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Entries in ellen copperfield (52)

Tuesday
Apr252017

In Which Emma Goldman Made Fools Of Us All

This is the first in a two-part series.

Anarchical Love

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

We have similar systems, of course. Yours, though, appear to be keyed to your sexual identity. Internal questionings accumulate. Only by reaffirming your sexual self, by uniting with an opposite member, can you resolve and discharge these signifier problems — tensions, I suppose you would call them. Curiously, this can occur only with a small sample of the available candidates, often merely one candidate. — Gregory Benford

The first love of Emma Goldman's life was in prison for nearly killing a well-known businessman, and severe menstrual cramps made it even worse. Just 25, she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with an inverted uterus. Without a procedure, she would never enjoy certain types of penetration without pain or be able to conceive.

By the summer of 1893, three million Americans were unemployed, representing nearly triple the amount of the previous year. Emma Goldman's speech in Union Square at the end of summer encouraged her listeners to forgo organization and political work. Riots were the only rational plan: "Go forth into the streets where the rich dwell, before the palaces of your dominators... and make them tremble." Emma was indicted with a charge of "inciting to riot" on September 5th in New York City.

Her trial commenced the following month. Former mayor of New York A. Oakey Hall, fresh off a nervous breakdown, did the pro bono work on her case. In one week the jury sentenced her to a year in prison. Blackwell's Island Penitentiary was located a small land mass on the East River between Manhattan and Queens. It was easy for her friends to visit her, and she was the only woman in the sewing room who refused to go to church. She spent most of her stay in the prison hospital, first as a patient and then as an orderly.

Upon her release she sought further education in nursing, which took her to Vienna. The fact that she was proficient in both German and English immediately placed her ahead of her peers. In that city she listened to Freud and read Nietzsche, finding the latter substantially more convincing. Her return to the United States precipitated a speaking tour which would take her to California for the first time in her life. Two Ohio businessman that she met endeavored to fund her to return to Europe for medical school. She quickly gave that up and lectured for the first time in London. She did not care for England at all, preferring to spend her time in the city's slums before happily abandoning the place for Paris.

After her money ran out, she returned to New York. Her European travel allowed her to formulate her first real broadside against socialism. In her 1909 essay "Minorities versus Majorities" she writes, "That the mass bleeds, that it is being robbed and exploited, I know as well as our vote-baiters. But I insist that not the handful of parasites but the mass itself is responsible for this horrible state of affairs." Her ideas, if not entirely non-violent, had enough ammunition to disrupt her surroundings on their own. She kept a book nearby in case she was thrown for a night in jail in any given city.

Emma Goldman was getting comfortable in this new life, even going so far as to take a vacation, when one of her self-proclaimed adherents shot President William McKinley. Anarchist meetings were now target No. 1 of the federal government, and Goldman's mentors and friends had their homes destroyed; some were jailed. In order to preserve her freedom long enough to give an interview to a Chicago reporter, Emma dressed as a maid. She was arrested there and then, saying, "Am I accountable because some crack-brained person put a wrong construction on my words?"

She was in jail only a month this time before the authorities admitted they had no evidence to try her for conspiracy. She still sympathized with the assassin and wrote to defend him, even as most other observers viewed him as mentally ill. Her glorification of the act left her completely alone among other members of her sect. But she would never leave the movement, only think of ways to reformulate it anew.

Ben Reitman

She met Ben Reitman, the doctor who would become the second love of her life, in Chicago. In her autobiography Living My Life she writes, "He arrived in the afternoon, an exotic, picturesque figure with a large black cowboy hat, flowing silk tie, and huge cane. 'So this is the little lady, Emma Goldman,' he greeted me, 'I have always wanted to know you.' His voice was deep, soft, and ingratiating."

Emma was ten years Reitman's elder when they met. She often signed her letters to him Mommy, and they were usually explicit in nature, for Ben aroused a sexuality in Emma Goldman she had never tapped into with anyone else. The fact that he offered to go on tour with her meant everything to Emma, and their pairing raised Goldman's already high profile to that of a major celebrity. Policemen filled Emma's lecture hall in San Francisco before a speech to intimidate her, an act that allowed Reitman to see exactly how powerful his girlfriend's work was.

Ben Reitman

Ben became Emma's opening act, warming up the crowd with jokes before her performances. Beginning in 1908, they spent half the year on the road, and then their summers apart in Chicago and New York, visiting each other frequently. She was particularly obsessed with Ben's penis, which she refers to as W in her letters. Her oral fixation with putting the organ in her mouth was a source of considerable stimulation for Mr. Reitman. She also greatly admired his passion for cunnilingus. "My mountains scream in delight and my brain is on fire," she wrote in August of 1911. "I want to fuck you." The mother-son dynamic came up a lot as well, although it seems to be mostly a metaphorical erotic accompaniment to their love affair.

