Emily Dickinson’s biopic

While A Quiet Passion may not be the best biographical film out there, it has its moments.

My favorites:

# 1 (Because it made me so angry)

Emily asks her father permission to write during the night for quiet’s sake. He agrees. Then she asks him to contact a friend who is the editor of a newspaper that publishes poetry. He does so, and soon after Emily submits some of her poems for consideration.

When Samuel Bowles, the entitled editor of the Springfield Republican, writes back, he starts by condescendingly informing that he has decided to publish one of her poems which shows “some wit“, and ends heart-wrenchingly by saying: “But I must confess that the genuine classics of every language are the work of men, not of women. Women, I fear, cannot create the permanent treasures of literature.”

#2 (Because it captures her wittiness so well)

Emily’s father: “Will you come to church, Emily? Your soul is no trivial matter.”
Emily: “I agree, father. That is why I’m so meticulous in guarding its independence.”

#3 (Because it made me think about the concept of family; the family we don’t get to choose, and the one about which we have a say, should we wish to form it).

Emily’s friend: “Will you marry?”
Emily: “I suppose in time I shall. Isn’t that what we all do in the end? I don’t know. I can’t imagine myself beyond my family. Among strangers.”

Read more:

 

Rachel Carson

Image of Rachel Carlson

Thirty minutes into this documentary about the American marine biologist and author, Rachel Carson, it became apparent how incredibly resilient and dedicated she was. How, after working the whole day as a writer and having dinner with her mother, she would lock herself in her room and write until dawn. By the end of it, I had realized how daunting her self-imposed mission was and why it required so much effort.

Working as a junior aquatic biologist at the Bureau of Fisheries, she had access to thousands of official papers and studies about the ocean, all written in a very specific way, and her goal was to read, understand, connect and synthesize them all, so that she could then tell it in a prose that was accessible to people everywhere. 

From war records to submarine research, she would use any piece of information she could find to call attention to the dangers of environmental contamination to humankind. She had to translate the pile of material on her desk, written in academic and technical language, into something easy to comprehend. She had to transform it all, while still being true to it, to tell us that everything is connected, that we all share the environment, and that we must share responsibility for it.

Her journey as a nature writer started when she was 14. Later, in her early 20s, she saw the ocean for the first time and fell deeply in love with it. From that point onwards, she lived a life of the mind. An isolated existence full of responsibilities: Her father died when she was 28, and her sister when she was 30. She then became the sole provider for herself, her mother, and two nieces. She never got married. Later in life, she also had to provide for the son of one of her nieces, who she adopted as her own son, shortly before dying.

The ocean was her parallel universe. She wanted to tell the world about its beauty. Pitching stories to newspapers, she was determined to become a full-time writer. So she used weekends and evenings for creative work.

Her three first books were beautiful odes to the sea. Then, in 1962, her masterpiece came along: Silent spring – a book that aimed to demonstrate that the survival of men depends on the balance of nature. The same men that believed then that pesticides were not poisonous to humans or the land and water resources around them. The same men that still believe that they can control nature. 

Man’s endeavors to control nature by his powers to alter and to destroy would inevitably evolve into a war against himself, a war he would lose unless he came to terms with nature.

Nobody knew what the ocean was really like before Rachel Carson. Nobody talked to the public about pesticides, radioactive nuclear fallout, and their relationship to cancer, infertility, and birth defects. By writing and publishing her books, she challenged corporations and authorities of one-sided science; she raised the level of awareness of the general public. “Her body of work is one of science, literature, and art”. And one that spearheaded the environmental movement around the globe.

Keep reading about Rachel:

 

Iris Murdoch

If my memory doesn’t fail me, about seven years ago, while still living in Sweden, I watched Iris. A beautiful movie in which Judi Dench and Kate Winslet share the heavy-loaded mission of acting Iris Murdoch extraordinary and sublime life in two phases. Ninety-one minutes was all it took me to fall in love with Iris.

A couple of years later, I found a job and moved to Ireland, her home country. I remember how excited I was at the prospect of being in places where she had been, of seeing what she had seen; I knew I would buy every book, every diary she has written for the possibility of scanning her brain through her own words, memories and twisted lies. I knew I’d read her works chronologically, as a timeline, and backward, as a palindrome.

To my complete surprise, for three years, whenever I entered a bookshop and asked for Iris Murdoch books, I’d get a shrug, or an “I’m not sure we have them”, or a “Check the women’s books section”. I assumed she would have her books printed in gold at the front of every Irish bookshop or library, but no, Joyce and Yeats were all they seem to care about.

Then today, in my last week living in Irish soil, by taking a new path to town, I came across a rare book shop I had never seen before. There I went, opening the door, and gazing at dozens of old and colorful book covers. The woman inside asked if she could help. I said “Yes”, she asked me if I was looking for something, I said: “Do you have anything by Iris Murdoch?“. She went: “Iris Mur… Yes, I have. Only one, though. But it is a signed copy!” My heart skipped a bit.

  • How much?
  • Err, let me see. 95 euros.

I tried not to act as surprised as I was. Then I rapidly converted the value into my home country currency: 95 EUR is something like 500 BRL, which is roughly 50% of a minimum wage in Brazil. Damn. 

After living abroad for almost ten years, I still convert everything into Brazilian Reais. It is as if, no matter where I go, “my currency” continues to be the base for financial decision making, which, of course, makes no sense whatsoever considering the very different economic contexts of both countries and the fact that now I’m paid in Euros, but still, the mind goes where it goes.

  • I’ll take it.
  • Do you want a bag?
  • Yes, please. 

Of course I wanted a bag. A bag to put and protect the most expensive stack of paper I ever bought in my life from the constant drops of rain coming from the skies above in Dublin. “But it is a signed one.” I repeated the woman’s line in my head. Not that I needed convincing, I didn’t. I knew the value of it, to me – the chance to touch pages that Iris had touched, to have a copy of the first edition of one of her books, a book made and bought in Ireland, where she was born and lived.

Who knows, maybe there is an Irish woman signing books as Iris and making a fortune thanks to fools like me. Perhaps the fraudulent woman is not even Irish. Who knows? 

Who cares? I don’t. I knew what having the book would do to me. This is the stuff dreams are made of. The fuel to believers, to faith, to hope. All that I’ve been looking for and that I need to start and finish my own books in this life.

Back home I went, feeling like happiness personified, carrying a pulsing body that is starving for more stories like hers and for more time to read all the stuff I buy, however much it costs. By the time I reached my doorsteps, I had this post written in my head, from the very first word to the last dot.

 

Empty Uterus

The project
Empty uterus is a blog and a book in the making about childless women around the world.

The blog
A library where I archive parts of my research about the process of reflecting and deciding on not becoming a mother. Here you’ll find reviews of movies, books, podcasts, plays, magazine and newspaper articles I’ve come across since I started the quest to better understand the childless path.

The book
A collection of interviews with childless from several countries, still in the making.