From "having it all" to "away from it all" post-feminism and Tamara Drewe.
Article Type:
Feminism and literature (Authorship)
Feminist literature (Authorship)
Novelists (Works)
Ho, Elizabeth
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Name: College Literature Publisher: West Chester University Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Literature/writing Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 West Chester University ISSN: 0093-3139
Date: Summer, 2011 Source Volume: 38 Source Issue: 3
NamedWork: Tamara Drewe (Graphic novel)
Named Person: Simmonds, Posy
Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom

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This paper focuses on Posy Simmonds's graphic novel Tamara Drewe (2007) as a post-feminist text that negotiates the contradictions of the eponymous heroine's desire to get "away from it all" in order to "have it all." Despite its twenty-first century concerns, Tamara Drewe also alludes to nineteenth-century forms in its loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel, Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) and Simmonds's mimicry ofVictorian landscape painting for the background of her text. This anachronistic approach enables 'Tamara Drewe to resist the totalizing efforts of the "post" and dismantle the singularity implied by "feminism." Specifically, Simmonds exploits the graphic novel's scopic regime to critique the presumed irrelevance of issues coded as "feminist," such as "the gaze" to post-feminist culture. Finally, Tamara Drewe represents the experience of feminism as itself necessarily anachronistic, consisting of simultaneous and often conflicting histories.

In 1982, Helen Gurley Brown published Having it All, the sequel to the groundbreaking manual of second-wave feminism, Sex and the Single Girl (1962), in which women were taught the self-discipline necessary to maintain their femininity while pursuing individual fulfillment and empowerment in a predominantly masculine world. By the 1990s and certainly the 2000s, the legacy of "having it all" had created a pronounced, untenable schism for a generation of women who have grown up unable to negotiate the structures that maintain the gender status quo. The schism has generated an abundance of "chick lit" depicting heroines, such as Bridget Jones, who are late to the feminist movement and left to face these irreconcilable contradictions without the language of feminism to help them. In 2005, readers of The Guardian's Saturday Review were busy reading "Away From It All," the bare-it-all newspaper column written by Tamara Drewe, the sexy and ambitious eponymous heroine of Posy Simmonds's serialized comic strip. In late 2007, Simmonds "lovingly improved" (2007) and gathered the 110 strips together into a luxurious hard-backed graphic novel.(1) Tamara Drewe chronicles the struggles and scandals of a very twenty-first century heroine negotiating the post-feminist contradictions of getting "away from it all" in order to "have it all." At the same time, the graphic novel also alludes to nineteenth-century forms in Sirnmonds's loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel, Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), and ofVictorian landscape painting for the background of her text. Drawing on the poetics and politics of anachronism in both form and content, Simmonds resists the totalizing efforts of the "post" and dismantles the singularity implied by "feminism." Specifically, Simmonds exploits the graphic novel's scopic regime to critique the presumed irrelevance of issues coded as "feminist:' such as the classic feminist theory of the gaze and issues of male dominance through looking, to post-feminist culture. Tamara Drewe represents the experience of feminism as non-linear, consisting of sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting, multiple histories.

Unlike her chick lit contemporary, Helen Fielding, who chose Jane Austen as a literary predecessor to capture the uncertainties and "retrosexism" (Whelehan 2000, 11) facing contemporary women, Simmonds returned to male writers of the nineteenth century to critique the male construction of "new women" who were often punished for their unwomanly desire to "have it all." Simmonds adapted and anglicized Flaubert's heroine Emma Bovary, for example, for her first graphic novel, Gemma Bovery (2005), and Hardy's Bathsheba Everdene became the source for Tamara Drewe. Sirnmonds's borrowings and deviations from Far From The Madding Crowd are important in the articulation of post-feminism as a necessarily anachronistic space and experience. As Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra have argued, post-feminist culture is "inherently contradictory, characterized by a double discourse that works to construct feminism as a phenomenon of the past, traces of which can be found (and sometimes even valued) in the present" (2007, 8).The references to the nineteenth century in Tamara Drewe's form and content literalize "backlash" arguments made by post-feminist critics like Rene Denfield in The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order (1995). Denfield claims that so-called "extremist" feminist leaders like Andrea Dworkin, Adrienne Rich, and Susan Faludi have "embarked on a moral and spiritual crusade that would take us back to a time worse than our mother's day back to the nineteenth-century values of sexual morality, spiritual purity, and political helplessness" (1995, 10), back, essentially, to the problems faced by the Emma Bovarys and Bathsheba Everdenes ofVictorian literature. Iiimara Drewe's "neo-Victorianism" illustrates the impossible debate at the heart of post-feminism as "poised between two impulses, simultaneously forging forward and falling back" (Gamble 2006, 62).

Simmonds's neo-Victorian project extends to her illustration technique and recaptures a history of female illustrators that originated in the nineteenth century.(2) Far From the Madding Crowd's serialized publication in The Cornhill Magazine was accompanied by a series of woodcut illustrations by the young and talented wood engraver and illustrator Helen Paterson Allingham. Much like the illustrations in contemporary graphic novels, Allingham's illustrations dramatized the novel's action and also enhanced Hardy's narrative by visually coding and often emphasizing the power dynamics between the various characters in the text. After terminating her professional relationship with Hardy, Allingham turned to landscape painting in a strict pallet of watercolors, which Simmonds approximates in the background and tableaux of the English countryside to create the visual anachronism of Tamara Drewe [Figure 1]. Simmonds's graphic novel style is particularly wordy, with entire paragraphs taking up as much space as the illustrations with an occasional speech bubble thrown in; but her unique style is an investment, I believe, in the literal and literary viability of the genre, "graphic/novel." The constant effort to reach equilibrium between form and content, text and image, can be viewed as Simmonds's attempt at "having it all" as a graphic novelist rather than reproducing the gendered binary between text and image seen in the serialization of Far From the Madding Crowd.


