in “Piaf,” Pam Gems provides a view into the life of the great French singer and arguably the greatest singer of her generation — Edith Piaf. (Fildier and Primack, 1981), the slices that the playwright provides, more than adequately trace her life. Edith was born a waif on the streets of Paris (literally under a lamp-post). Abandoned by her parents — a drunken street singer for a mother and a circus acrobat father — Edith learns to fend for herself from the very beginning. As a natural consequence of her surroundings, she makes the acquaintance of several ne’er do wells. She rises above the lifestyles of the girls she grows up with who prostitute themselves for a living in the hope that they will eventually meet a benefactor with whom they can settle. Edith has a talent for singing and she indulges this interest by singing loudly in the streets. On one such occasion, she catches the eye (and year) of a club owner Louis Leplee who gives her a first break singing in his club. Eventually, M. Leplee is killed by some of Edith’s street acquaintances. She is suspected and then exonerated of any wrongdoing.
From then on, as far as being a performer is concerned, there is no turning back for Mlle. Gassion. She adopts the sobriquet “Piaf” — the Little Sparrow and moves on to become perhaps the best performer in the world. Along with this fame of course, come pitfalls. It also bears mentioning that Edith’s past is the harbinger of “baggage.” A son, from a failed first marriage, is taken away by authorities and given to foster parents. Eventually, Marcelle the boy, contracts an illness. Edith is informed only after the boy dies. This tragedy, Edith carries with her forever.
Edith’s success as a singer, actress and performer demonstrates an inverse proportionality with her development as a person. One can imagine here the fact that she grew up without a moral compass. She has innumerable affairs. Each of these affairs carries with it a kind of fatalism. Perhaps, to regain her youth two of these affairs are with young playboys. They end up in debilitating automobile accidents. After these accidents, not much more is heard of these men. There is a much-publicized affair of Edith with a boxer Marcel Cedran. In fact, with Marcel, there is an emotional attachment; the fatalism unfortunately persists. Marcel is married. The affair does not last very long. Edith’s second husband, Theo Sarapo, many years her junior is a pandering enabler with whom Edith can never have a relationship based on equality.
The few constants in Edith’s life are helpful women. Toine — Antoinette — a prostitute who eventually settles down with one of her customers, comes often into Edith’s life. She is almost ubiquitous at low points of Edith’s life. Another is Madeleine. Madeleine is Edith’s maid and gofer — called on to serve her mistress’ every whim and fancy. The now superstar Edith relies on her a lot. Another woman who is an integral part of Edith’s life is Josephine. Josephine is a club owner who offers guidance and support. She is Edith’s mother, sister, friend, counselor and sounding board — all rolled into one. These three women are perhaps the only real support the Edith has.
One aspect of Edith’s life that is the cause of her ultimate downfall is her continued and growing addiction to drugs. This constant drug and alcohol abuse eventually causes dependence that Edith is not able to rescue herself from. Eventually she dies from drug use and resultant physical ailments. While Edith should be held responsible for her behavior, one cannot help but imagine that if she had the benefit of an assertive and supportive influence, things might not have turned out differently. Unfortunately, the people who surround Edith range from the selfish, naive, incompetent, criminal, enabling, self-centered, and lecherous. They either pander to her whims and fancies or abuse her for personal gain. Josephine comes across as the strongest. But her motivations might be considered diaphanous. She has to coddle the star in order to make a profit.
Edith Piaf’s life can be considered to be one of a phoenix rising from the ashes. It is a lesson in the resilience of the spirit, combined with fortuitous circumstances. Like Mozart, Edith’s personal life might have been one of self-doubt and misery. But her talent left countless fans, a generation of war-beleaguered Europeans and Americans, and a world richer for having known and experienced her.
Chapter 2 Pam Gems’ concept of femaleness in Piaf
Femaleness in Piaf arises from the characters of the cast in the play. Each of them has a character that is uniquely feminine. Each of them brings a fresh perspective, which engages the play’s audience. Some of these characters play small roles. And most roles are small compared to the one played by the character of “Edith Piaf.” Each of these characters is a woman. They might play roles that are less important to the play, but nonetheless important and necessary. Pam Gems might have “invented” some of the roles to highlight the role of the Edith. In real life, some of these characters might have sycophantically fawned over Edith enabling her drug and alcohol abuse and her philandering. But each of these characters was driven by the will to survive. If one were to put oneself in each of these smaller characters’ shoes, one would realize that their lives were complete. They had a unique character. Some of them belong to the working class. The others are bourgeois or bourgeois-wannabes. Each person aims to find happiness. This happiness might be false; this false happiness might be nestled in the promises of luxury. But these are all too real and vivid to the women in the play.
The roles that contribute to the concepts of femininity in the play are those of Toine — an impoverished streetwalker in Paris who hopes that one of her clients might fall in love with her, marry her and enable her to settle into a better life; Josephine is a singer and the owner of a night club, she struggles to generate profits for her clubs. She coddles and enables Edith. She provides counsel when Edith is distraught. She nurses her through the difficult times. Josephine is always there with a kind word and good advice; Madeleine — Piaf’s maid servant is constantly abused by her mistress. But she is indulges Edith and suffers through the emotional abuse so that she can make a living. Madeleine is always present when Edith needs her. And finally, the concept of femininity is seen through the eyes of Edith Piaf — this is the femininity of achievement in the face of overwhelming odds. Piaf’s is the femininity of genius. Hers is also the femininity of the deeply flawed. Piaf’s is the femininity of the knowing and believing that as a human being she is larger than life. Piaf’s is the femininity of yearning for companionship and opening oneself to abuse from men. Pam Gems concept of femaleness in Piaf is about an uncompromising adherence to the pursuit of excellence. There are compromises however; and they create problems. The genius comes with a lot of pain. Pain is also the essence of femininity. This pain is felt more strongly as Piaf gains fame.
Edith Piaf and Toine have grown up in similar circumstances. Edith however, while remaining promiscuous does not become a prostitute. Sex for her is a means in and of itself; and not a means to an end. Sex for her is a biological necessity and does not carry a moral imperative. She offers to perform fellatio on the owner of the club that gives Edith her first break as a professional performer. Her words “it’s no skin of my nose,” fully illustrate her attitude towards sex. Another time, Edith is having sex with a member of the armed services; she forgets she has an appointment to perform on stage, so she asks Toine, who happens to be around to “take over.” Toine willingly does so; But more about the femininity of Toine later. Edith does not want to give herself emotionally to any of her sexual partners. This is the essential component of her femaleness — the need to control her life, as she sees fit. We see the same control later in life. From being a physical exercise, sex for Edith becomes a crutch to draw attention to her self. She uses it to recapture her youth. Interestingly, the more she accomplishes, career-wise, the weirder her sexual proclivities (and partners) get. Along with the attention seeking that is characteristic of most stars, Edith uses sex to regain her lost youth. She is unaware that the young men she beds are mostly enablers and sycophants who seek to further their own careers. Edith once engages two marines she meets in a pub in a menage a trois; it is possible, that the bartender formed the fourth of this group. There is no indication that Edith is particularly gifted in the art of making love. She just makes her self available as a willing sexual partner. Except with Marcel Cedran, the married boxer, Edith manages to dissociate physical pleasure from any emotional foundations. With Marcel, Edith is truly in love. But this union is not to be. Anecdotes abound, that Edith’s jealous sister informs Marcel’s wife of her husband’s “philandering.” Edith’s sexual proclivities and escapades are not a manifestation of her femaleness. Her sexual nature transcends gender. It is a flaw in most superstars. In Edith’s case, particularly, sexuality has a fatalistic quality to it. Just as when she was young, sex was a mere exercise. Except as she got older and more famous, her partners got more out of sex with her. Her flaws balanced out her enormous talent.
Toine, on the other hand, uses sexuality as a desperate attempt to get out from under the yoke of poverty and lower class stature. Antoinette is not mentioned in any of Edith’s autobiographies. Toine possibly represents a whole group of women with whom Edith grew up and surrounded her self. These women viewed prostitution as the only way of earning a living and securing a financial future, especially if they were able to attract a husband who would provide for them. Toine, and other women who became prostitutes, did not have the prodigious talent of Edith. Edith probably had the confidence in her abilities; Toine did not have any special abilities. Eventually, Toine ends up happy. Despite her career choice, she is a virtuous woman. Her virtues are what really define women. With Edith, her femaleness conflicts with her stardom. The stardom wins out and overshadows her femininity. We do realize that, at least Edith had the courage of her conviction and her abilities. Toine was a regular woman who made the best of what she had. She was a kind, caring and giving woman. Consider the situation when Toine took over having sex with the legionnaire so that Edith could make her appointment. This was a considerable sacrifice to which most women, no matter what their social status, would not acquiesce. Having meaningless sex with some one with whom Toine had no emotional connection was probably not a big jump for Toine. She was after all a prostitute. What is important is that in taking Edith’s place, Toine did not seek any financial restitution. Toine’s sacrifices are rewarded. Eventually, she meets a man who is willing to overlook what she did for a living. He marries her; she has children. Her aim in life is fulfilled. We know that Edith absolutely refused to prostitute her body for money. But, what if she never did get her break? She had the talent and the flaws to go with it. What if she were to spend her entire life like the street singer her mother was? At what point might she have decided that nobody recognized her talent. In that case, finding no other recourse, she might have sought giving sexual favors as a way to earn money.
Edith saw herself as a budding talent. She sings on the streets to anyone who will listen. Getting a break while belonging to a largely, forgotten section of society is difficult. In that respect, she was lucky. As her career takes off, she gets more fame and fortune. But then her demons begin to come to the fore. She is weak. In fact, apart from her talent and stardom, Pam Gems really casts Edith as a weak woman who is unable to overcome her flaws despite all the breaks she is given. She gets badly addicted to drugs and alcohol. Her stardom, in a way, also becomes her failing. If she were not so rich and famous, her friends and loved ones might have staged an intervention to try to get her out of the substance abuse that was robbing her of her youth and everything else that she had struggled to accomplish. But her stardom made her stand tall and rise above the people around her. The company she kept consisted of people who fed off her stardom offering nothing of substance in return. Since she paid for their lifestyle, they would not dare confront this woman about her problems. Rather, they were enablers. One might believe that throughout her life Edith let her self be used and abused. The one person who might have truly loved her could not be with her — Marcel. By the time Edith married her second time, it was conceivable that she was past caring. Theo was a fawning enabler who was more stars-struck than considered himself as Edith’s equal partner in her second marriage. The other Marcelle in her life, her son, was dead. Working for her son’s welfare would have given Edith’s life some direction. Unfortunately, he died. Edith was once again deprived of true love. One might also imagine that Edith Piaf’s every action was designed to punish her self for the foibles of the past. She perhaps, never forgave her self for creating conditions that allowed her son to be taken away from her so that he died in her absence, in the presence of strangers. Any of the abuse that Edith put her self through could have been avoided if she has put her foot down. We know that she was capable of making the right choice. We know that she put her foot down against becoming a prostitute so that she might work towards fostering her talent.
Essentially, there are no feminine qualities of Edith Piaf’s that are worth emulating. If one strips her essence of her talent as a performer, she is a weak shell of a human being. Every other character, especially the women are strong. We know that Toine is happy when she finds what she has been looking for. We know that she is caring and giving. We know that she always held a soft, nurturing spot for Edith. Even in a drug-befuddled mind, Edith remembers the one person who might help her and sends for her. Toine responds immediately by coming to the aid of her friend. One might wonder if Edith would have gone to Toine’s aid if she needed help.
Stardom, while being Edith’s downfall because she saw herself, as most stars do, as larger than life, was also her one saving grace. Edith was without compassion; her maternal instincts kicked in too late. Her talents got her what she wanted from life.
Contrast Edith’s life with that of Madeleine. Madeleine is Edith’s maid, especially after she becomes famous. One can imagine what Madeleine is going through. Unlike Toine who was probably born on the streets of Paris, Madeleine probably came from a village in France. But like Toine, Madeleine grew up impoverished. Madeleine probably did not have the enormous talents that would be required to make it big.
Also like Toine, Madeleine wanted to get out of the cycle of poverty and lower social class in which she was unfortunate enough to be born. When she signs on as Edith’s maid; she is perhaps star-struck. This is probably a moment in her life she never imagined — being in the company of the greatest singer of that generation. But with this also comes problems. She has to bear witness to the fact that her mistress was slowly killing her self with substance abuse. She also had to bear the brunt of Edith’s temper tantrums. But throughout it all she maintains a sweet disposition. She is generous and kind. She is very helpful. Her femaleness as a persistent, generous person can be contrasted with the enablers and other ne’er do wells that Edith was always bedding. Madeleine was there for Edith whenever she needed her. She was aware that her tenure in Paris was at Edith’s pleasure. She was very efficient at her work. While everybody remembers Edith Piaf through the wonderful legacy of songs she left behind, Madeleine would not even merit a footnote in a Piaf biography. But Pam Gems resurrects her to show that she was the essence of femaleness.
Josephine, the lounge singer and club owner is also introduced into the play to identify with unique femaleness. Josephine is also talented, but probably not as much as Edith. While Madeleine would identify with the proletariat, Josephine is bourgeois. But in their own way they protected and nurtured Edith in her career. Josephine gave Edith several breaks, allowing her to sing in her club while she was on her way to stardom. She could have brought several obstacles in Edith’s way. After all Edith was competition.
Either through legacy or through hard work, Josephine had money. She could have used resources to ruin Edith’s career, but she chose to help it along. She was generous. While she probably made a lot of money with giving Edith top billing, she was also generous with advice. Josephine is the kind of woman who had seen enough of the world to develop a sense of street smarts that enabled her to survive in a male dominated environment. She was direct with her advice. She did not mince words. She was direct in telling Edith to quit her drinking and break up with the man she was seeing since he only encouraged her. She had Edith’s best interest in mind in a situation where everybody else was bent on using her for personal gains.
Chapter 3 Internal relationship of the characters
As was alluded in the general introduction, the relationships that marked Edith Piaf’s life could be broadly classified into two categories: relationships that were helpful to Edith; and, those that eventually led to her discomfiture — permanent and temporary.
This section will be devoted to internal relationships as they appear in the play: relationships that revolve around Edith Piaf as the central character. No effort will be made to determine the intra-personal relationships between characters other than the central character. To begin, one might consider the relationship with her parents. From the beginning, the concept of parental influence was alien to Edith. She was abandoned. Left to fend for herself, she perhaps does not learn how to be a parent. This is then evident from her relationship with her own son. It is difficult to grasp the social conditions of the time. Was her son taken away and given to foster parents only because of her social status? Or, did she do something egregiously wrong that caused the same? Gems, from this point-of-view, casts Edith in a sympathetic light. We do know that Edith, during her youth, associated with street riff-raff and streetwalkers.
One of the ubiquitous figures in Edith’s life was Antoinette “Toine.” Toine probably grew up under similar circumstances to Edith. Toine is a prostitute. We recognize that this career path is borne out of necessity. Toine is a very giving person. Early on, she helps Edith with a scarf so that she might be better dressed for an audition. While Edith is involved in sexual congress with someone she “picked up,” she asks Toine to take over so that she might be able to keep an appointment. Toine acquiesces without complaint. She remains a constant friend to Edith. After Edith becomes a super star and is embroiled with drugs, illness and physical injury, Toine is once again there. Toine does not help with intellectual or social counseling. She helps by her mere presence. She also has the key to Edith’s heart. She does not despair when Edith verbally abuses her. Eventually, Toine gets her just desserts. After years of being a prostitute, she eventually finds a man (possibly a customer). She marries him. She has children. She settles down. To the end, her friendship rings true. Available information does not specifically reveal information about Toine; indeed, she may come to represent myriad friends of Edith’s youth. Some of them may or may not have been prostitutes.
Josephine is a nightclub owner in Paris. She was also a singer there. Josephine not only employs Edith. She nurses the superstar’s career during its meteoric rise. She was always ready with counsel even for Edith’s love life. As her career rose, Edith’s addiction also increased. Josephine came down strongly against alcoholism and suggested that Edith leave Paris for a while so she might take stock of her self. Josephine’s counsel was generally uncloaked and direct. Josephine comes across as non-maternal. Her advice was more like that of an elder sister.
Madeleine, perhaps significantly younger than Edith, was he maid in waiting. Her relationship with Edith can be considered as maternal. Often verbally abused Madeleine was quick to respond with a ready smile and a kind word. As a surrogate mother, Madeleine was protective of her ward. When Edith sends for Toine and then falls asleep, Madeleine is quick to warn the noisome Toine of not disturbing the over-exerted Edith.
Starting from her father who alternatively disavowed her, most of Edith’s relationships consisted of either use or abuse. There are a few relationships that help in the furtherance of Edith’s life. M. Leplee gave this no-name street singer her first opportunity, which no doubt, launched her career. Naturally, he was also looking for profits. When she proffered sex as repayment, Leplee declines. That is probably because he was gay. Nevertheless, M. Leplee’s is one of the few instances where a male did something for Edith without expecting anything in return.
Though this affair was cloaked in fatalism, Edith had an affair with the boxer Marcel Cedran. Marcel was married. Edith was truly in love with him. Edith recounts in a dialog after Marcel is out of her life that “she still misses Marcel.” It is possible that this is Marcel (le) her son whose company she was deprived in life and death. Evidently, Marcel also loved her but was not willing to go through the process of divorcing his wife to be with Edith. Both Edith and Marcel were celebrities. Their relationship was marked by the celebrities need for self-actualization.
Gems does not mention Jacques Pills, the French singer, who was her first husband. Despite many affairs, a significantly younger Theo Sarapo (Theophanis Lamboukas) becomes her second husband. Theo is a Greek singer. He is fawning; he sees Edith not on the equal terms of marriage. He looks up to her and becomes an enabler. Edith, at this point of her life, has destroyed her body from drug and alcohol abuse. Theo becomes a perfect foil for her. She helps launch his career too.
Edith’s life was marked by a long succession of lovers and husbands. With some she had an instant rapport; some she loved; and others she used as paramours. None of them was remarkable. The play “Piaf” does not mention all of them. Instead, it gives the reader a representation of a few. Jacques, Louis and Eddie use her friendship to murder club-owner Leplee for money. At the initial stages of her career, she becomes the object of devotion for a Paul. As her career takes off, she finds Gerard in whose alcohol abuse the alcoholic Edith finds a kindred spirit. None of these affairs last long or mean much. As a superstar Edith is also conscious of her age. She has meaningless affairs with Lucien (a young singer), a menage a trois with two American sailors she meets at a bar; and another young man Jean and an Italian singer-wannabe Angelo. Each of these meaningless trysts is more a reflection of Edith’s state of mind than the physical or emotional selves of these men. Edith, worn down by drug abuse, aging and the quest to hold on to her superstardom sees these affairs as holding on to shreds of normalcy, sanity and youth. She may also be holding on to something that she wanted and never had.
Chapter 4 Qualities of Survival in the Working Class
Pam Gem’s “Piaf” is a testament to the travails of the working class. The various characters in the play are representatives of the working class. Each of these characters brings to the drama a contribution all their own. The title working class may be a misnomer or better yet too generic a description. The under-privileged class or deprived class would be an apt description for the circumstances surrounding Edith Piaf’s early life. For the purpose of this discussion, owning a club will also be lumped under working class.
Edith grew up under trying circumstances. Her parents would qualify as working class. They were unfortunately, severely under-privileged. This class distinction was the mainstay of Edith’s childhood and youth. At every juncture, each of the characters does what he or she does to survive. Indeed, survival becomes the watchword. Fascinatingly, the lives of Edith and Toine, which perhaps had similar origins, took distinctly different turns. Their contrasting lives are a good means to understand survival among the working class.
What distinguished Edith from Toine is the ability to sing. This she translated into a successful and stupendous career. Toine, on the other hand, succumbed to the ravages of a misery-based experience. She became a prostitute, a not-uncommon career choice for those in her situation. Indeed, Edith had to struggle to free her self from those who wanted her ply the flesh trade. For both, Edith and Toine, financial success was not only paramount, it was a necessity. Coming from struggling finances, Edith sought to use her talents while Toine was dependent upon a customer who would fall in love with her, marry her and afford her the security of a settled life.
Consider Jacques, Eddie and Louis. They also came from perhaps the same background as Edith and Toine. They resorted to thievery and when necessary murder to get the money that their financial class could not get them. The man they kill in the play Leplee also belongs to the working class. He is the owner of a nightclub. Like Josephine, the other singer/club-owner survival is uppermost in his mind. This quest for financial solvency causes them to take chances on a talent like Edith despite her mercurial character and many emotional frailties. One can tell that perhaps they cannot be lumped in the same financial class as Edith, Toine, Jacques, Eddie or Louis. But all the same, they coddle and enable their stars because they know that stars are their meal tickets. Leplee gives Edith her first break, Josephine is her counselor in professional and private life.
Imagine the working class struggles of two characters in the play: Pierre is the general assistant and Madeleine is the maid in waiting. Both these are subjected to verbal abuse by the emotionally unstable, drug-abusing Edith. They do their jobs without so much as a single word of complaint. Their livelihoods are dependent on the pleasure of their mistress. They take the abuse so that they can survive.
In the previous section, the role of her paramours and husbands was mentioned. Three representatives, Lucien, Angelo, Jean and Theo, were significantly younger men who were at best amateur singers who could not make it on their own. Associating with Edith, despite the verbal abuse, gave them the exposure that fostered their careers. Forsaking the dignity of self and being parasitic was a manifestation of their survival instinct. Obviously, their roles in Edith’s life also served to enable Edith to be in control and regain a sense of her womanhood and youth. From Edith’s perspective after she became a star, every self-destructive action was for her survival. Not for the lack of money (though she did die heavily in debt), but for the survival of her identity.
Chapter 5 Pro-Working Class Politics
By writing “Piaf,” Pam Gems creates scene after scene depicting socialistic leanings. This is in stark contrast to the troubles that the primary characters in the play in Paris’s haute-couture imbibing, capitalistic society. Fredrick Engels wrote, “Modern Socialism is, in its essence, the direct product of the recognition, on the one hand, of the class antagonisms existing in the society of today between proprietors and non-proprietors, between capitalists and wage-workers; on the other hand, of the anarchy existing in production.” The reader of the play undoubtedly comes away with a lasting sympathy for the lives of the characters. The reader also hopes that a different socialistic, classless society would work to the betterment of the society. (Engels, 1880)
In support of working class socialism therefore, consider how the lives of the main characters would be if they grew up in a society which provided greater equity. Edith Gassion’s parents would be financially more stable. Edith would have been born in a proper home and not be forced into physically dangerous situations to fend for herself. She would be better cared for, have a stable lifestyle and would not suffer the pangs of motherhood unrequited from the loss of her son. Throughout her life, Edith’s actions are the consequences of unstable beginnings. Her self-destructive tendencies stem from a perpetual sense of loss. She attempts to fill this void with alcohol and drug abuse and cavorting with characters that are neither good for her, nor do they have her betterment in mind.
Toine, a mainstay-character throughout the play, and a steadying influence on Edith does not choose to be a prostitute. She is a victim of her circumstances. There is no moral depravity in Toine’s actions. Rather, she seeks prostitution for financial security. She wants to get a husband who will be there for her and provide for her. Eventually, she does get what she wants. But not before she has to risk her emotional and physical well-being at the hands of abusive pimps and customers. One might imagine how different life might have been if Toine had better resources.
The quest of money and financial circumstances similar to Edith and Toine’s also forces Eddie, Louis and Jacques to abandon a life of hard work and industry and resort to thievery and murder. While there is no excuse for crime, the trio did what they did in the quest for money. Pam Gems does not support or glorify these crimes. But she allows us to think. Every character’s development comes with a what-if? Knowing that this play is biographical, the reader is challenged to think. Given a different sent of political circumstances, would Edith Piaf’s life and those of the other major players have been different. One constant though is Edith’s talent and her persistence.
It is interesting that Edith Piaf lived in France. This was the home of the French revolution where leader and philosophers like Montesquieu and Rousseau oversaw the downfall of the corrupt regimes of the Louis’s. These French philosophers appealed to reason as the sole judge. They wanted a rational government, rational society and everything that ran counter to eternal reasons. This was in stark contrast to the Industrial Revolution that overtook Europe, destroyed the artisans, and created polluted cities and a working class that was left bereft of any hope to escape the mires of capitalistic life.
Robespierre said: “A life shaped only by commerce and self-interest,”… “leads to bestiality and the rape of children.” But the revolutionaries were undone because, like leaders before and since, they tried to lead people to what they saw as a more desirable future. The essence of the socialist cause is that it is only an enlightened working class, conscious of the nature of the world in which we all live, that can transcend vile, unjust capitalism, and build a new world founded on freedom, equality and justice. This was the untold premise of Pam Gem’s “Piaf.”
