“Your father is treating me like a woman of the time. I’ll manage, Matthew.”
Ah, look. We’re back to gender politics in Shadow of Night. Surprise, surprise.
Now’s as good a time as any to talk about what I mean by “gender politics” when we talk about it on the podcast or when I talk about reading gender in the All Souls Trilogy. Gender has an enormous influence on our lives. We see, understand, express, and experience gender in a thousand different ways — how we talk, how we dress, how we move, how we see and understand ourselves in comparison to how other people express gender. Gender impacts the way that we navigate the world — how we expect to be treated, how we understand events that happen to us, how we approach risk, how we perceive the boundaries of good/bad/acceptable/appropriate behavior. From birth, we’re assigned a gender and many of us are raised in conformity with that gender assignment.
Fundamentally, when we talk about “what men do” and “what women do” or what’s acceptable for them, we’re talking about power. Talking about power — how we use it, what we do with it, how it shapes the world we live in — is talking about politics. The question of gender politics in literature asks how we portray characters as “masculine” and “feminine,” how much agency or power we give them, how gender determines their importance or power in the text, how characters are marginalized, exploited, emphasized, or celebrated based on gendered expressions of power, etc. This is complicated enough when you’re reading a contemporary text set in a contemporary time period. It’s even more complicated when you’re reading a contemporary text set in a historical time period where contemporary ideas about gender interact with “historical” ideas about gender, or at least historical ideas about gender as the author portrays them.
The quotation marks around the word “historical” aren’t mocking, and they aren’t judgmental. It’s a way of noting that, in writing, we choose every word. We have the power to construct a world how we see it. No work of human creation will ever actually capture history, so we have to be mindful of the fact that when you write, you choose to emphasize, de-emphasize, construct, or otherwise incorporate certain ideas as you do it. Accordingly, the “historical” ideas about gender in Shadow of Night are certainly based partially in “history,” but they’re also based in the story we’re telling and the way that characters interact based on gender is constructed.
Okay. Back to Philippe and Diana. Since the 1970s and the emergence of the feminist movement in the humanities, students of women’s history (like Joan Kelly-Gidol) have questioned whether the “periodization” of history (“the Middle Ages,” “the Enlightenment,” “the Industrial Revolution”) actually reflects the experience of all people — women, people of color, etc. — or only the experience of European men of a certain socio-economic background. See, for example, J. Kelly-Gidol, Did Women Have a Renaissance?. The point being that a European woman’s role changed very little between the “dark” Middle Ages and the “enlightened” and “artistic” Renaissance. European women had no political or financial independence; they remained dependent on men for financial and social status and remained largely at home. Politically, women had only one card to play — they could be married into other families for strategic reasons. Once married, they were required to maintain their husband’s household. Renaissance women had no sexual freedom; their “honor” belonged first to their father and then to their husband because the legitimacy of heirs remained a dominant concern of the ruling classes.
But this is only part of the story, as the Renaissance also produced incredible and notable female leaders, artists, writers, and scientists. In the last few decades, there has been an emergence of scholarship dedicated to exploring the role of women during the Renaissance. Would you care to guess what the literature has to do with Philippe and Diana? There’s a lot of great scholarship on the role of Renaissance women in… the history of science and medicine. No surprise, since the history of science is Deb’s specialty. If you haven’t already, you should check out her book on science in Elizabethan London — The Jewel House. Scholarship in the sciences and medicine recognizes that occult practices — potions, herbal remedies, alchemy, and astrology — contributed to the development of the scientific method and expanded our understanding of the natural world.
For me, this chapter has always had special meaning in terms of Diana’s development — she’s taking initiative, she’s problem-solving, she’s engaging with and participating in the culture around her rather than remaining passive. With a little bit of background reading, I think it’s also possible to tease out additional themes — the theme of subverting the dominant power structure, the layered conflict of gender and power in the Harknessian version of the Renaissance, the theme of challenging the assumptions that you make and the questions that you ask. Here, I think the reference to “women of the time” is a bit sly — we assume that women in the Renaissance were decorative housekeepers (I’m being deliberately glib, so hold your horses) with little autonomy, but the truth is more complicated than that. You just have to look a bit more closely.
For additional reading, check out:
Findlen, Paula. Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy.
Nochlin, Linda. Women, Art, and Power.
Parks, Katharine. Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection.
Rankin, Alisha. Panaceia’s Daughters: Noblewomen as Healers in Early Modern Europe.
Schiebinger, Londa. Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science.
Thorndike, Lynn. A History of Magic and Experimental Science.
It was the first time I’d been in this church, and I looked around with curiosity. Like many religious buildings in this part of France, Saint-Lucien’s house of worship was already ancient in 1590.
As we discussed in A Discovery of Witches, the Auvergne is in the south of France. Named for the Arverni, a Gallic tribe who occupied the area at the time of the Roman conquest. It remained part of the Angevin Empire until the 13th century, when it reverted to the royal domain in the reign of Louis IX.
The Auvergne has a rich religious history — it is home to a series of famous Romanesque churches like the one described in Saint-Lucien and served as the site of the Council of Clermont that led to the First Crusade in 1095. Romanesque architecture is characterized by semi-circular arches. The arches derive from the Roman style; after the fall of the Roman Empire, architects and builders lost many of the techniques required to build large vaulted spaces and domes, but the rounded arches survived. The Romanesque style is one of the first architectural styles to span all of Western Europe — you can find diverse examples of the style from Italy to Poland to Scotland and Spain.
In the Real-Time Reading Companion, Deb reveals that the inspiration for Matthew’s church is the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy.
Sant’Appollinare is “the most impressive Basilica of the Early Christian period.” Constructed in the 6th century, Sant’Apollinare is dedicated to the patron saint of Ravenna and was consecrated in 549. The most notable feature of the church is its rich collection of mosaics, which range from the 6th to 12th centuries. If you’re interested in a video tour of the mosaics, you can find one here.
High above there was a beating of wings. A dove had flown through the clerestory windows and lost its way among the exposed roof beams. It struggled, freed itself, and swooped down into the church.
The dove is a powerful symbol in many traditions. In Christianity, the dove symbolizes peace and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22). In early Christian art, doves appeared as funerary symbols representing the eternal peace of the soul returned to heaven. In Judaism, the dove is a symbol of the people of Israel and a sign of life following the flood. In classical mythology, doves are associated with Aphrodite and may be considered as symbols of love. In the text of Shadow of Night, the dove may symbolize redemption, or hope, or the promise of renewed faith. We discussed the dove and the church extensively in Episode 24, The Trauma Express. The Daemons discussed Chapter 10 of Shadow of Night in Take 34! The One With the Baggage.
We’ll see you next on 5 December, when we have to see to some things in a certain hay barn.
Do you have questions, comments, or thoughts about the Real-Time Reading? You can e-mail us at email@example.com, follow us on Twitter @chamomilenclove, or find us in our Facebook group, the Chamomile & Clove Clovers. We can’t wait to hear from you.
Cait and Jen