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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Eva Marshall–A Shakespearean Feminist


Eva Marshall was a definitive woman comfortable in her shoes whether professional or flighty.  She was a tough manager, a coquette, and a skilled navigator of sexual waters.  She never ran aground, never luffed in a bad tack, always reached port safely, and left her male competitors in life’s regatta winded, discouraged, and well in her wake.

She was born savvy and understood how to ease her way to victory and success using her beauty, charm, and appeal.   There wasn’t a man alive who was not enticed by this combination, and from the age of 12 Eva always had a posse of boys and men trailing her.   She used her feminine charms as a sweetly-baited lure, and her intelligence and will to keep them in line.

“Eva is a Shakespearean woman”, said Harold Fein, professor of English literature at Yale and a Scott Fellow at King’s College, Cambridge – a particular honor for any academic, but an especial one for an American.  Fein had earned his wings on the female dramatic personae of the Comedies, the Tragedies, and the Romances – strong women who understood men, were never intimidated by them, who knew that struggling against patriarchy and male authority would be senseless, but trumped men nine times out of ten.

Cleopatra was Fein’s favorite female character.  Antony was besotted by her beauty, seductive charm, flamboyance, and Eastern mystery, lost the naval battle of Actium because of her, and died ignominiously because of his misguided love.  Why misguided? Because he was so smitten by this Ptolemaic beauty, so entranced by her sexual prowess, and so taken in like everyone else in Octavius’ court except the young emperor, that he couldn’t resist.


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Rosalind, Cressida, Gertrude, Portia, Goneril, Regan, Dionyza, and Volumnia were no different.  Cressida played Troilus for a naïve fool, changed allegiances and lovers to suit her fancy and fortune.  Rosalind and Beatrice ran rings around their suitors, settled for them in the end because feminism went only so far in the 16th century.  Volumnia ruled her powerful son Coriolanus and dictated his personal and political life.  Goneril and Regan had no patience for men and used their husbands Albany and Cornwall to destroy Lear and his court. 

Eva had been a student of Fein’s at Yale, and he immediately took a shine to her.  He had a reputation for seducing his female students.  Few of them were able to resist his European manners, Jewish intellect, and Errol Flynn good looks; but he knew from the beginning that Eva would never be one his sexual groupies.  On the contrary, he followed her around like a lost puppy, this incarnation of Cleopatra and Queen Gertrude, and felt fortunate to see one of the Bard’s characters incarnate.

He watched the male posses form, disband, and regroup throughout her years.  He watched his male students cluster around her at the end of class, excited more by her diffidence and cool than her occasional coquetry.   “The Antony syndrome”, he said.  “Males besotted by strong, beautiful women.”

Not surprisingly the feminists on campus in the early Seventies were completely nonplussed by Eva Marshall.  Here was a woman of natural, innate authority, gifted with will and intelligence and completely able to fend for herself, act successfully on her own, and get exactly what she wanted.   How was it that she escaped the patriarchy of the Fifties?  Was she never a Daddy’s little girl who dressed in frilly dresses and Easter hats? How did she escape from the male gulag and a thousand years of female servitude?

They missed the point because they were women.  Professor Fein understood Eva because he fell under her spell, as happy as Antony ever was to be bewitched by such a creature.  Her female colleagues could never appreciate what men saw in her because they were competitors.  The took her refusal to join women’s groups, march for women’s rights, or protest the university’s persistent old boy ethos as repudiation not just of their movement but as them.  Put bluntly, they were jealous of the popular, confident, unintimidated and independent Eva Marshall.

At a time when young women at Yale were dressing dykey in a rejection of  bourgeois concepts of femininity, Eva kept to her wardrobe – collegiate, casual, upper class, but unerringly feminine and appealing.  She knew that men wanted her and wanted her all the more because of her quietly seductive manner and dress.  She felt validated by their attention; and because she understood men so well – their strengths but above all their fragile egos and outrageous self-importance – she never felt threatened.

Many years later she shared her surprise at modern young women in their twenties and thirties.  They dressed just as provocatively as any women ever did,  but insisted that inevitable male attention was always unwanted, undesirable, and invasive.  They wanted to be desired and loved on their own terms, they said, but their terms were illogical and counter-productive.  Why on earth dress like Blaze Starr set up medieval barricades against male intrusion?

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Eva who after earning an advanced degree from Harvard quickly rose through the corporate ranks, remarkable because her ascendance was many years before the glass ceiling had even been tested.  She knew that her sex would always keep her from the highest ranks of business, but for her – like Shakespeare’s women –success with authority and power even within a circumscribed social and political context could be very rewarding indeed.

She was always regarded as fair, thoughtful, and respectful manager, and few men ever blamed their ‘education’ at her disciplined, firm hand on her sex.  She knew that she was smarter than most of the women in her departments and certainly leagues above the men; but understood that cajoling and stroking of tender egos went a lot farther with men than the whipping post.

“A Shakespearean feminist”, Harold Fein was fond of calling her in their later years.  They had become friends and stayed in touch after Yale.  Fein grew to epic stature within the world of English literature.  His book, “The Making of a Marvel – Shakespeare’s Strong Women” had become an instant academic classic.  At the same time, he became a popular icon.  His political and social conservatism was never as contentious and irritable as that of Allan Bloom; and his own charm, intellect, and humor always won the day.  He was made for television, and he had millions of fans.

Feminism was not all it was cracked up to be, he said in so many carefully chosen words embedded in literary context. “Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls”, he said on Charlie Rose and championed strong women of all ages.

Now approaching ninety, Fein admitted he had absolutely no idea what to make about the fuss over transgenderism.  “Unless I’m missing something”, he said, “function follows form”, an ironic allusion to the Bauhaus and their architectural manifesto.  Men and women have different sexual equipment, he said, installed far up the human assembly line, designed for a particular purpose, impossible to wear out, simple, functional (although somewhat impractical), and basically unchanged for millennia.

His comments were more about the hysterical brouhaha of the times than about alternate sexual behavior per se.  “I could care less what men do to each other”, Fein said.  “There are too few gay men to make a difference.  Sexual deviance from the norm is not exactly earth-shattering”   Accommodation was his rule.  Let gays and straights find some way and manner of accommodating each other’s principles and behavior.  “No more demonstrations.”

Every word of the above was quoted, misquoted, and sent down viral pathways where they got even more twisted and distorted, until at the hands of the liberal press, this old man was a threat to progressivism, civil rights, and the modern age.

Eva spoke at Fein’s funeral.  Fewer people than ordinarily should have been were in attendance.  Because of his many outspoken television appearances, he was rapidly marginalized, an unlikely feminist and gay antichrist.  Every one at the ceremony, however was a believer, so Eva preached to the choir; but she did it with feeling and a respect that went far beyond his academic brilliance and literary insights.  He not only understood women, he understood women like her – strong, independent, willful, and in full control of their mind, body, and spirit.

“Like Cleopatra”, she said, ending her eulogy.

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