Marzipan in personality, not opinions. I'm thinking of the bit where she protests a game of hide-and-seek because she thinks it's about animal rights ("Oxen free! Oxen free!") and can't be convinced it's just a game. [Here it is: http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail196.html] Of course I would not be caught dead eating tofu. But I'm about that easy to tease, and that unlikely to notice.

love the girls said...


You may rest comfortably in knowing that I'm a bellwether without a flock. As my children remind me whenever I tell them my choice in clothing and shoes are ahead of their time and leading the way.

Societies are by nature stable and internally stabilizing, and while it's possible for a squished butterfly to cause a tide wave, it's much more common for entire swarms of locusts to not so much as cause a ripple.