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February 01, 1996 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1996-02-01

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10B -The Michigan Daily - ttsc 4tc. - Thursday, February 1, 1996

AuthorJamaica Kincaid writes for'a common humanty'

By Elizabeth Lucas
Daily Arts Writer
"I have written about the relations
between mothers and children, and
.-ow I am also speaking about the
powerful and the powerless," said
Jamaica Kincaid, in an interview be-
foreherreading at the Michigan Union
on Monday. This is an appropriate
summary of the themes in her latest
novel, "The Autobiography of My
Mother" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
The book is narrated by Xuela
Claudette Richardson, a 70-year-old
West Indian woman who is reflecting
back on the events of her life. It is a
plain and understated account of class
conflicts and family tragedies, dating
from the very beginning of Xuela's
life: "Who was I? My mother died at
the moment I was born. This fact of
my mother dying at the moment I was
born became a central motif of my
Kincaid stated that this novel is less
autobiographical than her previous
two novels, and is based more on her
mother's life. However, it is not a
marked departure from her other
"The way I write is as a continua-
tion of all the things I have written. I
develop ideas from book to book and
expand on them; I understand them
more and more from book to book. It

"I find it a very curious thing for a
reader to require that a character be
sympathetic," Kincaid responded to this
idea. "What could disturb a reader about
Xuela is that she is unflinching, she
does not disguise things, but I rather
like that in a person. I doubt very much
I could be so preoccupied with a person
I didn't have so much admiration and
affection for."
No matter how readersj udge the char-
acter of Xuela, it is clear that her life
story is fascinating, both in itself and
as a reflection of her culture. For ex-
ample, Xuela's father is a character
who disappears and reappears in the
narrative, and Xuela is never sure of
her exact feelings toward him. His
power over Xuela, and her rebellion
against that power, could be read as
symbols of the relationship between
the West Indies and those who colo-
nized them.
Another contrast is that, while the
island of Dominica is poetically de-
scribed as a beautiful and fertile place,
Xuela is the only character who does
not have children. This decision is
due to her own lack of a mother, to her
rejection ofa traditional woman's role,
and to her knowledge of how badly
women and children are treated in her
society. Kincaid praised this view-
point, stating, "I think one should
always try to subvert the power struc-
ture There's always something to sub-

One of the novel's most intriguing
aspects is that, despite its symbolism
and exact prose, the events of the s'y
take place in an unspecified andbarely
hinted-at era.
"I'm very uninterested in pinning
things down," Kincaid said, in an at-
tempt to explain this particular tech-
nique. "What I want to write about arc
human events and human experiences
and the things that are happening
within human beings do not depenc
on any century. There are the sam.
relationships from 500 years agc
now, the same imbalances of po e
and justice."
Kincaid believes that literatlmre fur-
ther demonstrates this idea, since i
can be appreciated by everyone. A
an example, she said, "I read 'Jan<
Eyre' as a child, and I totally loved i
and totally identified with it. I did no
think about the race difference at all
and I think that's very natural. I thin<
it proves that there is a commor.1
manity, and we all can recognize it r
each other; you don't have to lool
like someone to have them-'inspir<
Kincaid will no doubtbe proven right
as readers of"Autobiography" find simi
larities to Xuela's life in their own cul
ture or experience. They will also b
fortunate in discovering a strong an:
memorable work of fiction.

Author Jamaica Kincaid gave a reading at the Michigan Union on Monday and shared her wisdom with fans.

is not a new aspect of a theme - the
theme becomes more elaborate."
However, the character of Xuela will
surely make "Autobiography" stand out
among Kincaid's books. From child-
hood on, Xuela is relentlessly indepen-

dent and self-sufficient, which is re-
flected in both her troubled family life
and in her need to escape from her class
and gender divided society..
As she says, "I refused to belong to a
race, I refused to accept a nation.... Am

I nothing, then? I do not believe so, but
if nothing is a condemnation, then I
would love to be condemned." Xuela's
self-reliance is admirable, but it's diffi-
cult to describe her as a likable charac-

Films, books prove Austen's a witty social critic


By Elizabeth Lucas
Daily Arts Writer
Summer 1994: Jane Austen was a
writer whom some people sort of re-
membered from their English-lit
classes. Summer 1995: Jane Austen
was starring at your local theater.
Despite recent novel -turned-filIm ca-
tastrophes like "Frankenstein" and
"The Scarlet Letter," Austen adapta-
tions have been plentiful and popular:
films of "Sense and Sensibility" and
"Persuasion," a "Pride and Prejudice"
miniseries, and "Clueless," a '90s
version of "Emma."
What's behind this sudden upswing
of interest in Austen's work? It seems
that, surprisingly enough, novels that
are nearly 200 years old are providing
commentary on our society.
To begin with, one truly great thing

about Austen film adaptations is the
contrast they offer to many other cur-
rent offerings. Let's take a look at
some recent women's film roles:
"Showgirls"... enough said. The criti-
cally acclaimed "Leaving Las Vegas"
- Elisabeth Shue plays a prostitute.
"From Dusk Till Dawn" - Salma
Hayek is a vampire and a showgirl.
Hmm. Anybody notice a pattern?
Certainly, there are so-called
"women's movies" like the recent
"Waiting to Exhale." But while that
film featured intelligent, independent
women, all of them were so desperate
for men that they dated a parade of
losers right out of your freshman year-
Austen's novels are somewhat simi-
lar, since much of the action in them
revolves around getting married,

