“I wanted to give my father a proper burial.”
–Alison Bechdel, from an interview
with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh
“I grew up in a house full of books.”
–Isabel Allende, from “Reading the History
of the World”
Chapter One: “Old Father, Old Artificer”
CHAPTER TITLE: “Old Father, Old Artificer”–keep this phrase in mind. You’ll eventually see that it refers to a famous literary text. For now, what is an “artificer?” Also, please note that there will be a drawing above each chapter title. What do you note about this one?
[Page 4] Monomanaical (Adj.): Being very independent and focused on a goal–in a way that can become damaging.
 Legerdemain (Noun): A magic trick or type of deceit, especially one involving the use of one’s hands to create a distraction.
 Alchemist (Noun): Alchemists were known for their failed efforts to change lead into gold.
 Savant (Noun): A genius.
 Daedelus (Name): See note for page 3-4*.
 Labyrinth (Noun): See note for 3-4*.
 Libidinal (Adj.): Driven by desires, especially sexual ones.
 Manic (Adj.): Excited, creative, and perhaps not quite in control.
 Martyred (Adj.): A martyr is someone willing to die for a cause or belief. Also see the note for page 7 below.
 Exuberant (Adj.): Energetic, joyful. Usually not a word used to describe wood. But see the inside cover (it’s orange.) These “supports” appear often in the book.
 Blithely (Adv.): Cheerfully, gladly. One more time, see the note for page 10. It explains what’s on the TV!
 Still life (Adj./Noun): A painting of objects that have been carefully arranged, like a bowl of fruits.
 Curatorial (Adj.): A curator usually arranges exhibits in a museum, not a house.
 Spartan / Athenian (Adj.): These terms refer to two famous Greek cities. Sparta was famous for being the military center of Greece. Athens was known for its art and culture. Also, see the note below*.
 Victorian (Adj.): This generally refers to British culture in the latter half of the 19th century. It is usually associated with restraint in language and art and morals.
 Butch / Nelly (Adj.): Both are slang terms referring to one’s public identity, especially regrading sexual orientation. “Butch” tends to refer to women who adopt more masculine choices; “nelly” refers to men who adopt more feminine choices. Both terms can be controversial–see page 118 for a crucial example.
 Utilitarian / Aesthete (adj.): The first refers to someone who values usefulness, while the second refers to someone who values beauty.
 Embellishment (Noun): Something that is added–often in a deceitful way.
 Impeccable: Perfectly ordered.
 Simulacrum (Noun): A really complex term–think of an unreal reality, like the films The Matrix or Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show.
 Tailspin (Noun): A sudden and negative loss of control–especially for someone flying. Think of Icarus again.
 Self-loathing (Noun): “Loathing” is more than feeling “bad.” It means a deep disgust.
 Incandescent (Adj.): Brilliant.
 Resonated (Verb): Became significant–and in complex ways. See her use of the word “echoing.”
 Retroactively (Adverb): Refers to actions that happen in the present but also go back and effect the past–think of a “retroactive pay raise.”
 Converse (Noun): This does NOT mean “to talk” in this sentence. Here it means a reversal, a contrast, an opposite. See the note below for this page.
[Pages 3-4]: Playing “airplane” is fun. “Icarian games” are more serious. The term refers to Icarus and his father Daedelus. BOTH names are significant in the book. See why:
Also check out: http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/t/minotaur/. These references will be important later.
It’s easy to overlook the book lying on the floor next to Bruce Bechdel. Anna Karenina is perhaps the classic 19th-century Russian novel, and many modern writers have made a point of re-considering the famous opening line of the novel: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
[Page 7]: Bechdel clearly hints at one more meaning of “passion”–that is, “The Passion of Christ.” I suggest you just google this term to see how important it is.
[Page 10]–It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) is a classic movie by Frank Capra. Like Fun Home, it features a man who comes to feel isolated and desperate. The link here is to the famous closing scene of the movie in which Jimmy Stewart’s character prays to “get back” to sanity and to his family and to his small community. If you watch for just a minute or two, you’ll get the contrast.
[Page 15]: Bruce Bechdel is not reading pornography here. Kenneth Clark was the Director of Britain’s National Gallery and author of The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. It’s actually the sort of book you’d read in an Art History course.
[Page 17] “An ideal husband”–keep these words in mind. They anticipate further problems that arise in Chapter Six, and they also refer to a famous play by Oscar Wilde which also becomes important in the book.
[Page 19]: Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice is another famous art history book. It’s huge, three-volume work from the 1850’s and it focuses on church architecture. He was also well-known for arguing that society creates it’s own problems by thinking of artists and workers as two very different kinds of people:
We want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working, and we call one a gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the workman ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense. As it is, we make both ungentle, the one envying, the other despising, his brother; and the mass of society is made up of morbid thinkers and miserable workers. Now it is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity.
