Laughter – But Is It Funny? by Lea Rachel

Guest Post by Lea Rachel:
Laughter – But Is It Funny?

Ha ha ha ha ha!  Wait, the man thought as he watched the beautiful woman smile, was that directed at me?  Is she laughing at me?  What did I do?  Is there a piece of bread stuck in my beard?  Who is she to laugh at me anyway?

In A Room of One’s Own, a novella based on a series of lectures Virginia Woolf gave in 1928 on the topic of Women and Fiction, Woolf describes the myriad struggles women can face trying to get their talents and achievements recognized.  If you read the novella today (and it is a quick read at only 114 pages), it’s amazing how relevant Woolf’s observations continue to be.  Sure, women are still burdened (relatively more so than men) with child care and housekeeping duties, sure women (relatively more so than men) have less money and thus less freedom and independence of movement, but there are also the subtle things that continue to hold – like how a laugh can be misinterpreted by an insecure male.

In The Other Shakespeare, my new fiction novel based on the character of Judith Shakespeare that Virginia Woolf also describes in A Room of One’s Own, Judith laughs one day at a private joke in the company of a tableful of men.  One of the men misinterprets the laughter as directed at him, and his resentment at the insult is fierce.  Certain that he has been belittled and made fun of, he vows to get back at Judith and, in the end, he certainly tries... 

For many reasons Judith Shakespeare has the odds stacked against her as she tries to develop her writing talent in 16th century England – she doesn’t have a proper education, she doesn’t have any money, she doesn’t have much independence nor a room of her own, but she also faces subtle obstacles like a misinterpreted laugh that she has no way of understanding, and no way of knowing how to combat, though she too certainly tries…

The Other Shakespeare was interesting to write, in part because (thank goodness), things are better today.  Even if subtle discriminations and misinterpretations continue to happen, I would argue that they happen less in the 21st century than they did in the 16th.  It may be that Judith Shakespeare didn’t have much of a chance, but Elizabeth Gilbert, Philippa Gregory, and J.K. Rowling certainly do.  Woolf herself ends her novella on a positive note, hopeful towards the future, writing:

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet.  She died young – alas, she never wrote a word. … Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives.  She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed.  But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh.”

From Judith Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, fiction written by women lives, thrives, and continues to be a source of exceptional talent and entertainment today – indeed, what would we do without it?

About the Author:

Lea Rachel possesses a strong literary background firmly planted in her roots, education, and experiences. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, she hails from a bloodline of writers, including her grandmother Beki Bahar, an internationally published Turkish author and poet, and her uncle Anthony Kosnik, coauthor of a well-respected liturgical book that circulated circa the 1970s.

Rachel attended the University of Michigan, where she had two short stories published in the competitive literary publications Prism and The Write Stuff. She has attended writing workshops at the University of Michigan, University of California, and University of Iowa—and placed fifth, out of 18,000 entries, in the personal essay category of the 72nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition.

Rachel makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and son. The Other Shakespeare is her first novel, released subsequent to her debut work, a personal memoir entitled I Promise.