Simmonds's allusions to Hardy reflect the struggle to legitimize the literariness of the graphic novel. Tamara Drewe is set at the Stonefield writers' retreat, owned by popular novelist and notorious womanizer Nick Hardiman and managed by his amanuensis and frustrated wife Beth. As an update of Hardy's Bathsheba Everdene, Tamara returns to Ewedown to claim her inheritance of Winnards Farmhouse, the ancestral home of Andy Cobb, Simmonds's version of Gabriel Oak, Hardy's hard-working but hapless shepherd whose patience and reliability are rewarded with Bathsheba's heart. To this ordered world of supposedly "serious" writers, Tamara reveals her ambitions to have it all: she's interested in pursuing "journalism, but I'd like to make it in fiction before I'm 35 ... maybe do 2 or 3 novels ... maybe then do a children's book ..." (Simmonds 2007, 19). However, Nick criticizes her "Away From It All" column as self-absorbed, cliched, and disingenuous. To this mix, Simmonds adds an American voice, writer Glen Lawson, who is also dismissed by Nick as "an academic, as a writer of Literature, ie, a salaried idler and writer of stuff that no one reads" (11). Sandwiched between Andy's "hunky" sensitivity (22), Nick's ego, and the smoldering glamour of Ben Sergeant, Tamara's on-and-off again rock star boyfriend from London (a revision of Bathsheba's faithless husband Sergeant Troy), Glen's bumbling insecurity forms a portrait of contemporary masculinity under post-feminism.

Tamara Drewe's plot is in part a pastiche of Hardy's original text: Simmonds recasts the disastrousValentine's Day card that Bathsheba thoughtlessly sends Farmer Boldwood into an email, "I want to give you the biggest shagging of your life!" (Simmonds 2007, 58). This message is thoughtlessly sent to Andy, Nick, and Ben as a prank by two characters of Simmonds's invention, bored teenage village girls, Casey and Jody, who break into Tamara's house on a regular basis intent on vicariously living her glamorous life. Through their surveillance of Tamara, we are made privy to Tamara's rocky relationship with Ben and her disastrous affair with Nick which ends in his questionable death, trampled to death by cows in a neighbor's field after a tryst with Tamara. Casey and Jody's technological knowledge of cell-phones and computers enables the anachronism of Simmonds's appropriation of the visual aesthetics of Hardy's Wessex. In particular, the two girls replace the omniscient narrator of the nineteenth-century novel, their voices added to the graphic novel's multiple narrators who are all attempting to accommodate the disruption of Tamara's return to the sleepy village of Ewedown and the havoc she wreaks on the Hardiman marriage. The public scandal of Jody's accidental death, however, exposes 'Tamara's indiscretions and generates new complications in thinking about female empowerment and authorship.

As the heroine, Tamara exemplifies the post-feminist subject, embodying the values and seeming to manage, the contradictions of post-feminist culture. "She's got the lot," Beth Hardiman's narrative reveals rather snippily, "improved looks, rich lover, good job, nice house, even celebrity of a kind," while images of a happy Tamara crowd around Beth's text along with an "Away From It All" column that triumphantly announces Tamara's engagement "after years of staying resolutely single" (Simmonds 2007, 43).A product of cosmetic surgery, Tamara's physical appearance functions as shorthand for post-feminism's commitment to the self and its participation in and promotion of beauty culture. Her novel-in-progress, we learn, is entitled Tick Tock and "s' about someone putting off having babies" (58). The obsession with Tamara's urban, designer wardrobe promotes consumerism as the means to heal social and sexual dissatisfactions. And her flitting between London and Ewedown village, where Winnards Farmhouse is located, suggests an easy transition between the modernity or "all" of city life and the "retreat" (Negra 2009, 15) to the more domestic and traditional values, economics, and femininities of the countryside. Tamara even manages to balance work and play: the images of Glen and Nick whiling away their writing hours in productive solitude, waited on hand and foot by Beth, are juxtaposed against Tamara's frenzied but successful attempts to meet deadlines, constantly distracted by other tasks and by demands from the men in her life. Her successes draw the ire of the graphic novel's other characters, especially Beth, but Tamara's accolades appear to come without any acknowledgment of or reflection on the role of feminism in her life.

