Academic journal article Antipodes

Beverley Farmer's Embrace of the Mirror

Academic journal article Antipodes

Beverley Farmer's Embrace of the Mirror

Article excerpt

IN A BODY OF WATER, BEVERLEY FARMER STATES THAT "MOSTLY the men in my stories have nothing to give the women: they are cold, selfish, vindictive" (153). Farmer presents this as a limitation produced through the personal investment of the writer, so that "They have turned to ice at my touch, like the lover's warm sleeping flesh in the embrace of the mirror" (153). The "embrace of the mirror" is a motif that characterizes Farmer's writing in terms of the relationships she presents. The gender issues revealed through these relationships are characterized by feelings of coldness, otherness, and love, being a reflection of the self which only serves to emphasize its "selfish" nature. The woman's role is typically maternal, and she fulfills a nurturing function that is never reciprocated. Instead, in the male she confronts an icy reflection of her own needs: the "embrace of the mirror." For the woman, a mirror or the related form of a window or glass that reflects a self-image serves a Lacanian function of providing definition through the search for an impossible romantic ideal. And equally, the form of the stories as both embedded narratives and interlinked tales that mirror each other means that the narrative structure also contributes, not only to the layering effect, but to the idea of self-reflection and self-reflexivity.

Farmer explores conflicting male and female perspectives of the same event in the linked stories "A Man in the Laundrette" and "Home Time," published in her short story collection Home Time. She employs the framing device of the events of each story occurring simultaneously with the main character's writing of it. The linking of the stories is both consistent with the discontinuous narrative form in which she writes and allows an exploration of contrasting gendered perspective by presenting both a female view given by the writer in the story within a story, and a masculine perspective of the writer's male partner, articulated through the narrator. The discontinuous narrative is a form that Australian writer Frank Moorhouse termed in the epigraph to his first work, Futility and Other Animais, as "interlinked stories and although the narrative is discontinuous [. . .] the environment and the characters are continuous," therefore allowing Farmer to utilize the potential of a fictional form that interrelates to provide a diversity of narrative levels and fictional structures. The two stories are interwoven by the presentation of the same anonymous main characters, an Australian writer living in America with her male partner, who is writing a thesis on an unnamed author. Farmer explores these characters in terms of their fulfillment of romantic stereotypes, in particular whether love is "forever" because "it's the only thing that matters, it'll save you both" (Home Time 79).

The first story, "Home Time," explores the stereotype of a couple experiencing their first winter together in America. The anonymous female writer and her academic partner are presented in the context of the typical love story, but Farmer subverts the trope of love as self-sacrificing and eternal, of love being "enough," through the film Casablanca, the archetypal love story in which Rick and lisa are portrayed as "noble and sad and innocent" (74). The lovers go to a bar to see the film, a setting "like some place in a fairy tale" because, unlike the snowbound city outside, "it's as bright and warm as inside a Halloween pumpkin" as a result of "[t]hose lamps everywhere, and the bottles burning in the mirror" (73). Here the image in the mirror is one of warmth and sensuality through its unrealistic and fictional context of enduring romance. But after watching the film together at the bar, the lovers significantly separate when the writer sits with a woman who confides her own story of love and loss, which she then uses as the basis of a story she writes. The woman's anecdote is a discourse of romantic expectations constructed by fictional models such as in Casablanca. …

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