Posted in Literature

Jane Austen: The Outsider Looking In

When you hear the name Jane Austen images of grand old houses, women in bonnets, and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy come to mind. We tend to associate Jane Austen with romance and wealthy country estates. However, the real Jane Austen, the woman behind the legacy, is a bit of a mystery.

While many readers and admirers have tried to pigeonhole her into being an Elizabeth Bennet prototype, (as evident by Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the young author in Becoming Jane) the real Austen was at once all of her beloved characters and none of them. She wrote novels famous for their romance, but she died unmarried. She wrote famously wealthy characters like Mr. Darcy and Emma Woodhouse, but Jane Austen herself was never fully part of that world, merely an outsider peeking in. In fact, the real Jane Austen is just as fascinating as some of her most beloved heroines whose appeal is enhanced all the more by the mystery and contradictions that surround her.

Jane Austen was an outsider to the landed gentry that we now associate her with. Her status as an outsider makes her the best observer and critic of this social class, its customs, and behaviors. Perhaps her characters feel real because they were. Writers tend to be inspired by the people they meet and the stories they hear, whether they are aware of it or not. It is not outrageous to think that this was the case with Jane Austen (not that I’m underestimating her creative abilities). Two hundred years later, we still recognize versions of her characters in the people we meet—we all know a babbling and idiotic Mr. Collins, the gigging flirts like Lydia and Kitty Bennet, sour old women like Catherine de Burgh, sweet and often ignored wallflowers like Fanny Price, Elinor Dashwood, and Anne Elliot, and even awkward but ultimately loveable loners like Mr. Darcy and Col Brandon. This is a testament to her talents as a writer and as an observer of human nature.


Posted in Film

The Greatest Showman Review

Everyone loves the circus, or…everyone loves the idea of the circus. The Greatest Showman is all about the idea of the circus. Everyone knows part of the show involves deception, but enough of it is real enough that we don’t mind being hoodwinked every once in a while. Watching The Greatest Showman, I felt the same way.

This fun, colorful, and feel-good musical is only loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. Only a thousand page novel or several seasons long television show could fully tell Barnum’s insane life story. But for a two-hour musical released around Christmas, The Greatest Showman fits the bill, even if it plays it too safe for my taste. The energetic and memorable musical numbers carry the film along, distracting you from the generic and cliché-ridden screenplay. Most of the characters are barely given a personality, but the actors try to overcome the weak script with charm and panache.

Everyone is trying very hard to convince you that this film is better than it is—the actors, the cinematography, the choreographer—however, the script is to blame for most of the film’s faults. Part of the reason this film succeeds as a crowd pleaser is the same reason why the film fails as a biography or as a “serious” film: it is every generic Hollywood “let’s put on a show” musical ever made. All we’re missing are some dancing nuns, three sailors, and talking animals.

Still, for most of the film’s runtime, the history-lover in me couldn’t help but wonder how the film stacked up against the real story. Answer: The film deviates from the truth and condenses a lot of Barnum’s life, but the changes are befitting the film’s genre and target audience.

Obviously many characters and events are condensed and embellished, if not made up entirely:

  • Zac Efron’s character, Philip Carlyle, is clearly based off of James Anthony Bailey.
  • Keala Settle’s scene-stealing bearded lady, Lettie, is a composite of other bearded women such as Josephine Clofullia and Annie Jones.
  • Charles Stratton aka General Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey) is one of the most famous dwarves in history, even if his character is sadly pushed aside to make room for more musical numbers. Stratton also had a fascinating life. He was actually Barnum’s distant relative, which explains how Barnum found him. Stratton started preforming at the age of five, as opposed to the film’s version who doesn’t join show business until later in life. Stratton was also one of the most famous and recognizable actors in the world during his life. He married Lavinia Warren (born Mercy Lavinia Bumpus) a fellow dwarf and performer.
  • The film also features some of Barnum’s famous sideshow performers in supporting roles such as: conjoined twins based off of Chang and Eng Bunker (who inspired the term Siamese twins due to their birthplace) and Jo-Jo The Dog Faced Boy Fedor Jeftichew (the film leaves out his feline counterpart, the Lion-faced Man, Stephan Bibrowski). Even George Constentenus, The Tattooed Prince and Colonel Routh Goshen, the “Largest Man In America” make an appearance. Even some of the background dancers are inspired by real sideshow performs.
  • Zendya’s character is clearly a Hollywood addition. While her character is reduced to being a spunky love interest and obligatory reference to period-accurate racism, seeing her swing around on a rope during a romantic duet nearly redeems this character’s nearly pointless existence.

The film’s timeline in relation to history is also all over the place. Barnum had a very long career in many different fields. The film condenses much of Barnum’s early career into four phases: child laborer, unsatisfied office worker, museum owner, and ringleader.

The real Barnum even dabbled in politics, becoming a Republican on the eve of the Civil War, disapproving of slavery. He even delivered this stirring speech on slavery before the Connecticut legislature:

A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit.

– P. T. Barnum

While the film doesn’t include this wonderful quote (or its context during the American Civil War), the film follows its spirit, celebrating people of all races, genders, and apperances. Though, I have to say, for a film that constantly tells us appearances don’t matter it sure does spend most of the runtime focusing on the beautiful “normal” people.

The Greatest Showman is earnest, passionate, big-hearted, a bit shallow and very predictable, but as the title suggest, we all came to see the show, not the truth, which makes this a fitting tribute to Barnum and the circus itself.

Posted in Literature

Fanny Price Meets Lord Byron

Mansfield Park, Wildfell Hall, Lord Byron, and Me: A Reflection On Inspiration and Influence

Though Jane Austen could never have known it at the time of writing, I can’t help but find (unwitting on Austen’s part) parallels between characters in Mansfield Park and real life scandalous figures in the Regency Era and Victorian Era.

In 1814, Jane Austen published Mansfield Park. However, in that same year, famed poet and public persona Lord Byron married Anna Isabella Milbanke (she liked to be called Annabella). The two had met in 1812 and he proposed in 1813, but she refused him. Remember, this would have happened in the same period of time that Austen was writing Mansfield Park and perhaps she heard rumors of Byron being rejected and incorporated them into her latest novel. The idea of a pious and virtuous young woman rejecting the advances of a charming rake makes up the last act of Mansfield Park, where Henry Crawford can be seen as a stand-in for a Lord Byron-esque character, while Fanny Price is an impoverished version of Annabella.

Lovable rouges were in style and would continue to spike in popularity due to the Byronic hero, a favorite trope of two of the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily. This archetype is still popular now (look at all of the romance novels featuring reformed playboys and the many Austen readers that think Fanny should have chosen Henry over Edmund.)

There are some interesting parallels between the two couples. Byron made his intentions of marriage known to Annabella’s aunt, who told her niece of his offer. In Mansfield Park, Henry proposes through Fanny’s uncle, whom Fanny feels indebted to, thus changing the playing field dramatically.

While Henry attempts to woo Fanny again after she has rejected him, he soon becomes restless and moves on to committing adultery with Fanny’s very married cousin Maria, which breaks off any hope of romance between Henry and Fanny and then Henry and Maria when he callously rejects the later after ruining her.

Annabella, however, was not so fortunate. She did not have the same resilience as Fanny did and eventually accepted Lord Byron after his second proposal, believing it was her Christian duty to marry him. She, like so many other unfortunate women, believed that she could “change him.”

She couldn’t.

Lord Byron fell on hard times and with that came the drinking and the anger and many humiliating affairs. Their marriage became emotionally distant and mentally abusive. Annabella started to fear for her husband’s sanity. The couple separated after not even two years of marriage.

Byron died in 1824, never seeing his wife or child again. Annabella went on to better things: she became involved with many social causes, even becoming a vocal critic of slavery and calling for its abolition. Yet today Byron is remembered and Annabella is not because while Byron’s poetry has lasted through the ages, Annabella’s work is a shadow, felt on through her influence on others.

Annabella shared her abolitionist beliefs with her friend, the American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe (infamous in America for publishing Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was highly critical of slavery and helped bring its injustices to the public eye). Stowe later wrote about Annabella and Byron’s marriage, which exposed Byron’s less admirable qualities (such as sleeping with his half-sister and nearly any other woman he could get his hands on).

