The Penelopiad

I re-read The Penelopiad today after listening to Jill Fellows lecture on it and came to realize how much I’d missed in my initial readings. The length of the work is deceptive, and is not representative of its density; next time, I will take notes while reading!

Let me just briefly introduce myself; I am quite embarrassed as I’ve just remembered that I never introduced myself on the blog! I am originally from Taiwan, but have spent the bulk of my life (12 years, to be exact,) in Singapore. I moved to Richmond, BC around three years ago and currently live on campus.

More importantly, The Penelopiad.

It left me intensely sad.

The Penelope here is modern, upbeat, quotidian; she narrates her stories with a wit and sarcasm that belie the tragic smallness of her mortal life. Yet the words one remembers her speaking after leaving the book are those that betray her vulnerability-her accounts of her parents, most obviously, but also the detachment with which she speaks of her maids. Penelope modifies that story constantly-it is as if she is afraid to delve too deep into that part of The Odyssey, and her own passive role in their deaths.

The Maids, meanwhile, are non-apologetic, forthright. They do not seem to care much about the way in which their narratives will be received-but the very fact that they weave themselves in so constantly, interrupting Penelope and rectifying her accounts suggest that they are, in fact, highly invested in their legacy. Their tragedy is amplified in The Penelopiad when set alongside Penelope’s own accounts; the bitter darkness of their lives is only here given a space-a space which they make full use of.

1 thought on “The Penelopiad

  1. Christina Hendricks

    Very nice post! I like how you’ve juxtaposed Penelope and the maids in the sense that the maids are really working hard to shape their legacy and are unapologetic in a way that Penelope doesn’t seem to be. They are struggling to make themselves heard, and it’s not clear in the text if Penelope hears them or if she is just going on with her story and ignoring them (at least, it’s not clear on my first read–I need to go over it again tomorrow morning before class!). I have wondered why they have to make their point in so many different ways in the text, so many different narrative styles and genres; but I am now wondering if it could be that they aren’t being heard and are trying different ways so that maybe someone will get it. That’s just a first thought, though…I need to reflect further. It certainly is striking how Penelope seems to be able to have centre stage in telling her story, and they have to interrupt, sing, shout even to be heard while she can just blithely go on and speak (even though she says she has no mouth to speak (4), which I find puzzling).

    On another note, can you activate a plugin that allows commenters to receive an email if there is a reply to their comment? Go to “plugins” on the left on your dashboard, and then the plugin called “subscribe to comments” (or something like that). Click “activate” on the right. Then, if someone wants to be notified if there is a reply to their comment, they can check a box after their comment to get an email!


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