In plain terms, think of Bruce, the aesthete who insists on doing all the hard labor by himself.
[Page 21]: The book of Just So Stories was published in 1902 by Rudyard Kipling. (He also wrote the more familiar Jungle Book.) Besides being another example of Bruce’s love for all things British, the book is about how animals became the way they are–for example, how the camel got its hump. This question of how people “become” who they are is crucial.
[Page 23] “An amputee feels pain in a missing limb.” This is a well-recognized medical condition. The Mount Sinai Hospital web site site explains, “Phantom limb syndrome is the perception of sensations, including pain, in a limb that has been amputated. People in this condition experience feelings in the limb as if it were still attached to their body.” Artists and singers have often used references to this condition as a way of speaking of lost love or mourning.
CHAPTER TWO: “A HAPPY DEATH”
CHAPTER TITLE: As always, please note what’s in the drawing above the title. The chapter will feature many images of death. You’ll soon be introduced to some writings from Albert Camus, who contrasts a “happy death” with “une mort imbecile.” Which words seem more fitting for Bruce’s death? This chapter also introduces you to the significance of the words “Fun Home.” What’s “fun” or “tragic” about the Bechdel’s lives at their funeral home or within their own actual home? Finally, what is an “epitaph” (see below), and what words might be “proper” to used to describe Bruce?
Consummate artifice (Adj./Noun): We’ve already encountered “artifice.” Consummate means excellent, ideal, climactic.
 Masterstroke (Noun): Similar in meaning to “consummate.” Yet a “masterstroke” is not just a job well done, but an artistic creation.
 Construed (Verb): Implied, understood indirectly.
 Consumptive (Adj.): Refers to someone with tuberculosis.
 Epitaph (Noun): Words written on a tombstone or gravesite in memory of someone who has died. THIS IS A KEY IMAGE IN THE BOOK. Bechtel has said in an interview that she wanted to give her father “a proper burial.” This is not just a vague phrase but an echo of Ecclesiastes 6:3: “A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.”
 Aplomb (Noun): Style, confidence. Not often associated with suicide.
 Obelisk (Noun): See the image–and perhaps google Cleopatra’s Needle (it’s in Central Park).
 Anachronism (Noun): A surprising or confusing combination of objects or styles from different time periods. (Such as people partying to rap and rock music in the 1920’s in the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby.)
 Ungainly (Adj.): Ugly, clumsy.
 Unabashedly fixated (Adv./Verb): Obsessed–and not ashamed to be obsessed.
 Provincial/Urbane (Adjs.): The first means someone or something that is local, too local; the second refers to people or things that are worldly, more sophisticated. See the contrast of pages 32-33. Keep in mind the contrast of Beech Creek and the Village later in the book.
 Unwholesome (Adj.): Unhealthy, in poor taste.
 Cavalier (Adj.): Casual.
 Ambience (Noun): feeling or sensation.
 Mausoleum (Noun): Not a grave–more like a home for the deceased. Some can be quite fancy.
 Melancholy (Adj.): Somber, serious.
 Taxonomic (Adj.): Usually used in more scientific contexts, this words refers to the categories used to name and categorize things.
 Grimmisian (Adj.): Refers to the Brother Grimm, who wrote lots of stories–often really disturbing stories–for and about children.
 Inner sanctum (Adj./Noun]: This means more than a private work room. A “sanctum” is “sanctified”–that is, holy.
 Jarringly (Adverb): In a shocking way.
 Desiccated (Adj.): Dried out
 Inured (Adj.): Used to, almost bored.
 Vicariously (Adverb): Indirectly, like a viewer watching a game.
 Suppressed (Verb): Kept down, hidden, buried.
 Dissonance: A disconnection or conflict
[47-48] Sisyphus (Proper name): See the image below.
 Gallic (Adj.): Generally just means “French.” See the famous photo of him below.
 Conundrum: a puzzle or riddle
 Desecrated (Verb): Something sacred that has been violated
: Un Mort Imbecile:
[34-35] The Addams Family. I’m assuming most of you know this one. If not, here’s a “family portrait” from one of the movie versions. Note the little girl on the left side of the photo.
[47-48] Sisyphus: The gods had condemned him so spend his life pushing boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll away again at the top.
 A photo of Camus.
CHAPTER THREE: “That Old Catastrophe”
CHAPTER TITLE: “That Old Catastrophe” might make it sounds as if there were just
clearly identified catastrophe. Bechdel will directly tell you what these words refer to, but could it also refer to other events in this chapter and throughout the book? Just who is that in the drawing?