Part of what makes Annabella memorable today, apart from her failed marriage, is her intelligence. Annabella had a particularly great education for a woman at the time, so much so that she developed a love of mathematics and science. Her daughter Ada would inherit her mother’s love of mathematics and is now famous for her work with Charles Babbage’s precursor to a computer, earning her a place in history as the first computer programmer (before the computer as we know it was even built). While the fictional Fanny Price had less of an education, showing a devotion to reading more than math, it is fun to imagine her daughter becoming a mathematic or scientific genius!

Jane Austen published Mansfield Park before Byron and Annabella married and then their subsequent estrangement, so she might have been only loosely inspired by Byron’s (then rejected) initial proposal. But another famous English writer was certainly inspired by the failed marriage in its entirety, which became the basis for another underrated but important English novel—Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Bronte’s novel is notable for being one of the first realistic portraits of an abusive relationship. Her Helen Graham (a stand in for Annabella who is just as virtuous and morally strong as Fanny Price) did stand up for herself and finally slammed the door in her husband’s face, a slam that reverberated throughout literature long before Henrik Ibsen’s Nora from A Doll’s House slams the door on her own unhappy marriage. While Fanny never literally slammed the door in Henry’s face, her loud and clear declaration of “Never, never, never” is just as impactful. After all, Fanny Price is not one to “act,” as she admits earlier in the novel.

The ties between the Byron’s unhappy marriage and Henry Crawford’s failed courtship with Fanny Price might seen tenuous compared to the strong bond between the Byron’s marriage and Bronte’s Wildfell Hall. Still, it is likely that Austen was inspired by the latest news and gossip of her day the way modern writers are influenced by our generation’s latest news. A writer can’t help but be influenced by the world around them and I doubt Jane Austen was an exception to this rule.


Posted in Television

The Problem with Inhumans: Marvel’s Inhumans Pilot Review

This review covers the first two episodes of the new ABC series Marvel’s Inhumans, adapted from the characters created for Marvel comics.

I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: I have never read a Marvel comic book. I’ve watched most of the movies and even some episodes of various Marvel television shows, while gleaning all the other information I need to know from many fans online. However, even big Marvel fans know very little about the Inhumans, putting me in the same boat as many other viewers who curiously tuned in to the new series wondering if the show critics had savaged several weeks earlier was in fact better than anyone expected or only worth watching craving something so-bad-it’s-good.

On Friday night I sat down to watch the first two episodes as they premiered back to back and was left with…disappointment.

It’s bad or at least not very good, but, like so many bad shows, it is a minefield of wasted potential.

The show starts out with the most annoying and overused opening sequence nearly every major cable network pilot has these days: a young woman running through a forest. If I had a dollar every time I saw a pilot episode start off with this image or a variation on this scene, I could quit my day job and make a living writing full time.

Who is this woman? I don’t think we ever learn her name and if we did, I don’t recall because the very un-menacing soundtrack and mumbling actors make it impossible to tell what anyone is saying.

All we know is that this woman is being chased by a group of…well, I don’t know what to call them but your standard team of Bad Guys in Black. Why are they chasing her? Apparently she is an Inhuman, someone with special but vague capabilities, which automatically makes her a target in our world, when in reality she’d probably end up being a ruling overlord if she ever had superpowers in a world more similar to our own. A man covered in unconvincing green face-paint and makeup tries to save her, before she is shot down, and he jumps into the nearby sea, somehow not dying the moment he hit the water.

It’s your typical day in Hollywood’s version of Hawaii.

We then cut to an hidden civilization on the moon and enter a nearly bare bedroom where two people are in the middle of sex—television sex that is, which only consists of kissing, some skin, and carefully placed objects (or in this case hair) obscuring any nudity. The man is named Black Bolt (a name which makes no sense in this series) and the woman who’s long, red, and very much alive hair is carefully covering their bodies is Medusa. Is that name coincidental or her parents’ attempt at a joke? These two are actually the King and Queen of Attilan, a poorly rendered and very ugly looking city on the moon.

Their city is made up of unconvincing and uninspired CGI, while their palace consists of so many cement blocks it looks more like a minimalistic prison than a suitable home for the royal family. Even another ABC series, Once Upon a Time, had better CGI than this because at least that show had some impressive designs that were, though clearly fake, still nice to look at, along with gorgeous and campy costumes.

This show is not pleasant to look at.

The first scene was filmed with IMAX cameras (part of an attempt to make fans see the first two episodes on the big screen instead of waiting a few more weeks to see it on television at much lower price). The opening scene at least had some color in it. The rest of the first episode, which is mainly set at Attila’s royal palace, is as far from visually interesting as possible, relying on white and light gray backgrounds and minimally dressed rooms to keep our attention. While this does make Medusa’s hair stick out, it also becomes very obvious that she’s wearing a poorly made wig.

Speaking of the royal couple, the first thing you’ll notice about King Black Bolt is that he never speaks. This is because his superpower is so strong that even a whisper can kill those around him. This means he is reliant on Medusa to speak for him. Their marriage is one made of love, trust, and mutual respect. This happiness won’t last.

Enter Black Bolt’s brother Maximus. Maximus, unlike most of the other people in the royal family, does not have a superpower, rendering him human, and thus an outcast.

One of the first things we learn about this world is that this society hates humans and whenever someone comes of age and does not reveal any super powers, they are sent to the mines to work as slave laborers.

Wait what?!

The only reason Maximus is still around (and alive presumably) is because his father was the king. After their parents’ death, Black Bolt inherited the throne and Maximus inherited…nothing. You know where this is going. Of course Maximus wants to be king, like Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius and Simba’s Uncle Scar before him. Even though Maximus is supposed to be our series’ villain, played by Ramsay Bolton himself, by the end of the first episode I was completely on Maximus’s side. I blame the writing.

This brings us to one of the show’s major problems: I don’t care about these characters—or at least, not the ones I’m supposed to care about. We never see Black Bolt do anything king-like, instead he mainly either sits by himself in his private white room or he relies on his wife to do everything for him. They rule over a world where the special Inhumans are treated…well enough, I guess, while everyone without powers is reduced to slave labor.

Why should we care about a King who lets a large number of his subjects be turned into slaves?

I guess I’m team Maximus (or Marximus, as I call him) all the way. At least he might stop the use of slave labor! At least Maximus pretends to care about the common people, whereas Black Bolt cares about his wife and…that’s about as far as I know.

The show does an astoundingly poor job of setting up this world, its rules, and its characters. Someone never explained to the writer that if you want to have something pay off, you need to set it up, and if you want us to care about the characters then let us get to know them first, not start with them at their lowest point.

Before the first episode has even ended, Maximus has overthrown his brother, cut off his possible ex-girlfriend Medusa’s magic hair, leaving her bald and powerless, and imprisoned the only remaining member of the royal family, a blonde woman named Crystal whose only discernible superpower is that she has an awesome dog. One look on Wikipedia tells me that Crystal can control the elements, something which is barely established in the pilot save for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-catfight between the princess and Maximus’s evil henchwoman (you know she’s evil because she wears dark clothes and because she has the bland hot-girl pout every evil female sidekick has in these superhero shows—think Tabitha from Gotham or any evil female character in any other superhero show). Instead of killing her or doing virtually anything to keep Crystal in check, Maximus decides to talk to her quietly and then threaten to hurt her dog. If he really wanted to scare her he should have just taken away her diary and improbable Walkman/i-pod thing that we saw her listening to earlier. That’ll teach her.

Meanwhile, the rest of the royal family has managed to escape to earth through the use of Crystal’s ever-handy teleporting dog Lockjaw (clearly the only one having any fun in this pilot episode).

With our ‘heroes’ at their lowest point, now scattered across the moon and Hawaii, sad music plays, and we have set up the plot for the rest of the show. Yes, the rest of the show about Inhumans who live on the moon is going to consist of people in silly makeup and costumes wondering around Hawaii before traveling back to their CGI city. This is every other fish-out-of-water story we’ve ever seen on television before with the main difference being we hardly know the culture or world our fish once swam in, making their reaction to our culture all the more uninteresting.

