Literature and Theatre

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Imogen Julia Marcus

This chapter discusses Bess’s use of language. It is based on seventy-eight letters, both scribal and holograph, that Bess wrote to various correspondents throughout her life. With a particular focus upon her spelling and grammar, it places Bess’s use of English within the context of what we already know about how women were using the language in Tudor and Stuart England, and the changes taking place in the language over the early modern period, defined here as 1500–1750.

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Susan Frye

This chapter focuses on Bess’s textile production, starting with the textile hangings she produced for Chatsworth, which constitute the most ambitious known artwork produced by an Englishwoman in the early modern period. Although these textiles are in many ways distinct from the emblematic embroideries that Bess produced working alongside Mary, Queen of Scots, her royal prisoner during this period of time, there are also areas of overlap in style and subject matter. These areas of connection between Bess’s textile work and Mary Stuart’s support the assertion that Mary was a catalyst in Bess’s transformation from able embroiderer to what today we would call a textile artist. The chapter pieces together the story of her workshop at Chatsworth, located in the guarderobe there and in its attached room.

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Alan Bryson

This chapter draws fully on the range of surviving sources and responds critically to the growing scholarship on the Tudor nobility and gentry to contextualise Bess within her time. Traces her four marriages (including the financial difficulties that beset the first two and the breakdown of the fourth), her role in guarding Mary, Queen of Scots, and her building activity. What marks Bess out is her extraordinary social mobility, rising from minor gentlewoman of limited prospects to immensely wealthy and powerful countess, that and the fact we know more about her than almost any other woman of her time. Her marriages, her buildings, her possessions and her letter-writing are all fascinating, but must be read within the context of other Tudor nobles and gentry (men as well as women), otherwise Bess will continue to be regarded as something of an exception – something of an aberration, even – and that would diminish her remarkable achievements.

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Bess of Hardwick

New perspectives

Edited by: Lisa Hopkins

Bess of Hardwick was one of the most extraordinary figures of Elizabethan England. She was born the daughter of a country squire. By the end of her long life (which a recent redating of her birth suggests was even longer than previously thought) she was the richest woman in England outside the royal family, had risen to the rank of countess and seen two of her daughters do the same, and had built one of the major ‘prodigy houses’ of the period. While married to her fourth husband, the earl of Shrewsbury, she had been gaoler to Mary, Queen of Scots, and her granddaughter by her second marriage, Lady Arbella Stuart, was of royal blood and might have been succeeded to the throne of England. This wide-ranging collection, which draws on the recent edition of her correspondence, brings out the full range of her activities and impact. It contains a biography, analysis of her language use, consideration of the roles of her servants and the management and nature of her households (including the complex and allegorical decorative scheme of Hardwick and its famous embroideries), and a new appraisal of the relationship between Bess and her granddaughter Arbella.

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Johanna Gondouin, Suruchi Thapar-Björkert and Ingrid Ryberg

This chapter analyses the racial and emotional dynamics in the acclaimed crime series Top of the Lake: China Girl (Australia, Jane Campion, 2017), set in Sydney where Inspector Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) leads the murder case of an unidentified young Asian woman. Revolving around charged issues such as surrogacy, adoption and migrant sex workers, the series offers a rich and complex reflection on the current debate about the global division of reproductive work across axes of gender, race, nationality, migrant status and class. The authors show how the series sets conflicting notions of vulnerability in motion, evoking diverging positions in the current debate: a Western liberal notion of reproductive rights on the one hand, and a postcolonial critical notion of reproductive justice on the other. China Girl, they argue, privileges the Western notion of reproductive rights by amplifying the emotional vulnerability of the white intended parents at the cost of the illegally contracted Thai surrogates in the series.

Open Access (free)

Anu Koivunen, Katariina Kyrölä and Ingrid Ryberg

This chapter introduces the main questions addressed in the book and thoroughly accounts for the concept of vulnerability, its various theoretical legacies and uses in feminist, anti-racist, and queer scholarship, and key role in present-day discussions about power, agency, and the media. Vulnerability is addressed both as a concept and as a political language. The authors highlight four aspects of how this language operates: as a human rights discourse, as a language easily appropriated by dominant groups, as a contested language invoking long-running debates in queer, feminist, and anti-racist media cultures, and as a language translated into cultural policymaking. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns exemplify how the public articulation of experiences of injury, trauma, and hurt can turn into powerful movements. However, in neo-liberal media culture, vulnerability operates as a political language not only for disadvantaged, but also for privileged groups. Claims of vulnerability can translate to claims to agency and voice, but these claims can have completely oppositional political consequences, depending on who is making them. Drawing from Lauren Berlant and Judith Butler, the chapter sheds light on this and other paradoxes that the concept of vulnerability evokes, and asks: what does the language of vulnerability do?