However, in the early 1800s this was
an economic necessity, as unmarried
women had to depend on the generos-
ity of their relatives. "I am not roman-
tic; I ask only a comfortable home,"
Charlotte Lucas tells her friend Eliza-
beth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice,"
after she decides to marry the disgust-
ingly pompous Mr. Collins.
Still, all Jane Austen's female char-
acters are refreshingly bright, literate
and willing to speak up for them-
selves. Elizabeth Bennet's witty ex-
changes with Mr. Darcy provide much
of the entertainment in "Pride and
Prejudice," while the title character
of "Emma" cheerfully manages
everyone's life. Even timid Anne
Elliot, in "Persuasion," declares, "I
will not allow books to prove any-
thing ... the pen has been in (men's)


Registration Dotus
Registration Situr

January 29- Febuary 9
Michigan Union Ticket Ollice (d 763-[KTS
No main-in regisratriIon
Refunds will only be given ri the course is canceled
Use voter I ttred Plus or Mcard
Week of February 12
Cali UAC @763-1107

Classes B gin

hands." It's ironic that we turn to Jane
Austen, a writer from a far less liber-
ated time, to offer us examples of
sensible and self-reliant women, but
we're fortunate in having such a source
at all.
Austen's novels also serve as an
invigorating example for modern fic-
tion. While there's no shortage of
serious literature in our society,
cliched and formulaic courtroom dra-
mas or romance novels are much more
It's good to know that Jane Austen
gives these fictional genres a reason
for existing. Of course, this purpose
is solely that they become much more
entertaining, when compared to a real
work of literature. But at least now we
know that titles like "Unbridled De-
sire in the Stables," and "The Bailiff'
(the logical successor to "The Cli-
ent," "The Rainmaker," etc.), really
are justified in taking up shelf space
in Borders.
For example, let's look at "Persua-
sion." Captain Wentworth, Anne
Elliot's long-ago-rejected suitor, re-
turns newly rich and sought-after. He
informs her of his feelings in a letter:
"I must speak to you by such means as
are within my reach. I am half agony,
half hope. I offer myself to you again
with a heart even more yours now
than when you almost broke it, eight
years and a half ago."
We'll now turn to Robert James
Waller, who has produced several
books about improbable middle-aged
romances. (Motto: "Is that a bottle of
Geritol in your pocket, or are you just
glad to see me?") Here's an excerpt
from the hero's letter in his Godzilla
ofbest-sellers, "The Bridges of Madi-
Ann Arbor's
1989 -1995
-Michigan Daily Readership Poll
Sun. - Thurs. Sam - 1am
Fri. - Sat. Balm - 2am
S. Forest at S. Univ.

For more information

Alicia Silverstone stars in Amy Heckerling's "Clueless," the loopiest of the four
recent films based on Jane Austen's novels. Heckerling developed the movie's
storyline loosely based on Austen's "Emma."

Ballroom JanDrw
Section I
Section 11
Herman lumic'.

Section I
Section 11
Section III
Frank Greig
Intro to
Ann Flora


Wit/ C/a I
Section I
Secttion I
sc4Wi ae
Section I
Jane sicia
Section I
Section 11
Kapila Castolrlr