The commodification and othering of feminism in post-feminist culture can be seen in the contrast between Tamara and Beth Hardiman. Lacking the "gazelle eyes, Bollywood belly and Tantric know-how" (Simmonds 2007, 13) she has attributed to Nick's younger, sexier mistress and a fore-runner to Tamara, Beth is passed over in her husband's affections. Yet Beth continually indulges her husband's infidelity and depicts herself as a self-sacrificing door mat:

Like Beth, the presence of "feminism" in the present may be indispensable but it is also unappreciated and invisible. Beth looms unattractively over yet away from this text, as if disavowing her own discontent, her unflattering scowl mimicking the angle of Tamara's seductive glances throughout the graphic novel. In Beth's narratives, Simmonds tends to fragment Tamara's body, dividing her in half with one panel for her face and another for her cut-off denim shorts. Beth chastises Tamara for "dressing like a sex object ... sucking up to male fantasies," while misremembering that in the 60s, she too wore "hot pants" (Simmonds 2007, 20). Beth's condemnation ofTamara, who deliberately courts the gaze of the village, reveals what Angela McRobbie has called post-feminism's engagement with the "undoing of feminism" (29). Beth's outburst that Tamara is "dressing like a sex object" is a feminist critique, but her disapproval is edged out by Tamara's more fashionable feminism, her self-awareness of and delight in her own objectification and spectatorial power. Beth's critique is made to seem even more old-fashioned by her daughter Lulu's dissertation on women under the Taliban. Lulu's research represents a differently-valued, academic version of feminism that supposedly denotes what feminism "really" is. Her dissertation suggests that the "real" work of feminists should be analyzing women's political oppression under regimes like the Taliban rather than noting the sexualization or oppression of women under more superficial regimes like Tamara's fashion choices. "Feminism" here, as Angela McRobbie suggests, has been "'taken into account' but only to be dismissed as belonging to the past, to a time when feminists used to object to such imagery" (33). Fat, ugly, angry, and occasionally hysterical, Beth is "undone" as irrelevant and difficult with nothing to offer the post-feminist present.

The conflict over the status of feminism in post-feminist culture can be seen in the visual representation of Beth and Tamara. Tamara's body, viewed in various stages of dress and undress throughout the graphic novel, and her contentious nose job, represent the rejuvenated version of feminism within post-feminist culture. Against Beth, the focus on Tamara's body serves to easily disembody feminism, so to speak, by historicizing it as out of fashion and out of shape, as Beth laments, "I've nothing that fits or that disguises the flab I've put on" (Simmonds 2007, 5). In a by-line, "Cherchez les femmes!" Tamara critiques the media's description of herself as the "leggy mistress" who has stolen a husband from an older, plainer wife who is equally to blame for her husband's infidelity for "being plump and over 50" and who has "let herself go" (119). Formally, the panels of the text also disembody Beth as Simrnonds's frames are soft, often melting from one scene into another. Beth's body is displayed in full length [Figure 2] only once in the story "loom[ing] large, black and white, like a killer whale" (5), and significantly, we see her criticizing her own reflection in a mirror just outside of view. Just as Beth halves Tamara in her imagination, more often than not, Beth too is halved by the frame; in bed with Nick, she has the covers pulled tight up to her neck while staring at the bed-side pictures of her wedding and her children, as if casting blame on the events that have ruined her figure. In his study of the "grammar" of graphic novels, Scott McCloud has argued that one of the unique characteristics of sequential art is the "collaboration" and participation of the reader in creating "closure" or completing the action and meaning in "the limbo of the gutter" (1994, 65) or the gaps between one panel and the next. McCloud's insights obviously have gendered ramifications for Tamara Drewe. The reader's imagination or completion of Beth's missing lower half is deliberately ambiguous, and it replicates the discomfort Beth has with her own body: are we forcibly re-embodying a woman who has no desire to be seen?


If Beth's body recalls a disavowed feminism in a post-feminist text, so too does Tamara's nose, the "great conk" (Simmonds 2007, 23) that haunts the text. According to Andy, who has had a crush on Tamara for years, Tamara's successful career was built on "consumer testing:" after exposing a "load of unqualified doctors," Tamara had her nose "done by a good 'lin" (17). As rivals for Tamara's love, both Andy and Nick have flashbacks to a Tamara prior to her nosejob and remember her as endearingly plain. Andy wistfully imagines the surgery itself, the cutting away of flesh and bone that makes up the new Tamara [Figure 3}.While cosmetic surgery has previously been associated negatively with "vanity, superficiality and inauthenticity," it has now been linked with post-feminism's celebration of "individual choice, self-love and empowerment" (Tait 2007, 121-22). Thus, Tamara can explain the "lure of surgery" in one of her "Away From It All" columns:


The "losing battle" that Tamara describes is not just the battle against time but the double standard in contemporary culture that finds the aging female body comic and threatening, yet at the same time suspects the efforts taken to delay or erase those signs of aging. Beth demeans Tamara's surgery and new appearance, while Andy yearns for Tamara's lost nose, which remains unmourned by its owner who has a "new I.D." (Simmonds 2007, 23) to accompany her rhinoplasty. As an icon for post-feminism, Tamara's nose is "posted" both literally and figuratively in the text--it is given its own panels and attention--but it is also a wonderful metaphor for the status of feminism within post-feminism; "feminism may not be dead," Kavka argues, "but something of it has passed away, something that the "post" marks as being sorely missed or loftily dismissed" (2002, 31). Feminism, like Tamara's nose, is "not false! Just smaller!" (Simmonds 2007, 33).