It’s like Thor if every character was deprived of all likeability.

If this same exact show had aired ten or twenty years earlier, we’d probably look back on it as a loveably campy action series, but since we’ve come to expect much more from television and Marvel properties, this is definitely a step back for superhero and comic fans. The costumes look cheap–Medusa’s red wig and hideous purple dress belong in a fantasy series from the 80’s or 90’s—the characters are rather boring, some of the CGI (with the exception of the fully CGI teleporting dog Lockjaw) is laughable, the set designs are boring, the soundtrack is standard and uninspired, while the dialogue is pretty appalling, making even talented B-list television stars sound wooden.

Imagine my lack of surprise when I learned that the first two episodes were written by the same man who wrote and ruined Netflix’s Iron Fist. Oh joy, this was clearly the right choice for Marvel to make.

But despite all of the show’s problems, the first two episodes were surprisingly entertaining, in part due to a few good cast members such as Hell on Wheels star Anson Mount’s wonderfully subdued turn as Black Bolt and Game of Thrones alumni Iwan Rheon as the treacherous but reasonable Maximus. Rheon thankfully gives his character enough humanity that he isn’t reduced to playing another totally evil psycho, like his Game of Thrones and comic book counterparts. Marvel’s Inhumans isn’t quite in so-bad-it’s-good territory, but it does have the hypnotic silliness of a fantasy or sci-fi series from the 80’s or early 90’s.

It’ll be no surprise to anyone to learn that the series had a trouble production and an even more trouble pre-production, going from film to series and then eventually whittled down to just an eight episodes mini-series with the possibility of another season if the show does well. Unless the series vastly improves in the coming weeks, Inhumans will probably remain a brief and ultimately forgettable mini-series.

But if you’re bored on a Friday night, this show is one way to fill time.


Posted in Television

“The Importance of Outlander”

Note: This article was originally published in The Sting back in the fall of 2014. As such, this review only covers the pilot episode.

On August 9th Starz launched its new highly anticipated series, Outlander, a drama based off of the well-loved book series by Dianna Gabaldon, and found incredible success. The pilot could be viewed before its initial airdate and received positive reviews. When the series first premiered live the pilot had 72,000 viewers, and since then has landed over 3.7 million views, according to the TV by the Numbers website. Surprisingly for a show centered on a female character and involving a lot of romance, there was a near equal amount of male viewers as there were female.

Outlander centers on a nurse named Claire Beauchamp Randall (played by Irish model and actress Caitriona Balfe) who has recently reunited with her husband, Frank, after the end of the Second World War. On their honeymoon in Scotland, Claire manages to accidentally travel back in time to the year 1743—a time when Scotland was ravaged by civil war, fighting the English that wish to claim the country. How she appeared there is a mystery, but Claire soon finds out that she is not dreaming, because her life is constantly in danger from both the English and the Scottish soldiers. She crosses paths with an ancestor of her husband, Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies, who also plays Frank, most recognizable from his roles in HBO’s Rome as Brutus and his appearance in the third season of Game of Thrones as Edmure Tully, the groom at the infamous Red Wedding), but finds that this particular Randall, an English Captain, is far from the loving husband she left behind. Claire also meets Jamie, a Scottish warrior (Sam Heughan in a break-out performance) who helps her navigate the foreign, dangerous terrain.

The hit new series has a wonderful score composed by Bear McCreary, a man whose name you may not recognize, who has had untold success composing for many popular shows, such as AMC’s The Walking Dead, ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Starz’s series Black Sails, and Da Vinci’s Demons, the latter of which he won an Emmy for.

Due to Outlander’s successful start, the series will have a first season consisting of sixteen episodes, and has already been renewed for a second season. It may be that HBO’s hit Game of Thrones could soon find a worthy competitor in Outlander for TV’s favorite fantasy drama.

Along with strong performances, lovely music, and an entrancing mystery, viewers will be entranced by the lush scenery, filmed on location in Scotland, firmly believing they too have been taken on a trip back in time, only this is a trip they will not wish to leave any time soon.

Posted in Crime, History

Two Spirits in Georgia

The city of Marietta has its own ghosts. It has been haunted by in particular, two souls that cast a long shadow over this state and leave a mark that has never been erased even a century after these two souls were stolen from the world all too soon. To know their story is to remember a dark side of Georgia’s history, one that is rooted in to the very land we now stand on.

In the spring of 1915, The murder of Mary Phagan hit the city of Atlanta and Mary’s hometown of Marietta like a ton of bricks or a plague. Police searched frantically for the culprit while the public’s grief turned to rage. When one final suspect remained, he was attacked from all sides, yet when the alleged killer was set free, this would be the catalyst for such a furious uproar that someone else would loose their life before the night was out and the history of the South would change for the worst. No one at the time could have guessed that the murder of thirteen-year-old girl would cause such a bloody stain over Georgia’s history, nor could anyone have predicted that the city’s search for revenge would shatter many lives and bring about the second coming of America’s most infamous terrorist group: The Ku Klux Klan.

At the turn of the century, Mary Phagan was born to a widowed mother with an already large and struggling family. Yet Mary was her mother’s special girl—a pretty young woman with reddish hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. Her relatives would go on to describe her as a warm and caring person with a “bubbly” personality.

Once she turned eleven though, Mary ceased to be a little girl and had to work like the rest of her siblings. She placed her education on hold to earn money for her tired family, as was normal at the time. The Phagan family had moved to the big city of Atlanta and here, unlike in the countryside where she had been born, it was not uncommon to see married women and children working in factories along with fully grown men. Mary obtained a job at the National Pencil Factory attaching metal on to the end of pencils for a measly paycheck in horrible work conditions where the floor was dirty, the hours were long, the rewards were few, and hazardous machinery made work painful for employees, especially unsuspecting young ones like Mary. Yet, despite the danger, Mary liked working. She liked feeling mature and helpful and, better yet, she liked talking to her fellow employees and made several friends there.

Life in the state capitol of Atlanta must have been exciting for a pubescent girl like Mary. Even though few residents owned cars in the years before the first World War, Atlanta was still a growing city that would have seemed foreign compared to working on a farm in the country. Not everyone had electricity, or gas, but the city was filled with people—people from all over the country, people from different corners of the world, of all ages and beliefs. A few months in the city would have opened Mary’s eyes to the world more than her previous years in the country. Horses were still a popular mode of transportation, but now they carried not only wagons but steam engines—the closest most Atlanta citizens would come to an automobile for the next several years. Here in the city milk was delivered to each family from a milkman and his wagon, instead of taken from the family cow. Over there a man sold ice to the overheated citizens. Vendors sold fruit and vegetables in the streets. A relatively new drink, Coca-Cola, was catching the public’s eye (and taste-buds). Perhaps after receiving her week’s pay, Mary might have taken a few sips of the popular soft drink as a reward for all of her hard work.

The busy city was the place where Mary enjoyed working, but her home life was a different story. Her mother, Frances (“Fannie”) married J.W. Coleman in the early months of 1912. The family moved to Coleman’s home in Marietta, which was a relatively small town at the time. With a stepfather to watch out for her, Mary didn’t have to keep working, but she decided to stick with her job since she enjoyed it (and her friendships with the other workers) so much.

However much she enjoyed work, Mary’s paycheck depended on the factory’s supplies and the limited availability of work to be done for such a low-level job as hers was. In April of the following year Mary faced several days worth of disappointment when no new metal was shipped to the factory, thus forcing her and other employees to be laid off for a few days until the new shipment came in. It was thought that she would pick up her check on Friday evening since the following day was a state holiday, Confederate Memorial Day (this was Atlanta in 1915 of course), but since the family did not own a telephone and did not know she was asked to come in a day early, Mary went to the factory that Saturday afternoon anyways.

The factory was nearly empty when she arrived, save for a few employees that darted in and out of the large, gloomy, and windowless building. Everyone was excited for the parade that would occur down the street: Mary even had plans to join the crowd once she had picked up her pay.