In Emma's previous relationship, she had always felt some key power over her boyfriends. With Ben she felt so completely vulnerable. "I do not want you to know how much I love you," she wrote before he left for Europe on her dime, "how much I need you, how much I long for you." Her neediness was truly its own organism, and when she and Ben were apart for periods, she despaired: but wasn't it good to have something important in your life to despair for?

During the moments they were together, she was quite critical of Reitman. As Alice Wexler notes in her biography of Goldman, "she continually reminded him of how boyish and petulant he was, and what tremendous burdens he placed on her shoulders. She never tired of cataloguing his faults, lecturing, scolding, preaching, beseeching, pleading..." He treated her basically in kind, coming onto other women and men at his leisure, in addition to the fact that he was a frequent liar. His main fault in Emma's eyes, however, was his infidelity. It is somewhat difficult for an anarchist to articulate why she believes in monogamy, a contradiction which placed Goldman in a tough situation.

Yet Goldman never did any of the things that would have ensured Reitman would feel responsible to what they had together. He begged her for a child and a marriage, and she rejected both of these entreaties.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.


Friday
Aug262016

In Which Frida Kahlo Is Divorced From The Moment

Spine and Back

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

When Frida Kahlo was three, the Mexican Revolution arrived in full force. Her father was a European Jew, a photographer who fled his home country after his father married a reprehensible woman. Young Guillermo Kahlo suffered from frequent seizures in his new home of Mexico City.

Her mother, Matilde Calderon, was Guillermo Kahlo's second wife; his first had died in childbirth. Matilde did not love her husband, but she was already 24 and suitors were not exactly at the door. For the first few years of their marriage Guillermo was a taciturn, unhappy man. He never wanted to be in Mexico.

The girl's real given name was Magdalena. She went by Frida from the very first, spelling her name in the German fashion, Fride, until the Nazis came to power. Her older sisters were her primary caregivers. 

In the revolution the Kahlos supported the Zapatas, feeding guerrillas when they could, but in the new government, her father's photographic commissions disappeared.

The family's new poverty was handled exclusively by Frida's mother, who was a devout Catholic. "She did not know how to read or write," Frida remembered later. "She only knew how to count money."

At the age of six she contracted polio. "It all began with a terrible pain in my right leg from the muscle downard," she said. "They washed my little leg in a small tub with walnut water and hot towels."

When she recovered, the prescription of physical exercise inculcated her father's interest in her. He had no son, and encouraged her to play soccer, wrestle and swim. She shucked off her illness, but as a tomboy she was made into a social outcast.

The closeness between the two extended to Frida's growing knowledge about art. It was a form of taking control. Her father also painted, and his canvases were painstakingly realistic scenes.

In 1922 she entered the National Prepatory School, the most prestigious institution of its kind in Mexico. Girls had only recently been admitted to these environs, and Frida was one of 35 individuals in a school of 2000. Unlike other students, she always wore a backpack.

with her own students

She was also estranged from the other girls. They gathered on a second floor patio, she never gathered anywhere, just appearing unexpectedly like hepatitis. She found this new place fascinating and her photographic memory ensured she did not have to work very hard to pass her classes.

Diego Rivera had the run of the school. He was massively fat then, and she soaped stairs so he fell as a prank. She had some close boyfriends and wrote them letters as her primary means of communication. When she graduated, her job prospects were slim. Frida stayed busy, keeping accounts at a lumber yard to make ends meet.

Then, in an event that would alter every day thereafter, she was riding a wooden bus crumpled by a trolley, and she was subdued under the wreckage. It was a slow, bracing kind of accident, born of fundamental stupidity. Her "first responders" removed a handrail that had gone so deeply into Frida that it emerged from her vagina. She survived after a few days where her life hung in the balance, but her spine and pelvis were broken.

She recovered in a derelict Red Cross hospital, with a ratio of one nurse for every twenty-five patients. She briefly regained the use of her legs in 1925 until some undiagnosed spinal fractures put her back in a full body cast. To entertain herself she drew her accident, but only in pencil.

Frida married Diego Rivera, twenty years her elder, twice. He slept with other woman as a matter of routine, but seemed to view his wife in a somewhat different light. Her mother called Frida's new husband a "fat farmer." While she dealt with her first miscarriage, Diego enjoyed an affair with one of his assistants.

Expelled from the Communist Party, Diego and Frida took refuge in America. She found San Francisco an unfriendly place and struggled with her English. While Diego seduced the subjects of his portraits, she found consolation in the arms of women.

with Diego Rivera

Back in Mexico, Diego planned two houses in San Ángel, one for Frida and one for himself., that would be situated next to each other for maximum privacy and maximum closeness. (This dream was realized later.) The two came to New York in the fall of 1931 when Frida's husband received a commission from the Museum of Modern Art. Detroit, in contrast, was a "shabby little village" where Diego planned to paint the assembly line as some kind of Marxist exemplar.