While post-feminism's repudiation of feminism is clearly represented in the relationship between Beth and Tamara, its ramifications are also explored in the two teenage characters, Casey and Jody. Born into feminism but too young to remember even "Girl Power," the two girls are "posted" subjects. Stranded in this "bumhole of a village," the girls spend their time reading celebrity gossip magazines, fantasizing about "losing theirV plates" (slang for virginity), text-messaging, spying on their neighbors, and breaking into Tamara's house (Simmonds 2007, 54). Hacking into Tamara's email from her house, the two girls send the disastrous Valentine's Day message that jump-starts the Hardy plot. What begins as curiosity about Tamara and her relationship with a minor rock star, Ben Sergeant, soon escalates into wanting to be Tamara. The two girls "borrow" Tamara's clothes, "real designer stuff, no question" that she has "jumbled together like they're a load of rubbish" (54). What for Tamara are merely "loads of shoes, belts, bags, etc." (54) are for Jody and Casey the visible attributes of "having it all." Constrained by their class, these two teenagers do not have the same access to Tamara's spending power, which has also come to signify female independence in post-feminist culture. As working-class girls, they struggle with a version of girlhood that is linked to a neo-liberal feminist agenda; they are immersed in a discourse of empowered individualism that tells them that they can become anything they want and a reality where economic limits are set on what they can achieve.

For Jody and Casey,Tamara's "borrowed" handbags become the signposts for their experience of post-feminism from which feminism has been othered. The "Chloe" bag and the "big Mulberry one" (Simmonds 2007) that the two girls steal offer them only temporary status and power. Walking around the village with Tamara's bag, Casey begins to get "panicky" (54) and unwilling to attract the attention of her mother or the village boys. "Pretty soon," she says in her narrative, "Tamara's handbag starts giving me real, real creeps, like it's sort of alive. I don't want to touch it, put my hand in it. ANYTHING. I shove it under the bed in a bin bag, but even then I smell this sort of leathery breath" (55). Casey has the "creeps" because she is guilty about the theft, but her "creeps" are also a symptom of the "posted" female subject who recognizes the need to critique the bag as an empty sign of a consistently deferred female empowerment but can only contain the critique "under the bed in a bin bag." At the same time, Thmara's bag functions as a metaphor for Thmara's adult sexuality, which the girls have also usurped. While that sexuality gives Casey "the creeps," Jody is fascinated by the accoutrements of adult female sexuality, fantasizing that she will "do it" with a man like Ben in "either Tamara's black slip dress or her filmy linen shirt" and that Ben will feel her "POWER," a word that Casey's retelling childishly capitalizes (56). Jody is often portrayed wearing Tamara's shoes (which are, of course, too big); the contradictions and limitations of the kinds of selfhood available to the girls within the hyper-sexualized ideals of post-feminism are illustrated in a close-up panel of Jody, wearing one of her own beat-up boots and one of Tamara's red pumps.

Without the language or experience of a reinvented feminism and without strong role models in a post-feminist present, Casey and Jody are left to parse out the sexual double standards of post-feminist popular culture and their everyday lives without guidance. They are unable to interpret or condemn the tabloid narratives they read, often represented in lurid hot pink with Technicolor photographs in stark contrast to the watercolors of the scenic background, and which ask them to trim and prune themselves and actively participate in the bitchy policing of other women's bodies.The invitation to look for "Skye Bolton's baby bump!" (Simmonds 2007, 64) indicates the girls' dilemma; by participating in the innocent fun of such acts of surveillance, Casey and Jody relinquish their critical faculties in return for a highly commodified "new regime of sexual meaning based on female consent, equality, participation and pleasure, free of politics" (McRobbie 207, 34). As the graphic novel progresses, the girls' ability to navigate a feminist critique is tested by their knowledge of Tamara's affair with Nick Hardiman and whether or not they should tell Beth. Ill-equipped to negotiate the contradictory discourses of victimization and sexual agency that underpin the issue of teenage sex in post-feminist popular culture, Jody ultimately fails that test and is herself failed by post-feminism. After arranging a meeting with Ben using Tamara's email, Jody is found dead after huffing air duster, wearing Tamara's Armani dress. Once Jody attains Tamara's persona, the graphic novel suggests, no further narratives can occur--and so Jody dies having it all and supposedly "happy."

Before Simmonds's masterful denouement, in which Nick becomes the second victim of the novel, trampled to death under mysterious circumstances by the neighborhood cows, Beth, Tamara, and Casey gather in a moment of fragile sisterhood. The two older women have descended upon Casey, who has come clean about her role in the plot. This moment levels the differences between the three women as Tamara's iconic beauty has been marred in Casey's eyes: "it's really weird standing next to her, Tamara--Jody and my total style-queen--who's got black rings under her eyes and a massive zit" (Simmonds 2007, 122).The significance of this meeting lies in Beth's admission that, as the novel's surrogate for a demonized feminism, she can't continue "hiding anger ... being suspicious ... resentful hating you,Tamara ... avoiding you Casey ... snubbing you, cursing you" (122). In the end, Beth confesses, "we've all got to live here, haven't we?" (122). And while Casey realizes that she is not as mobile as Beth or Tamara who can both "go to London, or anywhere," the three women nonetheless pause in their lives to "pass the ciggy around, like Jody and me always did after school" (122). The scene offers a temporary respite from the rampant individuality that has divided these three women in favor of collective responsibility: up until now, the relationship between Beth and Tamara and also in the girls' coveting of Tamara's life--essentially questions of age and class--have fragmented any commonality between these women, representing them instead as always being in competition for scarce resources such as men, material goods, and youth. If post-feminism is not linear, women who occupy different positions on this spectrum will have to develop some means of co-existing. After a period of mourning Nick and Jody, the women settle for neighborliness, rather than any celebratory notion of reconciliation or sisterhood, as a way of mediating and making a case for the inclusion (but perhaps not the integration of) feminism within post-feminism. Ever maternal, Beth donates Nick's writing shed at Stonefield to Casey and her friends for a private, safe gathering place, and her relationship with Tamara evolves into one of"mutual aid" (125). The women share the symbolic objects associated with their approaches to feminism; modern and youthful Tamara "sorts out" Beth's "computer problems" and lets her use the "big scanner," while stodgy and traditional Beth looks over Tamara's "publishing contract" and lends her an agricultural tool, the "Rotovator" (125).