But Mary never saw the parade. She never even left the building. Instead her body was found at 3 am the following morning.

The night watchman, Newt Lee, found the thirteen-year-old’s body in the early hours of Sunday April 27th, 1915. At first he thought it was a pile of rags, or that one of his co-workers was playing a prank on him, but as he stepped closer Lee realized this was not a light-hearted prank. Mary’s body was covered in dust and lead, her hair lay sprawled around her head, her clothing was torn, and her skirt was hiked around her legs, leading to the belief that she was raped. Her little pink tongue stuck out of her mouth, a cord bit into the skin around her neck, and blood poured from a wound in the back of her head.

Lee immediately ran to the closest telephone and rang his boss to tell him what happened and found there was no answer, and then he phoned the police. The police arrived shortly after by horse (there were few cars to be found in Fulton County at the time), viewed the body, and immediately became suspicious of the watchman. Lee, it should be mentioned, was a black man in his fifties in the segregated and racist state of Georgia. It wasn’t long before the police decided to arrest their only suspect: Newt Lee.

Lee was questioned by the police and then beaten and then questioned again, but still Lee’s story remained the same: he was innocent. The police called in Lee’s boss, the factory superintendent, Leo Frank. Frank was a skinny man in his late twenties—police found he was twitchy and nervous when they visited his house that morning. Of course, anyone would be nervous and twitchy if a group of stone-faced policemen paid you a visit early in the morning to deliver the news that one of your workers was murdered. At first Frank couldn’t recall who Mary Phagan was until he saw her body, but then he realized that this was the young woman who had collected her paycheck the day before. He decided to cooperate with the investigation and followed the police back to their headquarters to answer more questions, at this point Lee was still the prime suspect.

Yet over the next few days Lee was found innocent and released, while other men were arrested under the suspicion of murder. As potential suspects were weeded out, two men stood out to police in particular: a black Janitor with a history of drunken and disorderly conduct, Jim Conley, and the superintendent himself, Leo Frank. The case was essentially solved when Conley confessed that Frank had murdered the girl and made him hide the body.

Suddenly the word spilled over the state of Georgia and suddenly several workers and former employees of the factory popped up to say that Frank was a dangerous man with a reputation for lechery, used to preying upon young female workers at the factory. But for as many witnesses that said Frank was a pervert, an equal amount of citizens were quick to defend him, ready to say that Frank was a kind and decent man without a blemish on his name. The only person that could convince the public—and later a jury—of Frank’s innocence or guilt was Conley, the supposed accomplice (or supposed killer).

Conley’s story changed several times when he talked to the police, but when he finally told the jury about the day of the murder that following summer, he told a vivid story that no one could ignore, a story that never changed, even after several hours of cross-examination. Conley claimed that Mary had visited Frank’s office—whether by choice or by force he could not say—just like several other young women had: for sexual purposes. The former janitor revealed that Frank had a history of inviting women to his office for sexual liaisons and that Conley was in charge of keeping lookout during these sessions. Mary Phagan was supposed to just be another notch in Frank’s belt of sexual conquests, until Conley heard a scream coming from the superintendent’s office. Conley raced to see what was wrong and found Mary crumbled in the corner with Frank standing frantic nearby.

According to Conley, Frank then claimed that she fell and hit her head, that it was an accident. Then Frank bribed Conley to write some notes (notes that were eventually found near the body). The notes were written to throw suspicion off of Frank and on to other black employees. These notes were made to look like Mary had written them herself; they use the n-word repeatedly while referring to a certain someone, as if the writer was hoping suspicion would fall upon the factory’s black workers (this was what helped get Newt Lee arrested after finding the body in the first place). Conley then proceeded to drop the body and the notes in the factory’s basement.

This story disgusted the jurors and the visitors of crowded courtroom. When Leo Frank took the stand in self-defense, the court seemed to have already made up their mind about him. Frank testified that he had given Mary Phagan her pay on that fateful day back in April and that she had left—never to be seen again. He denied any sexual involvement with the girl, much less involvement in her murder. Despite his genuine pleas, the jurors made up their minds and Frank was found guilty of murder.

Now here’s where the story gets tricky. Mary Phagan was a young white woman. Jim Conely was a black man from the South. Leo Frank was white, but he was Jewish, he was a northerner, and most of all: he was an outsider.  Frank’s defenders at the time and over the past several decades have claimed that Frank was not given a fair trial and that the jury was biased against him—not from any real evidence (most of the actual police evidence had mysteriously vanished before the trial, leaving only Conley’s and other character-related-testimonies) but that he was convicted because he was Jewish and that he was a scapegoat to an anti-semetic population.

Frank tried for several appeals, but lost them all. It wasn’t until Governor John M. Slaton reviewed the case, that Frank’s luck began to change. Slaton found enough reasons to change Frank’s death sentence to that of life imprisonment. The general public was furious. In their minds a convicted murderer was going unpunished. A fellow inmate tried to murder Frank in his sleep, but failed. A few days later a forceful mob would prove more successful.

A lynch mob abducted Frank during the night of August 16th, 1915. He was taken from his cell at the Milledgeville Prison Farm surprisingly easily. The twenty-eight men that made up his party of abductors and future murderers were not local riff-raff or violent criminals: many were politicians, former and current sheriffs, and community leaders—otherwise respectable men at the time. Yet these same “respectable gentlemen” were not above breeching the law as they scurried away in to the night with Frank held hostage in the backseat of a car.

The party road from Milledgeville to Marietta with little interference. Since only a few people had automobiles in that part of Georgia at the time, it’s surprising that this vigilante mob was able to find eight cars that could stand the journey with few stops for gas. This idea alone shows how the group had thought through their actions and planned carefully. It is very well possible that they brought gas with them or perhaps even received help from local citizens along the way. They had no difficulty at all the entire time.

The original plan was to hang Leo ‘ in Mary’s hometown of Marietta, but the sun rose earlier than they had anticipated, so the group quickly made plans to kill him as soon as possible. They stopped near the corner of Frey’s Gin and Roswell Road. Frank was continually asked during the ride if he had killed Mary Phagan, but Frank remained nearly silent, speaking only to deny his involvement in the murder of the Phagan girl two years prior. Though a few of the men felt sorry for him, it was much too late to turn back now.

A table was placed under a tree and a noose was tied to one of the branches. Frank was escorted to the tree without a struggle. His last words concerned his family and his wife, Lucille, and how he wanted someone to give his wedding ring to her after his death. Then the noose was placed around his neck and the table was kicked out from under him. Within minutes he was dead.

For years the whole story of Mary Phagan’s murder and Leo Frank’s subsequent trial and lynching has focused on the men involved. Yet, even a hundred years later, I can’t help but wonder how the silent women that were impacted by these events felt.

In every portrayal of this story, Mary Phagan is portrayed as a silent victim, a footnote in her own story. The grief of Mary’s mother and of the other females in Atlanta and Marietta is swept under the rug in favor of describing Leo Frank’s supposed innocence or guilt. Yet somehow one woman is not been completely ignored and the public’s interest in her has only grown over the years. The key figure in question is Lucille Selig, Leo Frank’s wife.

She has always been portrayed as the supportive and grieving wife that stood by her husband, completely convinced of his innocence. She is seen as a heroine of sorts. But think of modern parallels. Today wives of convicted murderers are looked down on and seen as foolish and blind women who can’t accept the obvious truth about their spouse even in the face of a conviction and evidence. Still, place yourself in Lucille’s shoes for a moment. How would you react if your loved one was accused of such a crime and found guilty? Would you believe the press and the courts over your love for your spouse? This is not an easy question with an easy answer, and this would have affected Lucille immensely. She never married again after Frank’s murder, perhaps out of loyalty to her dead husband, or maybe the whole ordeal left a sour taste in her mouth. Lucille decided to have her ashes buried–not next to her husband–but with the rest of her family in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta: the city that had so willingly convicted Frank.

