Class Constraints

A review of Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” (Woolf Like Me Publishing, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” is a steampunk story of disruption, shaking up the class divides of the Victorian Era. Diem writes a tale of escape from the boundaries, barriers, and confinements placed on gender and class. This is a tale of change and one of questions.

Clara is a woman from upper class society, confined by assumptions about her gender and by the roles placed on her behaviour by her family. She desires adventure, wants to change, and she is able to stow away on an airship to escape into the sky and away from everything holding her down. When she is discovered by pirates who offer her an opportunity for a new life, she leaves behind her debutante clothes and jumps into new adventures. She believes in the freedom of the sky, yet even in the sky she is underestimated, treated as a delicate flower in need of protection. She has to not only change herself, but also change the perceptions of those around her.

But she is not the only one to change. The pirate captain was formerly a Duke, giving up his role and status to share wealth with the poor. He is a steampunk Robin Hood, and like that other rogue, he has created a family of misfits. Clara is able to find her own family amongst these rogues and they provide the ability for her to choose her own path.

In order to free herself from the constraints placed upon her, Clara must play roles, clothe herself in identity. Rebecca Diem recognizes that clothing provides restraints on identity, shaping the way that we are read by people around us. Clothing wraps us up in assumptions, becoming a costume where others read us.

To find out more about Rebecca Diem, visit http://www.rebeccadiem.com

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Goosed Into The Truth

Goosed Into The Truth
A review of Tim Wynne-Jones’ “The Goose Girl” in Black Thorn, White Rose Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Prime Books: 1994

By Derek Newman-Stille


Tim Wynne-Jones’ “The Goose Girl” is a re-telling of the Grimm Brothers’ tale of the same name, but it is also a discussion of the nature of re-tellings and of the nature of “truth” itself.. His story is told from the perspective of the Prince, who narrates his encounter with the young princess and the chambermaid. As in the Grimm Brothers narrative, the princess and chambermaid switch clothes before the castle and the prince assumes that the chambermaid is the princess he is supposed to marry and that the young princess is a peasant girl, who he finds work for as a goose girl. The prince is deceived by a change of clothing and has to uncover the truth through interacting with both chambermaid and princess to discover the truth behind their presentation of selfhood. They are clothed in fiction.

Wynne-Jones narrates a tale of successive fictions. After living the experience of encountering the faux princess and the goose girl, he hears a peasant narrating her version of the tale, and, even though he interrupts her at times to ask her to narrate the truth, she is bound by the nature of fairy tale tellings and imbues her story with symbolism.

In the prince’s own narration of his events, he also invokes other fairy tales, illustrating that a fairy tale understanding is not just a feature of peasants, but is something embedded into every aspect of his culture. He plays with the idea of finding out the truth about which woman is a peasant and which a princess by placing a pea under a mattress and discovering which one of the two is unable to sleep, invoking the princess and the pea narrative in order to discover his own truths and the truths that he has been denying – namely, that he knows that his lover is actually the chambermaid rather than the princess and that the goose girl is the true princess. He resorts to fairy tale understandings in order to interpret his own unconscious, illustrating the symbolic power and value of fairy tales to get at hidden truths. 

Despite the prince’s correcting of the “facts” of the tale told to him by the old woman conveying folk tales, through his entire narrative, he resisted these facts, ignored truths and relegated them to the subconscious. 

Tim Wynne-Jones’ “The Goose Girl” is a tale of inconvenient truths, the power of stories, and the nature of fairy tales. He plays with the idea that there are truths in stories and that there are stories in the truths we are told. He reveals that there is often torture involved in uncovering undesireable truths. 

To discover more about Tim Wynne-Jones, visit his website at http://www.timwynne-jones.com

Upcoming audio interview with Tanya Huff on Saturday August 31st

At the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the first Canadian SF authors that I had read and absolutely adored, Tanya Huff. She allowed me to take a few minutes to record our conversation and play it here on Speculating Canada.

The audio file of our interview will be available on Saturday August 31st for you to download and listen to as a podcast or stream.

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In our interview, we discuss playing with the idea that when encountering “monsters”, it is often the humans that behave more monstrously, the role of class and clothing in fantasy literature, werewolves, zombies and the social fear of aging, the switch between the interest in the vampire to interest in the zombie, the blurring of boundaries between horror and fantasy, de-fanging the vampire, romance and the vampire, identity, the use of queer or LGBTQ characters, discrimination against books with queer characters, books and identity. Ms. Huff reveals some of her current projects and some of the challenges that have been faced in her upcoming work.