Chapter 1 General Introduction
Queen Christina is a fascinating description of a period in Swedish history. The king not being able to produce a male heir despite repeated attempts, for the health of his wife and queen, instructs his advisor to raise his daughter Christina like a male so that she might ascend the throne on his death. The advisor, Axel Oxenstierna, does as he is told. The result reads more like a farce than a tragedy. Or perhaps it is a comedy of errors. (Gems, 1982)
Christina grows up confused on several levels. There is no doubt that she is competent enough as a ruler. She is bright, energetic, well versed in the mores of royalty. She also excels in the pursuits of a warrior. She has no qualms ordering the death sentences of those that have betrayed the kingdom. She is however, sexually confused. She refuses suitors by mocking them. She is the scourge of her mother who wishes (like all mothers) to see her daughter settle down. Pam Gems beautifully illustrates the sexual confusion. Sometimes, Christina is seen to gravitate sexually towards men. She is jealous of her compatriot marrying Magnus de la Gardie whom she regards as potential lover. At other times, she displays open physical attraction to her friend, Ebba (whom Christina refers to as Belle). Once, her mother espies her with a woman in bed. Intellectually, she seeks the counsel of philosophers such as Rene Descartes. She is dissatisfied with those around her. The conflicts arise out of Christina seeking an individualism of self; whereas, all around her seeing her as the potential future of Sweden see her from the perspective of the kingdom and the country. Axel’s quest is to see her settled as a ruler. Her mother comes across as weak and sniveling.
There is also a disparity of worldview between Christina and those around her. Her subjects wish the country to remain Protestant. Christina, on the other hand is continually drawn to the Catholic thought. Eventually, in an identity crisis, Christina, despite the protestations of all around her, abdicates the throne of Sweden. She begins to espouse Catholicism. She moves to France. In France she meets two middle-aged women who are comfortable in the sexuality. These women (of noble breeding) live together as a lesbian couple. In a conversation with them, Christina realizes that the singularity of thought that is prevalent among lesbians does not provide comfort to her. Here is another blow to her process of self-discovery.
Christina spends a lot of time with the Pope in Rome and his followers. Here too she is dissatisfied with the dogma preached by the Pope. Christina cannot find the answers that she is looking for. Her individuality is compromised as the Pope spouts the dogma, which is more rhetoric than with conviction. The Pope’s words ring hollow since they are not in tune with Christina’s visceral feelings. The major difference of opinion, in a fascinating discourse, arises during a discussion on sex. Christina avers the pleasure that is to be gained in copulating is in and of itself complete. The Pope believes that sexual congress is teleological — the end result being procreation.
While vacationing in Italy, Christina meets a Neapolitan Monaldescho who is completely enamored by her. He proclaims his love for her in a fawning, servile manner. Perhaps, this is attractive to Christina at some basic, instinctual level. She and Monaldescho become lovers. Christina’s life then comes full circle. From being trained to rule as a king forgoing all her female instincts, and abdicating the throne, Christina realizes that she has royal instincts. She gets persuaded into trying to free the people of Naples and become their Queen. In this quest, Monaldescho betrays her. Overcome by passion and rage, she murders him by stabbing him in the throat with a dagger even while Monaldescho pleads for his life. This action prompts Christina to breakdown. For the rest of her life, this senseless act raises guilt feelings inside her. They continue to torment her. At the same time, an edict arrives from Rome that she is offered the throne of Poland.
In a poignant, stark recognition of her womanliness, Christina wishes for a child. She wishes for it over a kingdom. Christina despairs that wish will perhaps never be fulfilled.
Chapter 2 Pam Gems’ Concept of Femaleness
In Queen Christina, Pam Gems defines femaleness as the process of discovery of what it is to be a woman. It is really the discovery of womanhood. This is not a discovery of latent feminism in a woman, even feminism as it is contemporarily understood. The best way to describe this discovery is the gynecologist who has just delivered a baby stepping out of the delivery and conveying the news to the father in three words: “It’s a Girl!!”
It is unfortunate that for Queen Christina, it took her an entire lifetime of searching and seeking to identify what she should have been told when she was born. In fact, it has been reported that when Christina was born a specific growth on her nether regions caused the doctors to falsely believe that she was a male child. In this process of discovery of self, we also discover the essence of femaleness is peace. Why? Because Queen Christina introduced learning, philosophy, science, astronomy and the beginnings of what would be for most countries the first line of the Constitutions for any democratic republic: “The right to free speech and expression.” Queen Christina was the first to question and religious and societal mores. She broke from custom. She was a non-conformist. It is surprising that someone who was so much in touch with her physicality and her emotions did not really know who she was. Femaleness equates peace because Queen Christina gave to Sweden an option other than being embroiled in wars for generations. Christina’s femaleness, or her quest for the discovery of her femininity will also be effectively contrasted with two females with whom she was closely related — her mother and her friend Belle (Ebba).
One of the reasons Christina’s father gave his counsel, Axel, the order to raise Christina as a boy was because he wanted an heir who would be an effective soldier. Sweden was in the middle of the Thirty Years War. He believed that Sweden would never get out of the war. One might imagine that he never believed that one of Christina’s first order of business on becoming Queen of Sweden would be to sign an agreement that ended the war. Christina’s training in the male pursuits of hunting and the use of arms can also be viewed as victimization. This victimization took the form of repressing Christina’s femininity. One can imagine a scenario during Christina’s training: Let’s assume she wept during a training session from a physical wound. She would have been automatically soundly admonished. With this training to de-feminize Christina came the added burden that she was also being trained to rule. Still not quite a teenager, Christina is forced to sign off on death warrants of spies and other soldier who are not aligned completely with the Swedish cause. This was one of the first signs that her indoctrination into maleness was complete. It bears repeating: maleness equals violence and war; being a female means peace. While being trained with males, she was also taught to believe that males were comrades at arms and any romantic notions with them were quashed. She also probably learned the male ritual of pursuing females to sate their lust. Completely influenced thus, she is seen in the company of females for sexual pleasure. One can debate whether Christina was truly bisexual or even lesbian or was merely acting out her maleness as she had been taught to do over most of her childhood. From the aspect of her sexuality, one might suspect the latter. She displays signs of affection for Belle, but no overt sexuality can be inferred from her actions. She is in love with Magnus. One of the problems that Christina suffered from was the fact that she was not the most feminine looking person. This coupled with her tendency to take part in male sports and dress as a male probably was off-putting to male members. She was also intimidating since she excelled at male pursuits and was even better at them than most males. Another aspect needs to be considered: If they showed outward signs of sexual interest in Christina, since she mostly dressed as a man, they were probably afraid that this was a manifestation of their own latent homosexuality. Even the fact that she is in love with Magnus and then Gustav does nothing to quell Christina’s confusion. After she has abdicated the throne, she explores her possible lesbianism. Here she finds that the women Catherine and the Marquise have an agenda that mostly stems from hatred of males. This agenda leaves them bereft of humanity. The Marquise is not allowed to go to see her father on his death bed. This is anathema to Christina who does care about all around her; even if this caring causes her sorrow and pain. Lesbian scholars generally speak of identifying lesbians as a separate human subspecies because they do not want to be identified with heterosexual women whom they think derive their identities as just an extension of males.
Did the quelling of Christina’s female identity have any salutary effects? These effects involve access to learning that women would not normally enjoy. This is a difficult question to answer because Christina was a member of the royal family. She did not suffer the typical, societal female subjugation when it came to access to education. Christina was very bright; if she demanded learning materials, one can rest assured that they would be provided for her. On the other hand, she would be forced to learn even if she did not want to. As a male and a future king it would be incumbent upon her to be privy to learning matters that would enable her to be an effective ruler. But on contrasting Christina’s upbringing with that of her mothers, her mother comes across as weak (or maybe by Pam Gems’ designs). The Queen mother is completely dependent on others on matters of royalty. Her role (just as society expects of women) is to be a baby-producing machine. And the Queen Mother is a failure at this. She produces mostly still born children much to the dismay of her husband. Her husband shows remarkable tolerance. He did not marry again in the pursuit of an heir to the throne of Sweden. He was also acutely concerned for his wife. He decided to stop having children once he found out that the next pregnancy would kill his wife. There are no redeeming regal qualities to the Queen Mother. She is not learned, nor has she acquired other skills. She is such a tool of what society wants women to be — a mere extension of her husband — that she carries her husband’s phallus around with her wherever she goes. She seems to find a justification and draws strength from this grotesque behavior. Another sign of her weakness is her fondness for chocolates, which she uses as a crutch to forget her problems. The Queen Mother’s is a style that is non-confrontational. She is a puppet in the hands of others and will not rise to the occasion if a situation demanded it.
Historically, there are no documented facts that the Queen Mother carried her husband’s genitals with her in a box. It is quite possible that Pam Gems deliberately introduced this twist in the proceedings to show what the Queen Mother was really about — serving as a powerless sexual surrogate with no power to call her own. It would help to know what kind of child, teenager and young woman Christina’s mother was. Did she always have a complacent nature, looking for help when she needed it instead of taking matters into her own hands; or, did was she a firebrand in her youth whose individuality was quelled by a male-dominated society who placed upon her the burdens of what was expected of her as a woman — to create an heir. In turn, she forces Christina to follow the same regimen that was demanded of her. She never takes the time to understand the uniqueness of her daughter’s position in history. We know that she rejected Christina because she was not a pretty child. Christina’s mother does not even try to understand the source of her daughter’s confusion. She has a few opinions of what society is and what a woman’s role in that society is. She tries to straitjacket her daughter into conforming to conventions. And when her daughter behaves differently, all she can offer is whiny consternation, which Christina easily ignores and actually mocks. One can also ask the following question. What if Christina did have a brother who was destined to the throne? Would Christina act like a tomboy because the sexual confusion was nature triumphing over nurture? In Pam Gems’ description and the one in the previous question, Christina’s life was a no-win proposition. In the latter case, Christina’s life would be filled with frustration. Her passion for hunting, male pursuits and learning that was given to the males would be denied to her.
Ebba, a girl of noble birth and Christina’s constant companion eventually becomes a disappointment to her. She is present in all of Christina’s escapades. She shows some individuality if only to support Christina’s question of authority in every aspect of her life. There is a hint of tragedy in Christina and Belle’s relationship. Belle marries Magnus de la Gardie, man with whom Christina is madly in love. It is easy to conceive (and this has been discussed previously) that Magnus may have not felt the same way about Christina. In a perfect illustration of Pam Gems genius in showing how society oppresses women, Belle all but disappears from the play and Christina’s life once she becomes an extension of Magnus. Belle does not have an identity of her own. Everything she does from the time of her betrothal and marriage will be identified through Magnus. Though Christina is distraught at hearing that Magnus will be married to another, it is not difficult to concede that Magnus, for Christina, is merely a passing fancy. What causes us to believe that? The fact that whatever little we know of Magnus prompts us to believe that he would never satisfy Christina’s curiosity. Eventually she would be bored of him because she would never discover through him what essentially too her, an entire lifetime — her femaleness.
Christina’s victimization is also seen in one of the earliest scenes of the play. The prince from Germany whom Christina is slated to marry arrives for his first encounter with Christina. Not only is she unprepared for the Prince — she has been on a hunting expedition — she also intimidates him with her maleness. This was exactly, victimization. All her life, Christina was trained in martial arts and hunting. She was trained to do everything a male king would be trained to do. She was trained to be violent. She was trained to kill. She was trained to order the deaths of innocent people without a single consideration to any natural (female) instinct that might have told her that this was wrong.
At every turn, her mother and friends enabled this de-feminization. And then, when she was of marriageable age, it was decided (for her) that she would be married to a man she did not know, care for, or even have much of an opinion about. She probably thought that differences in biological features would not keep her from defeating him at any game that was the province of kings and princes. And all in one fell swoop she was supposed to forget everything that countless trainers had trained her for. She was supposed to forget that she trained to be a king and to behave as a man would. She was supposed to be a coquettish princess who had to make her self available for a man. From now on she would be an extension of this person yielding all her individuality to someone she thought she was better than. From now on she would be a baby-making machine. She was required to prepare her self to procreate the future king of a country, and if they were lucky, perhaps entire Europe. And she was supposed to do all of this without complaint. Christina’s story is so startling because she does not do anything that is expected of her. She does not remain a ruler though she was groomed for it all her life. She does not follow the religion of her country, opting instead to become a Catholic. She does not become part of a lesbian group because that is not her won’t. Her Catholicism itself is in doubt; she refuses to live her life by merely following the rhetoric of Catholic dogma.
Besides the decisions that Christina made that were iconoclastic, the above is really a commentary that forces society to sit up and defend itself for the abuse it has perpetrated on women. Even if Christina is a confused individual, none of her confusion results in destruction. Her confusion leads to peace. It is constructive. Society abuses her (though she refuses to be quelled) and countless other women (who do not have the fortitude or the resources to stand up for their beliefs) by forcing women to adhere to laws and rules that are quite possibly a male construct since subjugating women was always convenient. And to do it under the veneer of what is considered “right” in society always helps males maintain their dominance.
Christina’s life was one of continued frustration. She tried to find out who she was; and when she did, it was too late. Perhaps, for all their weaknesses Christina’s mother and Belle knew who they were; even Catherine and the Marquise knew their identities, even though they compromised themselves. Christina’s life was a tragedy because she wanted it all. She was frustrated with Protestantism so she sought Catholicism. With Catholicism came the argument about sex — procreation vs. recreation. Christina was not convinced that the latter ought not to be ruled out because it simply felt good and who was she to deny what nature had given her — the ability to find pleasure in sexual relations. Christina’s story is also a tragedy because she was given femaleness by nature but she lost it to society. Society gave her a kingdom; she gave it up. She looked for her femaleness in learning, physical acts and philosophy but she found it in making love to a weak, ineffectual and a wastrel of a man. Then her life came full circle. She tried to regain a kingdom but it was denied her. And when she wanted her femaleness to bear the fruit of having a child, it was too late.
Chapter 3 Gender Roles
The entire life of Christina, once Queen of Sweden, is a perfect illustration of confusion of her gender. For most of the other lesser characters in the play, gender is not the primary consideration — their respective roles in the order of things are primary. For instance, the cardinal Azzolino’s main role is to secure whatever he wants from Christina for the glorification of the Catholic Church. His job is primarily to further the spread of Catholicism by offering, even at the cost of violence and War, a Queen who has espoused Catholicism, not by birth, but by choice. Azzolino’s role is to be a mouthpiece for the Church. The Pope plays an important role; he becomes the mouthpiece of Catholic Dogma. The only man in her life Monaldescho is only a servile flatterer and eventually turns out to be a traitor and back-stabber. The adviser Axel’s only role is to carry out the orders of King Gustavus. Christina’s mother’s role is just that — of a mother. Magnus and Charles (Gustav) are men in her life but seek their own futures. Ebba does the same. Perhaps, from facts of history or perhaps through Pam Gem’s design in taking poetic licenses, every character is strangely removed from Gender Identity.
The male characters are strangely emasculated and the women do not have identities of their own — at least as women. As for Christina’s mother, indeed, motherhood is the very symbol of woman hood. There is however, no femininity involved. The lesbian lovers in France, the Marquise and Catherine again have an agenda. It is the furtherance of their lesbianism as opposed to feminism.
Assume that the author designed all the characters, if only to highlight Christina. It is ironic that the only notable character in the play is sexually confused. To date, Queen Christina of Sweden is held up as the role model for the trans-gendered and lesbianism. Let’s explore the instances of Christina as a man. She was brought up as a man. Assuredly, there was no attempt on Axel’s part to tell her that she was anything other than a woman. Her training to be a ruler, in matters of war and jurisprudence, was as if she were male. Christina responded to this training well. She wore male clothes and engaged in pursuits of the male persuasion — namely, hunting. During her initial reign, after her coronation, she was completely at ease making decisions that would traditionally be left up to males. She persecuted wars and ordered, if necessary, the deaths of spies and enemies. She persecuted part of the 30 years war remarkably well. Superficially, she relishes her role as a king and competently accomplishes her royal duties, though her heart is not truly into it.
The time after she abdicates the throne of Sweden, Christina spends the time in a self-imposed “wilderness” seeking self-discovery on several levels. Her sexuality is in doubt. Playing the role of a male, she has bedded women in the past. As a female she is also in love with Magnus and is betrothed to Charles. Dissatisfied with what Protestantism has been doing for her in terms of her identity and individuality, she seeks a change in religion. None of these forays truly tell her who she is.
Her loss of a feeling of femininity also come from the fact that she has a “caul” on her pelvis that caused the physician that birthed her to think that she was a male child. She also moves with a noticeable deformity from a shoulder injury from a riding accident. Her features are rather plain and she does not possess the striking beauty that one comes to except. All these physical shortcomings also push her into thinking of herself more as a man.
Amid this confusion, Christina recognizes that she is also a woman. But she does not whole-heartedly espouse lesbianism. She likes to believe that a man can satisfy her. Indeed she is, since a virtual no name like Monaldescho manages to seduce her and have a prolonged affair with her until he betrays her and is killed. She demonstrates the feminine traits of being beguiling, coquettish, and manipulative (an undesirable quality that is seen in males and females).
In another case of Christina’s life coming full circle is how Pam Gems ends the play. Christina overcome by guilt, still confused over whether she deserves to be royalty as she tries to gain ascendancy to the throne of Poland recognizes the one stirring aspect that makes women fundamentally different from men. She wants to have a baby. This recognition is marked by a desperation and futility. She tries to make up for lost time. Consider the following dialog between Christina and Cardinal Azzolino — the Pope’s emissary. He comes to ask her to take the throne of Poland to foster the spread of Catholicism. A subtle shift occurs in her gender role. It dawns on her that her life as a male — even if conceptually — is a masquerade and a sham. “I have been a man,” she tells Azzolino. “I have signed death warrants, cosigned regiments to sword. All done in my name.” Gems is an acknowledged feminine playwright. She very creatively, through Christina, identifies the male half of the human populace as being responsible for the violence, devastation and for society’s ills.
Christina comes to represent a synecdoche for humankind. She lived partially as a man — physically, mentally and emotionally. All her faults are identified with the male part of her character’s makeup. Her femininity now comes to the fore. She scolds Azzolino whether the female half of the population ought to join in the mayhem generally wrought by males. Towards the end of the play, we see Christina beginning to recognize her femininity. Having been brought up as a male, all her endeavors of self-discovery — through religion, philosophy and martial success — culminate in the discovery that she is truly a woman.
Christina’s love for Magnus and Charles remained unrequited. Perhaps, it took the guiles or “swordsmanship” of the *****rdly Monaldescho to bring out her femininity. To be charmed and made love to by a man is not necessarily a sign of feminine strength; but that is what was missing in Christina’s life: recognition of being a woman — emotionally and physically — at a visceral level. She now seeks to have a child. Even this new yearning occurs accidentally. Christina’s maternal instincts are jolted by an exchange with the maid Lucia’s daughter Angelica. The child chokes on something she is eating and Christina saves her. Soon she admits to the Cardinal that while the act of saving Angelica was unimportant that she became enamored of some of the simplicities that accompany a child’s life: the linen, the food and the smell of babies. She says: “And babies. The smell of babies. I like the smell of babies. Can that be wrong?” Christina realizes that being brought up to rule has deprived her of the pleasures of life that are uniquely feminine. Perhaps, even her mother who always played a support role in the royal hierarchy was right when she repeatedly admonishes Christina to marry, settle down and have a baby.
She believes that being brought as a male has betrayed her feminine side. She slaps her stomach to demonstrate that her womb was betrayed by all those that sought to make her into a man. The despair that Christina feels is evident. She becomes hysterical. She feels that by acting as a man, she has betrayed the cause of womanhood. She indirectly participated in the violation of women perpetrated by warriors. She seeks redemption from guilt.
The basic concept of women as second to God and ahead of man in the creative scheme of things becomes clear to her. She realizes that all her life she has been denied her femininity by those who had her earmarked for specific roles. She believes that she has been “denied her birthright” — to behave act and feel as a woman. She hysterically begs to have a child. She throws caution to the wind and attempts to futilely seduce the cardinal: “Cannot you give me a child,” she pleads.
This very poignant ending to the play leaves the reader sharing in the Queen Christina’s betrayal.
Chapter 4 Relationships Between Characters
Pam Gem’s “Queen Christina” is a paean to a process of self-discovery. Eventually, the way the playwright designs the narrative, Queen Christina’s quest culminates in the discovery of who she really was to begin with — a woman. The previous chapter explored in detail the relationships that existed within Christina the person — her maleness vs. her femaleness. It is unfortunate that Christina was born with deep intellect. Why? It caused her to question and challenge the roles that were imposed on her without her permission or her even knowing it. This is not to denigrate Christina’s abilities. She more than fulfilled what was expected of her. Somebody else in her place, without the depth of character, would have remained a puppet fulfilling society’s expectations without any thought of individuality.
In the beginning of the play, Christina is shown as a little girl. At the end, she futilely attempts to celebrate her femininity by yearning for a child. These are only two instances where her femininity is revealed. Her relationship with her father is not well explored. All we know is that he makes a declaration that she would be groomed to be king with the male warrior mentality (Sweden was involved in the Thirty Years War).
As she is being led away, she realizes (perhaps subconsciously) that her life will never be the same. She clings to her father. This is a metaphor to the clinging to any last vestiges of being a girl. As Christina grows and is trained in the manly pursuits of what it takes to be a king. She never gets a chance to develop a relationship with her mother. This is unfortunate. If Christina had a male sibling, she would no doubt be allowed to be with her mother. Being brought up as a man puts her at odds with the femininity of her mother. Their relationship is sour. Christina seeks to torment her mother with words and actions that are contrary to her mother’s notions of how a female child ought to be raised. Christina rails against being straitjacketed as a woman. She is utterly conflicted by her female urges against being brought up to be and act as a man.
Every relationship of Christina’s is conflicted because of her internal struggles. She beds a young woman. At the same time she feels an emotional connectedness with her companion Ebba. Consider the contrasts. Ebba is her friend and confidant just as most growing women would have. But she also desires Ebba sexually. This is perhaps from being raised in the company of men who while growing up perhaps lusted after young women. She felt that she would have to be the same so that she could be one among the male crowd. With Magnus, she feels like a woman and has emotional and sexual feelings towards him. From Magnus’ point-of-view, however, it would be intimidating to make advances towards the Queen. One might also be sympathetic to Magnus or any man who would consider it an affront to their sexuality if they were to be seen with a woman who preferred the company of men, dressed up and behaved as a man. By Christina’s own admission she was not conventionally pretty to begin with and had a deformity that would give a typical man pause. We also must recognize that Magnus and Ebba were truly in love with one another; and theirs was a love not marred by the complex baggage that Christina would bring to a relationship. Christina was similarly intimidating to Karl the Prince of Germany whom everybody thought would make a good match thus securing the kingdom of Sweden.
It is possible that at some point in Christina’s life, especially after she abdicated the throne of Sweden to consider herself not attractive to or attracted by males. When she meets with the lesbian couple the Marquise and Catherine in France, she does not plunge whole-heartedly into this alternative lifestyle. She is curiously detached. She seeks to learn of this for her novel way of sharing one’s life with a woman. She realizes that Catherine and the Marquise basically hated men. They sought to further the cause of lesbianism by recruiting more women, separating themselves from men and not having to deal with the burdens of children. Christina felt that this cause could not be espoused because the single-mindedness of the women did not leave room for humanity or sympathy. Catherine was against the Marquise going to see her father on his deathbed because it would be contrary to their cause.
One of the misfortunes of Christina’s life was that she never had a relationship that was based on an equal footing. She was constantly being emotionally abused and manipulated for some greater good other than Christina’s own. Axel, the person entrusted with the task of ensuring Christina’s ascendancy to the throne has no interest in Christina as an individual. He sees her only as the future “king.” He sees his life’s sole ambition as keeper of the promise he made to the King.
Christina spent a lot of time imbibing philosophy. Her relationship with Rene Descartes and the Pope provide a fascinating window into the manner in which Christina thought. In Descartes’ presence, Christina has been informed that the man she loved Magnus de la Guardie was betrothed to her friend Ebba. This causes Christina great grief. She talks with Descartes about sacrificing her life for the common good of the people. The constant struggle to arrive at an identity for herself comes to the fore here. Descartes counsels her that people all over the world are called upon to play certain roles. Eventually, she would have to learn to be happy with the things that she can have. This is small consolation for Christina. The conversation is fascinating in that it is abstract but it portrays the pains that Christina has suffered and the pains that she is likely to suffer. In a similar conversation with the Pope, Christina offers her struggles with her concepts of the pleasures of the flesh. The disappointment is writ large in the Christina’s word thought she puts on a brave face of conducting an intellectual conversation. It is the sex for procreation vs. recreation argument. Christina talks about feelings (she converted to Catholicism as an out from the rigors of Protestantism — believing that her problems stemmed from the prevailing religious beliefs); the Pope spouts unrealistic dogma. Eventually, the reader can be disappointed in the Pope. He indulges Christina primarily because he sees her as a tool to further Catholicism.