Another woman impacted by the death of Mary Phagan and the subsequent death of Leo Frank, was Governor John Slaton’s wife Sarah Frances Grant, known by her friends as Sally. At first glance Sally’s life seems to be the complete opposite of Mary Phagan and Lucille Selig Frank’s lives. Dan Childs, who researched Sally’s life for Oakland Cemetery’s Capturing the Spirit event, described Sally as “attractive and charismatic.” Unlike Mary, Sally grew up in comfort. She was a member of the prestigious Grant family (for whom Grant Field at Georgia Tech is named after). She was born five years after the Civil War ended, so she would have grown up constantly hearing stories of the war, exaggerated legends of a era that had all but been destroyed. While these same stories would have been turned in to myths by the time Lucille and Mary were born, Sally would have been constantly aware of the damage the war inflicted upon the south, even decades after it ended. Still, her family retained their status and beautiful young Sally was happy.

Like Lucille, Sally married young, but also like Lucille, her first marriage was short lived and ended in tragedy. Sally’s first husband, the aristocratic young lawyer Thomas Cobb Jackson, was involved in a “financial scandal of some sort.” Dan Childs also found in his research that Jackson suffered from depression and that once the scandal broke, “he committed suicide.” This financial scandal can be explored further in Laurel-Ann Dooley’s 2014 book Wicked Atlanta: The Sordid Side of Peach City History, published by The History Press in Charleston, South Carolina. The death of her husband would have hurt Sally deeply, a pain Lucille would later share twenty-two years later when her own husband became involved in an even more shocking Atlanta scandal.

A few years later Sally married another Atlanta lawyer, John Slaton. The two remained happily married until her death early in 1945. Slaton would die ten years later. Yet, from 1913 onwards, their marriage was tested by the same challenge that had harmed so many other lives: the deaths of Mary Phagan and later Leo Frank.

1913 was an important year for the Slaton’s, as it was an important year for the whole of Atlanta. While spent most of the year focused on the murder of Mary Phagan and the subsequent trail of Leo Frank, 1913 was a good year for Sally. Her husband took office as governor that summer. Then one of her relatives was John W. Grant, became the benefactor of a stadium that was then currently being built at Georgia Tech. The stadium, now known as the Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field, was named after his son, Hugh Inman Grant back when it was originally known as Grant Field. The stadium was later renamed in the 80’s after the successful coach Bobby Dodd. Still, 1913 held more pleasant surprises for Sally. Even Polly Peachtree, a gossip columnist for the Atlanta Journal, complimented her that year, writing: “I frankly and freely confess myself her ardent admirer. Her beauty and wit will make the executive mansion during her husband’s administration the most brilliant state court in all these United States.” This high praise, in Dan Childs’ opinion, only goes to show Sally and her husband’s popularity.

Atlanta’s love for the Slaton’s did not last much longer. Two years later, John Slaton made the controversial decision to commute Leo Frank’s sentence from that of the death penalty to life imprisonment. The citizens of Marietta and Atlanta were appalled by this action. Not only did they hang Leo Frank, citizens nearly rioted, making life so dangerous for the Slaton’s’ that their house had to be protected by martial law and guarded constantly due to the threat of rioters storming the house. That summer Slaton’s term as governor had ended, now the former governor, once loved by the city of Atlanta, fled the state of Georgia with his wife in toe a mere week after the Frank incident. His career was effectively finished and their lives never quite recovered from the scandal. Sally stood by her husband the entire time, never wavering in her opinion that Slaton’s decision was the right one.

Both Sally and Lucille left Georgia for several years, but once the entire ordeal died down, both returned to Atlanta. Lucille went on to work at a clothing store downtown. Even years after her husband’s death, Dan Childs found that, “she wore a name badge at work that identified her as ‘Mrs. Leo Frank.’”

In one final coincidence, John Slaton, Sally, and Lucille are all buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Even now, fifty years after Slaton’s death and a full century after Frank’s lynching, Sally and Lucille are still linked together in both life and death.

Atlanta historians’ interest in these two women has only grown these past hundred years, especially considering the way their lives mirror one another before finally being laid to rest in the same location. Oakland Cemetery commemorated these two women in the previous month during the Capturing the Spirit tours. The Capturing the Spirit tours occur every year at Oakland around Halloween. During this event tour guides take visitors on a walk around the cemetery. Each year a handful of people buried in the cemetery are selected to be portrayed during the tour. Workers and volunteers at the cemetery research the lives of those chosen. Then during the tour actors and actress stand in front of the deceased’s graves and portray their chosen spirit as they have come back from the grave to tell tourists their tale. Actors deliver a speech for five and a half minutes, introducing visitors to their life story, all while dressed in period appropriate costumes. This October Lucille Selig Frank and Sarah Grant Slaton were chosen to be “resurrected,” most likely due to the fact that this year was the hundredth anniversary of Frank’s death.

The two actresses portraying Lucille and Sally read off of a script written by a professional scriptwriter. While this writer was difficult to track down, Oakland was more than happy to give credit to a fellow volunteer, Dan Childs.

Dan Childs wrote the script for the Leo Frank tour given by Oakland several times a year. His research is what helped bring Lucille and Sally back to life, so to speak, during this year’s Capturing the Spirit tours.

Sally’s husband, the former Governor John M. Slaton, was “resurrected” in the previous years, which stirred Atlanta historians’ interests. While Leo Frank is not buried in Oakland Cemetery, his wife Lucille’s grave is a poignant reminder of the ordeal that shocked Atlanta a century ago. Mary Phagan is buried at the Marietta City Cemetery, a special black information marker tells her story in words, but her spirit remains silent.


Posted in History

“Two Floors of History”

Docents, actors, and other volunteers pain-stakingly re-create historic homes in Roswell.

Sunlight falls over the staircase and blankets the many cats and dogs that have curled up on the edge of each step to bask in the warmth. The rustle of skirts can be heard. The smell of roasted ham from the Smoke House creeps into the home through the open windows. The cook, a hungry slave, hums to herself as she enters the house through the back door to set dinner on the table for the family that dresses themselves upstairs. Large windows on the front of the house are being opened. These windows reach all the way down to the floor and contain three separate panes that can be opened or closed to become a small slot for food to be passed through by the slaves, a simple window, or, when pulled up to its full height, a large enough opening that could be counted as another door. If a party were to occur the window would be opened all the way so that guests could come and go as they pleased in and out of the house without having to cluster at the front door. There is the possibility that the neighbors across the street at the Bulloch family home might come to visit after dinner, a prospect that excites the only daughter Eva, who has been best friends with Mittie Bulloch for years. The King clan and the Bulloch family are two of the founding families of this mill-based city named Roswell. In the years before the Civil War the city is peaceful. The King family at Barrington Hall has their mill while the Bulloch’s have their gardens. They expect life to remain the same way for years to come.

The year is now 2014. Their houses remain in Roswell, but the old families have long since passed away. Barrington Hall has since become noticed for sharing the same name as the old fashioned coffee brand, a brand which took its name from the house. Bulloch Hall is now remembered for housing Martha Bulloch Roosevelt who would give birth to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.—the 26th President of the United States. Her family called her Mittie and the nickname has stuck throughout the years. Today at the historic homes of Roswell she is once again referred to as Mittie.

As I stand on the staircase inside Barrington Hall my fantasies of sleeping pets, rustling skirts, roasted ham, and the hope of distinguished visitors disappears. Today the distinguished visitors are not the offspring of Roswell’s finest families. There are no Southern Belles here, nor are there any handsome young gentlemen who have come to discuss politics and have a smoke with the master of the house. Instead there are only four of us: a docent, two tourists, and myself. The two other tourists, women in their sixties and seventies, comment on the house’s furniture and compare them to their own family heirlooms. They can remember being told stories of the opulence and the noble souls that once lived here, but the place is foreign to me. My generation has grown up with i-phones and laptops. These other women standing with me used typewriters. This house was the home to people who never would have imagined such things.

I eye the back staircase slaves would have used and feel a twang of remorse. As someone who has grown up in the post-Roots and Civil Rights era, I cannot picture the simple lifestyles of the rich family that once lived here without thinking of the disturbing cost of such leisure. The back stairs for slaves merges with the family’s staircase. Here slaves and the privileged King family members might have walked side by side: this is the only place in the house where this could be possible.