As we have seen, the panels visually complement the text's post-feminist arguments, however, the graphic novel's particular suitability to theorizing the "post" in post-feminism lies in its ability to disturb the gaze and manipulate the participation of the reader. Simmonds playfully rewrites the scopophilia of Far From the Madding Crowd to resuscitate and draw attention to the concept of the gaze as by no means "post" or "solved" by feminism. Concerned that Tamara is about to "poach" (Simmonds 2007, 29) Andy Cobb from her to work on Tamara's organic garden and suspicious over her husband's indifference to Tamara's attractiveness, Beth watches Nick who is watching Tamara: "Nick is frowning at Tamara Drewe, who's out in the yard, gazing at her reflection in a CD. She's strutted about for the last ten minutes, showing everyone she's here" (30). This image of a preening Tamara matches one of the opening scenes of Far From the Madding Crowd, in which Gabriel Oak secretly observes Bathsheba Everdene "survey herself attentively" in a "small swing looking-glass" (Hardy 1986, 9). Under Oak's and the narrator's desiring and judgmental eyes, Bathsheba becomes a spectacle, constructed entirely out of the gaze of male others. Unintentionally on display and thus, paradoxically, seductive, Bathsheba's gaze is self-absorbed and concerned with excess. However, there is nothing unknowing about Tamara's deliberate solicitation of the public's gaze, she deliberately appropriates the male and female gaze for her own pleasure--it makes her "strut." Tamara actively seeks to make herself a spectacle, requesting to be acknowledged and desirous of being watched. Tamara's careful presentation, control, and manipulation of her own public image disrupt any accusation of voyeurism or passivity. By restaging Hardy's scopophilia, Simmonds makes the politics of the gaze relevant to post-feminist culture again.

The gaze in Tamara Drewe builds on the groundwork laid by feminist theorists who have helpfully explicated the structure and erotics of the gaze in film. For Laura Mulvey, for example, women in their "traditional exhibitionist role" are "simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote "to-be-looked-at-ness" for the "determining male gaze" of the viewer" (1989, 19). The woman is then caught between functioning as an "erotic object" within and without the film. However, the female figure is also a threat, signaling through visual absence "her lack of a penis" and thus "implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure" (21). The male gaze works hard to counter this threat in two ways: voyeurism, which seeks to punish and subjugate, and "fetishistic scopophila," or the transformation and "overvaluation" of the object into a fetish "so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous" (21). For example, when Tamara makes her entrance in the middle of a Stonefield cocktail party, Simmonds places her in the center of the page, clad in denim shorts and a white tank top. The reader's eye, as well as the directional glances of all the characters around her, literally supports Tamara's centrality as the sexual object of attention [Figure 4]. Simmonds retrains our eyes to simultaneously focus on Tamara and circulate around the page to capture the reactions of the other characters. And since Glen narrates this page, his perspective also frames our reading of Tamara's centrality: "weird," he says, "the kind of glances a pretty woman attracts. I mean, any other beautiful, fecund creature--a great-looking sheep or something--you look at admiringly. But I don't sense any of that. I'm picking up ... well, lust, certainly, but also surprise, irritation, disapproval" (Simmonds 2007, 18). Glen responds to Tamara by reducing her to a "great-looking sheep" and then "overvaluates" her, in Mulvey's terms, into an icon of femininity as her presence on the page mimics Botticelli's Venus. However, the final authority of Tamara's image rests with Tamara, whose rebuffs of Glen--literally a case of "look, but don't touch"--emphasize how his gaze (and his narrative) are based on misreading and misdirected desire.


In ways that are unavailable in prose narrative and in the sequential medium of film, the graphic novel makes visible the structures of the gaze or, how "to-be-looked-at-ness" works, and pits the image both with and against the text to reveal extra dimensions of meaning. The images, for example, reveal an alternate temporality to the timeline of the plot. Visually, Andy Cobb emerges as a potential romantic option for Tamara much earlier on in the images of the graphic novel than the actual text reveals. Investigating the alarm at Winnards Farmhouse, we see Tamara's return to Ewedown through Andy's eyes. In a series of panels, we are shown Andy's entrance through the door in what is a conventional cinematic, third-person point of view [Figure 5]. It is unclear, however, what comes second in the sequence: either we are drawn to the center panel of Tamara's shapely backside as she talks on the phone riding a hobby horse, or we are drawn to a close-up of Andy's gaze, which is offset in a smaller panel. However, Andy's facial expression is ambiguous, an effect created in part by another, smaller close-up panel of Tamara's head, her emotional state (noticed by us? by Andy?) denoted by a tiny "sniff" (Simmonds 2007, 16).(3) The reader's gaze and our interpretation of Andy's gaze is redirected away from Tamara's body by the smallest, furthermost panel depicting Tamara's head. Any question of Tamara's privacy and Andy's voyeurism is forestalled by the redistribution of our gaze around the page in a way that anticipates and defines Andy as the "hero" who will ultimately get the girl.