She miscarried again at Henry Ford's hospital. Her series of lithographs about this, titled Frida and the Miscarriage, showed her at all her most vulnerable moments. Her mother died of cancer.

 

Diego wanted badly to stay in America, but Frida preferred to return to Mexico. Finally out of money they returned to their native country in 1933. Diego took Frida's sister Cristina as the primary model for his nude paintings, and eventually his mistress. When his wife found out, she cut off her hair, had her appendix removed, and then underwent an abortion.

Her drinking became increasingly obliviating. She made peace with her husband and her sister after thinking it over carefully. To retaliate she took up with other male painters. She even seduced Leon Trotsky by speaking in a language his dowdy wife did not know: English.

Their flirtation faded until he was murdered with an ice pick. Frida and her sister were interrogated for fourteen hours.

She divorced Diego and her work became the center of her life. Her shows in New York were helped by an admiring Julien Levy; in Paris she learned to hate Andre Breton with a passion unknown to her. She disliked being his pet.

Viewing her paintings now, they seem utterly divorced from the surrealist moment. They are not fantastical creations - they are instead perfectly reasonable realizations of her own life. She resided in all of these places, and when she herself could not be in them, there was another woman, resembling her in almost every fashion, who could be made to take her place.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Marlon Brando.

Friday
Jun102016

In Which There Were Too Many Homecomings For Daphne Du Maurier

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Little Points

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Daphne du Maurier's father was convinced his line would end with him, given that he fathered three daughters, and his only brother was killed in the world war. Gerald du Maurier hated being an actor, and occupied himself by plowing young actresses between scenes.

Daphne spent a lot of time with her father; things were cold and contentious with her mother for a long time. At first Gerald concealed his indiscretions, before openly introducing his conquests to his daughters. Perhaps Daphne had sensed them.

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Daphne wished she had been born a boy, explains Margaret Forster in her sterling biography of the writer, Daphne Du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller. I It would have made her father happy, and ensured she could do whatever she liked. She called her male self "Eric Avon." Eric was a lot more like her father than she would probably care to admit.

She was a restless and unhappy teenager, quickly disgusted by the London environment she inhabited, all blue eyes and boyish shirts. When she first received her menstrual cycle, she named the flow 'Robert.' "The future is such a complete blank," she told her governess. "There is nothing ahead that lures me terribly. If only I was a man."

She judged her parents' marriage quite harshly, given that her mother knew of her father's cheating and accepted him despite it. Her father was a successful actor, and the du Mauriers were quite wealthy.

Gerald du Maurier was friends with J.M. Barrie, whose acquaintance gave Daphne the idea to start writing. She had virtually no friends her age, and was completely within herself. "I only think of myself and pity anyone who likes me," she wrote. Her parents sent her to finishing school in France, hoping she might figure things out there. The school was quite austere in comparison to what she was used to, but Paris caught her attention right away.

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A teacher named Yvon took an erotic interest in Daphne, who became her pet. She could not think of herself as a homosexual, since her father hated gays. Identifying herself as male is the only way she could make sense of her feelings. She more than liked the attention from Yvon, who was rather handsy with her.

Daphne was 18 when she went on holiday with Yvon, who had just turned 30. Things never got overly physical, but time relaxing with a hardcover copy of Katherine Mansfield's latest and a woman who loved her reassured Daphne that things were not all bad. She only loathed the idea of going back to England and living with her family again.

Daphne, right, with her sisters

She knew that in addition to being attracted to women, she also found something compelling in men. Her father did not accept this proclivity, displaying extreme jealousy when she emerged for or returned from a date. Gerald told her that he wished he were her brother, not her father, and that if he died he would enjoy returning as her son. Her father's possessive attitude pushed her further into literature. She had completed three stories; all of them concerned bullying, disreputable men.

Distancing herself from her father, Daphne learned to sail. She put aside writing and supervised the construction of her boat, which was to be called the Marie-Louise. It was then that she met her first boyfriend, Carol Reed. Together they smoked in cafes and observed other people. Reed reflected her moodiness, and was just as capable of doing something rash out of nowhere. She was 22 when she and Carol fucked for the first time.

with her first child, Tessa

Carol immediately began to take the relationship with the utmost seriousness, a development that frightened Daphne. Carol ensured he would stay around by praising Daphne's writing; her former teacher Yvon told her that her stories proved Daphne would never achieve anything. To get her away from Carol Reed, Daphne's parents secured her a quiet cabin for the summer, where she was to focus on her writing.

In was in this setting, consistently decimating the marital hopes of Carol Reed, that she wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit. This melodrama is clearly an early effort, and it is mostly in du Maurier's prose style itself - effortless and clear — that we recognize her distinctive way of saying something was so. 