This chapter features one of the most significant statements from the book: “My parents are most real to me in fictional terms.” Keep it in mind.
 Queer (Noun and Verb and Adjective)***: This word has all sorts of meanings. Take close look at the dictionary citations in the background.
 Multivalent (Adj.): This means a LOT more than just “different.” It is a chemistry term referring to compounds which have complex combinations and origins.
 Deviation (Noun): Again, this means more than “different.” The word “deviant” often means something or someone that is different in a suspicious way, and its has been used in quite nasty ways to refer to members of the LGBT community or other groups seen as “outsiders.”
 Qualmish (Adj.): Uneasy, even nauseous.
 Conspicuously (Adverb): In a very noticable or obvious way.
 Massive Websters (Adj./Proper noun): Just note the size of the dictionary she looks in. It has room for soooo many words–except “lesbian.”
 Hypothesis (Noun): An idea that has yet to be tested out.
 Demoted (Verb): Given a lesser role
 Protagonist (Noun): The primary actor/actress in a narrative.
 Doleful (Adj.): Sad, uninspired
 Landed Gentry (Adj. Noun): Upper-class land-owners.
 Affected/Affectation (Adj./Noun): Putting on an act. Think Myrtle Wilson.
 Gilt (Adj.): Something that appears to be gold.
 Flocked (Adj.): A fabric with a velvet-like texture.
 Don Quixote (Proper Noun): A famous literary character, best-known for his delusions that he is actually a medieval knight.
 Mephistopheles (Proper Noun): Also a famous literally character. He appears in various forms, usually as a demon who tempts people to sell their souls in exchange for some earthly ambition.
 Country Squire (Adj./Noun): A lot like “landed gentry.” See above, page 60.
 Edifying (Verb): Educating or guiding.
 Metamorphosis (Noun): A radical change–think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
 “The collosal vitality of his illusion” (Phrase…): A description of Jay Gatsby by the narrator, Nick Caraway. See the note below.
 Noblesse Oblige (French. Adj./Noun): The obligations of the nobility.
 Alluring (Adj.): Attractive
 Inextricability (Noun): When one thing is deeply connected to another.
 Ensnared (Verb): Trapped
 Degenerate (Adj.): Decadent, spoiled, wayward.
 Continental (Adj.): Here the “continent” is Europe.
 Trope (Noun): A well-known type of story.
 Cool aesthetic distance (Adj./Adj./Noun): Think of Nick Caraway (or another narrator) being “within and without” a scene.
 Stray rents (Adj./Noun): “Rent” here is not what you pay for an apartment. A “rent” is a tear or rip in a “fabric.”
 Mercenary (Adj.): Focused on money.
 Harbinger (Noun): Something that seems to predict the future–and usually in a disturbing way.
 Dissipated (Adj.): Careless, wasted.
ground in the very mill of the conventional–Is this a statement from James??
 Luminous (Adj.): Glowing like the sun.
 Cemented (Verb): Made final; decided upon.
 Abdicated (Verb): It means more than “given up”–it means giving up something very special or even royal.
 Fray (Noun): The “real” world, not just the “academic” version from school.
 Epistle (Noun): A letter, often long and often judgmental.
 Stupefied (Adj.): Here, both high and stupid. She’s smoking pot here, by the way.
 Anesthetic (Noun): Something that numbs the senses–can also be as opposite of “aesthetic.”
[82-83] “Complacencies of the peignoir” (Phrase): These are the opening lines of a famous–and famously difficult–poem. “Complancencies” are casual thoughts and moments, like those one might have while sitting in a “peignoir,” a thin morning robe worn by women.
 “The dark encroachment of that old catastrophe” (lines from Stevens’ poem): An “encroachment” is the gradual approach of something that is unwanted or even threatening; “that old catastrophe” refers here to the crucifixion of Christ. See how the word “catastrophe” is used again on this page.
 Juxtaposition (Noun): A sharp contrast–like “complancencies” and crucifixion and “cockatoo.”
 Disenchantment (Adj.): If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, you know how often Fitzgerald uses the word “enchantment.” So “disenchantment” isn’t just someone having a bad day–there are seeing the “magic” disappear from their life.
 Deranged (Adj.): Misguided, insane.
 Tenous (Adj.): Weak, shaky, temporary.
 Sappho: A Greek lyric poet who lived around 600BC on the island of Lesbos (hence, “lesbian”). Little is known of her life, and most of her poems do not survive. One of her best-known poems appears below.