If Tamara's gaze confidently negotiates her own "to-be-looked-at-ness," Beth's gaze represents looking between women rather than, women looking. Via the gaze, the graphic novel constructs the scopic economy between Beth and Tamara as jealousy and competition over a single resource, Nick. jealousy between women, the graphic novel suggests, forms a phallocentric economy that maintains Nick at the center. At Nick's Hadditon book signing, Beth attempts to read the brief, "standoffish" interaction between Tamara and her husband. The multiple panels keep Tamara and Nick in conversation at the center, but each one also includes a visual aside of Beth listening in over her shoulder. What transpires is another series of significant looks in a crowded room: Beth chastises herself for reading too much into Nick's treatment of Tamara ("Oh, I must stop this!" she thinks at one point) but "over his shoulder I watch Ben watching Tamara work the room, and think how well I know his feelings. All the stupid evenings I've spent on the edge of a crowd checking Nick. Imagining things" (Simmonds 2007, 49). As Tamara "works" the room, possessing the gaze of others, for Beth, looking at Tamara is structured by a profound lack; she may be "imagining things," but Tamara may "have it all," including her husband, and Nick obviously wants something in Tamara that Beth doesn't have.

Only once during the affair do Beth and Tamara confront each other via a silent gaze:"I'm indistinguishable from 95 percent of the women at the festival," Beth notes, "but almost immediately Tamara Drewe's gaze locks onto mine" (Simmonds 2007, 90). Both women check each other out, each consumes the other, and the reader is reminded that each is the other's Other Woman. This is a fantasy that, as Virginia Blum has argued, forms the very structure of contemporary female identity:"a woman's identity is always constructed according to the terms of the Other Woman, the model, the perfect woman, who we fail to be. What we make of our identity is the measure of our failure relative to her perfection" (2005, 111). As Beth's obsessive surveillance of Nick escalates, she begins to fume, "what ifTamara wants a baby? Supposed he discovers Fatherhood? They DO, these men, second time around. ... Just the ultimate insult to me ..." (Simmonds 2007, 102). This forms the typical fare of the Western female fantasy/nightmare, the stuff of movies from Fatal Attraction (1987) to The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), where the Other Woman usurps and disenfranchises the legitimate woman out of her husband, then her family, then her home. Being the Other Woman affords Tamara power, freedom, and a status unavailable to Beth; she is after all the woman who led Nick astray. Yet, each woman loses her individuality, becoming only a stereotype to each other. When Nick threatens to leave Beth,Tamara recoils in horror at the "total nightmare!" of possibly becoming Nick's new wife: "Why would he want to leave her? ... She's the ideal wife ... all the stuff she does for him ... I couldn't run his life for him, like she does. ... Nor do I want to ..." (Simmonds 2007, 101). Beth's reliability and stable position as "wife" marks the freedom involved in Tamara's instability as the "fling" but also, more negatively, her habitation of the position of the "slag." Jody, of course, is the disastrous conclusion to this kind of scopic regime. If Beth's gaze is based on jealousy, ody's is based on envy. Unable to distinguish her self from Tamara's other and unable to "take it all" away from Tamara through theft or mimicry, Jody is consumed by her own envious gaze. If anything of second-wave feminism is rejected by this graphic novel, it is the fantasy of an uncomplicated notion of empathetic sisterhood that bans any feelings of jealousy, envy or competitiveness between women.(4)

The technologies of surveillance and communication featured in Tamara Drewe complement the graphic novel's dispersal of the gaze via the panels and gutters and exacerbate the problem of looking between women. Tamara Drewe is punctuated with tabloid newspaper photography, computer screens, text images, and the cell-like animation of camera phone pictures "papped" (Simmonds 2007, 81) by Casey and Jody, which arrest and disperse the gaze. These gadgets stand out against the deliberately quaint English countryside, with its red phone booths, postboxes, and the "cottage cheesecake" (17) of country living and kitsch that dominate interior spaces of the text, again highlighting its anachronism. Casey and Jody receive "upgrades" on their "mobys" for their birthdays "with a camera, zoom and stuff" (81), and the significance of these items is signaled by illustrating their respective screens and images separately on the page.The girls play at "being like paparazzi, taking hot paps of people--well, hot in our dreams," and their cell-phone images mimic the paparazzi photographs of celebrities caught "snogging" in public emblazoned across the tabloids that they read, "Chick" and "Goss" (63). Eventually, after days of waiting, Casey and Jody achieve the "mega, mega pap!" (82): a clandestine picture of Nick and Tamara kissing.