Her relationship with Monaldescho is probably the least important from a superficial standpoint. But it does the most to eventually make Christina who she really is. The relationship though sexual — male-female — is far from equal. Monaldescho grovels for her affection. He calls her Madonna — after the name for Mary, the mother of Christ. He proclaims Christina as a beautiful creature. Though shallow and transparent, finally there is a person who relates to Christina not as a king or warrior or benefactor, but as a woman. Monaldescho’s saccharine behavior is unguent but charming. Christina takes him as a lover. This is the first affirmation of her femininity. Metaphorically also, Monaldescho’s eventual betrayal that costs her the throne of Naples is the turning point in her struggle for identity. She commits her last “male” act. She murders Monaldescho for his treason. Wracked with guilt she becomes aware of other male acts that have betrayed her identity and her womanhood.
Chapter 1 General Introduction
In “Deborah’s daughter,” Pam Gems presents a situation where the end — humanism is viewed as a justification for the means — manipulation. (Gems, 1995) The play occurs in a Muslim dominated country in North Africa. The main characters are Deborah Pederson a widow of an oil magnate, her daughter, Stephanie, and her mother Rhoda. Other characters are David a young man who helps the family; and Eric is a secret agent working for the British Government. Hassan S’aid Ibn S’aid is an officer in the army who makes acquaintance with the family.
Deborah is an accomplished woman in her own right. She used to be a geneticist who made several significant contributions to the scientific research in agriculture. On marrying, Deborah gives up her own career aspirations to help with her husbands business. She is also involved in several philanthropic endeavors giving millions to prop up the agronomic effort of the country. For this, the nation is extremely grateful. The story unfolds really from Deborah’s perspective. Since being widowed, she is starved for male companionship. Hassan attempts to seduce Deborah. Given the cultural differences between the two there are a few emotional clashes at Hassan’s attempts. Deborah vacillates between her visceral response to give in to Hassan’s charms and refuting his advances in the name of cultural differences. In his attempts, Hassan is partially successful.
During this time, a civil war breaks out that threatens the lives of the major players. There is nothing left to do for Deborah but plan to leave the country and return to Europe. There is even the question of whether she will go back on her promise to present the money she originally pledged. After all, what use would be money be if the country was going to be embroiled in a civil war? After trying to decide which course of action to flee to take, their decision is made for them. Deborah wants to take the company helicopter. The others want to drive out. The helicopter is shot down and so a convoy of two cars heads to safer terrain. Rhoda, Stephanie, David, Eric and Ali (the servant) are in one vehicle; Deborah, Stephanie and Hassan leave in the other. An automobile malfunction causes the parties to separate. While one car is being repaired en route to the oasis, Hassan, Stephanie and Deborah safely arrive. Here Hassan resumes his attempts to seduce Deborah. Perhaps, it is relative tranquility or the beauty of the oasis; Deborah succumbs to Hassan. But then, Hassan abruptly leaves. He gets into a car with Stephanie and they drive off. Deborah can do nothing to stop them.
When the rest of the party arrives, Deborah is distraught. She explains to them that Hassan had kidnapped Stephanie. What she cannot explain is how and why Stephanie was driving this “getaway” car. Surprisingly, nobody else seems to share her panic. Eventually, Stephanie and Hassan return and neither of them seems the least bit perturbed. At this point, Deborah’s mind is made up. She will not spend another minute in this “God Forsaken” country. But the others want her to stay. Rhoda actually declares that Stephanie was pregnant. Deborah naturally assumes that it is Hassan’s child since both of them were together. Deborah is also confused as to why Hassan made amorous advances to her.
These new developments give Deborah pause. She cannot be as direct in wanting to leave the country any more. She has her daughter’s future to care for. Eventually she realizes that Stephanie is pregnant by David. The entire episode and all the associated subterfuge was due to a coup attempted by Hassan. Even Eric Bellairs, the MI-6 man’s involvement in this coup indicates that other countries have also contributed to it. The coup allows Hassan to become the Prime Minister of the country. As a leader of a third world nation, he knows that there is much to be done. There is a starving populace to care for and an infrastructure to build. The elaborate ruse of involving Stephanie forced Deborah to amend her plans to returning to Europe. Hassan pleads with Deborah that he really needed her by his side. She could provide the expertise to develop agriculture and her money to finance his new projects. He pleads with her to her sense of philanthropy and humanity.
He succeeds. Deborah relents. She decides to help Hassan in his cause; but not before cautioning him that the volatility of politics in these places would jeopardize his life and the lives of those around him. Hassan’s pleas not only appeal to her generosity. They challenge her scientific and organizational abilities. It is possible that in the very near future, there will be a more intimate tryst between Hassan and Deborah.
Chapter 2 Pam Gems’ Concept of Femaleness
The main plot that winds through this play is how all the characters including Deborah’s mother and daughter conspire against Deborah. This conspiracy is not to harm Deborah in any way. It is however, to orchestrate a coup that will put an impoverished North African country in Hassan hands. Many factors also provide a fortuitous foundation to the plot; not the least of which is the fact that Stephanie, Deborah’s Daughter is pregnant by her friend David. Three women play a major role in driving the narrative of the play. They are Deborah, the wife of a recently deceased oil magnate, Pederson, and Deborah’s mother, the lady Rhoda Wiggins, and Deborah’s daughter, Stephanie. All three women have come to love this new country. This country is sunny and bright — a marked departure from the gloomy, dank and always wet Europe. The country is rich in oil, which literally is a gold mine for those with the facilities to extract the oil. The inhabitants of the country cannot share in the riches of their land because the powers that be conspire to keep them impoverished. Also, the political state of the nation is too flimsy; coups are a regular occurrence as they are in several countries in Africa. The people are malnourished; and, death from hunger and violence from civil uprisings are commonplace.
The country is also fertile. Given the right infrastructure for agronomy, the steady infusion of science and the latest biological and genetic technologies will undoubtedly make it a very productive land. This is where the femaleness of the play comes to the fore. For the purpose of this discussion, we leave aside the whole plot for the coup, though that is facilitated through the because of the femininity of Rhoda, Deborah and Stephanie. It does not require much convincing that women are very high in the creative scheme of things. Males come a distant second. This play is about the Mother Earth. The femaleness is about creation. Consider that the country where the play takes place to be an incipient embryo that has just been formed. Before the country is to be born in the fullness of its potential, it needs nurturing and nourishing. This nourishment is closely linked to the three women in the play. They are creators. The three women are one with Mother Earth or Gaya. From these three women, flows the creative urges, which makes things happen. This creation will make this country bloom again. The oil will provide the money. The earth will then bloom with grain and fruit so that no child will go hungry again. It really is a small aside that the plot of the play and Hassan’s role and his ascendancy is a catalyst that will only speed the process.
Lady Rhoda Wiggins can be considered as a naturalist. She often talks about the beauty of nature. She gives no indication despite the danger to her life that she will leave this country. She enjoys the flora of the place. She can imagine sitting in the sand and enjoying the cool breezes wafting through the palm fronts of the date trees. For Rhoda, perfection is to turn the entire country into an oasis.
Deborah is very smart and ambitious. She is a scientist and a geneticist. Genetics is the science that is closest to the origins of life. Her job is to study the double helix strands of DNA that bear the genes that hold the secret to our characteristics. For example, there is a gene which specifically gives a person blonde hair; another gene gives a person blue eyes. A small variation in the atomic make up of this gene will result in dark hair and dark eyes. The various possible combinations and the different features that make the humans to the point of the slope of the fingers are indeed fascinating. When all living things are stripped down, we are merely these strands of DNA. During the origins of living beings, one DNA strand replicated to create the first living organism. This organism then gave rise to myriads of organisms. A map of how the different species and families of living organisms diverged, are called phylogenetic trees. If one were to take the recently identified human genome and trace it back, we would connect to the lower primates (the Missing Link’s absence, notwithstanding) and then to other animals. It is possible that when we trace backwards, the basic atoms and molecules that make up humans and those that make up the grain wheat are one and the same. There is synchrony between all living things. Deborah’s career choice put her in the thick of nature’s creative urges. As a scientist, Deborah holds all the answers to how this country may one day be recreated. Through good fortune she has the money; through her own steely determination she has the know how to eke out the creative juices from the bowels of this country. The notion of motherhood (and in a sense sisterhood) of Rhoda, Deborah and Stephanie is always one with the motherhood of the Earth.
Stephanie is young and immature, but she has also perhaps prematurely joined the creative pyramid. She is pregnant. Her pregnancy is out of love. This is the sign of creation. Stephanie’s till unborn child is synechdochal to the country in which these women find themselves. The announcement of her pregnancy coincides with the success of the coup and the ascendancy of virtual unknown and the country’s liaison to the Pederson Industries to the position of Prime Minister. The progress of Stephanie’s pregnancy depends largely upon the role her mother and grand mother play in her life. Stephanie who to this point has been largely independent will find her self, turning more and more for guidance from the older women. It is not a matter of coincidence that there are no (family) men in the picture. Both the older women are widowed and in the overall picture, the baby’s father, David, will do nothing more than be an ineffectual bystander. As in Stephanie’s unborn child, Rhoda and Deborah will play a pivotal role in the creation and birth of this new African nation. Rhoda will provide the vision of what the country needs. Her vision will bear her character — at once temperamental and excitable, and at the same time wise and mature. Deborah will provide know how and finances. At the beginning of the play, she had pledged a significant sum of money to the country. But this gift was as an outside observer and philanthropist. With the beginning of the coup, she has decided against giving the money. Then she decided to leave the country having been duped by Hassan. Since the coup, she has a personal stake in her donation. This is not merely a gift. This is an emotional investment. She has pledged to stand by Hassan’s side. She will be his philosopher and guide. There are indications that she might also be his lover and more. She will provide the technical expertise that will render this infertile land flowing with greenery.
Pam Gem’s concept of femaleness in the play “Deborah’s Daughter” is equated with creation. This is contrasted with the male contribution — violence, even if that violence is for a common good. While introducing the play, the playwright makes the following statement:
The God Pluto, who ruled the underworld, stole Persephone, daughter of Demeter, wife of Zeus and goddess of fertility. Demeter, in grief and dispossession, threatened to make the world barren. A compromise was effected.
To understand how Rhoda, Deborah and Stephanie are a representation of the giving bounty of mother earth, Pam Gems found it necessary to revisit this alternate story of creation from Greek mythology. The playwright also offers a solution for several countries in the world that are torn by war and the after effects: rampant poverty, malnourished children and crime. It is also unfortunate that most of these countries are also the richest in terms of the wealth of raw materials that their land provides. There are countries that are repositories of minerals. South Africa is the home of the purest and biggest diamond mines in the country. Yet that country until recently could not find a way to reconcile life’s simple lessons of live and let live; and that all men are created equal. Even after apartheid was removed, a large population of the country is yet to receive the bounty that the country can provide. Middle Eastern countries are also prey to this factor. Despots rule them. The rulers do not care for the plight of the poor people. Untold millions are wasted on maintaining an affluent lifestyle while millions do not have food to eat or the health to survive even mild diseases. The tragedy of it all is that these nations are situated on oil, which is the best natural resource available. Without this black gold, modern life as we know it cannot exist.
While the United Nations and some of the more developed countries make efforts to reduce the plight of these people, there are countries where the killing of millions does not even merit a small column in the inside pages of a national newspaper. Liberia is an African nation that was created by black slaves from all over the world. One would think that these people who ought to be celebrating freedom would do better than engage in the mass slaughter of their own citizens for political one-upmanship. Being a woman in these African and Middle Eastern countries, means that life is even harder. The powers that be make no bones about the fact that women are second-class citizens or worse. There is this ridiculous non-recognition of the simple fact that women are the creators and the givers of life. Society places so many constraints on women that they dare no be seen in public without a male escort and their bodies fully covered in the heat of summer. The same society also would rather see its women citizens burnt to death than escape a burning school so that their modesty can be preserved — the modesty being completely covered from head to foot.
In glorifying the creative aspects of womanhood through the roles of the characters Rhoda, Deborah and Stephanie, Pam Gems is making a valid point and a global point. The stand she takes points out to where women ought to stand from the smallest human unit the family, the communities, society, countries and throughout the world. Pam Gems hammers this simple point home. Women are the givers of life. All creation flows from women. Sometimes, one often hears feminist spokeswoman talk about how most of the problems in the world today would go away if only women were in charge in different strata of society. They aver that things would be much better if the glass ceiling, as we know it, would not exist.
There is a deep truism to statements like these that society deeply imbued in male chauvinism tends to laugh off as the rantings of the disgruntled. Pam Gems offers ample evidence of the creative powers of women. In fact, society has built itself over the millennia on the evidence of a simple fact: men went out and worked on account of superior physical abilities. These abilities were translated into bringing home food that was hunted or a paycheck. This paycheck became power; and society’s power division was based on this premise. Today most women go out and work, they bring home a paycheck too. They do this while looking after their households. But the power division has not become equitable even though the financial commitment to a household has been the same for a man or a woman. Society has become too rigid. Pam Gems demands that we look at society again and reevaluate how it treats its real creators.
Besides the creative flow, femaleness is also described in terms of compassion. It would seem from an introduction to the play that Pam Gems was inspired about writing “Deborah’s Daughter” when on a cruise trip to Cairo she saw a street urchin reach under the wheels of her horse carriage and pick out a leaf out of the horse manure and eat it. Pam Gems asks a poignant question? How hungry and malnourished did that little boy have to be not disgusted by what he was eating? Indeed, this is the plight of countless children all over the world. At some point during the play, though not borne out by the dialog, Hassan managed to convince Rhoda and Stephanie to be in on his scheme to carry out a coup. It is very possible that Hassan appealed to the sense of compassion to the elder and the younger lady. It is this sense of compassion that caused them to enact the subterfuge knowing though that his would result in Deborah’s temporary discomfiture. Since this seemed cruel, it is possible that it was only Rhoda and Stephanie’s compassion for the dispossessed and starving masses that convinced them. So why didn’t Hassan use the same tactics with Deborah. This one is hard to tell. He probably had an insight into her mother-hen-worrier mentality. She was now in charge of Pederson industries and responsible for all its employees. She was also responsible for her aging mother and her young daughter. It is possible that Hassan was truly romantically interested in her and was confused as to whether either ploy might be seen as shallow.
But when he becomes the new head of his country, he does convince Deborah of how her role would be able to help the starving children. He portrays an accurate picture of children with distended bellies — rickets, an illness of malnutrition — all over the country. He tugs at Deborah’s heart strings of compassion; he also tugs at her purse strings. Importantly, he reinvigorates in her, her creative juices. She was once a scientist, an inventor and creator. After marriage she had given up her career to become an extension of Pederson her husband and a socialite. But once again she can be the creator; her vision and that of her mother can be realized. This is natural to Deborah, as it is to most women. She will no doubt be the main person involved in resurrecting this country from the doldrums. She will also stand by Hassan’s side playing multiple roles in the recreation of his country.
The title “Deborah’s Daughter” is apt. Stephanie’s character does not have a major role to play, but she has now become a creator. Her pregnancy is what forces to stay and allow all the women to rejoin mother earth as its primary creators. This play also shows that the notion of creation, goodness and compassion are hardwired into a woman’s system. In Rhoda, Deborah and Stephanie. we see completely different personalities. Some of these characteristics are permanent; others are a result of age, learning and experiences. But despite these differences we know that women in all walks of life can be creative, compassionate, life-affirming and life-giving.
Chapter 3 Internal Relationships between Characters
The play “Deborah’s Daughter” is a major subterfuge perpetrated on the main character Deborah Pederson by other characters in the play. This happens because she is the proprietor of her husband’s oil empire. She holds the strings to the purse that will provide for the future of this impoverished, third world, North African Country. Her support is also necessary if a military coup is to occur. Deborah’s money can bank roll this coup. Or, the people who want to rule the country could use the money as bait, so that the common man might acquiesce to the new rulers because they will bring prosperity. In a country and in a continent where countries change hands by the mere announcement of a coup at the local radio station, we are not sure whether this coup will bring a fresher perspective to governance or if it will be worse than the previous rulers. In the latter case, Deborah Pederson is not the only dupe. Every other character except Hassan who has most to gain from the coup will have been duped. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this coup is well intentioned and will only bring good things to the common man.
Why is the above introduction necessary? It is necessary because most of the relationships between the characters evolve premised on the plot of the narrative. However, Pam Gems shows subtly that some relationships would evolve whether obfuscations to confuse Deborah were part of the plot or not. This section will explore several relationships: the mother-daughter relationship between Lady Rhoda Wiggins and Deborah; the mother-daughter relationship between Deborah and Stephanie; the romantic relationship between Stephanie and David and how it works fortuitously enabling the plot to move forward. How much influence does Eric Bellairs, the MI-6 man have? Is Ali merely a servant? Naturally, the most important relationship that needs to be explored is the one between Deborah and Hassan. This relationship can be viewed at different levels: Deborah has a benefactress, Deborah as a lover. Does this relationship work while the subterfuge works? Will the romantic relationship stand the test of time? What also needs to be explored is the behind the scenes relationship between Hassan and the other characters because the plot of the play culminates in his ascendancy as the new ruler of the country.
Lady Rhoda Wiggins has a no-nonsense personality. It is obvious that she has come to love this country. This country is starkly contrasted with the gloomy, wet and cold weather of Europe. She loves the open skies and the tropical nature of the vegetation. Her relationship with Deborah is also no-nonsense. She obviously loves her daughter. She is proud of all that she has achieved. Like every mother she wants what’s best for her daughter. Her decision to join the “plan” is in keeping with her daughter’s best interest at heart. There is a moment during a disagreement with Rhoda that Deborah slaps her. This obviously stark display of anger does not affect Rhoda as one might imagine. She just threatens Deborah with physical retaliation without the emotional baggage one might carry from being slapped by the daughter. The mother and daughter disagree at every juncture, but none of these arguments would threaten the relationship. Deborah, on the other hand, views her mother as flighty. Her mother might disagree and aver that Deborah takes her life too seriously. Possibly, Deborah is more like her father; she has a serious side to her. She was a serious scientist. She was widowed early. She has the burdens of bringing up a young girl in a foreign country. She also has the burdens of running an oil empire.
It would appear that Stephanie is more like her grand mother. She takes a less serious approach to life. It is also possible that Stephanie’s flightiness comes from youthful exuberance and the idealism from not having to worry about poverty or survival. Deborah is forever cautioning her daughter to be serious. It generally falls on deaf ears. One can see how much Deborah cares for her daughter and is constantly concerned for her whereabouts. Even when Stephanie drives off with Hassan, she thinks she is kidnapped and puts herself through physical harm to ensure that her daughter is safe. Her maternal instincts render her completely blind to the fact that Stephanie drove off of her own volition.
Stephanie and David probably fell in love just because they were two people who from similar races and background of similar ages that happened to be there. While we are not sure if this puppy love will last, a baby on the way, notwithstanding, it provides an interesting twist that makes the plot move as the playwright planned. David obviously feels very protective towards Stephanie. He thinks that Hassan has kidnapped her and he tries to unsuccessfully attack Hassan. Obviously, he is in love. He also feels protective of Deborah. At this time though, Deborah does not know it. He feels a part of the family. There is no evidence of guile in David. There is no reason to believe that he seduced Stephanie with ulterior motives in mind.
Eric Bellairs provides an interesting international flavor to the proceedings. He does not have any relationship with any members of the cast. He does not add anything to the plot either. His presence was perhaps, Pam Gems’ attempt to introduce some legitimacy to Hassan’s plot at a coup. The coup attempt had the blessings of a major European nation. Eric’s relationship with the members of the cast is cordial and helpful. His idea of what mode of transportation they need to take to flee from the danger zone is overridden when the company helicopter crashes.
Hassan and Deborah’s relationship provides is the thread that runs through the length of the plot. Initially, she is a benefactress. As the proprietress of her husband’s oil empire, at a celebration, at the beginning of the play she pledges several millions to help the nation with its agricultural infrastructure. Her motives arise from a genuine sense of philanthropy. After all, she needs to give something back to the country that gave her and her husband untold riches from the oil. As the primary liaison for the country, Hassan sees Deborah a lot. Eventually, he begins to try and charm her. He praises her beauty. His attitude is servile. He claims to be Deborah’s servant forever indebted to her. His charms obviously have an effect on Deborah. She vacillates between being offended and yielding but very little. But several factors cause her from giving in immediately. She belongs to a different culture. She also belongs to a different religion. She is of a different race. A chronic worrier and someone who takes her self and her circumstances seriously, she obviously thinks of the effect it might have on people around her. What would her mother and daughter think? What would people in the community think? The repercussions would reverberate throughout the oil industry. If one were to put oneself in Deborah’s mind: national economies might collapse as a result of this. Was she, at some level, being unfaithful to her husband?
It is possible also at some point that it might have crossed her mind that Hassan had ulterior motives behind attempting to seduce her. Was he trying to get more money? When Hassan first attempts to seduce Deborah, she has no idea that he is planning a coup. She thinks that these are the beginnings of civil war in the country. Another reason why Deborah rejects his advances are because she feels no attraction to him. Hassan’s actions create a lot of conflicts in her.
There are reasons, on the other hand, why one believes that Hassan might succeed in getting Deborah to yield to his advances. He is a self-confident and accomplished person. He has risen up ranks of the armed forces. He had obviously done a good job as liaison for the Pederson industries. These factors would make Deborah attracted to Hassan. After all, she was herself a smart and accomplished woman in her own right — even without all her husband’s wealth. Deborah was also lonely. Her husband had died in a horrific accident. She was also young. She needed the companionship.
One might also analyze Hassan’s motivation to pursue a relationship with Deborah. She was rich and accomplished. She was also a lonely and young widow in the prime of her life. She would make a good wife. It would also allow him access to wealth that would surpass all imaginations. Considering that he wanted ascendancy to the position of head of state, orchestrating and launching the coup was uppermost in his mind. Did he think that Deborah’s money would make his dreams come true?
Hassan could have also been truly in love with Deborah. Consider his feelings. His wife was wounded in a civil war accident. He was without her company for more than seven years. He could have nursed romantic feelings for Deborah all the while he worked for her husband, helpless that his love would remain forever unrequited. When Pederson died, Hassan probably felt that this was the moment he could make his feelings known to Deborah. But he was also wracked with feelings of inadequacy of being able to bridge the cultural, racial and social divide between them. It is possible that this is why he tried to approach Deborah as an inferior approaches a superior. He sycophantically fawned over her, praising her to the heavens until he felt that Deborah yielded a little. After they flee the violence, Hassan and Deborah find themselves alone in the oasis where the mood is just right. Deborah relents under the onslaught of Hassan’s attempts to seduce her. And then surprisingly, he brusquely leaves her and decamps with Stephanie.
This is the turning point in the narrative and it forces many questions. Hassan informs every one of the characters that he is about to launch a coup. He also manages to convince them that Deborah should not know about it until the right time. It is not clear whether Hassan told all that he would try to seduce Deborah and what kind of reaction he got especially from Deborah’s mother. It is obvious even young Stephanie was in on the plan as she leaves with Hassan, leaving Deborah panic-stricken. The possibility that Stephanie’s pregnancy was used as major ploy is far-fetched. But it was a fortuitous. It convinced Deborah that she would have to stay especially since she thought that Hassan was the father. When Deborah finds out that Stephanie leaves with Hassan, her maternal instincts rise to the fore. There are several things that could have come to her mind: Why was Hassan trying to seduce her when he had apparently seduced her daughter?
There is a marked movement in the relationship between Hassan and Deborah after the coup ends in favor of Hassan. He is now the head of the country. He views his relationship with Deborah based on equality. Surprisingly, so does Deborah. She shows no consternation about the obfuscations of which she was the sole victim. She has a newfound respect for Hassan. Finally, here is a man she can relate to. Now that he is the head of a country he has greater responsibility. He puts his case before her without any of the earlier servility. He demands the kind of respect that comes from being a true leader. He appeals to Deborah’s intellect and her sense of generosity. She is a scientist and she knows about agriculture. She has the money. This money would bring a lot of infrastructure and would be beneficial to a lot of people.
There is now, a one hundred and eighty degree shift in the relationship between Hassan and Deborah. The end result is still the same. At first he begged for what he wanted. Now he demanded it. In both cases, Deborah sees the greater good in obliging Hassan. At the end of the play, she stands by his side as he sits at the table. It is as if she will be at his side in all his endeavors.
There is a romantic quality to Deborah’s exchanges (verbal and non-verbal) with Hassan. She is clearly attracted to the complete man. One cannot be sure that this union will occur immediately. But it is very possible that Deborah and Hassan will be together for a long time.
Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi
Chapter 1 General introduction
Dusa, Fish Stas and Vi” is Pam Gems’ play that presents a slice in the life of four women who are friends and/or acquaintances depending on the time of day or the mood of the moment. (Gems, 1977) Each of the women undergoes a crisis of character and upheavals in emotions. There is a seesaw effect in the fortunes of the four. For the short time span of the play, their fortunes are not necessarily inversely correlated. The underpinnings are more complex. Some of them come out of their trials bruised and battered but alive and kicking; with others, the emotional pains are debilitating. In fact, the play ends with the audience not knowing whether Fish has died.
It is perhaps not the best introduction to a play with the speculation as to the end of the play and the possible death of one of its characters. But Fish’s character is the most accomplished of her friends. She is an organizer and a manager. Financially also, she is the most solvent of her friends. She and Dusa have known each other from a long time.
Dusa is married with two children. She does not live in the same residence as Fish, Stas and Vi (Violet). In fact, Dusa has not met Stas and does not know her. Dusa has little more than a passing acquaintance with Vi. Stas and Vi know each other better, as they do Fish.
Dusa’s problems stem from the fact that she has to maintain a household of two children while she is undergoing a breakdown with her lover. Even with the recognition of reconciliation with her lover not being possible, worse things are in store for her. The lover leaves with her children. Dusa is distraught. She is faced with the prospect of losing her children. She also does not possess the financial strength to pursue the return of her children.
Vi is the youngest of the four. She is also relatively immature and flighty. The audience can believe that she is not weighed down by the trials of life that an older more mature person has learned from. Deep down thought, Vi has a kind and generous heart. Stas presents a superficial conflict of character and career-choice. The fact that her two careers are contrasting allows the playwright not to put her through emotional turmoil. One can assume that she goes through it every day. Stas is ambitious. She wants a career in medicine. She works as a physical therapist during the daytime. She also is a high priced prostitute at night. While the first job gives her the satisfaction of remaining in her chosen field, her night job gives her the opportunity to save money for her career as a marine biologist. Stas’ ambition prevents her from having qualms about the job she does — at least on the surface. We know this, because Vi asks her an intimate detail about fellatio and she unhesitatingly answers: “For an extra tenner, I do.” Stas also has ready cash available along with the other accoutrements of her “second” job. The others freely partake of both.
From an emotional standpoint, surprisingly Fish comes out as the most vulnerable. She is in love with a man Adam who shares her intellectual and careerist motivations. At one point, she breaks up with Adam and marries another man. But one day, into the wedding she realizes that she really loves Adam. Her marriage is short lived and she abandons her husband. She comes back to Adam only to realize that he has taken up with another woman. At first, she believes that this new attachment is merely reactionary, as a punishment to Fish. She consoles her self that Adam will soon leave this woman and come back to her. Unfortunately, the time limit that set for this to occur comes and goes. Fish now begins to obsess about Adam and the other woman. She waits outside their apartment window and spies them making love. Eventually, to her disdain and sorrow, she finds out that Adam and the other woman are married and that the woman is pregnant.
From a narrative standpoint, three instances of alcohol and drug abuse occur. Dusa drinks and also takes “downers” but suffers no lasting effects. Vi’s foray into drugs lands her in the hospital from which she recovers. Fish who is the steadying influence for all succumbs to her emotional urges. On Fish’s birthday, Dusa is informed that her children are in the country and will be reunited with her. Stas and Vi also go out to celebrate. Fish, which is left at home and in misery, overdoses on pills. The others find her unconscious. To the end, the audience is unsure whether Fish can come out of this and continue with her life.
Chapter 2 Pam Gems’ concept of femaleness
Consider how Pam Gem’s demands of the actors that will play the role of Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi. While some of the information is not evident from the dialog or the plot of the play, a skilled actor would be able to bring the personality that Pam Gems envisions in every nuance and utterance during the play.
Dusa is a woman who has an eye for detail. She is more spatially oriented. She would be better suited for her ability to visualize as opposed to her ability to analyze. She is educated; but education has not done much for her. Whenever confronted with a problem her panic-stricken reaction is to turn to others for help. She has been lucky all through her life. Lucky, not because good things have continually happened to her; but lucky because whenever she needed a shoulder to cry on, one was available. One might even imagine that this luck will never really run out its course. Pam Gems calls Dusa “a breeding *****.” This term is not derogatory. It means that apart from the vulnerabilities of surviving as a woman in today’s society, she is also directly affected by whatever happens to her children. Her maternal instinct will naturally seek protection for her children putting her needs in the background. As she sees her children, she has to reconcile with the fact that she will need help for herself; and for her children, by proxy. Dusa’s major contribution to the play is her angst at losing her children and the trials that she has to go through to get them back. What the reader or audience is not aware of is what happened between her and her lover that caused a break up to occur. The lover might have left with her children out of revenge — to add to her discomfiture. Or he might have left because Dusa did something so egregious that he thought that the children were in better hands if they were to remain with him. Of course, one has to come in favor of the former of the two scenarios. The lover wanted to hurt Dusa for having caused the break up. Dusa represents the classic aspect of being a female; women have to bear the added burden of not only having children but bear the increased pains borne out of the necessity to protect one’s children.
Fish (real name?) is intelligent and self-confident. She comes from an upper middle class background or a background that during the latter part of the Middle Ages called “landed gentry.” Pam Gems calls her “warm, passionate and caring.” She is also courageous and has a socialistic worldview. She wants to use her abilities to make the world a better place. She is motivated and she will go far. Her reaction to calamity is to try to be in control of the situation. This is how she solves problems. Dusa would seek Fish’s shoulder to cry and lean on. Dusa would seek the loving arms of Fish to be hugged and comforted. Fish’s arms are the arms of a person in charge. Her mind and heart are geared towards getting things done. She is organized. Fish is the kind of person who would be chosen as the leader of a group. Followers would naturally gravitate to Fish. She would be a good boss. While she would not coddle her employees or followers, she would get things done with assertiveness rather than aggressiveness. Pam Gems avers that Fish brings upper middle class sensibilities and middle class guilt to the working class environment in which she works and exists. This guilt also causes her to seek out a group of socialists who want to make things equitable for all so that tales of poverty and homelessness will not be the bane of our times. She compares her self to Rosa Luxembourg the firebrand Eastern European socialist/communist who was a supporter of Leninism. In today’s free-market economy, Luxembourg would be considered the very incarnation of the devil. Fish considers Rosa a model. She is naturally against capitalism, but her talents would make her a fantastic capitalist. Cut from a different societal cloth, Fish would be scaling the corporate ladders. One can imagine that the so-called glass ceiling, the bane of women in the work place would dissolve into nothingness in the face of her ascendancy.
The interesting aspect of Fish’s femininity is that she might be one-dimensional. One of the problems of living as a mere reaction to guilt is that they lack a genuine love for what one does is missing. Fish knows how to survive one way. She takes control. Unfortunately, she cannot distinguish between controlling situations where one is detached and impassioned to a situation where one’s heart is heavily invested. She marries the man she does not love on a whim, perhaps, to hurt or rile the one she truly loves. It is unfortunate that she does not realize that she cannot control the one who does not want to be controlled. She forgets the answer to the simple (yet profound and loaded) question: “How do you hold on to the one you love?” is “You don’t.” Her lover Adam takes up with another woman. Fish thinks that this is merely a simple bump in her romantic life, and that Adam would come back to her. Adam does not. He marries the other woman. Fish also comes to know that the other woman is pregnant. Her attempts to regain control of her life are a random flailing. She indulges in self-defeating acts like spying on Adam as he makes love to the other woman. The most saddening part of her life none of her friends know how she really feels and how much devastation her decisions have wrought. She masks her feelings leading her friends to believe that this is the same old Fish who will soon have control over the situation. They fail to see the hurt that afflicts Fish. They cannot help; and, they do not help. Fish attempts suicide and perhaps, succeeds.
Stas comes from a farming background. She is statuesque and beautiful. Her physicality is cast like a warrior princess. She is loving, kind and caring. She is generous. She is motivated. She works as a physical therapist in a London hospital. She does not turn heads and nor does she wish to turn heads. Her job is caring for her patients and her patients in turn, do care about her. Stas is very ambitious. She realizes that her finances are not secure enough for her to train as a marine biologist and neither is her day job. But not being trained for anything else, she refuses to be hindered by her current circumstances. She works as an expensive call girl. Pam Gems informs that we do not know “how good her mind is.” And we see no evidence of superior intelligence during the play. But that is not an over riding judgment since Stas’ role in the play is to merely illustrate the toughness of her lifestyle as she tries to juggle two very diverse careers. Despite her tough schedule, Stas finds time to give of her time, her care and her money to help Dusa and Vi. The playwright compares her to Rosy Franklin, the biological crystallographer. Ms. Franklin is a biologist who never earned the respect she deserved. Her male colleagues Watson and Crick garnered the fame and the Nobel Prize for the discovery that the DNA the genetic blue print for all living things was shaped like an inter-twined double helix. It was only later discovered that Watson and Crick had seen some of Franklin’s results, which inspired them to their own. Several years later, Watson and Crick finally admitted that Franklin’s work inspired them to go on to one of the greatest discoveries of our time. It is justifiable to question whether Stas will be the victim like Franklin was. The audience or the reader never gets the sense of how far along Stas along in “amassing” money for her job. Since she is always sharing her money and her belongings fairly liberal, one can justifiably question whether she is still motivated to be a marine biologist in Hawaii or whether she is comfortably settled in her current situation.
Violet is the youngest of the four women. She is flighty and frivolous. Vi has an adventurous heart and mind. Pam Gem avers that she is a waif who probably ran away from rural surroundings to be in the big city. Violet was still in a process of self-discovery. She was caught between the times. There was a little bit of hippie self-indulgence in her, coupled with the “rebel without a clue” punk cause. Violet is weak and anorexic. She probably fancied herself a model. She needed to be thin. Violet had a self-destructive streak in her. This was obviously not an attempt to hurt her self, but the youthful tendency to think of one as invincible. Vi obviously does not know who she is. And she makes no attempts to find her self either. Everything she does is merely reactionary. She is poor. We do not know her background. Was she poor or rich? She was probably poor. She also probably comes from an unglamorous background. She is willing to insert herself into the working-class struggle. She is happy to be where she is. Inside Violet, we see a streak of giving. It takes a cocktail of mood enhancement pills to get her to help others. But that streak is there and will probably blossom as she becomes more mature. Violet on these “uppers” is a woman possessed. She cooks for her friends, she cleans the house and she has an answer to every one of her friends’ requests. What is interesting is to see how Vi might be ten years hence.
The four women give us an essence of what it is to be female. The four women not only give us a glimpse of different aspects of womanhood, they also provide a glimpse into the stages of development in a woman’s life. The piece to complete the puzzle is an older woman, perhaps with grandchildren. These women have some similarities in them. They share with each other. They are willing to give each material and emotional support to each other. Dusa probably relies on her friends the most. Her energies of caring are probably directed to her children. Throughout the play, Dusa is preoccupied with her children. This is natural and necessary. Dusa’s maternal instinct makes her blind towards everything else. Earlier, in this section, it was mentioned that Dusa was always relying on others. There is no single instance where she comes to the aid of her friends. Dusa is victimized from the beginning of the play. Initially, she is distraught for having broken up with her lover. She seeks help for that. Later she finds out that her children are taken from her. The rest of the play, for Dusa passes in a whirl. She is busy trying to get her money back and procuring the money and resources to do the same.
Fish can be held as an icon for a feminist. She is smart and capable. She always gets what she wants. She shares not only the motivation of her Stas but she is also accomplished. She is a good organizer. Little girls growing up would do well to emulate Fish. She also shares a loving and caring relationship with everybody she knew. Ever body grows to depend on her; Fish always comes through. It is difficult to feel sympathetic towards Fish for her actions. One can appreciate her struggles. The audience/reader also is frustrated. We can clearly see that Fish’s actions are akin to a drowning person grasping as a straw. But her friends do not share the audience’s recognition. They do not know Fish. They have never seen Fish this way. They are not sure what to make of her. They cannot help her. They do not know how to help her.
Stas is a representative of women who find themselves in situations that they cannot help. They are bound by their motivation. They are bound by their ambitions. They want to have a slice of the pie that only people who were blessed with legacy and fortune could enjoy. Women find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position. Not only do they come from poor backgrounds, they are women. These two situations conspire to keep women backward. Stas makes some difficult choices. She works as a prostitute. But she does not yield her sense of dignity completely. She is in control of her future. It might have been very simple to merely work as a call-girl and not as a physical therapist. But she does. She wants to be in touch with her humanity. She wants to be in a research environment. Her day job probably keeps her in touch with the reality that will help her try and achieve her ambitions.
One does not know whether Vi would be rich, famous or accomplished. Vi represents women that are forced by circumstances to struggle to define an identity of self. Vi also represents the freshness and vitality of youth. Even an older woman needs a fresh outlook with life. The tragedy of Fish could have been averted if she had stepped back and taken a different perspective of where she stood with trying to drag Adam back into her life. Some of Vi’s frivolity might have certainly helped.
Chapter 3 Internal Relationship Between Characters
Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi” is a story that begins with certain strong relationships that have already been established. It is also a story of evolving relationships as the plot moves along to the inevitable finish.
Dusa’s, the oldest of the four, has only a passing relationship with Vi. It seems that she used to live in the apartment where the story unfolds but having found a lover, she has moved on. One can also imagine that this was a place where she would come when life’s troubles became overwhelming. And so she comes running back for succor when she loses her lover. To make matters worse, she discovers that she has nowhere to go. This former lover has taken her children. Dusa also has a relationship with Fish that seems to have stood the test of time. Dusa by nature is dependent on others for financial and emotional support. She is also lucky that she generates empathy from those around her. When Dusa first arrives and sees Fish, she immediately runs into her arm. Fish knows exactly what Dusa is going through (without any of the details). It seems that this is a replay of countless previous situations. Dusa does not know Stas at all and her relationship with Vi is one of tolerance. But her pathetic figure eventually generates sympathy from all. Vi and Stas loan her a complement of clothes and also money so that she can work towards getting her children back. Eventually, the friendship grows between Vi, Dusa and Stas. These relationships seem superficial in that they are mostly gatherings to celebrate the return of Dusa’s children. Dusa’s character is one of being dependent. If some one has to dependent on her, she finds her self in an uncomfortable position. Pam Gems in describing Dusa’s character to whoever will play the role does not ask that she be a very dependable mother.
Stas’ relationship with all the characters is one of tolerance. She does not take an active interest in the lives of the others. She is polite and cordial and she is there for those around her. She does what is necessary. She helps by lending clothes. Unknown to her, Violet also gives away her hard-earned money. But her giving and kind nature is evident. Her single mindedness comes to the fore. She is now, what Fish was five years ago. Fish has achieved most of what she was looking for. Stas, perhaps starting from a lower position, yearns to be there. She is also the one with the most to gain and also the most to loose in the play. She works constantly. In the morning, as a nurse; and, in the evenings she works as a lady of the night. During the play, she is mostly in to change clothes. She is returning from one job. Next, she is dressing up and going to her next. Or else, she is returning from her evening job very early in the morning. She flits in and out. But amidst this movement, she has time to help. She is always there. Except for Dusa, every other character is very giving, albeit under different circumstances. Stas gives because she has money or clothes lying around. She also gives away food (and occasionally alcohol), which Violet believes she has stolen.
Vi is the youngest of the four characters. She is also the most flighty, obviously not burdened by the difficulties of age and the weight of having come through experiences and tribulations. Dusa, Fish and Stas have a nurturing attitude to Vi. They are almost maternal to her. They scold her often. They are however, also protective of her. They give her the benefit of the doubt. They also indulge her. They are amused and, at the same time, critical of her dress, her behavior and her thinking. As far as personalities are concerned, Vi’s is caught between the fashions of the times. She is a cross between a hippy and a punk. She is yet not established a way of living. The other older friends mostly forgive her that. Vi is also very giving and alternately critical without offending. After she is taken to the hospital after having overdosed on drugs, she returns in high spirits. Some of this is due to the mood enhancing medication. Interestingly, the part of her personality that is enhanced is her vitality and her helpful nature. It is possible that this ability to nurture will come to the fore sometime soon.
The most tragic figure of course is that of Fish. Like the other character, Fish is the also giving. She is giving not only in material, but she has a keen eye to the emotions of others. She intellectually evaluates the needs of those around her and responds accordingly. This means that Fish’s ability to help comes from her ability to control the situation. Fish’s relationships with others are cordial. She commands a great deal of respect from her subordinates. She is able to solve problems even if the only medium of communication is a phone. Fish’s raison d’ tre is her seeking to control every situation she finds her self in. That controlling attitude is wonderful for people who are desirous of her help. However, Fish fails and fails badly when equality in her relationship is demanded. She marries a man on a whim, hurting the man she really loves. Then she divorces the man she marries on an equally frivolous whim. This allows her a measure of control. When her emotions are involved, however, her response is to control. But it doesn’t work. She obviously loves Adam. But she misjudges exactly how much she can control him. He moves on with his life. Even if his moving on, finding another woman, marrying her and impregnating her are a born of spite towards Fish, they meet their mark. Fish is devastated. Losing control is not something she has learned to cope with. She uses the same problem solving strategies that she normally uses in the corporate sector fail miserably. She is left with nothing. Her attempt at suicide is not merely because of a recognition that the love or her life is now gone. It is to punish her self for failing to control a situation she thought she had in hand.
Unfortunately, for Fish, Dusa, Stas and Vi who are used to helping with friends’ problems with platitudes and material help fail to realize that Fish’s foibles had shaken her to the core of her convictions. They fail to recognize just how much Fish is hurting. They also fail to understand how this pillar of strength that is always there for others nurses a deep fault within her. They believe they have helped her sufficiently and go on to celebrate the return of Dusa’s children. They return still in revelry only to discover tragedy.
Chapter 4 Qualities of Survival in the Working Class
Though the play, “Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi,” is more about the emotional upheavals the women go through during the play, some of these upheavals are related to the financial solvency. Some of the reactions to different emotions are also a testament of working class sentimentalities. Each of the characters is, at the time of the play, in a different social stratum than the others. Each of them aspires to the others financial strength.
Dusa, the oldest and having two children, perhaps depends upon the man in her life at the moment. There are instances in the play where this dependency extends beyond mere finances. Pam Gems does not create a job for her. We are not aware of her career aspirations or accomplishments. One is to assume that she is a full time mother and homemaker. During the play, when she visits the residence of Fish, Stas and Vi, she relies on emotional support from Fish, the character who knows her best, and is best known to her. When she needs to hire a private investigator to find the whereabouts of her children when her (former) lover takes them with him, Vi has to dig into Stas stash of money to help her. And yet another time when she needs a change of clothes (not for going out) she is seen wearing Violet’s purple kimono. Fortunately, for Dusa, the end of the play is a happy ending for her. She will be reunited with her children. In essence, Dusa survives by latching on to those around her. It is not difficult to believe that this respite is temporary for her. At some point in the near future some other calamity will occur and Dusa will not have the emotional strength to deal with it. It is also possible that she will not rise from the doldrums of being surrounded by working class people. Fortunately, for Dusa one might also believe that when she turns for help, a helping hand will always be there for her.
Fish is financially, the most well off. In describing her character perhaps to aid the actress that will be playing her the role of Fish, Gems indicates that Fish belongs to the upper middle class and she is destined to at least stay at that social level. But all indications are that hers is an upwardly mobile life. Fish is a go-getter. Fish is a jet setter. Fish is going places. Fish has a remarkable level of self-confidence in the way she orders her assistant Emily about. In the manner in which she describes Rosa Luxembourg, the communist maven from Poland, Russia and Germany, one can see in Fish an idealism that will push her towards working for the better of the working class. Fish survives in her working-class environment by exercising a vice like control on situations around her as they occur. Fish’s failing is that she does not differentiate between controls in a material environment control over the identity of another person. She does not reconcile with or survive the lack of control in her life with regards to the breakup of a relationship. The downward slide begins when she breaks up her first marriage, it continues when she has no control over her lover Adam whom she sees move on in life without her.
Stas is a study in contrast. A daughter of a farmer, she perhaps wants to get away from these working class roots. She wants to be a physical therapist. Achieving this goal for her is tantamount to surviving in the city. Since the legitimate job does not pay her enough. She sees it fit to go into prostitution. She makes significant advances towards achieving these goals and has quite a bit of money stashed away. In order to survive these working class conditions, Stas also steals food and other accoutrements of her trade, like furs. The stealing is in the opinion of Vi who might or might not be completely forthright.
Vi is the youngest of the group; she is flighty and frivolous. She is also caught between two generations — hippy and punk. She has no prospects of her own. Her idea of survival in the working class world is by taking up any job that she might get. Her youth is her advantage. She is unburdened by the difficulties that she will encounter in her life. She is wholly comfortable in her new age, quasi-progressive lifestyle. Despite her generosity of heart (albeit induced by pep pills) one cannot be sure how she will react when maturity sets in or when she has a family to take care of.
Chapter 5 Pro-Working Class Politics
Pro-working class politics are evident in the play “Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi.” The hardships that the women undergo are exacerbated because of their working class background. Fish is the only character whose background, motivation and self-confident places her high in society’s stratification. Perhaps in a subtle dig at those who would consider rising above others, Pam Gems perhaps gives Fish a character that is strong as a careerist but weak when it comes to interpersonal relationships — especially with men. Fish’s emotional ups and downs in the play are reminiscent of a feature of the Sermon on the Mount: “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Fish is motivated and also possesses the talent to excel in her career’s chosen path. She is always ready to help those around her, with a hug, money and her kind word. Her self-confident and success is evident; others depend on her for their livelihood. It is unfortunate that there is no antidote (or the other characters cannot help) for whatever afflicts Fish.
Dusa’s character can also be viewed with sympathy when it comes to her lifestyle. One would hope for an equitable distribution of wealth. She is the biological mother of her two children, yet her lover has a greater claim on her children — perhaps because of Dusa’s lack of financial security. She does not even possess the money to help retrieve her children. Her maternity is jeopardizes on account of her status. Fortunately, in the end, justice prevails and she does get her children back. One does imagine though if this question would have arisen if Dusa was a man. One might imagine the financial security would not cause any of these problems.
With Stas, the situation is different. While it does not arise in any of the situations in the play, Pam Gems does inform us that she comes from a farming background. Stas, unfortunately, has two factors against her: Her working-class background, her working class environment and her aims and ambitions. All these run contradictory to each other. A poorer person would not have the financial strength to put herself through medical school. Stat wants to be a marine biologist. She is a very giving person. She works as a nurse and often talks about the loving care that she provides her patients. On the other hand, she also moonlights as a prostitute. Stas is caught in a vicious circle. She would like to achieve financial stability. But the career ambitions require that she already has the financial stability. The only options then are to be a prostitute.
Everything about Violet indicates that she does not come from money either. We have no idea of her parentage. Either she is rich and her rebelliousness causes her to live among the working class, or she is alone and her lifestyle is the same as it has always been. In either case, her financial situation does not provide the gravity for the audience to judge where she comes from. She is too frivolous and youthful. What is interesting that in her youth, we see a little of Dusa, a little of Fish and a little of Stas. When she grows older and wiser and the need for acquiring wealth becomes important, it would provide a measure of satisfaction to know exactly whom she turns out like.
It is obvious that the characters are struggling to survive in a working class environment. The second edge of this sword is also honed against their characters. They happen to be women. Being a woman causes Dusa to almost lose her children. Being a woman causes Stas to moonlight as a prostitute. If one were to use male characters in this play given similar working class circumstances, one can deduce that the play would not have existed because these financial and emotional problems would not have arisen — if for no other reason than that the characters were male.
Chapter 1 General Introduction
The play “Camille” by Pam Gems is a metaphor for the alternating hardiness and fragility of the heroine Marguerite Gautier. (Gems and Dumas, 1987) Camellias also happen to be her favorite flowers. Camille is a tragedy borne out of love that does not enjoy completeness. The count Armand Duvall falls in love with Marguerite at first sight and he continues to pursue her. His love is blind. It is also innocent. Armand wishes to pursue Marguerite at all costs. Eventually, she relents, despite her self and her history. Armand and Marguerite spend a glorious summer together. But such bliss does not last. Societal concerns and the quest to assume and retain the status symbol get in the way. The play ends with Marguerite dying of what is symptomatically tuberculosis. Armand removes her interred body and reburies it. In death Armand endeavors to give his dearest the dignity that she never had while alive.
So who is Armand? Armand is the son of an influential nobleman. Who is Marguerite? Marguerite is a woman who inserts herself into high society by attracting the attention of single or married males that are looking for affairs. Marguerite is like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar. When one man tires of her and moves on, she looks for another man. While many might consider Marguerite and others of her ilk high-class prostitutes, they display all the charms of Parisian society. Unfortunately, she does not have the financial strength or the birth and upbringing to support such a lifestyle. This makes her the constant scourge of creditors. So why chose this lifestyle which to most would be at least fraught with emotional and physical problems? Marguerite’s position on this choice is interesting and different. It’s partly to be recognized in society, which would be otherwise impossible. It is also to use her beauty and charm to get back at those that have not hesitated to sexually, physically and emotionally abuse her.