 The line about “the colossal vitality of his illusion” is from page 95 of The Great Gatsby. It’s important because it explains how Gatsby’s dream of being re-united with his true love Daisy sustained itself for the five years he had spent without seeing here.
 Zelda Fitzgerald was married to F. Scott. As the drawing of a photo indicates, her’s was not a pleasant life. Although she and F. Scott led quite a glamorous life during the 1920s, there were growing problems with alcoholism and their finances, and eventually they spent a lot of time apart. She suffered a serious of breakdowns–perhaps it was schizophrenia or bipolar disorder–and she was often hospitalized. She died in a fire during one of the hospitalizations.
[66, 70-72] References are made to Henry James’s novels Washington Square and A Portrait of a Lady. he was a very well-known and prolific writer during the period from 1880–1910, and he was equally familiar with New York City and the grand salons of Europe. Please note the lines about “living her life free from provincial convention and constraint.”
 The Taming of the Shrew is a well-known (but often not well-received) play in which a domineering suitor (Petruchio) tries (and basically succeeds) in “taming” his lover Katherine.
 William Masters and Virginia Johnson were famous for their clinical studies of sexuality. The book Homosexualties is best-known for its now discredited claim that homosexuals could be “cured” or “converted.”
 Anias Nin’s Delta of Venus is a series of erotic short stories written in the 1940s but not released for publication till the 1970s. An excerpt can be found at http://revolt-rachel.livejournal.com/10844.html
 “Anita Bryant Sucks Oranges.” This sticker on the door of the Gay Union refers to Anita Bryant, who was a beauty pageant queen, a pop singer, a devout Christian, a spokesperson for the orange industry–and a vocal and fervent opponent of gays and lesbians.
 Maurice by E.M. Forster (see the pile of books…) was a novel published only after Forster’s death. He was a major novelist who was gay in a time and place where that simply wasn’t easily accepted (by the public and even at times by Forster himself). The book is primarily about the search for passion and privacy.
 Stabat Mater by Pergolesi (It’s lying next to her on the floor). Surely NOT erotica! This is a famous hymn about Mary as she suffered the agony of knowing her son Jesus is being crucified.
 Adrienne Rich’s 1977 book Dream of a Common Language is a very bold and politically-oriented series of poems about Rich’s coming out as a lesbian in 1976. Powerful, no-nonsense writing!
 James and the Giant Peach is a 1961 children’s book–but if you’ve ever seen Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you may have noted that the author Roald Dahl didn’t care for innocent, naive types of children’s books.
[84-85] Bruce is reading Nancy Mitford’s Zelda, a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald which claimed that Zelda’s own status an an artist and inspiration had been overlooked. Alison is asking to buy more copies of Mad Magazine, a humorous and often subversive comics magazine.
CHAPTER FOUR: “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”
This title refers to a book by Marcel Proust. Bruce becomes increasingly obsessed with reading Proust. It might prove helpful to look even briefly at the link that we have provided to a famous sentence by Proust. How can ONE sentence be famous? Read it and see.
 Domestic (Adj.): Associated with home.
 Inclinations (Noun): An interest, a tendency.
 Bent (Noun): Note that this is the noun form. A “bent” is like an “inclination”–but it is also “bent,” a bit twisted and broken perhaps.
 Redolent (Adj.): Refers to something with a strong pleasant odor, and perhaps to an odor that one associates with a powerful memory.
 Sissy (Noun): Slang term. Usually refers to a man acting in a “feminine” way.
 Ardently (Adverb): Passionately.
 Efflorescence (Noun): Glowing, like a bright flower.
 Twining (Adj.): Wrapping together like vines.
 Ensuing (Adj.): Following, resulting.
 Lethargic (Adj.): Lifeless, bored.
 Revery (Noun): Like a dream.
 Grisly (Adj.): Grim, unpleasant.
 Formaldehyde (Adj.): A foul-smelling chemical preservative.
 Tragic (Adj.): They key think here is to notice how the term “tragic” (as in “tragic hero…)…
 Botanical (Adj.): …is used to refer to a species of flower.
 Horticultural (Adj.): Refers to gardening.
 Virtuosity (Noun): Doe with incredible skill.
 Fecundity (Noun): Growth, ripeness.
 Pansy (Noun/Slang): Like a “sissy.”
 Chink (Noun): Here, a weakness.
 Sinew (Noun): Muscle, strength.
[ 97] Cropped (Adj.): Don’t think corn or wheat–think of a short haircut.
[ 97] Curt (Adj.): Said quickly, perhaps rudely.
[ 97] Percussive (Adj.): Like a drum.
[ 97] Onomatopeic (Adj.): Onomatopoeia is the formation of a word from a sound associated with that word: think “woof” or “splash”–or “butch.”