The docent mentions this to our little group of four. We stop to ponder this while the sunlight streams in from the large window up above us. The slave cabins are long gone having been replaced by a parking lot for visitors. This staircase is one of the few reminders left of the slaves that walked these same halls nearly two hundred years ago.

The docent is a woman in her sixties. Her hair may be auburn colored, but I am sure that this is the work of a dye routinely scrubbed into her hair every few months. Today people do not want to be reminded that they are old. For the King family that once owned this house, living to be sixty was a privilege many did not have. Every wrinkle and scar was worn as a proud reminder of how the house had stood through the Civil War, even when their mill had been burned, even though Union soldiers had occupied the house, and neighbors had stolen many pieces of furniture. These imperfections proudly stated: we were here and we survived. Today we cover our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes with make-up and lotion.

The South’s prickly history has since become an awkward subject for Americans, especially those of us in the South who cannot trace themselves back to founding families and disapprove of slavery whole heartedly. My ancestors were poor farmers. The only way a member of the Hohn family could enter a house like this would be as tourists a hundred years since the original family died. The other women in my tour group do not seem to share this same problem, coming from several generations of Southerners who could trace their family trees back several generations, who kept old family heirlooms in storage, and visited homes like this to become in touch with their roots. I am only a guest.

The docent is no exception to this. “My mother collected antiques,” she tells me. She can remember joining her mother to hunt down traces of a desk, a hat, or a frame as a child. These experiences in her childhood inspired her love of history. Her mother, now in her eighties, still enjoys searching for and collecting antiques. It is a nice tradition for mother and daughter to continue after several decades. Her interest in antiques influences what she says in our tour. She points out the history of several pieces of furniture, excited to explain how this desk actually belonged to this person and how this quilt made of many different scraps of fabric was a present for that member of the house. “Oh,” she exclaims, walking over to the large wooden wardrobe that sits on the second level of the house. “This is my favorite part of the house.” She runs her fingers along the wood. She explains that this wardrobe was built inside the house, and since it is too big to fit through any door in Barrington, this wardrobe sits on the exact same spot where it was built over a hundred and fifty years ago. She then informs us about the history of other pieces of furniture in the house.

I have been on this tour before. My earlier docent had focused on the various people that had lived here, while today’s docent uses her own background of gathering antiques to praise the furniture. A lot of the furniture in Barrington today is the same furniture the original King family would have used, but some pieces or recreations or period-accurate pieces that had belonged to someone else before being tracked down by antique-lovers.

The layout of historical houses like Barrington is painstakingly re-created time and time again by the few members of staff each house has. A few years ago one volunteer at Barrington was able to track down the actual bed one resident slept in and the matching dresser through the magic of E-bay! I should explain that this would have been an extremely difficult task since much of the furniture in both houses was spread out across the south in storage units, relative’s basements, and museums. This one volunteer was able to find the exact bed and dresser through a lot of hard work and dedication after reading countless family letters that detailed the appearance of these pieces of furniture.

A large part of researching these historic homes and their families comes from reading family letters, journals, and any form of writing that has been preserved after all these years.

One worker, Gwen Koehler, the education coordinator at Bulloch Hall across the street, recently discovered several Bulloch family letters in a museum up in Washington D.C. Since then Koehler and a friend are currently compiling these letters to publish in a book. These letters are especially interesting because they contain correspondence between Mittie Bulloch and her son Theodore Roosevelt, the former President of the United States.

While Barrington Hall covers several generations of family members that have inherited the house, Bulloch Hall is all about Mittie, her ties to the Roosevelt’s, and her parents that had at one point disapproved of the marriage. Every year in December people flock to Bulloch Hall to re-create the wedding between founding family members Stephen and Martha Bulloch (Mittie’s parents). This is one of several important historical events that are re-enacted at Roswell’s historic homes.

The re-enactment of the wedding is noticeable because it does not only feature actors in costumes: the docents and other volunteers have to dress up too. The attention at this event is directed towards the actors playing the bride and groom, but I doubt their costumes are much more comfortable. Volunteers that play the spectators are handed whatever is available or left over. The dresses look tight and very tiny on modern day women. The women of the Bulloch and King families, like many southern women, were very short, so an average sized woman today would not enjoy being stuffed into these old-fashioned clothes for historical re-enactment events. At the time of the actual wedding between Stephan and Martha, women wore an astonishing number of fourteen petticoats (no wonder a fainting couch was kept on stand-by downstairs: women would simply collapse from the heat). Luckily, the re-enactors today do not have to wear all fourteen petticoats, and they get to enjoy modern air conditioning, but I imagine that wearing these costumes is no picnic for anyone. Yet every year the wedding is preformed nearly word-for-word to re-enact the wedding as accurately as possible because Bulloch Hall’s history is that important to the people of Roswell.

In the summer there are some more historical reenactment events. The most popular one occurs at Barrington Hall. Here people reenact the time when Union soldiers invaded the house in the summer of 1864, where they stayed for two weeks while rebuilding the Roswell Bridge, which Confederates had burned to slow the Union forces’ march through the south. A good amount of men volunteer to re-enact this scene during the summer, not for the pay or acclaim, but for their respect for the town’s history.

I should also mention that everyone that works at these historic homes is a volunteer who typically receives very little money for this, if any at all. Volunteers come here after finishing their busy shifts at their actual, professional jobs, to give tours to whoever straggles in from the streets due to their love of history.

That phrase summarizes the feeling of every worker at these historic homes: they love this history. Each hour spent in the heat wearing thick, uncomfortable costumes, each hour spent on their feet while giving tours of the houses, each hour spent reading page after page of family letters—all are done for each persons’ absolute love of Roswell’s history and their dedication to preserving it in the public’s memory.

As I leave Barrington Hall the fluttering ghosts of the house’s history once again strike me. I look at the dining room and think of the little slave girl one docent had told me would fall asleep while fanning the King family during dinner. I pass the formal visiting parlor that where President Theodore Roosevelt had sat while visiting one of his mother’s oldest friends, Eva King Baker. Over a decade later a reporter named Margaret Mitchell interviewed Eva in the same exact spot, asking about her experience as a bridesmaid at Mittie Bulloch’s wedding. I wonder if the stories of Eva, Mittie, and other Roswell families inspired Mitchell when she wrote the famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in her wildly popular novel Gone with the Wind a few years after the interview took place. I notice that someone had carved into the windowpane near the front door. Dupart believes a child of the house had tried to write their name there, only to be punished. Over a hundred years later the words carved in the glass are impossible to read, but still potent. As I walk down the front porch steps, I imagine the ghosts of charming Southern Belles giggling behind gloved hands, slaves humming a tune while thinking of abolitionists’ promises of freedom, and Union soldiers camped out on the lawn, waiting for the war to end. Behind me the docents prepare themselves for another tour.

Works Cited

“Barrington Drive.” City Data, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <>

“Barrington Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <>

“Bulloch Hall: Family Biographies.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <;

“Catherine Evelyn King Baker.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <>

“History of Barrington Hall.” Roswell Gov. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <;

“Our History: History of Bulloch Hall” Roswell Gov. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. < >

Posted in Literature

“June Cleaver Loses the Apron”

Women, for many decades, had assigned roles in literature with authors following the rules of society that tell them how to portray females in their plays and other art forms. Women in literature were maidens or sirens, wives or prostitutes, and most heroines had to be pure, innocent, and virginal.

As the literary form known as the novel came into being, women started to be portrayed a little bit differently than before. One of the writers who took advantage of this was Eliza Haywood, whose short story Fantomina: Love in a Maze, helped break the rules of how women were portrayed in fiction by making its heroine a sexually curious young woman who desires a man sexually, a role only men had played previously in novels.

Several hundred years later, Edward Albee captured the changing gender roles in America after the Women’s Rights Movement and both World Wars, in a time that was beginning to push for social changes with the Civil Rights Movement and the First wave of Feminism. The cultivation of these ideas comes out in his most famous play: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? where he challenges the typical stereotype of gender roles in a marriage. Both authors challenge the typical roles of women in literature by portraying their main female character as being the opposite of society’s expectations of what a woman should be, despite the fact that the time periods each author wrote in had a very different climate concerning the rights of women and the topics of sexuality and marriage.