In the previous paragraph, a reference was made to “Marguerite and others of her ilk.” Three other women: Sophie, Clemence, Prudence and later, Janine. While there is an intense competition between the women to “bag” a rich man — a Count or a Prince — they also provide a support structure to each other. They have genuine concern for each other. And they make this concern plain when one of them is about to make a mistake. At the same time, they exchange their paramours. Armand is first with Sophie; they have a non-amicable breaking up which is an underlying sentiment that shows in most of Sophie’s dialogs. One cannot be sure what the level of commitment was. When Armand falls in love with Marguerite and they break up. He takes up with Janine. It is plain that his relationship with Janine is merely get back at Marguerite. Whatever one might say about these ladies, they have a sense of decorum about them. Janine, on the other hand, is a neophyte at this. She also has a quasi-criminal mindset. While Marguerite’s maid in waiting and protege, she steals from her. Clemence and Prudence also do not like her. Clemence and Prudence are, in a way, mother hens who protect and counsel Marguerite whenever they can. Other characters flit in and out. A Swedish count who is initially with Marguerite takes up with Clemence. After Marguerite breaks up with Armand, she takes up with an abusive and drunken Russian Prince.
Marguerite’s story is a sad one. Being born and brought up in poor circumstances, she is the child of the maid of the count. When still a child, she is sexually abused by her uncle. When still a teenager, she is raped by the Count and bears a child. She is dispossessed of her job. To get back, she steals from the count. Later the count hits her and she bears the scar for the rest of her life. Ironically, Armand is the Count’s son. In order not to besmirch the noble name, the count promises to provide for and educate Marguerite’s son if she leaves Armand. For her child, and not knowing the permanency of her situation, Marguerite obliges. She leaves Armand and a few months of happiness for Paris. Armand is distraught. He never stops loving Marguerite.
Interestingly, till the end nobody knows the Count’s role in the break up. As Armand walks away he blames Marguerites friends — that it was the beckoning of this lifestyle that caused the rift. He blames them that they having made different choices for themselves could not bear to see Marguerite happy in a stable, married life.
Chapter 2 Pam Gems’ Concept of Femaleness
Pam Gems, through the tragedy “Camille” gives the audience a view of what it was to be a woman in Paris in the early twentieth century. This is Paris, the seat of culture and learning. This was a place where art originated, and the subtleties of drama and dance were experienced and appreciated; but in some ways early twentieth century France and the most of Europe was still groping its way out of the Dark Ages. The females in this play are largely forced to struggle to survive. They are victims of a society that tends to look the other way at the subjugation of women. Most of the women characters in the play are victims of men. Of men who refuse to see women as anything more than objects of lust or as wallflowers or window-dressing. These men are cruel. These men are manipulative. This play is a perfect illustration of the strength of women. This strength is often manifested in a compromise of dignity and modesty. But once again, that is the only way these women in the play can survive. Historically, this was also true for a large section of women during those times.
The only crime of these women was to be born impoverished; and to be born a woman. Men could either chose to remain in their impoverished situation where there were menial jobs to be held; or they could get out of the situation without a loss of dignity. For women, not only were they condemned to the life of servitude with no hope of ever climbing social ladders, they also had to fend of sexual advances. Their position did not allow them much recompense. They could not complaint. Even if they yielded to a sexual advance, they’re lot still remained the same. They were often left with a bastard child, to which the father would not own up. This was considered shaming and the woman and her child were banished from the rich man’s household. With the loss of the only source of livelihood, they were condemned to further poverty and degradation.
This is the story of Marguerite. The daughter of her maid in the household of a rich and influential Marquis in Paris, Marguerite knew abuse when she was barely out of infancy. She was molested by her uncles in exchange for candy. When she was 13, her uncle dispensed with the gift giving and the appeasing and proceeded to violently rape her. When she was 17, the Marquis began to sexually abuse her. She did not complain. She relented. When she became pregnant (an eventuality) she was cast out of the house. As a youngster not knowing what to do she avenged her dismissal by stealing from the house. The money that she stole was enough to get her settled into Paris. When the Marquis caught up with her, he beat her. She bore the mark of his ring for the rest of her life. This is what a girl growing up in poverty had to look forward too. While Marguerite had a son when she was young, she was fortunate enough to send her son to the countryside where she pretended to be his aunt. Imagine what it was to be Marguerite’s mother. Herself a maid, who had no hope of ever bettering her means, she had to live in the knowledge that her own family members had raped her daughter and she had been abused by her own boss and then thrown out of her house with the entire blame put on her daughter. The worst part of all of this was that she was rendered impotent in the face of these tribulations because she was a woman, and she was poor. Her being indentured as a servant also probably did not allow her to inquire about her daughter as she wandered on the streets of Paris, lonely, afraid and pregnant. Being a poor woman in those times that there was no knight in shining armor came to your rescue when you were physically assaulted on a crowded street.
Being a female in those circumstances meant that one lost her physical innocence at a young age. And if one looks at a life from the point-of-view of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they were not allowed that either. Their lives were over before they even really began. Every waking moment for women in Marguerite’s predicament was really trying to grasp at any thing while they were sliding down a slippery slope into oblivion.
Marguerite decided that she would avenge herself. She realized that she had the beauty and she had the natural charms. She would make inroads into the very society that had so unceremoniously cast her out. In this endeavor, she was remarkably successful. She became a legend. Princes and Counts from some of the palaces of Europe were beguiled by her charms. But a fundamental question arises: Was she really fulfilled? Was she really happy? And the answer is no. All she managed to do was to hurt her self even more. If anything, she was really was probably getting revenge on the wives of the men who came to see her. She did make forays into society. She was given gifts; but her dignity did not allow her to take cash. She was forever in debt and was constantly being hounded by creditors. Survival was paramount. Even though Marguerite gained fame, every body knew that she was an outsider and they made no effort to hide it from her. While she had the attention of men, she could never be considered an equal. The men did not consider her an equal and society considered her a whore.
Marguerite was good at what she did in that she never had to actively solicit male company. They came calling. However, there was no compassion for Marguerite’s feelings. For a better part of the play, Pam Gems shows her as suffering from the symptoms of tuberculosis. She throws up blood, but there is no concern from the men who see her. Her final companion, the Russian Prince is a big brute of a man and Marguerite has to bear his drunkenness and loutish behavior knowing that her body is wasting away and she is emotionally distraught from having been forced to lose the one man who truly loved her.
Women in Marguerites position could not fall in love. We are not sure that she actually was in love with Armand or at least as much as he was in love with her at the beginning. Marguerite had never experienced true love in her life. All she had ever done was accommodate the lusting of men and made her self available when she was needed as a companion or as a sex partner. This profession of love takes her aback, and eventually she reciprocates Armand’s love. For her, love is probably the happy acknowledgement that somebody actually, for the first time in her life, loved her. But this was not to be. Being a female at that time meant that personal happiness could not come in the way of maintaining a dynasty and appearances. A man could be seen with a mistress. This was acceptable to society. But no true emotions were allowed. If a woman dared fall in love or a “misguided” man had the temerity to fall for a woman, the powers that be descended on the couple to ensure that any measure of happiness was nullified.
Marguerite was broken hearted. The promise of her son’s education was the carrot that was dangled before her so that she would leave Armand. Then she was labeled a “slut” who was not capable of shunning her amoral nature. This heart-breaking episode is the tragedy in “Camille.” It was probably what killed Marguerite — a broken heart coupled with tuberculosis.
If one projects beyond the play, one might consider Marguerite fortunate. She died young, though one might have hoped for better circumstances. Even in death she did not enjoy any dignity. Her body was disinterred just to satisfy Armand, her former lover. He sought to make his/her property in death, something he did not quite manage to do when Marguerite was alive. There is a certain fatalism surrounding Marguerite or those of her kind. One can also imagine that if Marguerite had lived, she would have lost the suitors who were merely interested in her body. She would have been old and not as pretty. She had not managed to accumulate any money and she would have died penniless being forced to debase herself even further. This is specifically seen in the maternal Prudence who is despairs at the loss of her looks and her weight gain. The others Clemence and Sophie are not far behind.
The concept of femaleness in the play “Camille” is all the more tragic because it does not properly allow the celebration of the sisterhood of women. This wonderful sharing and caring that would characterize female friendship is nullified by society that forces these women to compete against each other for the attention of men. It is a fight for survival.
It is a testament to the dignity of the women that they do not allow themselves to be fooled into getting in each other’s way. Femaleness manages to survive among great odds. Even when men who were with one woman are with one of their sisters, they do not hold this against the other women. They recognize how the world works. The men who use these women on the other had lack in self-respect. They do not respect these women who provide them with companionship and sex. At the opera, at the beginning of the play, a duke accompanied by a very young woman makes fun of Prudence and her weight. It is a testament to the class displayed by Prudence; she laughs this hurtful barb by offhandedly complimenting this cretinous man on his wit.
These women will inevitably suffer the fate that Marguerite escaped. They will get old and will lose their looks and then nobody will care for them. This is evident in Prudence who makes desperate and pathetic attempts to make her self attractive to men. These women will go to great lengths including abasing themselves just to find a companion.
Marguerite and her friends are victims of a double-edged sword: being a woman and being poor. However, there are another set of women who are victimized merely because they are women. These are the wives of the so-called noblemen who are relegated to their palaces while their husbands gallivant around town in the company of women openly flaunting their so called male prowess. These women are not victims of circumstances. They are educated from the best finishing schools in Europe. They are also women who were brought up to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. These women also have the idea of self-determination. They have been taught (as everybody should) to have a dignified opinion of themselves. Yet they have to live their lives knowing and moving about society on the arms of their husbands. While they smile and wave, they are actually living a lie. They are aware that the same society hailed their husbands at society gatherings where they had women like Marguerite, Clemence, Sophie and Prudence on their arms.
Society’s hypocrisy was exposed with regards to treatment of women. If any of the women were seen in the company of men other than their husbands or they had taken lovers, they would be roundly criticized and ostracized from society. Many women did have affairs, but they had them in secret. Most of the affairs were not of their own volition. The affairs were a reaction borne out of frustration and loneliness.
An important question can be raised to the self-determination of these women who entertained men to whom they were not related for a living. Why did the chose the life they did? Was it not better to live a life in poverty than to debase oneself as merely someone’s object of sexual desire? The natural answer would have been to rather be poor and preserve one’s dignity than to be the object of ridicule. But then one also needs to look at the lives these women led. There was never a glimmer of hope in their lives. There was a yearning to achieve more in their lives, even if this was merely material gain. Even amidst all the depravity, there is a quite dignity to the women. Their femininity is ubiquitous. They never lose their caring and nurturing nature. Their maternal instincts persist. Even while they compete they hold on to their idea of sisterhood. There was an alternative behavior. They could have used their sexual favors to gain a lot more than they actually got. They could hurt the men and blackmailed them. They did whatever they had to do to survive. Marguerite could have easily abandoned her child. What was one more child among hundreds of others that grew on the streets of Paris? She spent her whole life for her son. She did not even give her self the status of motherhood, lest the taint of her life’s choices not stain her son. She personally sacrificed her own happiness and the only chance at the love she so desperately craved just so that her son could have a secure future.
Femaleness in “Camille” can be equated with humanness.
Chapter 3 Internal Relationship of the Female Characters
Obviously the entire play revolves around Marguerite. The play is named Camille because Camellias were her favorite flowers. The fatalism of Marguerite’s decisions is also a part of the flowers because they are on her grave. The fragrance of the flowers is balanced by the stench of her rotting corpse when Armand forcibly disinters her body. It is said that Marguerite’s character was modeled after the legendary Marie Duplessis — a courtesan in Paris. It is the other female characters and the relationships between them and with Marguerite that makes for a fascinating study in interpersonal dynamics. Janine will also be included in this discussion, but a little later. She is illustrative of an aspect of the relationship between Marguerite, Prudence, Clemence and Sophie that is no obvious from the initial dialog.
At the beginning of the play, there is an exchange between Marguerite, Prudence, Clemence and Sophie as they are leaving the Opera. The aims of these women are obvious. They seek to enter society on the coattails of rich and influential men. It is also obvious that they have a deep insight into the workings of these men. They know what the men want. They are willing to provide it. They know that nothing permanent can come from these trysts. It is obvious that they hate opera. There is nothing in their upbringing that would make them appreciate opera. They make fun of it; but they see it as a necessity. When Sophie first sees the count, she “accosts” him. He knows what she is after and he makes an excuse and leaves. Later, the old Duke is seen with a younger girl. The girl, who knows which side her bread is buttered, tries to take the old man away from the others as soon as possible. This is lest she lose her meal ticket. (Later we find out that the Duke and the Count are regular visitors of Marguerite). When Bela and Armand arrive, Prudence suggests that they all go on a picnic. She is in disbelief that the two men have squandered away all the money gambling. It is also obvious that Sophie and Armand were a couple; and that the falling out was less than amicable. Bela — Armand’s constant companion — is also aware of this. Later when Armand manhandles Clemence, Prudence comes to her rescue. She is also supportive of Sophie and warns Bela to lay off her.
The above paragraph might not contain instances of the relationships between Marguerite, Prudence, Clemence and Sophie or even the girl who is the Duke’s companion. But it offers an interesting insight into how these women interact with each other at the same time look out for their personal interests. This group is an example of a true sisterhood. The women love each other. They are caring and nurturing. They look out for each other. They share a common bond. This bond transcends their past, the present and the future.
These women probably were daughters of maids and their parentage is in doubt. They probably came from poor families that did not have access to high society unless they were serving at or cooking for a party. Marguerite’s life illustrates that there was sexual and physical abuse. This was probably true for the other women as well.
But they had looks, charms and the carriage required of women in society. They were also driven by the greed to possess what they could not have. They probably realized that they would never be a proper part of society, but they could get what they wanted whenever they could while they still could. All women probably shared this oneness of background and the present. In several instances in the play, the desperation in Prudence is evident. She suggests that they go for a picnic at the beginning. At the end of the play she suggests that Armand’s friend Gaston and she would make a good couple. She seems the wisest and most maternal of the group. She is also perhaps the oldest. Prudence is aware of her looks fading and her gain in weight. At one point she suggests to Marguerite that having bones were better than having flesh. At the opera, the Duke also makes a cruel remark about Prudence’s weight. She laughs this comment off. In her situation, it seems that she can ill-afford to offend the influential men she seeks to attract. It is possible that the Duke and Prudence was a couple in the past; and he exchanged her for a younger girl. In the same scene, Armand bites her arms commenting on her very white and mature skin. The women are all aware that age and looks are ephemeral and that’s all they have going for them.
The women hoped that a man would fall in love with them and their lives would have some permanency. This commonality in their lives is what bound the women together. There is no doubt that they would come to the aid of their sisters if any thing were to go wrong (and it does).
However, within this atmosphere of unity and mutual concerns among the women also lies an undercurrent fraught with tautness and tension. The women find themselves together because of what they want from their lives and for their future. There is however, also a recognition that people of noble and rich background who could give them what they want were few and far between. This means that they have to compete with each other to attract these men. And since looks and charm are their only assets, they work overtime to use these. As was alluded to before, it is possible that the Duke was earlier with Prudence and left her when he saw her gain weight. He is with an unnamed girl (called merely “The Girl” by the playwright). Later he is known to have visited Marguerite. The Swede, Count Druftheim, at first, rejects Sophie’s advances out of being shy. But later he is in company of Marguerite. And eventually, the count forms some temporary alliance with Clemence. We know that Sophie was with Armand, before he tragically falls for Marguerite. Armand and Marguerite are the only instance of true love in the play. And even here, Marguerite is late to arrive at that recognition. With Armand, it is love at first sight. This competitiveness lasts only as long as the man is unattached and they are vying for his attention. When the man decides whom he wants, the others back off. Also, apparently there are no ill feelings for the others. Among the women, the sisterhood prevails over competitiveness.
Which brings us to Janine: One of the hallmarks of characters of Marguerite, Clemence, Sophie and Prudence is that they have a dignity besides the charms and looks. It is this dignity that allows them to survive, and care and nurture in their circumstances. Janine is however, cut from a different cloth. She was brought as a companion to Marguerite so that Marguerite would appear more ladylike. Unfortunately, she has none of the good qualities of the other women. She is flighty, frivolous and also given to criminal tendencies. She is pretty and vivacious. She is also immature and to her getting a rich man and entering society is a game. She does not recognize the struggles that the others go through on a daily basis. The other women hate her for two reasons. One, she represents everything that is reprehensible to them. She has no dignity and will stoop to anything to get what she wants. Janine represents to the women a break up in the sisterhood that they have nurtured in the face of overwhelming odds. On the other hand, and perhaps more important: Janine is everything that the women are not. She is just blooming. She is youthful. Prudence, Clemence and Sophie are older. The looks that they hope will get them what they want have begun to fade. Janine represents a threat in the competition. She also looks like she will be the winner (until someone younger and prettier comes along) and the competitiveness of the older women will only fade. Janine eventually makes her self-attractive enough that Armand falls for her. However, this relationship is merely knee-jerk. It is possible that neither Armand not Janine will have anything to gain from it. There are certain advantages for Janine for the future. She, a humble laundress from the village, uses the tragedy of the love between Marguerite and Armand to establish her self as a major player among those on “the outside” looking in.
The interpersonal relationships between the women in “Camille” are a wonderful representation of womanhood. Despite the difficult circumstances that they find themselves in, the women constantly care, nurture and look after each other. Perhaps, Janine too will learn as she grows older and wiser, what it takes to maintain the sisterhood in the face of the tremendous gender divide of the times.
Chapter 4 Gender Roles
There are some obvious gender demarcations in the play between Men and Women. Men are generally the betrayers, the cruel and the manipulators. Women are mostly betrayed and victims. In “Camille,” Pam Gems also subtly manipulates the roles of women. She often makes the women the manipulators and the women the manipulated. In the play, there are victims galore. One finds them on both sides of the sexual divide.
Prime examples of men as betrayers are the Marquis De Saint-Brieuc, Count Armand’s father. He uses two important pieces of ammunition from his Arsenal. One, he is rich and influential; he is surrounded by enablers who are ready to do his bidding. Two, he is a man. In a society where the gender stratification persisted and was even celebrated, he was king. He uses this manipulation to sexually exploit Marguerite when she was just a teenager. The fact that Marguerite got pregnant indicates that the sexual abuse did not happen just once. He also once hit her when he discovered that she had stolen his property leaving a permanent scar where his ring made contact with her face. Marguerite uncles also used their maleness to sexually abuse her.
As a rich and influential man, he also used his riches to manipulate Marguerite from giving up her true love and the only key to true happiness. He promises to take care of their son. We are not sure whether he lives up to his promise. But Marguerite has to give up her child and her lover. As an influential person, the Marquis also manipulates any chance of happiness that his son Armand had. We know he is not successful in keeping Armand away from her because Armand is present Marguerite dies. There is also a chance that Armand will pine for Marguerite for the rest of his days.
In the play, the men are also characterized as weak. Armand does not have the courage of his convictions. He does not seek Marguerite and try and understand her. His knee-jerk reaction is one of revenge. He is seen at social events in the company of the flighty and thieving Janine. Armand also has his own weaknesses. He is a gambler and fritters away a large part of his inheritance at the casinos. His partner in crime in this is Prince Bela. In the play, males manipulate women with the promise of fame, fortune and a view of the life they would not normally have. They also treat women as objects of sexual lust. Women, to them are objects. For instance, the Marquis would not have a problem if Marguerite were Armand’s temporary mistress. His problems arose when he discovered that Armand was truly in love. It is the same with the Swedish Count and the Russian Prince. The women that accompanied them to the social events were merely wallflowers. Marguerite was dangerously ill when she was seeing the Prince. Yet, he gave no thought to her medical condition and her physical and emotional condition.
The women in the play are generally victims. Marguerite, Clemence, Sophie, Prudence and Janine are the general examples. These women are victim of circumstances — poverty, lack of facilities and probably illegitimate parentage. On the other hand, these women also have something going for them. They have physical beauty and they also possess the charm that belies their backgrounds and upbringing. No doubt, there were many women in similar circumstances in Europe during that time. But these women have a certain amount of greed coupled with the desire to rise above their backgrounds. Not possessing the breeding or the financial security to breach these social walls, they achieve their goals in the next best way. They use their sexuality to attract richer men in the process procuring for themselves a better lifestyle. There is a sisterhood of these women. They are caring and nurturing towards each other. As far as the men they are seen with, it is a union of convenience just as it is for the men. Nobody in these unions gets anything more than what they want at a superficial and materialistic level. The women get their feet in the doors of society and the men get sexual objects.
Whenever such relationships go beyond the mere superficial, tragedies result. This is told to Marguerite by her friends especially Prudence who is the most mothering of all the women. It’s the realization to these women that the adage “this far and no further” holds true for them. These women are the victims of their own gender.
We know that, neither Marguerite, Prudence, Clemence, Sophie nor Janine have men in their lives with whom they can enter a loving and binding relationship. Their lifestyle would be a severe blow to the male egos. We must also spare a thought to the wives of the Marquis, Bela, the Count and the Prince. No doubt that these men have stable relationships, but the gender roles are significant here. The general hypocrisy of the gender divide is significant. These women probably are of noble upbringing. They are also probably well educated. The men who ignore their legal wives, leave them and home and engage in active philandering probably nullify everything positive that these women bring to a marriage.
One might also consider the lives of the mothers and sisters of Marguerite and those of her ilk. These women were probably almost enslaved as maids in the homes of noble men and subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse and were at the whims of the masters of the household. In a poignant monologue, Marguerite relates her sad story to Armand. Imagine, Marguerite’s mother. She is probably not aware who Marguerite’s father is. She knows that her daughter was sexually abused barely out her infancy. She knows that she is the object of lust of her master who is several times as old as a daughter. She lives her life in servitude rendered completely impotent as tragedy after tragedy visited her daughter.
The gender divide in the play is largely a symptom of society and the way it viewed men and women. Society shunned women who sought to better themselves. It led women to become manipulators themselves. Unfortunately, such a lifestyle was but a temporary reprieve. When the sexuality of these women went, they were probably relegated to the trash heaps of society. At the end of the play, despite the circumstances surrounding Marguerite’s disinterring and reburial, Prudence desperately seeks to begin a tryst with M. Gaston, Armand’s friend. Her words reek of desperation. This is her life; and with age, she finds it slipping away.
At the same time, society became the enablers to men like Bela, the Count, the Prince and the Marquis. Armand was an unfortunate victim because he chose to fall in love.
Chapter 1 General Introduction
Loving Women” is a play about a man, Frank, torn between two women Susannah and Crystal. Both women could never me more different. (Gems, 1985) Yet they both appeal to different sides of Frank. Susannah is an intellectual and a socialist. Her pursuits are cerebral and philosophical. Her fervent wish, if asked, would be to change the world, making it better for all. She would also want an equitable distribution of wealth. Crystal on the other hand is more cosmopolitan and worldly. She would be more satisfied being taken care of by a man; but she is not averse to go out and find herself a job if she needs to. She would also like children.
The play begins with Susannah tending to Frank who is still suffering (and partially recovering) from the ill effects of a nervous breakdown. The mental breakdown is probably due to stress from being involved in a non-resuscitable welfare program possible suggested by Susannah. They live in a ramshackle, poorly furnished apartment and their clothes are threadbare. While the playwright Gems does not indicate at what point Crystal comes into the picture, she comes in and cooks for them and also sets about sprucing up the place. Susannah and Frank are lovers and she leaves to work on a project. Crystal’s beauty, her up-beat nature and her maternal care causes Frank to fall for her. Eventually they get married and have a baby.
During this time Frank and Crystal do not hear from Susannah. The circumstances of the marriage have disturbed Susannah who hoped that she would be married to Frank. A year later when she comes back, she is polite and cordial with Crystal. When she meets Frank she argues with him condemning his lies about his inability to keep in touch with her. They part ways on very angry terms.
The play, in keeping with the point that Pam Gems is trying to make, fast-forwards ten years later. Frank and Crystal’s marriage is on the rocks. They have two children. While Crystal is a good mother, she has her own concepts of what it means to be a wife. From a domestic standpoint, her household has a role-reversal. She is now the breadwinner. Frank’s job does not pay for most of the household expenses. Crystal also feels sexually frustrated and has countless affairs. Her character make-up is such that she is brazen about it and Frank learns to tolerate it. In fact, on the day Susannah arrives to meet them Crystal expects Frank not to be at home. The children are otherwise occupied at the neighbor’s. Crystal actually has invited one of her lovers to her home and to Frank’s consternation: into their bedroom; and, into their bed.