[ 97] Tyrannical (Adj.): Cruel, over-powering.
[ 97] Antiquated (Adj.): Old-fashioned.
 Wale (Verb): Physically punish.
 Inversions (Noun): Here, when two people switch roles or identities.
 Escalations (Noun): An intensified conflict or fight.
 Demilitarized zone (Adj. Noun): An area between two armies where there is no fighting (at least for the moment…).
 Rooting (Verb): Means lot more than just looking or browsing–digging deep.
 Ethereal (Adj.): Almost unreal, filled with light.
 Gilded (Verb): Covered with gold.
 Aureole (Like the rays around the sun.
 Illicit (Adj.): Unlawful, shameful.
 Prestidigitation (Noun): Acts of magic, often done with tricks of the hand.
 Perusal (Noun): A closer look.
 Murky (Adj.): Unclear, dimly-lit.
 Diametrically (Adverb): Completely.
 Bourgeois vs. aristocratic, homo vs. hetero, city vs. country, eros vs. art, private vs. public (Adjs): These words must be read as series of alternatives. The first word in each pair refer to a sense of self-expression through art and sexuality; the second term refers to more conventional and socially accepted expectations.
 Demiglace (Noun): A rich type of sauce or “glaze.”
 Putrefaction (Noun): A rich and foul smell.
 Hallucinogenic (Adj.): Like a drug-induced trance.
 Throbbing (Adj.): Pulsing, excited.
 Welter (Noun): A chaotic crowd.
 Contact high (Adj./Noun): Getting “high” just by being near someone who is actually getting high–please note that she uses this term twice, and the second use has nothing to do with drugs.
 Stonewall (Name): VERY IMPORTANT–SEE THE FULLER NOTE BELOW.
 Mythologized (Here, an Adj.): To become legendary, historic.
 Flashpoint (Noun): A moment in which conditions lead to a “flash,” a radical change, an explosion.
 Quantum particle (Adj./Noun): A term from physics referring to the particle that form the basis of matter–that is, the start of it all.
 Humectant (Adj.) Refers to a substance which keeps things moist.
 Watershed (Noun): A “watershed” moment is a clear changing point–there’s a real before and after effect.
 Conflated (Verb): To combine two texts or narratives.
 Nostalgic (Adj.): Usually has a dual meaning. The first is the memory of the “good old days”–the second is the recognition that this is wishful thinking.
 Retroactive (Adj.): Applied to the past, like retroactive pay.
 Mortification (Noun): Here, embarrassment. But remember this is a book about a “mortician.”
 Lexicographical (Adj.): From a dictionary.
 Bohemian refuge (Adj./Noun): A safe place to be free, artistic, wild, unrestricted.
 Mercenary (Adj.): usually means “in it for the money.” Here it means “calculating.”
 Pulp fiction (Adj./Noun): Just think “cheap” thrills—these were inexpensive, poorly-made texts about “forbidden” topics.
 Eisenhower-era (Adj.): Literally, it means doing the Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. It also refers to an era well-known for its expectations about conformity and family.
 Succor (Noun): Solace, friendship–and in this case, sex.
 Chastely (Adverb): Purely, innocently.
 cartilaginous (Adj.): Made of cartilage.
 Excruciating (Adj.): A sharp, sudden pain.
 Jaunt (Noun): A playful trip.
 “The Bullpen” (Noun): The family camp in the woods.
 Allegheny Plateau (Name) and Undifferentiated (Adj.): This area was very open and unpopulated at that time—just think of miles and miles of woodlands and low mountains. As you’ll see next, that was changing
 Gouged (Verb): Ripped open
 Strip mines (Adj./Noun): A type of mining which “strips” the land open and leaves a scarred and wasted landscape behind.
 Inexplicably (Adverb): Without an explanation.
 Stratagem (Noun): A subtle strategy.
 Precocious feat (Adj./Noun): An amazing act for a young person.
 Transposition (Noun): A transfer of positions , or in this case, identities. Think Jimmy Gatz becoming Jay Gatsby.
[113 ] Tidy Melding (Adj./Noun): A “meld” is a blend and/or a weld–and it’s hard to make a neat and tidy one.
 Abashed (Adj.): Ashamed.
 Postlapsarian (Adj.): A serious term–in Christian theology it refers to the “lapse” or failings or Adam and Eve and the time that follows (“post”) as they are banished from Eden. It often refers to a loss of innocence.
 Initiation rite (Adj./Noun): A “rite” is a ritual, often a sacred one; an “initiation” is an introduction and often a sort of test.