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Visibility and vulnerability

Translatina world-making in The Salt Mines and Wildness

Laura Horak

This chapter discusses issues of trans social justice politics and ambivalences of transgender representation, focusing on two documentaries about translatina communities: The Salt Mines (US, Susana Aikin and Carlos Aparicio, 1990) and Wildness (US, Wu Tsang, 2012). The concept of vulnerability has become central to trans activism, in terms of both the political work of trans survival in the face of structurally enforced vulnerability and political organising that centres the experiences and leadership of the most vulnerable people. Trans media visibility is often hailed as an unalloyed good, but it can also contribute to the vulnerability of trans women of colour. The author argues that both documentaries provide potent examples of how cinema can contribute to the political project of trans of colour survival and imaginative world-making, even as they demonstrate the potential dangers of documentary representation.

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Trigger happy

From content warning to censorship

Jack Halberstam

This chapter discusses trigger warnings in university classrooms and explores notions of vulnerability, harm and danger in relation to emergent and contradictory strands of feminism. Some feminist writers, like Laura Kipnis, claim that university campuses have become home to sex panics and paranoia, evident in the calls for trigger warnings. Other feminists, like Sara Ahmed, register the university campus as a site of sexual violence and administrative indifference to which students react by asking for warnings. What kind of feminism is needed at a time that indicates a new level of sensitivity to explicit materials in classrooms and online? The chapter argues that trigger warnings should be opposed. While some content warnings are reasonable, given how much explicit material circulates on screens nowadays, the relations between explicit representations and trauma need to be questioned. Instead of defending viewers and students from difficult material, the trigger warning boils all explicit material down to assaultive imagery while at the same time it reduces the viewer to a defenceless, passive, and inert spectator.

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Spectacularly wounded

White male vulnerability as heterosexual fantasy

Susanna Paasonen

This chapter inquires after the intermeshing of privilege, white male vulnerability and desirability in the narrative fantasy of the massively popular 50 Shades of Grey novel trilogy. Focusing particularly on the male protagonist Christian Grey, the chapter asks what makes the traumatised and vulnerable super-rich white man appealing as a heterosexual fantasy figure. First, the analysis addresses the use of generic romance and erotica conventions as well as the gendered forms of affective labour that the figure of the broken, rich, sad white man entails, motivates and fuels. Second, and in connection with Eva Illouz’s (2014) analysis of Fifty Shades as self-help, the interconnections of trauma and sexual fantasy within the novels’ broad appeal are examined. Third, the chapter explores how male vulnerability of the spectacular kind works in relation to social and economic privilege, the dynamics of BDSM and gendered relations of power – namely, how the narrative centrality of a privileged yet broken white man attunes the imagery of material opulence, limitless wealth, kink play and heterosexual fulfilment in a markedly depoliticised vein.

Open Access (free)

The power of vulnerability

Mobilising affect in feminist, queer and anti-racist media cultures

Edited by: Anu Koivunen, Katariina Kyrölä and Ingrid Ryberg

The power of vulnerability interrogates the new language of vulnerability that has emerged in feminist, queer and anti-racist debates about the production, use and meanings of media. The book investigates the historical legacies and contemporary forms and effects of this language. In today’s media culture, traumatic first-person or group narratives have popular currency, mobilising affect from compassion to rage to gain cultural visibility and political advantage. In this context, vulnerability becomes a kind of capital, a resource or an asset that can and has been appropriated for various groups and purposes in public discourses, activism as well as cultural institutions. Thus, politics of representation translates into politics of affect, and the question about whose vulnerability counts as socially and culturally legible and acknowledged. The contributors of the book examine how vulnerability has become a battleground; how affect and vulnerability have turned into a politicised language for not only addressing but also obscuring asymmetries of power; and how media activism and state policies address so-called vulnerable groups. While the contributors investigate the political potential as well as the constraints of vulnerability for feminist, queer and antiracist criticism, they also focus on the forms of agency and participation vulnerability can offer.