Susannah now seems reconciled to her new life. Her instincts tell her that perhaps it is time to settle down. The extended family involving people from her social projects are too ephemeral. She wants a family all her own. With Frank, she revisits the good times they had together. Frank, also frustrated, that his marriage was a possible mistake warms up to Susannah. Their conversation takes on the edge of intellectualism that once was the mainstay of their attachment to each other. Frank realizes now that he might have made a mistake in marrying Crystal despite the positive she brought to their marriage.
Susannah then makes a startling request to Frank. She talks about her need to have a child against her continually ticking biological clock. She had hoped to find a man who would love her, but now meeting Frank after such a long time she realizes that the perfect father for her child would be Frank. As Frank contemplates this, Crystal comes in and is surprised to see Susannah, but more surprised to see that Frank is still at home. The prospect of a lover entering the home enrages Frank. He engages in a tussle with the visitor and gets hurt. In a huff, he threatens to leave Crystal.
Crystal takes these rants in stride. She is certain that Frank is at the neighborhood pub. While catching up, Susannah tells Crystal of her longings. Crystal is surprisingly open to the idea of Frank Susannah and her cohabiting. This is the love that both women possess for Frank. Their love is manifested in trying to satisfy Frank’s need for intellectual stimulation and stimulation of his visceral needs.
Chapter 2 Pam Gems’ concept of femaleness in “Loving Women”
Loving Women” is a perfect illustration of two completely different kinds of women. These women are different in every facet of their lives. They’re minds work differently. So do their bodies. Imagine this hypothetical situation. If researchers had studied the genomes of Susannah and Crystal thoroughly, besides the factors that make us belong to the genus-species Homo Sapiens there would be enough genetic variation between the two women to classify them as separate organisms. There are also certain genetic factors that are hard-coded in their systems. There are the underlying commonalities that make them also similar. The similarities are in the attraction they feel towards Frank — who by himself has no redeeming qualities. But what Frank can (or cannot) do, assures that he will be taken care of by some women for the rest of his life. Frank has the ability to reach in and strum the maternal strings of any woman. If he can do it with women as diverse as Susannah and Crystal, he can do it with anybody.
In essence, Pam Gems’ work in “Loving Women” can be characterized as a celebration of mother-hood. This is despite the fact that Susannah for a significant part of her adult life either does not want or have children. The playwright gives us a flavor of what it means to be all at once a woman and have the characteristics and ability to be very, very different. It also means that we have a view of the uniqueness of each woman.
Susannah is an intellectual. She is bright. Her raison d’ tre is to change the world. She is also accomplished and articulate. She is very good at communication and organization. She could easily get a job and move up the corporate ladder. But she willingly shuns the materialistic pleasures of a capitalistic life. Her worldview is one of idealism. She is willing to donate her time and effort to helping the downtrodden. Her work is not only grassroots; it is also at the organizational level. One can easily visualize Susannah giving a speech to thousands of the working class people at a rally and then either going on a hunger strike or picketing an owner’s workplace at a factory.
She will stop at nothing to reach closer and closer to her ideals. And what are these ideals? They encompass a world where every person has the right to self-determination: a place where every person has a right to a good meal, a safe haven, a roof over the head and a right to earn a living. In her idealistic world, nobody goes hungry; nobody is homeless; every body has a job. In her world, the owner makes the money and shares it with every one of the workers that has a major share in this creation of wealth.
Ideally, once she has achieved this equity in the industrialized nation, Susannah sets her sight on the world at large. In her ideal world, good things should be brought to the aboriginal and tribal people. They should have an opportunity at education. They should have the best medical resources. They should be assimilated in to modern society in the best possible manner, and as soon as possible.
While the first part of Susannah’s endeavors were shared perhaps, equally by Frank. She undertook these missions to other countries after the discovery that Frank has callously cast her aside, had married Crystal and had a child. Another admirable quality of Susannah was her complete lack of hypocrisy. Her forays into socialism were accompanied by an unblemished purity of thought and action. If she wanted to work for the equality of the downtrodden working class she lived like them. The first act shows the stage set of an impoverished resident where the bedding was placed on the floor for lack of a bed. Susannah’s clothing was well-worn. She carried a knapsack that probably had all her belongings. Her obvious motto was, if she was going to be work for the poor. She had to experience first hand what it was to be poor. Pam Gems does not give the reader or audience of her plays what kind of background Susannah came from. One might conjecture that she came from relatively well-to-do circumstances. She has the benefit of good upbringing and good education. Her education also enabled her to articulate her thoughts and idealism through appropriate words and actions. From the nature of the dialog, one gets the sense that she was a mainstay of the socialist movement where she lived in. One also gets the sense that her abilities were in constant demand and she was needed in other places too.
After she leaves London, she travels to foreign countries on her socialist mission. She lives with the people she works. This means in unforgiving tropical climes where danger lurks for somebody who is not used to it. Susannah’s quest is so strong that she is spends almost ten years sacrificing any thought of personal happiness. This is a classic example of a woman’s dedication.
Crystal, by contrast is, different. Even her looks are different. She is beautiful and statuesque. She wears the best clothes she can afford while Susannah makes do with threadbare and well-worn clothes. Crystal seeks to satisfy her self and then those around her. She is a giver and a taker. One would never accuse Crystal of being selfish. One can imagine Crystal being an extrovert, the life of a party. When a child, she probably got into several fistfights.
For Crystal, happiness is found in the here and now. And yet, she is caring and nurturing. She is appealing for her sexuality. This is the part that is attractive to Frank. She nurses him when he is ill. She knows that Frank is with Susannah. And yet she takes care of Frank while Susannah is out on her social work. Crystal is very direct and without guile. One can truly believe that though she loved Frank, she would not stand in the way if Frank decided that he wanted to stay on with Susannah.
Crystal is the kind of woman who would merely shrug and be on her way. She is not introspective. With Crystal, there is a brutal honesty. What you see is what you get. Crystal is not an intellectual. But she has street smarts. She is decidedly realist in the midst of a cast of idealistic characters. She knows how to enjoy herself. For her, it is worth the trouble. Crystal’s giving nature is without compromise. She knows what she wants for herself and she will leave no stone unturned until she gets it. Crystal also realizes her limits. She does not seek that which is out of the realm of possibility. Dissatisfied with Frank, who does not earn enough to keep her and the children comfortable; she does not compromise her marriage. One might think of a selfish woman would divorce Frank and seek out someone who can afford her the finer things in life. She also realizes her intellectual limitations and knows how much she can earn. And she goes out there and works to the best of her abilities.
The stage setting for the play depicts how the home is before Crystal began to live there and ten years after she married Frank. The changes are obvious. From a place where socialist would come to “hang out,” Crystal’s home making abilities have transformed the home into a livable place. One might blame Crystal for her extramarital dalliances; but in having sex with men other than Frank, Crystal is merely realizing the fulfillment of her physical needs. She probably never sees one man more than once; and even if she does, she does not surrender her emotional core to this person. It is not hard to imagine therefore that no other man could convince her to leave Frank and marry him.
Towards the end of the play when Frank has left and Crystal and Susannah are talking, she suggests that they live as a threesome. This is greatest part of her love for Frank. She is willing to share her husband because she knows that there is some part of him that she cannot satisfy. Susannah seems to fit the bill exactly. There can be no doubt of her love.
We know that in everything Crystal does, she is in touch with her emotions. And one of these emotions is fear. And like every other aspect of her essence — emotional, mental or physical — she meets it head on. She is afraid that she does not quite meet some of Frank’s expectations. She knows that she is not the intellectual who will internalize everything. Her opinion of the working class sensibilities is probably to go out and get a job; and to work as hard as possible to make ends meet. The fundamental difference between Susannah and Crystal can be summed in the following scenario. If presented with imminent danger, Susannah would attempt to analyze how and why that danger came to be; and whether she had done something to cause her to be in the dangerous situation. Crystal on the other hand would instinctively try to remove her self from the dangerous situation or take other measures to quell the danger. Susannah is a problem analyzer. Crystal is the problem solver. In her married life, Crystal is confronted with a situation in which she cannot provide all that her husband needs. Knowing that this need can be fulfilled on by Susannah, she is willing to share her husband with another woman. Crystal also does not have an ego. She does not have time for ego. If she stopped for ego, life would pass her by. Susannah does have an ego; but she would intellectualize and rationalize her actions (that are driven by her ego) so that they do not affect her life. If this is largely a female premise contrast it with Frank’s ego. He is self-centered. His ego is stoked knowing that two women adore him. When Crystal is more successful than he is at bringing money into the home, it affects his ego such that he is not able to perform sexually. Crystal then has to seek the company of others. Frank concentrates so much on the gratification of his ego that he cannot make much progress in his life.
Having identified the differences between Susannah and Crystal, it is worth discussing a common thread that runs through their beings. For one, they both love Frank very much. No matter what their experiences with males may have been, Frank would always rank at the very top for both women. What makes him also attractive to both women is that he evokes their maternal instincts in them. Frank is so completely inadequate that both women can find ways to provide for him without infringing on each other. There are enough inadequacies in Frank for everyone!!
The similarity between the two women is that they are giving. But they give for different reasons, though the end results are the same. Susannah is the more naturally giving of the two. She gives to the downtrodden. She gives to the homeless and the hungry. She gives to aboriginals whenever she feels that people need her. And, she gives to Frank. She gives him comfort; she provides an intellectual sounding board. Frank feels that Susannah is some one that he can talk with who will not judge him for his inadequacies.
Crystal is giving for different reasons. She is giving because she is protective of the ones she loves. One might imagine that Crystal would give alms to a beggar or if the need is directly identified. After all, she gives in her job. As a nurse, she is called to administer to the sick and the needy the year round. She gives because she has to and she gives because she wants those under her care to be happy. One cannot however, imagine Crystal joining a mass movement that would protect the rights of the workers, because the cause and effect of working for these people is not direct. In a workers movement, striking workers would cause production to decrease. This would cause a drop in the profits to the factory owners. This would cause the owners to relent and give the workers their demands. That would put adequate food in the mouths of the families of workers. Crystal would not be able to reconcile this long drawn, convoluted process. She would be more comfortable doling out food in a soup kitchen where life would be uncomplicated. That is Crystal, to a tee. Crystal is attracted to Frank because he needs to be cared for. He needs to be fed and he needs to be clothed. At taking care of these needs, Crystal is a natural. In Frank was hungry she would cook him some food; and if he’s clothes needed darning, one would bet that Crystal would dig into her sewing basket. If Susannah were confronted with torn clothes her cerebral nature would not even notice the clothes.
Pam Gems gives us an accurate description of a woman’s uniqueness. She is loving, caring and nurturing. She is willing to share. She is capable and accomplished. She is also forgiving. Crystal and Susannah, two women cut from different cloths, they have their frailties and weaknesses, but “Loving Women” is a celebration of their strengths.
Chapter 3 Internal Relationship of the Characters
The relationships among the characters in “Loving Women” largely depend on each of these women characters. It is necessary to explore the characters of each in brief before delving into their relationships. Frank is the pivotal character in the play. This might seem like an aberration since Frank comes across as the weakest and least accomplished. Also an important question needs to be answered. Based on what happens towards the end of the play with respect to the conversation between Crystal and Susannah, are these women enablers? Would they not be better served if they broke of ties with Frank and went separate ways where they might have more intellectually and materially fulfilling lives? Frank has no redeeming qualities that would make the women spend their lives with him.
Let’s assume that despite everything, Frank is still the pivotal character in the play. The play aptly named “Loving Women” where the women revolve around Frank. Frank is needy and pathetic. One often hears this grotesque statement: “That in a wife, a man seeks his mother, his sister and a whore.” Such thinking can be extended (though not specifically) to Frank. There are two sides to Frank. One is a side that renders him a child who needs constant care and nurturing. His physical and emotional states are delicate. His ego needs constant stoking. The other side is seeking intellectual satisfaction. With Frank, it is always what others can provide for him. In turn, he returns nothing. He does not have a nurturing side and he does not have an intellectual side. Frank is not deliberately selfish. There is no intent to his self-centered actions. This is just the way he is.
Pam Gems brilliantly illustrates an aspect of womanhood that rises above all the superficial noise. It is of being a mother. This instinct, as shown (not overtly or explicitly) by the playwright, is genetically hardwired in women. To both Susannah and Crystal, Frank is like a child that needs constant nurturing. Here there is a conflict between their abilities and the need to be a mother. Each of them can only provide for one side of Frank. Frank, by his nature, evokes their maternal instincts. This is the premise of the internal relationships of the two women on the side and Frank in the middle.
Exploring these relationships further, again from Frank’s perspective, we see that in Scene 2 of Act 1, Susannah sees the beginnings of Frank and Crystal’s family and removes herself from that environment. To her, Frank has outgrown the need that could be met by Susannah. This was a bruise to her ego. But Susannah is capable of moving on with her life. She does exactly that. Susannah thinks that her maternity has lost out here; other than also losing a lover. From the same perspective, though Susannah probably leaves Frank and Crystal and their newborn thinking this, none of this is a win-win prospect for Crystal. There is only so much that someone can give before expectations of reciprocation arise. With Crystal, these expectations were met with continuous frustration. She thinks that Frank will be a good provider. He is not. And also, he ego is bruised when her dedication and hard work allows her to make more money and makes her the primary breadwinner of the household. This affects him sexually as well. Since he cannot satisfy Crystal sexually, she seeks other sexual parameters though she never stops loving and caring for Frank.
Later in the play, Susannah and Frank discuss the sexual side of their previous relationships. By all accounts, it was very good. So good and so raucous, that the neighbors complained. Can one believe that, if Frank and stayed with and married Susannah the sex would be better and his ego would not be bruised? One can answer no. Frank would soon tire of the monotonous intellectualism that was Susannah. It is probable that Frank would seek out Crystal-like women for sexual escapades. It also does not seem probably that Susannah would seek lovers outside marriage. The problem would arise with Frank’s inherent selfishness.
Even when Frank is not the center of attention, he seeks to be. This is illustrated in altercation with one of Crystal’s lovers. He also gets in an argument with Crystal and stomps out of the house never to return. Crystal is confident that he is at the neighborhood pub and will return eventually. Frank being the center of attention is unfortunate because the sisterhood between Susannah and Crystal is never developed or explored. At the beginning of the play, when Frank is ill, both women do their best to administer to him — each in her own way. Later, Susannah and Crystal have an argument. This is understandable. They are both competing for the same man. Susannah is the loser; or at least, that’s what it seems like. Towards the end of the play, Susannah’s maternal urges are very strong. She wants to have a baby. She rekindles the lost affection for Frank. Or perhaps, it was never lost, only dormant. She believes that Frank would be the perfect Father for the child. This is perhaps, more a projection of the love that Susannah feels for Frank than logical thought. Why does she feel this way for him? Because, Frank is once again a child: His ego is bruised. His marriage is falling apart. He awakes the mother in Susannah.
The implausible idea that Crystal suggests at the very end — that they live as a threesome so that all of Frank’s needs are continually met indicate that what Frank really brings out of the women is their maternal instincts. And using these instincts for both Susannah and Crystal is celebratory.
Chapter 4 Qualities of Survival in the Working Class
The state setting as the play progresses shows that the residents are in the working class stratum of society. Let’s assume where Frank, Susannah and Crystal come from before the play begins. Pam Gems never mentions this and so this is largely speculative. The speculation is from seeing the characters evolving as the play progresses.
Susannah probably comes from a middle class background. Her parents are probably teachers. She probably excelled in school. It is also possible that she comes from a religious background where helping other and loving “ones neighbors as one self” is the rule and not the exception. As she grew up, Susannah probably rebelled against her upbringing and middle class sensibilities. Her giving heart probably felt concern for those less financially and materialistically fortunate than her. She was still imbued with the “love thy neighbor” attitude but she probably gave up formal religion.
Frank probably grew up in similar conditions as Susannah. He was however weak willed and easily swayed by a stronger person. He was also perhaps, coddled by his parents. When he met Susannah, her strong personality probably caused him to devote time and energy to socialist causes. However, we know that at the beginning of the play, Frank is recovering for a nervous breakdown. It is possible that he did not have the emotional strength to deal with the concerns of those impoverished or otherwise victims of society’s abuse.
Crystal probably came from a working class background. She probably played with boys and got into fistfights. She learned early that if you had a cold, good, warm chicken soup was better than a discussion of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” She also is an automatic nurturer. But she demands self-satisfaction. If she does not get it from those around her, she seeks it elsewhere.
Frank, Susannah and Crystal, each uniquely, try to survive working class woes. Frank is the big complainer. He is fortunate to have married Crystal because she takes care of the household. This means that his ineffectiveness as a provider is overshadowed by the fact that there is always food on the table. He wants the good things in life that a working class person wants; yet, he is not interested in going out and working for it. His job as a teacher pays little. He is generally dissatisfied with life. Imagine if Crystal and Susannah’s roles were reversed. If he was initially in love with Crystal who provided him with visceral satisfaction, and then Susannah came along and satisfied his intellectual leanings. One might imagine that he would still be dissatisfied. Frank does not embody the working class. He does not have the will to survive. He is generally parasitic to the women around him. Frank’s character is such that he would be very satisfied if he were a richer individual; he would not have to be with people who struggle to make ends meet.
Susannah’s struggles are different. Her survival is never in question. Her quest is to enable others to survive. One can imagine that Susannah is smart and capable enough that she does not have to live in the circumstances she finds her self in. Her intelligence and ability to organize would take her up the corporate ladder very quickly. She chooses to live the life she does. She does not aspire to riches. She aspires to teach those around her how to survive being in society’s working classes. Very often, in her plays, Pam Gems proposes the notion of a complete woman. This completeness for Susannah is if she had a child. It is necessary for her survival, but this part has nothing to do with being in the working class.
Crystal knows how to survive being in the working class. She simply goes out and works as hard as she knows how. This enables her to create a household that gets better with time. Her frustration with Frank is that he does not earn enough to supplement her earnings. One might even say that her frustrations stem from knowing that Frank does not possess the realism or is unwilling to learn what it takes to survive. We know that like Susannah, Crystal does not aspire to be rich. Unlike Susannah, she does not have the capability to be rich. Even her sexual dalliances outside marriage are more to satisfy her sexual urges that Frank cannot satisfy than to find some financial rewards from sex. Through all this Crystal never stops loving, or caring or nurturing Frank. And she also does the same for her children. Crystal is happy where she is. And if she isn’t, she will find a way to be happy.
Chapter 5 Pro-Working Class Politics
If there is a perfect illustration of Pro-working class politics in a Pam Gems play, it is in “Loving Women.” Two of the character are socialists and possibly Marxist — Frank and Susannah. While these two are intellectuals, and would possibly be the greatest proponents of an equitable distribution of wealth with greater power in the hands of the worker, they are merely theoreticians and intellectuals. It is Crystal, who in temperament and intellect is different from Frank and Susannah, who perfectly embodies the working class personality and sentimentality. It is ok to talk about equality and the rights of workers, Crystal has to go out and earn a living.
Right at the beginning of the play, Frank and Susannah are shown to be socialists. They attend workers’ rallies and meetings. They distribute pamphlets. They bring aid to afflicted workers. It is the synchrony of thought and feeling that draws them together. As a couple, it is this intellectual idealism that holds them together. It turns out however, that Susannah is the true purist among the two. Frank has another side to him. Crystal appeals to this other side.
The audience is led to view Susannah’s predicament with sympathy. We are also led to be unsympathetic towards Frank because he cheats on Susannah. And he also is not much of a provider. He is still cut in the intellectual mode, far removed from reality of going out and earning a living. He earns a living as a teacher but it is not much to support the household. Susannah, on the other hand, jilted by Frank, moves on with her life. She experiences socialism and working class politics to the hilt. She goes to other countries to help out people who find themselves on the wrong side of the class divide. She is a purist, she lives among those she helps so that she can gain a true appreciation of the kind of lives the people she is helping lead.
What Susannah does not understand is that there is a difference between experiencing other people’s lives and living other people’s lives. This has largely been the political failing of socialism. One might put oneself in the position of a poor worker who is the beneficiary of help by Susannah. He or she might think it is implausible that Susannah gives up a more comfortable life a life that he or she might endeavor to live. Socialism does not give a chance for the afflicted to rise above their afflictions because it believes in celebrating the life of the afflicted. The working class that seems mired in poverty and not able to rise above it; they also wish to attain a better life. In one way, Susannah yearns for this kind of life. As she is living with and helping the poor she yearns for the sense of realism and fulfillment that she thinks Frank and Crystal have. Only they do not.
Crystal, as was earlier mentioned, is the true embodiment of the working class. The only difference is that she is self-confident, courageous and takes life by the horns so as to not be mired in the mere politics. She sees life as fleeting. She wants to get whatever she can while she can. She has a take no prisoners approach to her work. She plays hard; but she also works hard. If one takes away the philandering aside (and one can largely blame this on Frank’s impotence when it comes to realism) it is hard not to admire her. She does not get bogged down in discussions about workers’ plight. She goes ahead and works for a living. And she works very hard. Her job as a nurse keeps the household going, while Frank is largely ineffectual in his career. From Scene 1 to Scene 2 and Act II, the stage setting shows that the residents of the apartment have become more affluent. This is not to say that they are richer. But it is not hard to believe that most of what has happened is more Crystal’s touch than Frank’s. Crystal is the working-class life at its best.
Crystal will never rise above the working class. But she is happy in her current situation. She makes no apologies. She cares for her husband. The audience however, does not get to see her children in the play. It is not hard to imagine that they share more of her abilities than they do Franks. One can also imagine that they are healthy and happy. Frank and Crystal are studies in contrast. Both live a working class existence; but while they live, one can also imagine Crystal with a smile of her face, laughing out loud when she is happy, screaming and yelling when she is angry and weeping hysterically when she is sad. Frank, on the other hand, might never truly be happy.
Historical or mythical women characters Queen Christina, Rosa Luxemburg, Guinevere, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich)
Chapter 1 Facts From History
Christina Wasa was born in Sweden to King Gustav II Adolf and Maria Eleonora on December 8, 1626. Her mother rejected her because she was ugly; but her father decided that she should be raised as a prince. He selected a group of tutors to supervise her education until her coming of age. Trained for the throne, even at an early age she began questioning Lutheranism expressing a desire to become a Catholic. Later in life, she refers to age nine as the age at which she began to think for herself and make her own decisions. From the young age of 13, Christina began attending council meetings and in two years she was fluent in five languages. Her entire childhood was spent in the royal pursuits: political affairs, study, sport and exercise. The latter consisted of riding and bear hunting.
At a young age Christina fell in love with Charles Gustav but that marriage (which was projected) was not to be. At age 18 in 1644, Christina was coronated Queen of Sweden. A year later, Christina fell in love with Magnus de la Gardie (who eventually Maria Euphrosyne — Christina’s friend). At the same time Christina initiated the creation of the first Swedish newspaper. Always interested in philosophy, Christina often consulted with Rene Descartes and theologian Matthiaes. At this time, she seriously considered not only considered converting but also abdicating the throne. While undergoing this crisis, Christina also helped end the Thirty Years’ War and negotiated the Peace of Westphalia. (Landy and Villarejo, 1995)
On June 6, 1654, Christina abdicated and the very next year she converted. Unfortunately, she also realized that the Catholic religion was much stricter. She traveled throughout Europe holding conventions on religion and philosophy. Losing power she tries to gain ascendancy over Naples, but she was betrayed by Monaldescho whom she murders. Not allowed into Sweden, Christina spend her days pursuing the sciences — astronomy and chemistry. (Hjortsjeo, 1966) Later she tried to gain the right to rule Poland. She was unsuccessful in that endeavor. During this exile and financial difficulty, Christina never gave up the pursuit of excellence. She opened observatories, museums and theaters. Christina died on April 19, 1689. She lies today in St. Peter’s Church in Rome.
Edith Piaf was born on 19th December 1915 under a gaslight on the night streets of Paris. Her real name was Edith Giovanna Gassion. Her Father was an acrobat; her Mother a street singer. At first, she struggled making a living as a street entertainer until she was spotted by an impresario who offered her a contract. Edith eventually became the most highly paid star in the world. Edith had two husbands (Jacques Pills and Theo Sarapo), but many other men — mostly entertainers (among them, Henri Contet the song writer and Marcel Cedran, the boxer) — became her lovers. Edith was also not averse to cruise the local bars for company and stimulation.
Her career rose to great heights making her the highest paid and most famous singer of her generation. She made many recordings dating from 1936 until her last recorded song, “L’homme de Berlin,” which she taped in early 1963. Edith Piaf spent most of her life living in the suburbs of Paris. She entertained her audiences in many European cities but never officially in the UK. Her greatest success abroad was most definitely in the U.S.A. Edith did not die a rich woman. In fact she left many debts to her second husband, Theo Sarapo, a man many years her junior. For most of her life she was had emotional anguish and physical pain. She sought to drown these out by alcohol and drug abuse. Most of the people around her enabled her because they were overwhelmed by her stardom but she lived her short life to the full, living only to entertain her public in the only way she knew how. Edith Gassion died on 11 October 1963.