 Vexingly ambiguous archetype: (Adverb/Adj./Noun): An archetype is a complex term, one that generally refers to an object or symbol which is ancient, original, ever-present. “Ambiguous” means unclear, undecided, in a “gray area.” “Vexingly” means that this indecision continues on and on in different ways.
 Phallus (Noun): A penis-shaped object.
 Undifferentiation (Noun): A process in which seemingly different things cannot be easily sorted into categories.
 nonduality (Noun): A similar idea–
 Cyclicality (Noun): Again, a similar idea as above. Consider the examples of beginning/ending, death/birth, lie/truth, man/woman, parent/child, gay/straight. Maybe they are easily seen as different–and maybe they’re not.
 Mincing (Adj.): Dainty–or like a “pansy.”
 Lissome (Adj.): Graceful
*** Bruce has started reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. There are numerous references to Marcel Proust in Fun Home. Reading Proust requires almost infinite patience, and many readers (like me…) enjoy his writing best in limited doses. Consider for a moment Proust’s longest sentence, which begins with the words “Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable…” What might this have to do with the private and public lives of Bruce and Alison Bechdel?
 CHRISTOPHER STREET: This street was synonymous with the Village and it’s liberated life-styles.
 Stonewall Inn. This is a truly iconic place. For some images and context, see
 Sodome et Gomorrhe. In English, these names are written as Sodom and Gomorrah–but make sure to note that these are the names of cities, not people. In the Bible, both cities were destroyed by God because of the depraved behaviors of the people living there. From “Sodom” comes terms such “sodomy,” “sodomite,” and “sodomy laws.” If “sodomy laws” seem to be a thing of the distant past, keep in mind that it was not until 2003 that the U.S. Supreme Court actually ruled that they were unconstitutional.
[ 116] The Worm Ourobodos is a strange fantasy novel (open admission here: I have not read the book and don’t plan to … this is paraphrased from Wikipedia). The relevance here is that it features an army of “Demon lords” who take on a more powerful enemy and defeat them. Having won this war, they now feel like they lack the heroic purpose that had been inspiring them. So what do they ask the gods for? To turn back time so that they can start the war all over again.
 **Please notice that the woman who enters the luncheonette has a ring of keys. So what? Just google “ring of keys fun home at city hall.” This moment becomes one of the key scenes in the musical version>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMJvLTZOhpE
CHAPTER FIVE: “The Canary-Colored Caravan of Death”
 Premonitory (Adj.): A vision of a future event.
 Maudlin (Adj.): Sad, in a weepy and even pathetic way.
 Idolatrous (Adj): Like someone worshipping an “idol.”
 Crepuscular (Adj.): Like a sunset.
 Mealy-mouthed (Adj.): Mumbling–as if your mouth were filled with crackers as you spoke.
 Precipitate (Adj.): Sudden–and also like rain or snow.
 Topography (Noun:) Refers to a landscape, often mountainous.
 Hadrian’s Wall (Proper Noun): A 70-mile wall built by the Romans about 120 BC that crosses England from West to East.
 Albeit (Conjunction): An older way of saying “although…”
 Berm (Noun): A large mound of rock and dirt.
 Pyrotechnics (Noun): Like fireworks.
 Particulates (Noun): Small particles–that usually do not belong where they are found. In other words, pollution.
 Picturesque (Adj.): Pretty as a postcard.
 Proxy (Noun): A substitute, a double.
 Tour de force (French. Noun/Adj.): Something powerful–even a crayon drawing can be one!
 Daunting (Adj.): Impressive.
 Rapt Immersion (Adj./Noun): An inspired meeting, one that leaves the world behind.
 Sustenance (Noun): Like food and water.
 Compulsion (Noun): An interest or behavior that becomes obsessive.
 Obessive-complusive disorder (Adj./Noun): As you’ll see, a condition in which someone focuses carefully–sometimes way too carefully–on organizing things.
 Swags (Noun): Like a curtain.
 Festoons (Noun): Again, like a curtain or hanging decoration.
 Noxious (Adj.): Foul, poisonous.
 Proliferated (Verb): Increased rapidly
 Spawned (Verb): Created
 Stopgap (Adj.): Desperate, last chance.
 Incantation (Noun): A spell or song to keep evil away.
 Perfunctory (Adj.): Careless, routine.
 Bathetic (Adj.): Really pathetic.
 Repressed (Adj.): Here, an emotion that is not expressed directly.
 Concrete (Adj.): Made real–ideas such as law enforcement are abstract, while hand cuffs are concrete.
 St. Vitus Dance (Adj.–also archaic): An out of date term for what we would now call Huntington’s Disease, a truly terrifying neurological disorder. In its advance stages the patient will appear to be having a non-stop convulsion.