Mondays Anderson Rm-Union 7:00-9:00 2/12-4/1 (no ia.s iai
Thursdays Anderson Rm-Union 8:00-10:00 2/22-4/25
i'il( on sour danm oy 'hu In thii' imue fir hegrorrer andd ntcerrdrarci. you'l learn various
.lirre,''uvlia,.the RuIihibarI-os 'I rot .r 1a( ira. Srsurry, V alIr'andth espres-ie Tang
Mondays U-Club-Union 6:00-8:00 2/12-3/25
Wednesdays U-Club-Union 6:00-8:00 214-3/27
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Anaie your frend . annoy your parens' Lcearn how rmr overr I() drinks A certificate of
graduation wil be awarded upon completion of rlre course *Las. rnghts of each class will be
at The Nectarine Ballroom.
Mondays U-Club-Union 7:00-10:00 2/19-3/25
Wake up your taste buds and learn to cook dishes from around the world. Regions such Italy,
the Mediterranean, France (pastries) and more will be explored throughout the culinary arts.
**Note: the 1st class will meet until 10:30 and will include a kitchen safety discussion and a
waiverof liability will be presented. **aS5 lab fee will be collected on tie first night of
class. ***Students are asked to bring their own paring knife and peelers to class
Mondays Watts Rm(1209)-Union 8:00-10:00 2/12-2/19
This courre taugh by The American Red Cross wil cover basic CPR A great skill for lrfeguards
people at the heach and cx eryone cle to know A ccnficate will be awarded upon completion of the course
Mondays A rispace-Union 6:00-9:00 2/19-4/1
Wednesdays Artspace-Union 6:00-9:00 2/21-4/3
ICa r n u~l rrirw '.1.1 xcfirl If,orhighfwcr'uiralf nli rr rspile e ~n e '.riihua~llrtie. niiulinId
rlnrirrr. rardrilinig. rrarid rle iriakinig ( ircisy arnd idr sn lauisi
*A 515 dollar lah fee will be collected by instructor on the 11 night of class.
Mondays Pond Room-Union 7:00-10:00 2/12-3/25
Ahh..RELAx...and forget about your worries. Learn the secrets to giving and receiving massages. Each session,
students will practice their techniques. Bring a towel. (2/19 class will be in the Anderson rm.)
Wednesdays Parker Rm-Union 7:00-8:30 2/14-2/28
Wednesdays Parker Rm- Union 7:00-8:30 3/13-3/27
This is an introduiefon til editation Registration will be held at the UAC office. 2105 Michigan Union
Mondays Artspace-Union 6:30-9:30 2/19-4/1
Thursdays Artspace-Union 6:30-9:30 2/22-4/4
Learn how to use your own 35tmm camera, while discovering the excitement and magic of printing your
own photos in the Beginning class Techniques, lighting, and posing will be explored in the interir class
* A s15 lab ee for each class will be collected on the 1 st night of class.
Tuesdays Union Games Room 7:00-9:00 2/13-3/26
Tuesdays Union Games Room 9:00-11:00 2/13-3/26
Explore the frI' iar ientals of billards Sessions include handouts. demos. and practice time.

545s/coup I
h$45/c ouplc



son County": "I am grateful for hav-
ing at least found you. We could have
flashed by one another like two pieces
of cosmic dust." The New Age-in-
spired effusion is signed, "The last
The conclusion is clear: exposure
to Jane Austen novels creates a sort of
alchemy. A book which produced only
a groan or perhaps an incredulous
smile, before, can now provoke us to
full-blown hysterical laughter.
This may be the only healthy re-
sponse to the contrast before us, and
as such, is definitely a good thing.
(DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to
advocate frequent reading of books
such as "Unbridled Desire," despite
the humor value of the contrast. Such
things are like Spam and Pauly Shore:
amusing but inherently evil).
Still, there's one area in which
Austen's society is vety much like
our own. Readers will immediately
be struck by the complex nuances of
dress, manners and social position in
her novels. These might seem trivial
and outdated, but as "Clueless"
pointed out, they're not. Remember
high school? The good old days of
being classed as a prep, nerd, wigger,
band geek, or stoner, and accepting
your class's unalterable styles and
customs. As for those other social


groups, well, "no respectabl6 girl
would actually date one of them," to
quote Cher, the heroine of"Chieless."
Things were no different in Jane
Austen's time. Her novel "Emma"
relates the story of an upper-class girl
with the habit of socially appropriate
She draws distinctions bettwyn
farmers, gentleman-farmgrs d
gentlemen, for example, and urges
her friend Harriet not to marry one of
the former. "It would have been the
loss of a friend to me. I could not have
visited Mrs. Robert Martin, of Ab-
bey-Mill Farm." Emma's attitude is
almost funny, until we remember how
we used to draw equally inscrutable
class distinctions. Some things
haven't changed at all in 200 yea.
That fact, more than anything e e,
is probably at the heart of the Austen
revival. After all, the basis of Jane
Austen's work was observation. She
went to parties and visited relatives;
she wrote her novels in the family
parlor, hiding the pages when the floor
creaked as someone entered the room.
Then she drew on what she'd seen to
write novels with intensely realistic
characters, and immediately un -
standablemotivationsandbehavior. r
interest in and affinity for this kind of
storytelling hasn't changed, either.




Beginning (B&W)
Interim (B&W)
Garvin Horner

r .. J
.. { r
l r r
" *ENTER .

Session I
Session II
Aiaron Toth



3,une Bungc TN 51c

Tuesdays Artspace-Union 6:30-9:30 2/20-4/2
Ise elay n r iIohj betas nd Ie humanorr to the pinnacee of your arstic endcavor.
*A S M imodel anI lah fee will he eolleteid on the first mghi of class


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