Patriarchal Poetry and the Madwoman in the Attic

The Haunted House of Collective Memory -or- A Woman's Room of Her Own

Many have come to read about dreams at the International Institute for Dream Research website, most are in search of meaning and often find dreams they can identify with. The dream reported by Melanie, will be the focus of this interpretation, representing a paradigmatic gender shift away from the "patriarchal myth of a woman's life cycle" (1), towards what Virginia Woolf called for in her essay, "A Room of One's Own".

Melanie, 34

I read with interest the dream under the title "Haunted or Repressed Memories", in the Interpretation section of your website. Like the submitter, I have recurring dreams of a large, beautiful house which keeps revealing rooms, but unlike the writer, I know of the rooms' existence and am not frightened of them.

By contrast, in my dreams I am making a concerted effort to reach an empty, dark space at the top of the house.  It is not so much the attic as a forgotten floor, or a suite of hidden rooms. They are unlit and unadorned in true abandoned house fashion.  When I reach them, my relief is so great that my throat constricts and I feel as though I could sob.  The dream then ends.

One variation on this dream occurred, when a husband figure was calling to me as I made my way upstairs. When I reached the top floor, it was furnished and normal-looking, rather than abandoned, as per usual. It transpired that the husband was in the shower and was calling to me to hand him a towel. I remember my relief that he wanted nothing more from me which was so great, I nearly wept. 

I know the house represents my psyche and the rooms, are unexplored areas, but why am I so utterly desperate to get there?  One feeling that I carry away from the dreams is that the hidden/forgotten rooms are too eerie for anyone else to ever want to access, and that I am assured of complete solace when I get there.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Judith Shakespeare -or- The Poetic Rooms of my Psychological Home

"For most of history, Anonymous was a woman." Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own", is the room that you search for. This psychological authorial space is both literal and figurative. Woolf's essay is a call for women's freedom to have there own creative space, pointing out the gender role restraints and limitations placed on them, by past male dominated societies. Woolf creates the fictional character of "Judith Shakespeare", who is the sister of William Shakespeare, to illustrate the prejudices that lay waste to what you have called (feminine) "my psyche" and its growth and development.

One aim of the IIDR is to create a forum for a "feminist poetic", to offset what Gertrude Stein called "patriarchal poetic". The IIDR gives a voice to this poetry in, "Poetics of a Woman's Autobiography". We can still take note that in the dream this 92 year old woman, she turns to her father.

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gunbar The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination take Woolf's poetic ideas one step further. In their poetic view, women take on primarily two historical roles, the angel or the monster (think of Medusa). They also discuss their anxieties and what you label as the "desperation" of women. Henry David Thoreau's idea comes to mind; "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

Re-written from a woman's perspective, it would read; "Most women lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Woman's poetic "schizophrenia of authorship", as Gilbert and Gunbar call it, is readily evident in Freud's patriarchal medical voice and writing about women's (Ida Bauer's) thoughts, feelings and desires. Read the IIDR dream interpretation "Requiem for Ida Bauer". This poetic and verbal "schizophrenia" works both ways, in terms of men's and women's dreams and dreaming.

This literal and figurative "Battle of the Sexes", is given voice in a variety of IIDR dream interpretations which include;

In your dream, your husband calls for you, wanting a towel. Which was all that he wanted, "nothing more". In the dream, you feel relief that he didn't want something more, in that sense, you apparently do not feel "objectified". Evidently, this is a marriage that feels so great, that you wept. Many women before you, have felt less fortunate. Judith Shakespeare like Virginia Woolf, Silvia Plath, Anne Sexton, committed suicide, along with countless other women throughout history whose song remains un-sung.

Perhaps on a final note, you believe that you will be assured "solace" in the room you search for. Solace means consolation and comfort in times of trouble and distress.

1. Mark Hagen, "Restoration of the Dream: Ending the Patriarchal Myth of the Human Life Cycle." published by, The Canadian Institute for Dream Research, Toronto, 1994.



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