 Annilhilation (Noun): Complete and utter destruction.
[139/140] Autistic/artistic/autodidact/autocrat/autocide (Adj./Adj./Noun/Noun/Noun): These are listed together because Bechdel places them together–it’s like an echo-chamber!
Autistic (Adj.): A complex condition, one in which a person is often silent and seemingly withdrawn.
Artistic (Adj.): The easy one on the list…
Autodidact (Noun): Someone who is self-educated.
Autocrat (Noun): Think of Democrat–except an autocrat listens only to himself.
Autocide (Noun): Someone who kills himself.
 Solipsisitic (Adj.): A difficult but key word. It refers to a statement in which someone believes in something just because he/she believes in it, without referring to any outside evidence. (EX: “I enjoy this music because it’s great to dance to, and it’s great to dance to it because I enjoy it.”)
 Propensity (Noun): This word is almost always followed by the word “to.” It means that you are likely to _______, attracted to __________, etc…
 Epistemological (Adj.): In plain English, how do we know what we know?
 Hubristic (Adj.): Hubris general means “excessive pride.” “Hubristic” actions/ideas often lead to trouble…
 Gossamer (Adj): Made of a thin, often see-through fabric.
 Sutures (Noun): Stiches used to close a wound.
 Gaping (Adj.): Wide.
 Rift (Noun): A large gap.
 Signifier/signified (Noun/Noun): A complicated pairing. In plain terms, a signifier is a word and/or symbol (EX: “stop sign” or veggie burger” or “rugby game”) that refers to an actual idea or object or action.
 Preseverated (Adj.) You may know the term “persevere,” which means to continue trying. In this case, perseverated means to continue an action long after one needs to–like waving goodbye to someone just walked around a corner.
 Onerous (Adj.): Like a heavy burden
 Circumflex (Noun): Juts note the symbol she draws in between and over her previous writing.
 Amulet (Noun): An object worn or shown to protect one from evil or magic.
 Cursory (Adj.): Written in a brief and careless way.
 Laden (Adj.): Loaded with heavy meanings.
 Primeval (Adj).: Untouched, primitive.
 Bumpkinish (Adj.): Like a country boy–or see the word “provincial.”
 Deracination (Noun): Erasure, cleansing (of her accent, in this case…).
 Disenchanted (Verb.): As we know, Gatsby is all about seemingly “enchanted” lives. Here, the word means “bored” or “tired.”
 Fuchsia and Magenta (Adj.): Similar bright red colors. Who would have known that there are actually web sites where people continue this argument!?
The Wind in the Willows is a 1908 children’s novel (which I often read to my kids when they were younger…). In some ways it’s a nice and pleasant adventure featuring the friends Rat and Mole. Yet “Toad” is the most complex character in the book. He’s rich, bored, selfish–and obsessed with driving cars quite recklessly around his small village. He also does quite well at disguising himself as a woman in order to travel freely or to escape–that is, he “passes” well.
CHAPTER SIX: “The Ideal Husband”
This title refers to a well-known play by Oscar Wilde–keep in mind the idea of the “ideal husband” and note the many references to Wilde.
 Dishabille (Noun):
 Import (Noun): Implied significance
 Provincial (Adj.): Local, too local.
 Abject (Adj.): Sad, seeking forgiveness
 Mien (Noun): Facial Expression
 Synchronicity (Noun): This means a lot more than “simultaneous.” It’s a crucial term from Carl Jung and Jungian psychology.
 Implausible (Adj.): Hard to imagine.
 Juxtaposition (Noun): An unlikely and often contrasting series of events, objects, etc….
 Trite (Adj.): Clichéd, tired.
 Libininal (Adj.): Erotic
 “Shuffled off this mortal coil” (Phrase): A reference to a well-known soliloquy by Hamlet, in which he questions whether suicide can be justified.
 Veritable Saturnalia (Adj./Noun): In plain English, a serious party. As the word “binge” suggests, it may have gotten out a bit out of control.
 Faltering (Adj.): Shaky, unsure.
 Elliptical (Adj.): Incomplete, even evasive.
 Riddling (Adj.): Creating riddles.
 Dominatrix (Noun): Simply, she’s the boss!
 August matron (Adj./Noun): Here, August in not a month. An “august matron” is an imposing head of a family.
 Unencumbered (Adj.): Not complicated by limits.
[ 165] Matryrology (Noun): Like a “mythology”–you’ll soon read more about Wilde.
 Vagaries (Noun): Uncertainties.
 Encryption (Noun): A secret code.
 NING’S (A completely personal idiom): Bechdel uses NING in her diary to describe certain things that she does;t want to actually describe.
