Linda Griffiths’ Age of Arousal marks a famous moment in the history of feminist liberation: the transition from the restrained Victorian woman to the “new woman” odd in number and in nature. Faced with the prospects of previously unimagined autonomy, a group of “odd women” journey individually to quell and transform the anxiety of their burgeoning selfhoods in the tumult of revolution: both sexual and industrial. While some women stagnate by the standards of the reformist mandate, the progress of the movement is outlined by the main characters whose struggles with identity are best characterized by Virginia Madden, who controversially cross-dresses, and the aptly named Rhoda Nunn who struggles with her simultaneous devotion to the cause and her interest in heterosexual love and marriage. All the while, the centrality of a sole male character, Everard, forces consideration of the persistent presence of patriarchy.
Griffiths ingeniously equates the road to liberation with the acquisition of typewriting skills and thus pays credence to the assumed superiority of male productive labour, which renders the traditional feminine chores of childbearing and housekeeping regressive. The lives of the women are thus plagued with competing moralities as they attempt to transcend their narrowed options and become the ideal revolutionary women of the future. Griffiths skillfully intermingles one liner soliloquies throughout the characters’ dialogue stating the typically unspoken inner subtext at the heart of their culture of suppression. This “thoughtspeak” results in sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking revelations of the polarities of fear, curiosity, starvation of mind and body, private lustful longings, and sisterly love and hate. This play is a celebration of the experience of sensual knowledge in which the arousal that Griffiths intricately depicts is always both personal and political. (Cailin Bator)
by Linda Griffiths, $17.95, 172 pgs, Coach House Books, 401 Huron Street (rear) on bpNichol Lane, Toronto, ON, M5S 2G5, chbooks.com