Fantomina and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf center on two very different women, both of who are the exact opposite of society’s expectations for the role that they, as women, must play. They differ in how each author portrays these women and the time period each author wrote them in.

The unnamed heroine in Fantomina is filled with sexual desire for Beauplaisir, a man she disguises herself for to keep herself interesting for sexually. The heroine, whom for simplicity’s sake will be called Fantomina, was written in a time when women had very few rights and were basically property of their husbands or fathers. Fantomina disregards social roles of the time when she thinks: “Men…have no cause to scorn our easy weeping, wailing sex!” (Haywood 2754) Fantomina defies both of these rules by having no father mentioned, and no husband to speak of, and is instead subservient to her mother, Beauplaisir, and her own sexual desires. Despite this, she still believes she is in control of her own situation by doing “beyond what almost any woman but herself ever did” (Haywood 2745). Her new-found power in her sexuality makes her desire freedom as she never has before. She does not understand women’s desire to “make their life a hell, burning in fruitless expectations, and dreaming out their ways in hopes and fears, then wake at last to all the horror of despair” (Haywood 2751). Though eventually she tires of her taste of sexual freedom, having bitten off more than she can chew, by becoming bored with Beauplaisir: “she began to grow as weary of receiving his now insipid caresses as he was of offering them” (Haywood 2756). Even though she is, in the end, submissive to her mother’s control, Fantomina is the exact opposite of what society tells her to be by acting on her sexual urges and fulfilling her desires in a time when women were meant to be virgins before marriage.

Martha, the main female character of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf may be as lusty as Fantomina is, but besides their lusty dispositions, the two heroines are extremely different. Martha does not take no for an answer. She is loud and crude, while Fantomina is innocent and naïve. Martha is a middle-aged wife, while Fantomina is merely a young woman. Fantomina nearly worships her lover, Martha, on the other hand, calls her husband a “FLOP! A great big fat flop!” (Albee 84). When Albee was writing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, the idea woman was represented in the T.V. sitcom “Leave it to Beaver” character June Cleaver: she was the perfect wife, always in the kitchen, obedient, loving, and motherly. Martha is none of the above. Martha is abusive to her husband, she does not take orders, she is cruel to George, and she is childless, and the only time she steps foot in the kitchen is to pour herself another drink. George, her husband, even remarks on how Martha is constantly “ridiculing [him], tearing [him] down” (Albee 91). Martha even punches George during a humiliating boxing match, which counts as physical abuse, even if she does it as a jest. She threatens her husband when he tries to stand up to her: “I’ll make you sorry you made me want to marry you…I’ll make you regret the day you ever decided to come to this college. I’ll make you sorry you ever let yourself down” (Albee 173). Martha defies nearly every aspect of what the fifties’ and sixties’ society thought women should be.

Haywood wrote Fantomina centuries before Edward Albee was even born, long before the idea of women’s rights came into formation. This shows in her writing and plotting at the end of the story where Fantomina is forced to redeem herself after “sinning” and “degrading herself” with her lover by becoming a nun. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? does not have a tacked-on ending and Martha never attempts to redeem herself for her actions, nor is she forced to by society. Albee wrote the character of Martha during a time when American societal and gender norms were beginning to be challenged. The Women’s Rights Movement had happened fifty years earlier, and the Feminist Movement was about to take place. Men had left for war only to return home to find that their wives had taken their place at the head of the household, becoming the breadwinner by themselves. Martha challenges the typical role of females in entertainment at the time by representing the male fear of what this “new, independent” woman could be: pushy, rude, and mean. Both writers use their heroines to challenge social norms, but for Haywood her story of Fantomina comes off as a cautionary tale of girls who give in to their sexual desires, while Albee directly challenges American society’s rules through the character of Martha.

Despite the differences between the two main characters and the time period both stories were written in, Albee’s play and Haywood’s story both feature two strong women who, perhaps unconsciously, attempt to defy stereotypical roles of women at the time their story is set. Fantomina does not succeed in her quest for lust and independence, as few women did at that time, while Martha, though she is independent, ends the play in tears, having been broken down—not by society as Fantomina was—but by her own treacherous womb, unable to conceive. Martha’s independent nature and her abusive behavior is shown to be a façade, something for her to hide behind so that she can forget about the pain she feels inside. Both characters were born too early; their personalities are those of twenty-first century women: free, independent, and able to do what they want when they want to. Neither fully succeeds in obtaining the freedom they want because someone or something inside of them pulls them back to their harsh, unfeeling reality. Society and its beliefs is a chain around their necks, pulling them back into the dark waters of obedience and silence and while Fantomina drowns in the watery grave society has made for her, others, like Martha, keep swimming, reaching for the light and the freedom that awaits for them above. These two characters, and others like them, have helped, in one way or another, pave the way for stronger, more iconic female characters to appear on the literary scene. By defying society’s rules of how a woman should be written, Haywood and Albee have, whether they meant to or not, shown that women in literature should not be simply labeled as Virgin Mary’s or Mary Magdalene’s, June Cleaver’s or terrible shrews—women in literature, like in life, can be as diverse as men are and should be.

Works Cited

Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Signet, New York. 1983. Print.

Haywood, Eliza. Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze. New York. Print.

Posted in Television

“Westworld Pilot Review”

Note: Originally written in the fall of 2016

HBO’s new series raises profound and unsettling questions about humanity.

The pilot episode of HBO’s new series Westworld starts off with the spoken words: “Bring her back online.”

The first image is of a naked woman (Rachel Evan Wood) who sits limply in a chair, hidden by shadows. This is Dolores. She is perfectly still. Frozen. A fly crawls over her blank and glassy eyes.

This is not a human. This is an android.

“Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” an omnipresent voice off-screen asks.

We cut to Dolores lying in bed, slowly awakening as she narrates about how she chooses to see the beauty in the world. She follows her usual routine: she gets up, dresses, greets her father, then quickly stops by the nearby town where she runs in to Teddy (James Marsden), her secret lover. They hug, kiss, and ride off in to the sunset until their romantic interlude is disturbed by the sound of a gunshot. When she arrives home, Dolores is horrified to find that her parents have been murdered at the hands of a wanted fugitive. Another shot rings out and this time fugitive falls to the ground, dead. A lone gunman dressed in black approaches Dolores, but he is not her hero. This mysterious man, known as The Man in Black (played by a menacing Ed Harris) slaps Dolores across the face. They’ve met many times before, but she can’t seem to remember him. When Teddy tries to stop the familiar stranger from presumably raping his lover, the young man finds that the gunman is impervious to bullets. The Man in Black chuckles and taunts the two. “I want you to fight,” he says. Teddy tries once again to kill the dangerous man, but can’t. He is not the golden hero riding to the rescue. Instead he is quickly shot and falls to the ground, his last moments spent listening to Dolores’s painful screams.

And then we see Dolores lying in bed once more. Another day is dawning. No, it’s the exact same day as before, playing out in the exact same order beat for beat. You see, Dolores’s world is a simulation and she is merely a tourist attraction.

Westworld is the name of a park where visitors (or “guests” as they are called), can visit and interact with androids posing as characters from the Wild West. Dolores is just another android “host,” catered to the whims of the “guests” who use and often abuse her, especially Ed Harris, another “guest” who takes “the game” (as he calls it) way too seriously.

For many years the simulation has gone off without a hitch. Until now, of course.

Several hundred “hosts” have been re-coded, which causes them to have new, nearly human-like movements. Soon the androids will become more and more lifelike, more than their creators and programmers could ever imagine. You see, there is a bug in their system, represented onscreen by the presence of a literal bug: a fly.

We are introduced to the staff of Westworld. There’s the programmer Bernard Lowe, Theresa Cullen, the operation’s leader that frequently clashes with Lowe, the English writer, Lee Sizemore, and the park’s director, Dr. Robert Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins). Ford used to be an artistic genius, but now he has fallen victim to his own creations. His beautiful androids are slowly turning in to a robotic form of Frankenstein’s Monster.

