A Talk by Mark Chutter for Shire Hall Museum

'This is the meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision!'

Women and Witchcraft in Lolly Willowes and The Withered Arm

A Lecture by THS Chairman Mark Chutter

Thursday 16th March at 7pm, Shire Hall Museum

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In this talk, Mark Chutter will consider how Women and Witchcraft are presented differently in texts written by two Dorset writers -one a short story by Thomas Hardy written in 1888 and the other a satirical novel penned by the LGBTQ+ communist Sylvia Townsend Warner in 1926.

Mark will explore how Hardy uses Gothic conventions in his text in order to present the position of women at the time including Rhoda Brook who is living in nineteenth century poverty, and Gertrude Lodge who is (of course) rather more affluent. However, both are seemingly controlled and manipulated by Farmer Lodge and they are forced to operate within a male-dominated patriarchal system.

The story is a series of tableau moments which structure the narrative, and the element of coincidence is particularly powerful for the reader at the denouement of the text set in Casterbridge Prison. Gertrude Lodge - on seeing the dead boy - incites Rhoda to exclaim ‘ Hussy – to come between us and our child now – this is the meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision!’

In contrast Lolly Willowes - also known as ‘The Loving Huntsman’ - has been described as an early feminist classic. The text is a satirical comedy of manners with some elements of pure fantasy. This is a story of a middle-aged spinster – Laura Willowes - who moves to a country village to escape her controlling relatives and then takes up the practice of witchcraft. The novel ends with Laura acknowledging that her freedom comes at the expense of knowing that she belongs to the ‘satisfied but profound indifferent ownership’ of Satan.

This is the world of Hardy and Warner where women are presented in the context of gothic superstition and witchcraft – where there is coincidence, female jealousy and misogyny – where there is little value of them as women and their only empowerment is through folklore, superstition and ultimately Satan.

Tickets for this event are £6 and can be purchased from Shire Hall Museum - shirehalldorset.org

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