Variously portrayed in literature, Guinevere was the daughter of King Leodegrance and Malory (a princess). Much like her life story, her name is spelled differently: Guinevere, or Guenevere, or Guenievre, or Guenhumare or Ginevra. In Welsh, she is Gwenhwyfar which really is a variant of Jennifer. Guinevere was very beautiful and desirable. She also occasionally had questionable morals. She became known as the beautiful wife of King Arthur (of the Round Table fame). Depending on the sources, Guinevere was either forced into or had (of her own volition) an extra-marital relationship with the knight, Lancelot. She was variously, condemned or forgiven. Guinevere was a polarizing figure. Some sources believe that and she was either condemned, according to law, or forgiven outright for her sins. According to some, she either was a willing accomplice to a betrayal against her husband, Arthur (Hardyng, Ellis and Grafton, 1812).
Her mythological status had Guinevere being frequently abducted by other knights, kings or even savage tribesmen. Even in death Guinevere became subject of contention. Some averred that Lancelot killed her; others say that she died in a convent. There is a burial site that is ascribed to her. The burial cross also gave rise to several speculations as to who she really way. Some believe that she was Arthur’s second wife. Others believed that she was Arthur’s half sister (Rise, 2003). All this confusion about the origins and life of Guinevere is fodder that has helped color the already colorful legends of King Arthur. There is also an ancient Triad of the Island of Britain which records Arthur’s “Three Chief Queens”: Gwenhwyfar daughter of Cywryd, Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr ap Greidiol and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Ogrfan Gawr. This may further indicate the confusion over the lady’s parentage as already alluded to.
Rosa Luxemburg was born in a Jewish family on March 5th, 1871 in Poland, the youngest of five children. In 1889, at 18 years old, Luxemburg’s revolutionary agitation forced her to move to Zurich, Switzerland, to escape imprisonment. While in Zurich, she studied political economy and law; receiving her doctrate in 1898. Luxemburg voiced sharp theoretical differences with the Russian party, primarily over the issue of Polish self-determination. She was against it. Luxemburg helped create the Polish Social Democratic Party. Luxemburg left Zurich for Berlin in 1898, and joined the German Social Democractic Labour Party. Quickly after joining the party, Luxemburg’s strongest revolutionary agitation and writings began to form. She was for holding onto the original Marxist theory.
While Luxemburg supported reformist activity as the means of class struggle, the aim of these reforms was a complete revolution, she was against a capitalistic, bourgeois society. By the 1905 Revolution in Russia, Luxemburg refocused her attention to the Socialist movement in the Russian Empire, explaining the great movement the Russian proletariat had begun. She was later arrested for her thoughts.
Before the first World War, Luxemburg wrote The Accumulation of Capital in 1913; a work explaining the capitalist movement towards imperialism (Luxemburg, 2003). In World War I, she supported the Axis powers. In November, 1918, the German government reluctantly released Luxemburg from prision and she formed the German Communist Party, by now the German Govnerment moving towards a fascist governance did not like Luxembourg’s ideology. On January 15, 1919, Rosa Luxemburg was arrested and taken for questioning, she was knocked unnconcious, taken to a river, shot and thrown into the river along with her colleague and fellow revolutionary.
Mystery and glamour are the first things that come to mind when the name Marlene Dietrich is mentioned. She worked her way from the German cabaret stage to the glittering lights of Hollywood, Marlene starred in some of the most memorable films of the early 1930s including, “Morocco,” “Dishonored,” “Blonde Venus,” “Shanghai Express,” “The Scarlet Empress” and “The Devil Is A Woman.”
Born Maria Magdalena, on December 27, her real father, Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, a Royal Prussian officer died when she was very young. Her family life was conservative, upper-middle class, and with her father’s military influence. Her first love was the violin and she aspired to become a concert violinist. Suffering a wrist injury, she to the stage in German cabaret productions and small films. She met and married Rudie Sieber, a production assistant on the film Tragedie der Liebe (Tragedy of Love), in 1924. In the following year, Marlene gave birth to their daughter, Maria. Her film “The Blue Angel,” the first German talkie, became a success and she moved to Hollywood.
While making, “Knight Without Armor” in 1937, she was approached by Nazi agents trying to persuade her to come back to Germany. When she refused Hitler’s offer, her films were banned in Germany, and viewed as a traitor by many of her countrymen. With her career on the decline, she left Hollywood for two years and returned to Europe. In 1939, producer Joe Pasternak offered her role in the film “Destiny Rides Again” with star James Stewart. A western, the role transformed her femme fatale image to that of a leathery saloon hostess and in effect, resurrected her career. (Spoto, 1993)
During World War II, she made her intentions towards the Hitler regime clear by not only becoming a U.S. citizen, but also by entertaining USO troops overseas and giving anti-Nazi broadcasts in German. She was awarded with the Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian American honors, and was similarly awarded in France with a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. After the war, Marlene continued to appear in films. In 1950, at the age of 49 Milton Greene photographed her in some of the most striking photographs. Her films roles became fewer and fewer, but Marlene remained in the public eye by making stage appearances, notably in London, Moscow, Paris, Tel Aviv and even Berlin.
The last notable film Marlene made was the emotional “Judgment at Nuremberg” where she played a wife of a Nazi officer. From then on she appeared only in a handful of small roles and regular stage appearances. In the late ’70s she withdrew from public life, becoming a recluse in the sanctuary of her Paris apartment. On May 6, 1992 Marlene died in her Paris apartment in her sleep. (Frewin, 1955)
Chapter 2 Transformation of these characters from historical to individual female characters
When Pam Gem’s wrote plays or created historical perspectives of famous women of this generation or generations ago, she was not merely creating biographical sketches for dramatic effect. She cast these leading women in a light that commented on the social mores of our times and the place of women in society. The construct or narrative of the plays always has a hidden meaning and a story to tell. What is admirable is that Gems weaves her message through the main character, and those around her, without compromising historical accuracy. The plays are also notable because they are not one-sided depictions. They are fair; they provide a portrait of femaleness through the main characters. If the womanhood of the main character is flawed in the midst of other noted abilities, Pam Gems says so without holding back. This chapter will go back and forth between the character in history (mostly depicted in the previous chapters) and the character in the plays.
Queen Christina is today held as a symbol for cross dressers, the transsexual, the trans-gendered and lesbians and bisexuals. This characterization is unfair not because these groups are mostly treated as outsiders looking in, in a society where conventional normalcy is held as a standard. This characterization of Queen Christina is unfair because each group sees in this woman what they want to see. It’s as if all astronomers and alchemists see Queen Christina as a patroness of the sciences and nothing else. And all philosophers, theologians and Catholics see her as their beacon because she spent countless hours with Rene Descartes and gave him gifts or that she always had the ear of the Pope and other influential religious leaders and see her as the first royalty to introduce Catholicism into her country.
The facts presented in the previous chapter describe Christina to a tee. Yet, Pam Gems gives to her what she had been seeking all her life: the recognition of who she really was under the veneer of the learning and the abilities — a woman. Pam Gems gave to Queen Christina in death what she perhaps, never had in life — the key to her womanhood. Every overture that she makes to religious leaders, philosophers, astronomers and scientist, and even lesbians were steps in her discover of what she really was — a woman. One would hope that Pam Gems would perpetrate a myth through the play by allowing her to have a child (though this would not be in keeping with the honesty that Pam Gems engenders in all her historical work). This child would be for Christina the recognition of what she was really looking for. The audience and insightful readers can almost palpably sense the frustration of Christina as she meanders about facing dead end after dead end in her quest of self-discovery. The reader and perhaps the audience wants to yell out and tell her that what Christina is looking for is really insider her self. All she has to do is reach down and sift through the years of defeminizing rhetoric that she has been fed which caused her to lose her individuality and her identity to serve the greater good of society and to make sure that she would remain in society where she belonged, as second class citizen even as the ruler. Pam Gems story of Christina is a story of survival to find her self. In this discovery, she left a lasting legacy. This legacy is open to interpretations to different people to whom different aspects of her personality appeal.
Edith Piaf was a sensationally talented individual. But she was also deeply flawed. The next will read as a deep contradiction: Edith Piaf fought for her survival; she pulled herself (literally) out of the gutters to become one of the most famous singers of her time. She also generated immense wealth. The contradiction is because even while in survival mode, every action of hers hides a self-defeating fatalism that will manifest either in the short-term and the long-term. In creating the play, “Piaf,” Pam Gems mainly sticks to the story of Edith’s life with all its ups and downs. Mainly, two types of characters surrounded Piaf: some of them used and abused her, and this included mostly the men in her life; and the others that helped her. By helped, one does not mean the enablers who helped her to procure and use drugs and alcohol, it means the people who truly cherished her, not for her stardom or her money, but those who identified with her past or present, and those who wanted to see her fare well. These helpers were also people who saw Edith as the woman she was beneath the star. They saw her as an empty shell of a person devoid of any identity. They saw her as someone who would seek attention because there was no depth to her personality that she could call upon in times of difficulties. The three people are Toine, Josephine and Madeleine. While the three people who helped her are women, there are a few men who also helped her career though did nothing for personally. They were the club owner who gave Edith her first break. And her manager, who was with her throughout her career, was another relatively positive influence.
In order not to get bogged down by the details of all the people who flitted in and out of her life, Pam Gems only represents the people that were instrumental in her life. For the others she uses representations. For instance, Gems never refers to her first husband but her second. Toine is probably a representative of all the girls she grew up with. These girls turned to prostitution to stave off starvation and meet somebody who might give them financial security and familial stability. The three ne’er do wells Louis, Eddie and Jacques represent all the dregs of society for whom crime was the way out of extreme poverty. These three men while actually having killed the club owner M. Leplee could also represent the men who tried to recruit her as a prostitute and made life very difficult for her. Incidentally, Jacques was the name of Edith’s first husband. This is a possible dig at her first husband (Gems never mentions him in the play) who was never there to help Edith when she needed him. Marcel Cedran, the boxer is mentioned, because he is the only man for whom Edith nursed a true romantic love. A love that could have gone places but never did because Marcel was married
The reason why Gems removes this clutter of characters is because she wants to explore the focus that was Edith’s life. Though she was fortunate to have some helpful people in her life, it needed a singularity of determination to rise above the extreme poverty to accomplish what Edith did. One can imagine that there were other girls around her who perhaps, nursed the same ambitions, but fell by the wayside not even meriting a footnote in history while books have been and will continue to be written about “The Little Sparrow.” Edith Piaf will continue to be a beacon of hope to those who are talented (or even willing to work hard and sacrifice) to meet their goals. Even prodigious talent is not enough to be a super star. The talent has to be nurtured and trained so that it can meet its potential. Concert and classical pianists have to practice for several hours each day for years before they are ready to perform at the levels that will create the harmonic sounds that the composers envisioned. Edith only had the street corner. Her only training was to sing as loudly as possible to anyone who might have listened. She was virtually orphaned from birth though both parents were alive for several years of Edith’s life. This is the determination that Pam Gems brings out with beautiful clarity to the reader of this play, and hopefully, through an accomplished actress, to the audiences viewing the play.
Another remarkable aspect of Edith’s life growing up is that though she was sexually promiscuous, she also yielded her physical body only because she chose to and on her own terms. The scrupulously (and this word might perhaps, be misused in this context) avoided becoming emotionally invested in her sexual escapades so that her physical and emotional energies were focused on her becoming a singer. It took singular determination to avoid becoming a prostitute; to put food on the table without having to take the easy (or available) means to earn it and still manage to train enough to catch the eye (ear) of a night-club owner. Contrast this with women like Toine and others of her ilk who sold their bodies just so that they could meet catch the eye of somebody who would take them out of their poverty-stricken lives. Imagine the desperate overtures that Toine made to attract men. Imagine the desperation to perform sexual favors better just so that repeat clientele might hide a potential mate. Edith managed, for her good, to avoid all of that.
An unfortunate part of Edith’s life is the absence of her parents as moral compasses. Edith was so focused on being the best singer that her circumstances would allow, that she never thought about her growth as a person. Till the day she died she remained a brat. It is also possible that she was genetically predisposed to be self-mutilating and that no amount of nurture would triumph over the essence of her nature. But it would be nice to be able to turn to one’s parents when life was filled with despair instead of turning to strangers who perhaps, would not have your best interests at heart. And this is what happened with Edith who died leaving a legacy of music, but financially, physically and emotionally broken.
Pam Gems very effectively portrays Edith as a model to all would be singers and superstars. But Edith’s story also carries with it some caution. It is also (if not more) important to develop as a human being.
Basing her entire life on Marxist philosophy, Rosa Luxembourg was one of the first women proponents of a socialistic form of governance. She was born and grew up at a time when a few people of the world were celebrating the effects of the Industrial Revolution. These were the few factory owners who used their wealth to create more wealth. At the same time the majority of the world was reeling from the same phenomenon of the Industrial Revolution. These were the working class who put in long hours in backbreaking work; these poor souls died early from breathing noxious fume since no environmental standards were in place. These were the dispossessed. They occupied the lowest strata of society. They were herded into tenements that would not be fit for cattle. These were people who had escaped the harsh realities of being feudally enslaved to land owners. They lost the land. They lost their abilities of being artisans and craftsmen. They left the land they loved (unless it was taken over to set up an Industry) in the hope that they would find a means of survival. Instead what they found was a horror that they had never imagined. Being a woman during those times, like every other period in time was like being gored by a double-edged sword. If women sought work in the factories, they were required to work as hard as the men. Any body that fought for the rights of women had to face the reality of proclaiming women to be the weaker sex. The Marxist revolution sought to end this cycle of horror perpetrated on the weak, poor and unsuspecting. Rosa Luxembourg wholly embraced this ideal. She became its most vocal proponent. She went to several countries and joined in the struggle. Hers was a struggle for self-determination and for the rights of women.
History will not judge Rosa kindly especially the countries that exist on capitalistic economies. In one way, this would be justified because Rosa aligned herself with a losing cause. It was a cause that caused untold hardships primarily because if failed to recognize the rights of individuals over society. It also failed to recognize that man was essentially capitalistic and tried to constrain man into a straitjacket into which he was not comfortable. Each human being is unique and cannot fit a mold created by a specific philosophy.
When Pam Gems translated the works of Marianne Auricoste, it was to remind us that here was a woman who gave up her life so that the downtrodden was free. In sometimes subtle and other times direct ways, Pam Gems shows us that women in society are synonymous with the downtrodden worker classes. The wealth amassers created barriers that would never be broken or overcome by the working classes; whenever a working class person tried to break free, circumstances were created which kept him or her indentured to the wealthy. With women, society conspires to do the same. Societies were created based on a male construct because since the beginning of time, superior physical ability has placed man into the traditional role of breadwinner. This made man more outgoing. Women were then mere caretakers. The man became the family’s representative in society. Societies were then built, keeping men in mind. There were no reasons to change things that were convenient to males. Rosa Luxembourg’s life was devoted to ensuring this equality.
Marlene Dietrich was a superstar. She was a superb talent. She was beautiful and also possessed the sensuousness that made her the sex symbol that spanned generations. She made countless movies and also live shows that enthralled audiences for generations. For those who never were fortunate to experience Marlene Dietrich’s talents, Pam Gems provides a complete life story from the perspective of an older wiser Marlene. The wisdom comes from the years of experience. And we get to see how Marlene lived through some of the ups and downs of her life. We know that Marlene was very intelligent and trained as a concert musician. But she developed equally as an individual. She had a sense of individuality. And she lived and died on her own terms. She was in touch with her feelings, and she knew the difference between right and wrong. She acknowledges when stardom got to her. She still shows glimpses of this in the way she behaves and treats her assistants. But none of this ever devolves into abuse. Her assistants indulge her and she deserves to be indulged. Her self-awareness is immense. She speaks about the guilt feelings of not being with her daughter and her failings as her mother as she pursued her career. We see a glamorous grandmother who yearns to be with her grand child. The fact that Pam Gems wrote this play about Marlene in her seventies gives us perspective in a manner different from how the story of Edith Piaf’s developed. In fact, one would hope that Edith Piaf’s story would develop similarly to Marlene’s. It is even probable that Edith was more talented. But Edith Piaf died early and broken, a victim beaten by her own demons.
Pam Gems beautifully shows Marlene’s courage. This is in the person of Mutti, a woman who survived the Holocaust. We are not sure whether Marlene was associated with such a woman. It does not matter. Mutti comes to represent the most unspeakable horrors perpetrated in the history of mankind. If Mutti was indeed a survivor as opposed to a representative of the Jewish population, she probably saw images and acts that would cause her never to have a restful night for the rest of her life. Yet, Mutti has the strength of character to be there for Marlene when she is down. This interaction with Mutti is a depiction of Marlene courage. She easily could have gone back to Germany and become the glamour child of the Nazi war effort. But she realized where Germany was headed. Not only did she oppose Germany and was on the right side of World War II, but she put her life at immense risk by going to sing for and entertain the American troops.
There is another aspect to Marlene Dietrich. She is in touch with the reality of womanhood. This should not be construed as being less of a woman. Marlene Dietrich has a domestic side to her. There are two instances in the play where Marlene shows this. She takes a pail of water and a swab and proceeds to go down on her hands and knees and efficiently scrub the floor. In another instance, after rehearsal, she sweeps the stage for sequins that might have fallen of her dress. She does this with efficient, measured strokes. This shows that even as a superstar she knows what is important. Her humility shines through. What Pam Gems provides besides the life story of Marlene Dietrich is a well-deserved celebration of her life.
Chapter 3 Conflict between the public roles with personal desires
In this section the topic “conflict between public roles and personal desires will be discussed” for three of the more public women on whom Pam Gems plays are based. These three women who will be considered are Queen Christina of Sweden, Edith Piaf the famous French Singer and Marlene Dietrich the famous German-American singer and Hollywood Star.
Queen Christina’s first recognition that something was not quite right (or going to be right in her life) was when her baby brother was still born. Amidst the wails and moans of her mother in labor, her father decided that he would not endanger the life of his wife any more. He decided at that very instant that Christina would be groomed to be the ruler of Sweden. He decreed that her training would begin forthwith. As he carried Christina to be handed to Axel his chief counsel, Christina instinctively grabbed on to his neck. She had to be pried away from her father embrace.
Queen Christina’s public life was completely at odds with her personal desires. It is difficult for a second or third party to articulate her desires because Christina did not know herself what she had desired. Regents controlled her public life. Her father had died in battle a long time ago. Her mother was simply ill equipped to care for her. Others opinions on what her public role should be were forced upon Christina. She was too young to protest. So she went along believing what ever she had been taught. When she came of age, Christina was crowned the Queen of Sweden. As queen she ruled well, and occasionally she ruled with an iron hand. She created unique opportunities for her subjects that were not available in Sweden before her reign. And then all of a sudden, she was supposed to forego all that she was taught and all the experience she had gained by marrying a Prince from Germany (a man she did not consider her equal) and relinquishing her role to her husband. This was anathema to her. She also believed (perhaps falsely) that Protestantism was the cause of this line of thinking. So she made two momentous decisions that would have abiding consequences for her and her country folk. She abdicated the throne of Sweden and she converted from Protestantism to Catholicism.
She was unsure of her sexuality. She was in love with a man, a love that remained unrequited, yet she experienced pleasure with women. She made forays into the world of lesbianism, but found that this was not a life style she would favor. She sought and received the audience of the Pope, but she was not aligned with Catholic thought, especially when it concerned her sexual experiences. While with the pope, she sought to experience Italy. Here she came in to contact with several of the enlightened members of the age. They included philosophers, astronomers, theologians and artists. While she met and confabulated with these distinguished man, she also had a visceral, lustful attraction to a no name person called Monaldescho who became her lover. Monaldescho was unsuitable to Christina in every respect. When she started on a quest to become the ruler of Naples, she lost several battles. This was due to Monaldescho’s betrayal. Enraged, she murdered him.
Eventually, the Pope offers her the throne of Poland so that she would introduce Catholicism into this Eastern European country. This endeavor also failed. The Queen who once had a nation at her beck and call now did not have a home. She was not allowed back in Sweden because of her religious beliefs. It would seem that Christina did not have a very happy life. She flitted from one endeavor to another quest. One can assume safely, that Christina died a very frustrated death. But her frustrations gave rise to an incredible legacy of learning both in the arts and sciences. She engaged philosophers and theologians. She created libraries, centers of astronomy and science. European countries owe several museums to her. As a final testament to her greatness, she was buried (at the behest of the Pope) in the Vatican. This is the information that any body interested can glean from biographies and online resources. This is Queen Christina’s public persona.
What Pam Gems goes on to do is show the conflicts that characterized the life of the Queen. Gems has understood the intimate details of Christina’s life. She shows us how each of her accomplishments mask a deep frustration with personal desires. Christina’s greatest personal desire was probably that she be allowed to grow up and live as a woman. Even if her philosophical and intellectual instincts were honed, she would not have to learn them by completely giving up any identity she had as a woman. Her personal desire was to know herself. Her consultations with Rene Descartes were probably to determine if he could provide any deep philosophical insight into what made her tick. She was headstrong. The natural flow of her life was perhaps so completely disrupted that when she was brought up as a man that she even lost the identity of the intimate nature of her sexuality. She probably desired to find that out. One cannot be sure why she took up with Monaldescho when so many more eminently better men were available who would provide her with some stimulation. But this was perhaps the first time that a man appealed to her femininity. Monaldescho was not a bright or an accomplished man. He was a coward who was killed by Christina for betraying her. But he approached her as a man approached a woman — not for her intellectual abilities or her vast prowess as a huntress but as a woman. One might suspect that in this act Monaldescho provides an affirmation of what Christina wanted all along. Monaldescho gave her the validation she needed — that she was a woman. With this discovery came the taste for other womanly pursuits. One was, to have a child. This recognition did not completely nullify her defeminization. Her instincts to be a ruler and punish spies and betrayers remained with her. She tried for two thrones. These are not personal desires. These were the result of manipulation by others for personal interest. One stark example is the Pope using her to further Catholicism in the country of Poland.
Christina was victimized due to the position she found her self in. Her identify was completely stripped from her. While she maintained an eminent public persona it conflicted with her desire for self-discovery.
A lot has been written about Edith Piaf. The salient features of her life was that she rose from extremely humble beginnings, live in poverty, relied on the good wishes of others to rise from poverty, and became the France’s greatest singing sensation. Along the way, she showed admirable focus and single-minded determination. The odds of becoming successful were miniscule. Most of her friends just went on to become prostitutes if they wanted to make money and rid themselves of their financial problems. Any of the girls who did not prostitutes probably ended up as maids in rich households where the cycle of poverty not only continued, but to it were added, physical and sexual abuse. Edith did beat the odds. And she did it without having to give up her dignity or yield her body without control of it.
As incredibly talented that Edith was, she was also a deeply flawed person. She had a facet of fatalism in her which caused her to make bad choices as a pure reaction to any situation that caused her concern. As a star, she was naturally enamored of all the attention she got. When this attention flagged, she went out and did the wrong thing to get the attention turned towards her. One often hears the adage: “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” It may have done wonders for Edith’s star power, but there it did more harm than good to her personal life. One of her ways of getting attention was to make her self sexually available to men; and the sex was often of a depraved nature. She also had several boyfriends and at least two husbands. All of these men were weak. They build their careers just by remaining in the spotlight with their sycophantic fawning. For a star, superficial looks are also very important. As Edith aged, she tried to recapture her lost youth by engaging in illicit activities with men significantly younger than her. The major downfall for Edith, which left her a physical and emotional wreck and caused her die broken and penniless, was her addiction to drugs and alcohol. She main-lined (intravenously injected) narcotics with some of her boyfriends and husbands who were neither willing nor able to get her to stop. In fact, they were often did the drugs with her. These men did not love her. They were there to share the fame and use her for personal gain. Along with a wonderful body of haunting melodies, the above sums up Edith’s life.
There are two very personal desires that conflicted with her public life. Each of these was a situation where perhaps for the only time that Edith was actually in love. It is possible that Edith’s substance abuse had a two-pronged effect. One, she was trying to forget her sorrows from the split with these two individuals by drowning them in drugs. Two, she was aware that the abuse would eventually kill her, but she did it anyway in order to punish herself and hasten her death. In each case of love, she was either partially or completely at fault.