Reading The Loving Spirit today is quite a struggle, but for the time it was an advanced work from a writer with no advanced training. Her second novel, I'll Never Be Young Again, was a clear measure ahead of her first effort, using a strong first person voice to create her first ghostly effect. Rebecca West called it "a whopper of a romantic novel in the vein of Emily Brontë," which was almost, but not quite, a backhanded compliment. But hey, Daphne du Maurier was just 23.

Daphne's ideas about everything changed when she met Frederick Browning, known to his friends as Tommy. Browning's service in the war had traumatized him plenty — it took him a good six months to work up the courage to even enter battle. Once he became a career man, he never left. Even stricken as he was with PTSD, Browning was a quite attractive 34 year old man.

At first Daphne was reluctant to commit. "It will take at least five brandy-and-sodas, sloe gin and a handkerchief of ether to push me to the altar rail," she claimed, before proposing to Browning herself. The wedding took place in the middle of July, and her parents gave them a cottage as a present.

Six months later, Daphne was pregnant with her first child, a girl named Tessa. She stopped breastfeeding as soon as she could: "The child hiccups most of the time and kicks me in the stomach. But then I never was sentimental." Daphne suffered from postpartum depression, and struggled to bond with her daughter. The strains of her marriage wore on her, too. Browning was in Surrey when she was at home, and she felt adrift.

Then her father died. Daphne did not go to the funeral, and fantasized she saw her father as a ghost. She channeled her grief into a monograph about her father entitled, Gerald: A Portrait, which managed her best reviews yet. Her new publisher was Victor Gollancz, and under his encouraging influence she began the novel which would become her first solid hit: Jamaica Inn.

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Just as she was achieving her largest public response to date, her husband's service took them both to Egypt. She loathed the city of Alexandria, feeling confined to a scrubby house since there was simply no place where she could realistically walk. After giving birth to a second daughter, Flavia, she decided not to return to the country. Yet it was in this inharmonious setting where she would conceive the idea for her next novel, "a rather sinister tale about a woman who marries a widower."

Rebecca was slow in emerging from Daphne's brain. Initially, Daphne trashed the first 15,000 words of the manuscript and began again. In a new house in Hampshire, she finally found the routine she needed. Servants handled her children while she focused on her new book. "It's a bit on the gloomy side and the psychological side may not be understood," she worried to Gollancz. Rebecca became instantly popular in England, but it was a smash in the United States.

in her writing room

Daphne felt a bit confused. She had a full family to fear for whenever her husband started repeating his predictions of a Europe hurtling towards war. She expected her kids to lead quiet lives where they expressed their inner imagination. Instead, Tessa and Flavia could be loud and disobedient like any children, and Daphne disapproved of this behavior. "Instead of thinking my children are marvelous, I am super-critical," she told her mother.

Disgusted by the film version of Jamaica Inn, Daphne attempted to construct a version of Rebecca that might play well on the stage. As war came to London, she refused to send her children to America, fearing she would never see them again. Instead, she had a third child, a son they named Christian.

her friend Ellen Doubleday

Depression was a feature of her everyday life, though she loved her son in a way she had never felt close to her daughters. She felt distant from Browning and resented their many weeks apart. She was, however, finding herself as a a mother. "I am very grateful for being given the power to deal with all these little domestic worries," she wrote, "and I am sure it has been a discipline. I've always shirked responsibility before. Now I find I can bear it. I seem to know the children more through looking after them. God is testing me out on those little points."

With her husband away, Daphne flirted with a family friend so much their relationship became a bit of a scandal. There was no sex, only a connection that evaporated both of their marriages. She wrote a book about the man's family called Hungry Hill. It was her husband's glider accident that wrecked his shoulder and returned him to her. Nursing him back to health effectively ended Daphne's infidelity.

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After the war, when Browning came back to the family for good, he did not want Daphne anymore. The pain of the rejection stung, and abandoned them to separate beds, where each barely slept. "If Tommy just looks upon me as a dull old thing he is fond of, the outlook is dreary," she confessed to a friend. Browning's drinking made it impossible for him to get an erection in any case.

In America for the first time: Daphne was there unwillingly, forced to defend herself against charges of plagiarism that were focused on Rebecca, a story so old it could properly be called a fable. She won the case and left as quickly as she could, but not before developing a crush on the wife of publisher Nelson Doubleday. It could never be consummated, but she wrote the woman as many letters as she could.

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Too much had gone on since she had married Tommy. She saw an older man who barely knew his children, grew frustrated at the first moment his oldest daughter was not what he expected. His strangeness with his own blood only made it less likely he could ever be close to Daphne, and she resented that he did not even make the effort, that there had been no homecoming whatsoever. He had brought a young girl with him, in fact, his war secretary, in her twenties. Daphne found her beautiful.

She was not happy, and every person in her life could tell.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing in these pages here.

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