In many ways, the technology of the phone camera provides Casey and Jody with a mobility that their lives do not necessarily afford them. Their "papping" disrupts the line between public and private; their gaze "roams" in ways that put pressure on the rigid gender dynamics of voyeurism. Glen, for example, becomes the graphic novel's male voyeur when he is caught eavesdropping on Beth and Nick's fight. As readers, we are voyeuristically and omnisciently privy to Glen's cowardly refusal to check (or gaze) on Nick after he hits head on a cow trough resulting in Nick's death. Casey and Jody also demystify the privileged role of the photograph in the chronicling of everyday life (Sontag 1973, 5) as they half-heartedly take pictures of the mundane: Beth posting letters or "someone in our class showing off her hickies" (Simmonds 2007, 81). For the brief moment of the "mega, mega pap," Casey and Jody are authors, empowered as active subjects creating and circulating images rather than simply consuming them. The screen images of the girls' "moby" pictures recreate the panels of the graphic novel and so denote their "authorship" of the text [Figure 6]. However, the role that technology plays in the representation and construction of gendered subjects speaks to an underlying anxiety in the graphic novel that technology does not necessarily enrich or advance female agency. Tamara herself has no control over the dissemination of her own image as the incriminating "papped" picture is posted to Beth's cell-phone; Tamara's experience mirrors the cautionary tale of Casey's classmate Jess,"who was "caught giving Brent a BJ and he got one of his mates to pap her on his phone, sent it ALL ROUND school" (56).While Casey and Jody might be moving beyond voyeurism by challenging the conventions of the gaze and taking independent control of the circulation of images, Tamara and Jess's experience of the "pap" does not even amount to the pleasure of exhibitionism.(5)


The domination of the tabloids in the latter third of the graphic novel literally and visually colonizes whatever space the women of Tamara Drewe have carved out for themselves as viewers, consumers, and desiring women committing various sexual and social indiscretions. The scandal of Jody's death, which is soon linked to the minor celebrity status of Ben, Nick, and Tamara, makes it into the newspapers, and there is a sudden proliferation of narratives that threatens the already saturated field of vision. As the relationship among all the characters are "outted" by the tabloids, the patriarchal male gaze is reinscribed under the democratic auspices of giving the public what it wants.As journalists descend upon Ewedown, the gaze is turned outwards in a panel where four male photographers point their ominous cameras and equipment directly at the reader, as if to accuse us of the role we play in what counts as too much in the exposure of women's private lives and their private parts. The graphic novel is reclaimed through the image as a gendered genre, one in which women may only temporarily control the gaze. The tabloid headlines--"1 want to give you the biggest shagging of your life'--email that seduced Hardiman" and "Nicholas Hardiman's last words to his wife of twenty-five years were to announce their marriage was over and he was leaving her for 29-year old journalist neighbour Tamara Drewe" (Simmonds 2007, 115)--become evidence of the anti-feminist argument within post-feminism.The tabloids punish these women for the unraveling of "having it all" or, as glossed by Tamara, "you went out to work and neglected him or you stayed at home and smothered or you're too sexy or you're not sexy enough" (119).

Ultimately, Tamara Drewe has two endings and clears a space "away from it all" that is not necessarily governed by a gendered scopic regime. The graphic novel gives it "all" to its heroine by including two forms of narrative closure that underscore Tamara's creativity and her scopic authority. The Guardian's serialized version of Tamara Drewe ended by addressing the critical discomfort of the conclusion to Far From the Madding Crowd when Bathsheba accepts Gabriel's offer of marriage because she has no alternative (and because Hardy could not imagine an alternative). Seemingly unable to tolerate the privileged post-feminist position of the "single girl" one minute longer, Tamara rushes out in the middle of the night where she wordlessly falls into Andy Cobb's arms. The "older" feminist voice is retained as Beth narrates Tamara's success at "having it all" with a new book and a new baby arriving at the same time. This first ending depicts how Tamara both inhabits and challenges the Victorian female stereotypes available to contemporary women. Unlike Far From the Madding Crowd, the graphic novel entertains an alternative to marriage: "there's been no wedding or talk of one" (Simmonds 2007, 125).While Tamara does not escape the supposedly natural progression toward motherhood, she partially reinvents it by making Andy the stay-at-home dad. Everyone assumes that the new baby is Andy's, but Beth has her doubts, "whenever I see him, I think he has a look of Nicholas about the eyes" (125), which provides a very "new"Victorian reason after all for Tamara to return to an old flame.

In the new ending of the collected volume, which includes Beth's description ofTamara's success, the last image is of Glen, who has finally published his novel, Excess, which may even be adapted into a film. He receives a fan letter from Beth, who writes to congratulate him on his "terrific reviews and sales" (Simmonds 2007, 126). In closing, Beth casually mentions that Tamara Drewe has a book on the horizon: "She looks beautiful on the cover, Beth hears. It's all about a writer's retreat ..." (126). The final panel focuses on Glen's eyes, which we see first behind clouded glasses and then very clearly, we see his pronounced pupils as he realizes with horror, "about a WHAT?! Oh my God, no" (126). Despite his refusal to be "interviewed" (118) by Tamara during their last meeting, Glen fears that she may have had knowledge of the events of the graphic novel, potentially including his decision to allow the cows to "take the rap for killing Nicholas" (119). Glen's reaction confirms Tamara's gaze; if we were looking for the female gaze in Tamara Drewe, it has been happening all along but far "away from it all." Tamara steals the scene from Glen as our gaze is derected back to the graphic novel's cover, a close-up of Tamara "looking beautiful," commanding our gaze but also gazing at us. Tamara's gaze trumps Glen's; even "away from it all," she continues to "have it all" as she juggles a relationship, motherhood and a career.