Ford reminds me of Jurassic Park’s John Hammond and that comes as no surprise given the fact that Michael Crichton, who wrote the script and novel Jurassic Park, also directed the film that Westworld is based off of. The original film, also named Westworld was released in 1973 and starred Yul Brynner as the Gunslinger, who is reimagined as Ed Harris’s character in the HBO series.

The pilot episode to HBO’s Westworld perfectly sets up both worlds—the real one and the fake on. Yet the androids seem much more life-like and are certainly more engaging to follow than the programmers and park employees.

The gorgeous cinematography is matched with brutal violence. One scene in particular stands out: there is a gunfight at a saloon with various characters cruelly riddled with bullets as a haunting instrumental version of The Rolling Stone’s “Paint it Black” plays in the background. Actors portraying the androids brilliantly capture the stunted movement and far away look of characters that aren’t quite human, while also making these inhuman characters sympathetic and likeable, despite the fact that they are indeed androids that do not truly feel any emotions. Or do they?

While watching the pilot, I couldn’t help but be reminded of popular first-person shooter games, which have drawn controversy. Westworld replaces video game characters with androids and somehow manages to draw an emotional response from the audience more than any video game ever could. Westworld makes us question what it means to be human, our treatment of others and even every-day objects, and our own ideas of humanity.

The series is off to an excellent start with this pilot and I for one cannot wait to watch the entire season in full. Perhaps this will be a worthy successor to HBO’s mega-hit Game of Thrones, which is slowly entering the homestretch. Westworld is an expertly crafted piece of television that will quickly draw viewers in to an uncomfortable world where fiction and reality start to cross in disturbing ways.

Posted in History

The Most Dangerous Decade

Last year was…a memorable one. When the world rang in the New Year, social media was bursting with memes declaring 2016 to be the worst year ever, with many fearing this year would be even worse.

Before you click the back button, know that this article is not about politics in that I am not saying one political party is better than another, nor am I saying that 2017 heralds the end of the world.

No. I am here to tell you that it’s all right, that this is not the end of the world. I say this because the seventies were way worse.

Ah, the seventies, a time when music was great, movies were daring, and…America didn’t quite know with to do with itself. The nation was divided: parents and children argued, the old were pitted against the young, liberals waged political war against conservatives, and the Beatles were coming to an end. While the seeds of this conflict were planted in the sixties, they came into full bloom in the seventies.

Still, this picture of the seventies that we remember today came into fruition in the previous year of 1969. If the sixties were a time of marching and protesting, from ’69 onward marching and peaceful protesting turned to rioting and violence.

A Decade of Rage

There were over six separate major incidences of terrorism that year alone: from the bombing and attempted bombing of two different California colleges in February to Sam Melville’s bombing of the Marine Midland Building in New York City that August.

The fall of 69 saw a sharp rise in terrorist activity. Jane Alpert, Sam Melville’s lover, bombed the Federal Building in New York City a month after Melville. Alpert was also responsible for bombing the Armed Forces Induction Center, also in New York. With October came the “Days of Rage,” where 800 protestors hoped to “bring the [Vietnam] war home,” hoping to start a new war from the Chicago streets. While these three days of rioting did contain much of the advertised rage, it did not start a war, but instead resulted in mass arrests, many injuries, businesses looted, car windows smashed, and started a new wave of violent protests.

In November, Alpert and Melville finished off their busy year detonating a bomb in the Manhattan Criminal Court, leading to their arrest.

While Melville was placed in prison, the Weathermen Underground was born.

The Weathermen and other domestic terrorist organizations burst on to the scene, quite literally, when Weathermen member Cathy Wilkerson’s’ townhouse in Greenwich Village prematurely detonated, setting the townhouse aflame and killing three people. The Weathermen soon declared war in retaliation for the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton, who was killed during an FBI raid in December of 1969.

In June of 1970, the Weathermen, now known as the Weathermen Underground Organization (WUO), took responsibility for the bombing of the New York City Police Department headquarters. The group would go on to attack the United States Capital, the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh, and on May 19, 1972 the WUO even bombed the Pentagon.

The WUO might be the most well-known terror group of the time, but they were not the only ones involved in terrorist attacks. The Jewish Defense League were involved in bombings in New York and D.C. The Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patricia Hearst, robbed many banks, was responsible for several deaths, and was behind many more crimes. Puerto Rican terrorist organization, the FALN, were behind the deadly bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, killing over fifty people. LaGuardia Airport in New York was bombed, killing eleven people and injuring nearly seven times as many, with the perpetrator unknown to this day. This was just the tip of the ice burg.

There were so many domestic terrorist attacks that they became common place, something, which seems unthinkable today.

These attacks only added to the political instability that shook the early seventies, which climaxed with the Watergate Scandal.

Crime wave

From the late 60’s up until the 80’s, America also experienced a crime wave with an emphasis placed on dangerous cults and that new breed of predators: the serial killer.

The summer of ’69 marked a string of murders by the Manson Family. While much has been made of the murder of actress Sharon Tate and several others at her house in Cielo Drive, the Manson Family also killed Leno and Rosemary La Bianca, violin teacher Gary Hinman, and even stuntman-turned-ranch hand, Donald Shea, when he grew suspicious of the group. The Manson Family was behind several more attempted murders, including the attempted murder of several of their own members who started to doubt Manson and his followers. This was not the end of the Manson family’s crime spree, devoted member Lynette Fromme, known by the moniker of “Squeaky,” attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in September of 1975. Interestingly enough, later that same month Sara Jane Moore would attempt to kill the president before being stopped by the secret service. As for the Manson Family, the group slowly disbanded, but everyone involved never forgot the murders of 1969.

The seventies ended with another killer cult on the news, this time it was the mass suicide of members of the Peoples Temple at Jonestown and the murder of five people, including a congressman, at the Port Kaituma airstrip, which preceded the mass suicides.

As shocking as these events were, one was still more likely to meet their end at the hands of the many killers that now roamed the streets.

California’s Zodiac Killer is believed to have claimed the lives of over twenty people, perhaps as high as thirty-seven, the Zodiac killer murdered several young couples, is alleged to have abducted a woman and her infant before the mother and child escaped, and all the while taunted law enforcement with letters and codes, before slipping away into the night, never definitively identified.

Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy left a trail of bodies behind him from 1974 to 1978, murdering over thirty women. John Wayne Gacy killed his first victim in 1972, killing and assaulting well over thirty people for six years, many of his victims were young boys. Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK killer due to binding, torturing, and killing his victims, murdered the Otero family in 1974.

There are many theories for what could have caused this sudden spike in crime with many attributing it to broken homes and single mothers to lead poisoning, but whatever the cause was did little to comfort the many victims’ families and friends who were left behind.

A Recap

When you consider the alarming wave of left-wing domestic terrorism and brutal murders in the seventies, it is hardly surprising that the following decade would be a return to conservative values under the Regan administration.

While the seventies produced a lot of great music and ground-breaking movies, its political instability, the prevalence of domestic terrorism, and the troubling rise in crime all together make the seventies perhaps America’s most dangerous decade.

Recommended viewing and reading:

For more on the Weather Underground and 1969’s Days of Rage:

You can view Vanity Fair Confidential’s episode on these events here at Investigation Discovery. You can also read the original Vanity Fair articles by Bryan Burrough and the subsequent book he wrote on the events.

Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. By: Bryan Burrough.

For more on the Manson Family Murders:

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Family Murders. By: Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry.

There are also plenty of documentaries and television mini-series you can watch on the topic, plus countless of biographies and memoirs of those involved. Bugliosi’s book is the best place to start and is the definitive account of these events, perhaps even more reliable than the accounts given by the killers themselves.

For more on the Zodiac Murders:

Zodiac: The Full Story of the Infamous Unsolved Zodiac Murders in California. By: Robert Graysmith.

I also highly recommend watching David Fincher’s brilliant dramatization simply titled Zodiac.

For more on Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army:

I highly recommend you read Jeffrey Tobin’s recent book, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst.