A Weekend of Pleasureable Horrors: Pan’s Labyrinth, Bridget Cleary, and Sweater-torture

Posted by on Sunday, January 21st, 2007

Let’s get the worst part over with first: I frogged most of Scott’s sweater.  I was pretty sure I would have to when I wrote that last post, but my resolve solidified when Meg pointed out that I incessantly threatened to burn my lovely green Irish Twist cardigan at Rhinebeck because, well, I was in a seaming snit.  So I pulled out most of the stitches, put the sweater back on the needles, and got right back to work. 

And, another foray into horror here: I’m knitting Scott’s sweater on Knitpicks options, which is a wonder unto itself.  I bought a couple pairs of tips and a few cords because I needed really long circulars for a class with Cat Bordhi at the Knitters’ Review Retreat.  I assumed I’d use the needles for the class and promptly give them away when they started eating my skin.  Nickle hurts me.  I’ve been waiting for the needles to attack ever since, tip-toeing around them, waiting for symptoms.  And yet they aren’t making my skin peel off.  Either something is different about their plating process, or winter knitting is less likely to cause me to react to nickle because my skin is drier, or I’m finally catching a break from my whacked-out immune system.  Who knows.  I’ll keep limiting exposure and washing my hands when I take breaks, but I may be able to make a whole sweater on these puppies. 

When I wasn’t cowering from the needles, I was engaged in other horrors.  Enjoyable horrors, but horrors nonetheless.

The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke

I first came across Bourke’s work when I was in grad school.  She wrote a barn-burner called Husbandry to Housewifery: Women, Economic Change, and Housework in Ireland, 1890-1914.  Bourke is a feminist historian, and that earlier book dealt largely with how women in Ireland empowered themselves by selling eggs and milk and engaging in other cottage industries and keeping the money themselves.  The women’s movement was particularly ill-received in Ireland: nationalists and home-rulers argued over and over that women who demanded suffrage and equality were harming the nationalist cause and should just wait until a new state was founded before seeking allowances and freedoms.  In short–Irish women were screwed by their compatriots and their overlords.  No surprise there.  Bourke’s thesis was great, her research was meticulous and deep, but the book was largely about egg and milk prices.  I was given the distinct pleasure of critiquing the book for a room full of primarily male history grad students who thought that history was only about war.  I think the prof and I were the only two people who read the book, certainly in that class, and possibly in the US.  We could both handle the fact that the men in the room didn’t want to keep reading about egg prices, but hearing men argue in the late 1990s that the anti-suffragists were right nearly led me to strangle some classmates.  Good times, good times.

This time around, Bourke expands on an essay she wrote previously about Cleary’s death.  Again, she examines women’s work in the period–Bridget Cleary was a milliner and dress-maker, and made a lot of her own money–and how men reacted to the changes in domestic power thus set in motion.  Bridget Cleary’s murder was horrific–she was ill for several days, and her husband engaged both the drunken local doctor, who diagnosed Mrs. C with bronchitis and gave her medicine; and a "quack doctor" who claimed that Mrs. Cleary had been taken by the fairies and that the woman in her place was a changeling who must be driven out by fire.  Cleary’s husband and family members tortured her a bit, attempting to drive out the fairy spirit, and then her husband burned her to death.  That, apparently, is the wages of uppity.

Bourke skillfully frames the story in the broader Irish, British, and global history of the day.  Fairy lore and Cleary’s murder were used as arguments against granting Irish Home Rule, in favor of bigotry against Catholics, in attacks against Oscar Wilde (hence the modern pejorative "fairy" used against homosexuals), and in a misguided form of Cultural anthropology arguing that most folks outside of England were brutes and savages, and thus incapable of self-governance, civilization, or righteousness. 

The book is fantastic–in every sense of the word.  Bourke is a careful researcher, a skilled and engaging writer, and has bigger balls than most of the male historians outselling her by writing only about men.  She’s not dismissive of folklore–just enraged by it’s manipulation to excuse domestic abuse, murder, and subjugation of a whole country.  I’m going to keep reading her books, and I’m becoming increasingly interested in egg prices in the Victorian and Georgian ages.   Please, join us in our hysteria.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Let me start with a tiny bit of venting: the title annoys me.  Pan is not in this movie.  There is a faun in the movie, but we never get his name.  The powers-that-be knowingly mistranslated the title (El Laberinto del Fauno), and so they should be scourged with nettles for a few minutes.   Don’t promise me Pan and only give me one of his grandkids, buddy.  I will kick you.

Apart from that, I absolutely loved the film.  Of course, I have a high tolerance for horror, sadness, and tragedy.  This is not a kid’s movie.  This is not a happy movie.  It’s frightening and sad and gorgeous and dark.

The film entwines a girl’s adventures with a faun, some fairies, and the underworld with some localized horrors of the  Spanish Civil War.   Ofelia, our heroine, is taken to the Spanish countryside by her pregnant mother and her evil Step-father, a Captain in Franco’s military.  And then all Hades breaks loose. 

At the outset, the fantastical scenes are gentler.  Some part of me wanted the other world to stay kind and spooky.  It can’t, of course: little kids are at least as harmed by war as adults, and Ofelia suffers terribly in both realms.  As the World gets worse, so does the Other World. 

The cast is amazing, the visuals are gorgeous, the script is great, the sub-titles seemed pretty darn accurate, though I’m certainly nowhere near fluent in Spanish so I could be completely wrong.  It’s a great film, I’ll buy it and watch it again and again, and it will probably make me cry every single time.

Filed in Books,Film,knitting | 3 responses so far

3 Responses to “A Weekend of Pleasureable Horrors: Pan’s Labyrinth, Bridget Cleary, and Sweater-torture”

  1. Junoon 22 Jan 2007 at 1:39 pm 1

    Damn you Lanea, for making my brain want to work again.
    Off to the bookstore…..

  2. minnieon 22 Jan 2007 at 3:07 pm 2

    i put pan’s labyrinth in my netflix saves. apparently it’s not out on video yet, lol. i wasn’t paying attention to WHERE you saw it, lol.

    and my son is now reading jonathan strange & mister norrel. should be interesting!

  3. KathyMarieon 24 Jan 2007 at 11:59 pm 3

    I. must. read. this. book! Thanks for the tip!

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