Dismissed as "a bit juvenile" and perceived to be "something just for children" (Mulholland 2007, 8), the graphic novel has not received the same attention in the British publishing market which has been starved for the kind of"serious" subject matter covered by their more "canonical" American and international counterparts. As one of Britain's few female graphic novelists, the acclaim received by Simmonds's work has revived a flagging British industry and put to rest, as one reviewer suggested, "the argument over whether the graphic novel can compete with the literary novel" (Lenard 2007, 41). In other words, whether Simmonds can compete with Hardy. The uncontested literariness of Tamara Drewe means that Posy Simmonds has decentered the triumvirate of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Bryan Talbot in the British graphic novel industry and established a very female presence in what is now a growing British contribution to the medium.


I would like to thank Meredith Goldsmith for reading previous versions of this paper.

(1) As Tamara Drewe does not have any page numbers, I have numbered them myself starting with the chapter heading "Autumn" as page 1.

(2) See also the careers of Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), a children's book illustrator, and of course, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). Mick Imlah's review of Tamara Drewe in The Times Literary Supplement helpfully begins with a discussion of Hardy and Allingham's relationship and draws attention to the Hardy/Allingham collaboration as Simmonds's graphic novel predecessor.

(3) One of the changes made between the serialized strip and the collected volume is this panel of Andy's face as he sees Tamara for the first time []. To me, the strip version shows Andy unmistakably leering at Tamara while Andy in the graphic novel is much more compassionate and slightly embarrassed by his intrusion.

(4) For some of the debates about competition between women and feminists see Miner, Valerie and Helen E. Longino. 1987. Competition: A Feminist Taboo. N.Y.: The Feminist Press and Michie, Helen. 1992. Sororophobia: differences among women. Oxford: University Press.

(5) See for example the academic debates surrounding JenniCam, the 24-hour webcam set up by college student Jennifer Ringley in the mid-90s. For an overview of technology's intersections with sexuality, surveillance and exhibitionism see Hille Koskela's article, "Webcams, TV Shows and Mobile phones: Empowering Exhibitionism," in which she argues for the potential for a "counter-surveillance" culture (2004, 199) and increased agency in technological gadgetry and reality tv shows.

Works Cited

Blum, Virginia. 2005. "Becoming The Other Woman: The Psychic Drama of Cosmetic Surgery." Frontiers 26.2: 104-31.

Brown, Helen Gurley. 1982. 1-laying It All. N.Y.: Simon & Schuster.

Denfield, Rene. 1995. The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order. London: Simon & Schuster.

Gamble, Sarah. 2006. "Growing Up Single: The Postfeminist Novel." Studies in the Literary Imagination 39.2: 61-78.

Hardy, Thomas. 1986. Far From The Madding Crowd. Ed. Robert C. Schweik. N.Y./London: Norton.

Imlah, Mike. 2007. "Tamara Drewe's Wessex." Times Literary Supplement, 14 November.

Kavka, Misha. 2002. "Feminism, Ethics, and History, or What is the "Post" in Postfeminism?" Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 21.1: 29-44.

Koskela, Hille. 2004. "Webcarns, TV Shows and Mobile phones: Empowering Exhibitionism." Surveillance and Society 2.2/3: 199-215.

Lezard, Nicholas. 2007. "A writers' retreat is blown apart by a beauty; Tamara Drewe." The Evening Standard, 29 October.

McCloud, Scott. 1994. Understanding Comics. N.Y.: Harper Paperbacks.

McRobbie, Angela. 2007. "Postfeminism and Popular Culture: Bridget Jones and the New Gender Regime. In Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture, ed.Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mulholland, Tara. 2007. "More than words: Britain embraces the graphic novel." International Herald Tribune, 24 August.

Mulvey, Laura. 1989. Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Negra, Diane. 2008. What A Girl Wants?: Fantasizing the Reclamation of Self in Postfeminism. London & N.Y.: Routledge.

Simmonds, Posy. 2007. Tamara Drewe. London: Jonathan Cape.

Sontag, Susan. 1973. On Photography. N.Y.: Picador.

Tait, Sue. 2007. "Television and the domestication of cosmetic surgery." Feminist Media Studies 7.2: 119-35.

Tasker,Yvonne, and Diane Negra, eds. 2007. Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.

Whelehan, Imelda. 2000. Overloaded: Popular Culture and the Future of Feminism. U.K.: The Women's Press Ltd.

Elizabeth Ho is assistant professor of English at Ursinus College. She has published articles in Antipodes: A North American Journal Of Australian Literature and Cultural Critique and is coeditor of a collected edition, Thatcher & After: Margaret Thatcher's Afterlife in Contemporary Culture (2010).
When I thought of all I do for Nick (voluntarily, it has to be
  said): I run the household, manage the writers, and our 16 acres. I
  deal with the children and our employees, Andy and Mary. I look after
  the bills, the accounts, the VAT, the leasing of all the fields and
  piles of government bumf. Does Nick ever have to worry about the
  hedges or the new subsidy system?

I give Nick peace and freedom to write. And that's not all. I
transform his grubby longhand into double-spaced typescripts. I edit,
research, contribute to plots, make his female characters convincing,
suggest names and titles ('Doctor Inchcombe' was my invention). ...
I even forge his signature. (Simmonds 2007, 7)

For the plain and ugly it offers improvement, the chance of a new,
  more loveable you. But for the Beautiful, surgery is a sign of
  deterioration, a clumsy attempt to maintain the Perfect. A losing
  battle. That's why we should all learn to admire Inner Beauty, the
  kind that really matters. Or so I'm told. (Simmonds 2007, 70)
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