Very often, parents wish that their children have a better life than they had as children; this adage gets played out repeatedly in subsequent generations. For Edith Piaf, it was a case of history repeating itself. She was birthed under a lamppost on the streets of Paris. Her mother, who was a drunk, abandoned her. She had to fend for herself for most of her childhood and youth. She had very limited contact with either of her two parents as long as they lived. Edith had her first (and only) child while she was still young. But she did not do much better with her son than her mother did with her. She hung out with prostitutes and pimps. Some of her friends and acquaintances were thieves and murderers. It was either the company she kept or that she abandoned her child while she was out singing on the street. Child services took her child away from her. The circumstances of the child’s life are tragic. Edith was not informed when her son was seriously ill. She was only allowed to see her son after he had already passed away.
This had to have seriously weighed on her mind. Her life long unfulfilled desire would have been to do better for her child. Even Toine, who was a prostitute and would have given an eye-tooth for even an iota of Edith’s talents, lived a happily settled life. She had three children. When one talks of personal desires, one often wishes for talent, fame and fortune. Edith had all of these but she could not get the one thing that she truly desired.
The second instance of personal desire conflicting with her public persona was her affair with the boxer Marcel Cedran. Marcel was a champion fighter but he had a soft heart and warm spot for Edith. One can tell from Pam Gems’ description of their love from the way they spoke with each other, which was completely different from her exchanges with her other boyfriends which were violent and filled with invective. The fatalism in this relationship, which she thoroughly enjoys and loves, stems from the fact that Marcel is married. In this situation, her fame intervened in a negative way. If she and/or Marcel were nobodies, they could have carried on the affair for a long, long time. However, they were both celebrities. The media coverage sensationalized the affair. They took the one thing that Edith truly loved and made it sound tawdry. Marcel’s wife found out about the affair. There was a big ado. Edith and Marcel were forced to break up. Her fame in this case acted against her.
Marlene Dietrich will be remembered as the most voluptuous and sensuous star in a career that spanned several decades. She died at a ripe old age. In Pam Gems’ “Marlene,” the star is in her seventies, but has not lost even an iota of her star power. While there were many other stars that made their careers sex symbols, Marlene is the only one that had the singing abilities to match her sensuality. There are some smaller desires in Marlene, but they do not conflict with her public life. They actually enhanced and furthered her career as an actress and a singer. She wanted to play a musical instrument at the level of a concert player. She was accomplished. She realized, however that she would never be good enough to attain that level. So she switched her sights, focusing on acting. Her looks and charisma, coupled with her talent soon made a star. She acted in the first Germany talking film and then soon afterwards she moved to Hollywood. She had a great sense of right and wrong. She supported the Allied forces against the Nazis and the Fascists that wanted to make her their poster child. She had respect for history. She played an important role in helping those of Jewish ancestry that suffered untold horrors during World War II. After the war, her star power continued to rise. She made several films. Some of which were hits and some of which were flops. She also aged gracefully. She stopped making movies when she was not superficially beautiful. But she continued to perform on stage to rave reviews and standing ovations. Pam Gems depicts perfectly that even when Marlene was in her seventies and could have had a myriad assistants do her choreography. She personally supervised and trained the small players that would be on stage with her during her performance. She was involved in the nitty-gritty of the production. Even when old, she decided what lights would accentuate what part of her body and this would provide what kind of effect.
As was discussed in the previous section, two incidents in Pam Gems’ play stand out: The time when she goes down on her hands and knees and scrubs a dirty spot on the floor of her dressing room; the second time, she sweeps and collects the sequins that have fallen off her dress on to the stage floor. Her swabbing and her sweeping styles indicate that she was born to do this job. There is none of the star’s “I” approach to life. She is humble and her life is grounded in reality.
The above suggests the possible conflict between what she desired personally from her life (and felt that the chance for that desire to be met slipping away) and the desire to retain her star status. Throughout the play the conflict is evident. She vacillates (sometimes violently) between the tantrums of a star and the associated attention seeking preening for acclaim vs. The regret at not having a more normal life. She regrets having to leave her daughter behind and not being enough of a mother to her children. She regrets having not had the time to spend with her grand daughter. She is tired of this globetrotting to shows all over the world when she clearly deserves some rest in her old age. She fights the fatigue that comes from aging and alternately she gives in to it. She is tired. She has a bad leg and it causes her to collapse on stage in pain. She cannot help herself, the call of the applause and the acclaim is too much of an aphrodisiac.
It is possible that age eventually caught up with Marlene and she got what she wanted a well-deserved rest and retirement. She never performed after a certain age. But she was available for her fans as much as possible. When Marlene died at a ripe old age, she had been in retirement for several years. One hopes that she got all the rest she wanted and the chance to be a normal person away from the limelight. Knowing her life, she probably satisfied her all her personal desires before she passed away in 1992.
Pam Gems’ Dramatic Technique and Art (15)
Chapter 1 Demonstration of the bourgeois feminist dynamic of individual existential power over the life
The materialist feminist approach to the oppression of women destroys the idea that women are a natural group. This is echoing the sentiment of the feminist proponent of existentialism Simone de Beauvior that: “One is not born, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society: it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between, male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.” (Beauvoir and Parshley, 1993) Historically, society has shown that women do not exist as an independent entity but merely an extension of men.
Feminists all over the world hold on to the premise that women’s oppression is class-based as well as biological. This is seen very starkly in the plays of Pam Gems that have been analyzed in this work. Women are not really allowed to be men, or even like men. This is not allowed by society. Becoming a man demands from a woman not only a man’s external appearance but his consciousness as well. This consciousness causes man to claim as his right two “natural” slaves in a lifetime — the mother, and the wife or mistress. Simone de Beauvoir underlined particularly the false consciousness which consists of selecting among the features of the myth (that women are different from men) those which look good and using them as a definition for women.
The ambiguity of the term “feminist” sums up the whole situation. Feminist is formed with the word “femme,” “woman,” and means: someone who fights for women. To belong to the feminist class does not mean that individuality has to be suppressed. It means that despite the oppression, women can and should have an identity of their own. When a woman is made, existentially she has the right to shape her life as she sees fit. Too often, many women found themselves in the bourgeois or the proletariat class. Both classes of women were oppressed — either emotionally, physically or both. Feminists have always identified with the Marxist ideology. Marxism aimed for an equal rights and equal distribution of property. Feminism was about the equitable distribution to the means of power and the availability of resources. Existentially, individuals, especially women are the product of social relations, therefore their consciousness can only be “alienated.” (Marx, in The German Ideology, says precisely that individuals of the dominating class are also alienated, although they are the direct producers of the ideas that alienate the classes oppressed by them.) (Marx and Engels, 1998)
Class-consciousness does not refer merely to a particular subject. Class problems will be seen as bourgeois problems that would disappear with the final victory of the class struggle. For women, Marxism had two results. It prevented them from being aware that they are a class and therefore from constituting themselves as a class for a very long time, by leaving the relation “women/men” outside of the social order, by turning it into a natural relation, doubtless for Marxists the only one, along with the relation of mothers to children, to be seen this way, and by hiding the class conflict between men and women behind a natural division of labor. This means that for the Marxists, women belong either to the bourgeois class or to the proletariat class, in other words, to the men of these classes. In addition, Marxist theory does not allow women any more than other classes of oppressed people to constitute themselves as historical subjects, because Marxism does not take into account the fact that a class also consists of individuals one by one.
Class-consciousness is not enough. When we find out that women are the objects of oppression and appropriation, at the very moment that we become able to perceive this, we become cognizant of this oppression as outside observers. Consciousness of oppression is not only a reaction to (fight against) oppression. It is also the whole conceptual reevaluation of the social world, its whole reorganization with new concepts, from the point-of-view of oppression.
For women to answer the question of the individual subject in materialist terms is first to show that supposedly “subjective,” “individual,” “private” problems are in fact social problems, class problems; that sexuality is not for women an individual and subjective expression, but a social institution of violence. But once we have shown that all so called personal problems are in fact class problems, we will still be left with the question of the subject of each singular woman-not the myth, but each one of us. Assuming that all of humankind can be redefined in terms of a non-gender scheme. This is one dynamic approach to achieving equality. The above hypothesis demands a complete renewal of every social and scientific notion since the beginning of these constructs. Every aspect of life that uses these categories should be rejected. It is not easy to start over; but this destruction of the pyramid that puts women between men and eunuch (as Beauvoir averred) would be essential to restructure everything such that it is equitable.
In most of the plays, what was observed was in one form or another a woman’s specific social relation to a man is nothing other than servitude. If equity is accepted among certain individuals, society intervened. A conscious characterization of woman constituted under patriarchy, constructed in the image of male desire. Angst uses the same figure of woman as shackled and reduced to passive sexual object. Life’s drama, for the woman in this text, consists in getting herself off the bed and finding a way to write her self into an active, independent thinking body.
Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist masterpiece, The Second Sex, has traditionally been read as Beauvoir’s application of the existential philosophy of her companion, Jean-Paul Sartre — one of the founders and major proponents of existentialism, to the situation of women. Diane Raymond, in Existentialism and the Philosophical Tradition (Kruks, 1990) diary of Beauvoir written when she was student showed that he already had existential leanings. Existentialism for women is the conflict of self when viewed from the perspective of a search for love. There are two elements to this concept. The first is that gender is socially constructed, a result of childhood socialization. The second element involves a woman’s voluntarily giving her self to the surrounding circumstances, namely, individual choice. One of the conflicts that also arise in a woman is planning for a career against social odds — child rearing and home making. Planning for a career can be both an intoxicating experience of individual empowerment and an experience of loss and denial of self. Prideful of her self-reliance, she still yearns to escape the need for it. The conflict between the warmth and companionship in a woman’s traditional role is coupled with and the loneliness of her future.
For the modern woman, personal relationships are considered paramount; but the personal often conflicts and evolves into political questions. Women are not simply free individuals, but they are members of an oppressed caste — defined as inferior by religion and science; socialized to a psychological dependency on men; and restricted in their political and economic activities by laws and social convention. Beauvoir used Marxist “economic reductionism” to define a radical feminist position. The dynamic of this argument calls for the uniting of women in a political struggle to overcome their oppression. This oppression should arise against either man or society. Frederick Engels’ “Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State” has inspired feminists to compare and draw parallels between Marxian classes with the dynamics of gender inequalities. (Marx, Engels and Jones, 2002) This was a new form of feudalism where the factory worker was shackled by indentured servitude. The choice was taken away from this worker because he had probably sold all his belongings, sold any land holdings and had to survive in the pollutions ridden climes of cities. Did their thought process also include the release of women from subjugation? It is important to be clear about what is gained and what using Marx for feminist analyses loses.
Feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Gayatri Spivak (Hartsock, 1998)
This dynamic of the women’s movement is to invoke Marx in order to bridge the gap between oppressions that require for their improvement, a politics of redistribution, on the one hand, and those harms that can be redressed only through a politics of recognition, on the other. It must be also remembered with caution that Marx himself argued that “pre-capitalist economic foundations could not be fully extricated from the cultural and symbolic worlds in which they were embedded.” Marx’s ideas continue to be popular and frequently revisited because they contain an insight into secular, progressive politics. They are thought provoking.
Two plays of Pam Gems: “Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi” and “Camille” involve women who sell sexual favors in order to survive and achieve what they think is important. Different reasons motivate these women to abase themselves. They wish to insert themselves into society that they would not normally be accepted into on account of their background. Or it is an intellectual ambition that a woman might not be suited for this career because her financial background won’t allow her to procure the necessary training. Prostitution can be viewed from an existential standpoint. It also affords us a view in to how class-struggles play an important role in shaping the essence of these women since their existence is not different from those in the bourgeois class.
Prostitution is frequently considered to be a timeless social reality. Person and commodity, active subject and slave, entrepreneur and marginalized worker, universal urban land-mark and social secret – the prostitute is all of these, a body upon which are contested multiple identities and relationships. Prostitution has been constructed and regulated not simply as sex work, but as a threat to the gendered and radicalized codes upon which capital’s political, economic and cultural order was established.
A prostitute’s body was (and still is) deemed public space in a way no other is. It reveals explicitly the multiple identities and relationships which are contested more subtly on this body. An argument can be made that the prostitute was identified not only by class, but was in many ways as a gendered embodiment of the more general working class threat (moral, economic, political, and physical). Through the Middle Ages and up to the rise of Protestant morality and capitalist social organization, the term prostitute was unknown; its antecedents, common woman, meretrix, putain, and whore all referred to sexually-available women in general, and those of the working and peasant classes in particular. But while the labeling of women deemed sexually-deviant has roots far beyond the ascendancy of capital, these terms did not necessarily connote pay for sex or give rise to anything resembling the contemporary infrastructure.
The prostitute was initially premised on as response of working class women to both the imposition of labor discipline and the subsistence needs brought about by industrial capitalism. New ideas were then introduced. They framed the prostitute as moral and medical threat, with the potential to undermine the social body. That threat, however, did not originate in the prostitute herself. It emerged from working class communities generally, with the prostitute as a carrier, or signifier, of the class. She emerged from a proletariat whose living conditions, housing, hygiene and social gatherings were outside the boundaries of bourgeois moral values. (Marx et al., 1973)
Industrialization had spawned the rapid growth of an urban proletariat who was neither adequately trained in the work ethic nor provided with the material requisites of a staid bourgeois respectability. Low wages and instability of employment, particularly for women, forced the adoption of alternative means of income on a regular basis. The squalor associated with working class neighborhoods gave rise to makeshift gatherings of which bawdiness and drink formed the core. Under such conditions, the spread of prostitution was easily explained; conversely, the means of its containment were apparent as well: higher wages, social security, public investment in and policing of working class communities.
An interesting dynamic existed between the prostitute and the worker. On the one hand, prostitution was a common form of labor in working class communities, at the same time, the working class as a whole was set apart from the bourgeoisie, whose moral values, living conditions, leisure activities and forms of congregation were constructed as the norm. The entire working class, which included prostitutes (no matter what their finances), was relegated to the outside of bourgeois society. (Millett, 1975)
This construction of the working class inferior to the bourgeoisie involved a number of aspects. They included: sanitation, public health, respectability and morality all played their part in bourgeois writings of class relations and of the prostitute as embodiment of all that was lowly. Prostitution, then, though a form of labor which emerges in response to capital’s expansion, is one which originates among workers precisely because it evades the controlling gaze of the factory, is compatible with a culture of non-work, and represents a partially self-defined labor which avoids internalization of capital’s moral commands. It facilitates the expansion of working class congregation in public places for sex, drink, and raucous conversation, phenomena, which run counter to the demands of bourgeois morality and the requirements of the labor regime. As such, the regulation and containment of prostitution is necessary for the enforcement of labor discipline (in the factory and in the household) upon workers; their submission to capital is by no means automatic, but must be secured by the isolation of those occupations whose geographic and temporal workspaces evade the direct surveillance of capital.
Chapter 2 Interwoven Elements of Radical and the Bourgeois Feminist Dynamics in the Plays of Pam Gems (7)
The plays that have been analyzed in this work are: “Piaf,” “Queen Christina,” “Camille,” “Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi,” “Loving Women” and “Deborah’s Daughter.” Each of these plays depicts the triumphs of the heroines and the other characters. It also shows their foibles. It shows the trials and tribulations that the women undergo in the face of constraints that male dominated societies place on the women. It also shows the struggles between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. An interesting dynamic that is unique to the manner in which Pam Gems designs the plots and narratives of the play is that bourgeois women are often sympathetic to the cause of the working class. These women are bourgeois only by birth. They learn to live among the proletariat and they survive among them. Some of them choose to takes jobs that are beneath their stations in life or jobs that belie their education and training. If they do not work as working class, they organize the working class by using their higher education and assimilating the socialist and Marxist principles to teach the working class how to assemble, fight for and demand the rights that they properly claim. Bourgeois women want to imbibe in the working class a sense that though they do not have an equitable share of the wealth that they have helped create; they have more than an equal share in creating this wealth. The previous chapter identified an existential dynamic to what it was to be born a woman. Existentialism in its true sense does not apply to women because they are, more often than not, not given a right to self-determination. Their individuality is often taken from them and they have to survive within the constraints that society places on them.
One can draw stark parallels between the social strata of the bourgeois vs. The proletariats and the survival of women in male dominated societies. At the end of the previous chapter in this essay, a reference was made to the prostitutes. Prostitutes are a special case because they transcend all strata of society. Prostitutes need a special identity if their emancipation is to occur. The discussion on the state of prostitutes is also important to a discussion of existential dynamics because several characters in two of Pam Gems’ play “Piaf,” “Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi” and “Camille” make a living or struggle to survive by offering sexual favors or companionship for material gain.
The women in Gems’ plays that belong to the bourgeois category are Susannah from “Loving Women,” Josephine from “Piaf,” Fish from “Dusa…” And Deborah in “Deborah’s Daughter.” Pam Gems’ plays turn our entire (preconceived) understanding of bourgeois and class dynamics on its head. Traditionally, we think of the class struggle as one where the ruling, landed and self-sufficient class traditionally throttled any uprising from the lower, poorer working classes because these uprisings represented an affront to bourgeois power and a threat to their existence. The differences that we see are that, through her plays, Pam Gems proposes a change in the power structure across the globe. She suggests that women being in charge would foster the move towards an equitable distribution of wealth much more easy. It is only natural, Gems avers, since life as we know it flows through the earth. Women are smaller units from mother earth. As a whole, women represent the bounty that the earth can give us. While men represent war and violence that decimates the earth, giving rise to the poverty, famine, malnourished children, women, who represent compassion, life-affirmation and life-giving, would be better in power. The bourgeois-proletariat dynamic with women representing both sides would certainly facilitate an equitable sharing of wealth.
How do we know this? Because of evidence of behavior that Pam Gems provides through her plays.
Let’s identify the thesis for this discussion. In “Deborah’s Daughter” aside from the main plot, through the characters Rhoda, Deborah and Stephanie associates the creative urges of women with the fruitfulness and bounty that can come from the Earth. Rhoda provides the vision of a bountiful earth, Deborah has the money and the scientific know how to make it happen and young Stephanie is pregnant — her unborn child is like the nation that the three women seek to recreate. Deborah is rich and she clearly belongs to the bourgeois class. But she does not seek to hold on to power at the risk of starving the already disease ridden and malnourished children. She is driven by the urge to create life and not take it away. She is also driven by compassion. This is her main driving force. She believes in sharing.
In “Loving Women,” Susannah belongs to the bourgeois class. She is upper middle class and has seen a good life. She is highly educated and could have easily spent her life well ensconced with the other bourgeoisie. She could be comfortable for the rest of her life. But she chooses to live her life in non-conformity. Her peers would think of her as rebellious. But Susannah will have nothing of a class that keeps its riches. She wants to be a part of a group that struggles. Her compassion causes her to empathize with the working class. Her empathy is manifested in activity. She puts her self through physical hardships so that she may understand those poorer than her without being hypocritical about it. She lives as the poor do. She has no aim to obtain the finer things in life. She is a minimalist. Most of her worldly possessions are probably contained in a knapsack. Her humanism is so strong that even when her lover hurts her, she does not rail against society. Instead, she seeks solace among those people in whose company she finds the most fulfillment.
Another example of how bourgeois women break the mold of the traditional class divide is the character of Fish. Fish is highly educated woman brimming with self-confidence. She works in a corporate environment. She comes from an upper middle class background so she is not used to having to struggle to make ends meet. She shoulders her own responsibilities and those of others. Like Susannah, she too breaks the mold. She gives emotional support no matter what the financial status of the person seeking the help. A lot of her work involves fighting for the rights of the working class poor. She brings her intellect and considerable organizational skills to bear to close the class divide. At this, she is very successful; and all who meet her look at her. Fish models herself after Rosa Luxembourg. Like Rosa, Fish too is a firebrand. She believes in an equitable distribution of wealth. She is moved by compassion to those who need her help.
Another example of a bourgeois who gives more than she takes if Josephine, the lounge singer and club owner who goes out of her way to foster Edith Piaf’s career though it is a threat to her own. Josephine is one of the few people that Edith encounters in her life that do not try to use her fame for personal gain. Josephine is always ready with a kind word and sound advice. She wants to see Edith Piaf succeed, but she also realizes that it will not happen unless Edith does something about the company she keeps and her substance abuse.
There are several characters in Pam Gems plays that have come to represent the working class. These characters struggle against all odds to make ends meet. They are often shunned by society and not given a chance to improve their lives. Society conspires to keep them forever downtrodden. Some among the working class do not aspire to higher riches. They are happy the way they are. They do not want to break the class barrier. They merely work as hard as they can just to make their lives that much better.
Crystal is a worldly-wise woman that is forced to struggle because of her husband who is impotent at several levels. She is constantly at odds with the amount of money her job can bring. She is forced to be the main breadwinner. Her paycheck goes to pay for the upkeep of her home, her husband and her children. She could certainly hope that her work situation would improve. Susannah is an effective counterpoint. While Crystal is looking to move upwards, Susannah who is also there seeks to improve the lives of people who are stuck in Crystal’s situation — dead-end jobs. If Susannah’s efforts at achieving social equity are successful, one can imagine that Crystal might draw a higher salary and improve the lot of her life. The dynamic interplay between a bourgeoisie and a working class woman, despite the romantic undertones and the presence of a male around whom the plot revolves, is fascinating.
Three of the characters in “Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi,” Dusa, Fish and Vi belong to the working class. Dusa is educated but she does not have a job. She does not have the drive or the ambition to improve herself. Her way of coping is by depending on others or turning to others in despair when the need arises. She could also do well with an equitable distribution of wealth. She is victimized by the circumstances of her background. She cannot hope to have her children back when her lover takes them away because she does not have the financial resources to hire a detective or get them back. One gets the feelings that this episode (financial necessity) will be repeated many times over in Dusa’s life. The youngest character in the play Vi, also belongs to the working class. She comes to the big city from a rural environment, possibly a run away. She does not have the education or skills to better her financial condition. She does not have the maturity or drive alone. In Vi’s defense, she is still young and immature. She also has a drug dependency. She will probably, until some calamity occurs that causes her to sit up and take notice, flit from job to job without a care in the world. The other working class character in the play is also involved in a struggle. Her struggle comes from the necessity to improve the lot of her life. She is victimized by her poor background and by her ambitions. She wants to be a marine biologist in foreign country. This will cost her a lot of money. Her current job does not afford her that kind of money; and she is not a legatee who expects the beneficiary of some trust fund.
Stas is not willing to give up her dream; but she is forced to compromise her dignity. She works as a prostitute catering to a richer, higher end clientele. Unfortunately, this is the only way that she can make money, which she thinks will help her to get to where she wants to go. Such victimization is commonplace in society. Women who are on the wrong side of the class divide have to do things they would normally do just because they want to taste a part of the good life that will forever be denied to them. While it may be easy to look down on prostitutes or courtesans — after all isn’t it better to retain one’s dignity even if one is destined to remain poor — it is easy to sympathize with the sensibilities of these women. Toine is the friend of Edith Piaf who gives much of herself in the hope that she will meet a man who will make his/her wife and take her away from the poverty-stricken life. Considering that emotional attachments almost never occur between prostitutes and their clients, one can only imagine in what desperate straits Toine (or women like her are) to play the odds that are most certainly stacked against her. One would consider that it is sheer luck (or perhaps dramatic manipulation of Pam Gems’ part) that Toine is able to find a client who will marry her.
The plight of these women is enhances the women as bourgeois and proletariat dynamic. This is all too evident in the play Camille. Society (male dominated) tries its best to keep the members of the lower classes in their places. And it is the same with women who come from backgrounds that are at best, suspect when viewed from a bourgeoisie standpoint. Marguerite (in “Camille”) is a famous courtesan. It is ok for her to be a part of high society as long as she is an extension of a male who needs sexual favors or companionship. But the moment she wants to enter on her own accord or seeks to enter through marriage, society clamps down on her — hard. Society will do anything to make sure she perennially remains on the outside looking in. Society cajoles her. Society coaxes her. Society threatens her. Finally, society triumphs over her love using the leverage of her love for her son (who himself was created from sexual and physical abuse) to keep her away. Society is not concerned that this behavior might cause a woman to die of heartbreak. Society is merely concerned with protecting itself.
Three friends of Marguerite: Prudence, Clemence and Sophie find themselves in similar straits. They’re whole raison d’ tre is to taste a slice of the better life. But they too are subjected to indignities that would not have been visited upon or tolerated by women in the upper social class. Their need to be accepted into better society was so strong that these women had to grin and bear insults pertaining to their weight, their looks and their age. But these women persisted. They persisted though they had to compete with their sisters for financial survival. They may have abased themselves, but they did not yield their dignity. These women were part of a sorority. They competed with their sisters, but they never turned on each other. They realized that they might never be part of high society; they realized the importance of the foundation on which their friendship was based.
The dynamic between bourgeois and the working class is identifiable by how the higher society tries to keep the working class away from them. However, the dynamic changes when women are representative of the bourgeoisie. Not only are they more accepting of the working classes, they go out of their way to work for their betterment. Pam Gems’ plays show that this dynamic is a female construct. It arises from a sense of compassion and the need to maintain a sisterhood that stands the test of time.
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