 Indecipherability (Noun): Unable to be read clearly (or at all).
 Assiduous (Adj.): Steady, frequent.
 Surrogates (Noun): Replacements, personas.
 Sin of omission (Phrase): A sin of “commission” is to actively do something; a sin of “omission” is a failure or refusal to act/speak/think in the “proper” way.
 Lacunae (Noun): A complex word referring to a blank space (in a manuscript, piece of music, even a bone). Take a close look at the bottom of panel 1 on this page. The section about “tried to quash” refers to a famous incident in the Watergate trial, in which it was revealed that an audio tape of a crucial 18-minute conversation between Nixon and his chief advisor had been erased.
 Tricky Dick (Slang): A term often used by the media to describe President Nixon, whose open hatred of the media was well-known.
 Sanctimonious (Adj.): Having a righteous attitude, maybe too righteous.
 Facetious (Adj.): Openly exaggerated.
 Wildean (Adj.): Refers to the writer Oscar Wilde.
 Dared not speak its name (phrase): This is an allusion to a famous phrase often associated with Oscar Wilde. The phrase originally appeared in a poem by Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s lover. It was used as evidence against Wilde in his trial.
 Rough trade (Adj./Noun): Here, engaging in gay sex. The term can also imply sex with someone underage.
 David and Jonathan (Biblical allusion): Wilde is comparing his love for Lord Alfred Douglas to the Biblical narrative of David and Jonathan (whose love is generally seen as Platonic…).
 Reading Gaol (Proper Noun): Wilde was sentenced to jail, where he wrote with great empathy of his fellow prisoners. Wilde’s grave stone reads:
And alien tears will fill for him,
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.
 Abhorrent (Adj.): Disgusting, offensive.
 Forced nonchalance (Adj./Noun): “Nonchalance” means boredom or lack of interest–“forcing” this means one is just pretending to seem that way.
 Self-repudiation (Noun): Denying or rejection one’s self.
 Implicit lie of the blank page (phrase): Bechdel her is equating silence with lying–keep that in mind.
Oscar Wilde was never shy, never hesitant to speak boldly. Here is one of many well-known photos of him:
Here’s a link to a modren production of the book you can see buried under others in the closing panel of this chapter. It may look like just a bunch of silly and frilly Brits posing and saying snide things–and there’s some truth to that. Yet this play is really about “passing”–and for Wilde, “passing” became literally a life or death matter.
CHAPTER SEVEN: “The Antihero’s Journey”
CHAPTER TITLE: We’ve all heard and used some version of the words “hero/heroine”–and even these seemingly familiar words can soon get complicated. (But that’s story for another time.) What then might be an “anti-hero?” Let’s start with something very basic. An anti-hero is NOT just someone who is against the the hero/heroine. We would describe such a person/character as the antagtogonist or more simply, the “villain.” Please recall our discussions of Jay Gatsby or Breaking Bad.
 The Bicentiennal: the obvious meaning is the celebration of the birth of our nation. See later when it is also described as “the greatest party ever known” on page 195.
 Arresting (Adj.): Here it means compelling, attractive. Yet the implication of “illegal” acts is also hinted at. See the sequence on pages 192 and 193.
[190 and 191]: See the notes below about Baryshnikov and A Chorus Line.
 Epidemiologists (Noun): Scientists who study epidemics, in this case AIDS.
 Posthumously (Adverb): After someone’s death.
 Expendable (Adj.): Something you throw away casually.
 Homophobia (Noun): A “phobia” is a fear.
 Cul de sac (French/Phrase): A dead end.
 Archaic (Adj.): Very old.
 Begetting (That’s the “participle” mentioned after “archaic”): Fathering.
197] Tautology (Noun): A definition that seems repetitive or obvious. (EX: Saying that “religious” means “interested in religion.”)
 Lowering (Adj.): Like clouds before a storm.
 Malevolent (Adj.): Likely to become violent, even evil.
 Pall (Noun): A deathly chill.
 Cognitive dissonance (Adj./Noun): The ability (or the problem) of being able to believe in two contradictory ideas at the same time.
 Currency (Noun): An exchange of something valuable.
 Archetypal (Adj.): Another version of the word “archetype” that we’ve seen earlier.
 Contorted (Adj.): Twisted into a distorted form.
 Exasperated (Adj.): Frustrated, losing patience.
 Roman a clef (Noun; French):: A novel with close parallel’s to the author’s own life.
 Vicarious (Adj.): Someone experiencing something indirectly.
 Blissfully (Adverb): Joyously.
 Recant (verb): To take back a statement or testimony.
 Meager (Adj.): Limited
 Hobson’s choice (Phrase): In plain terms, a “choice” that isn’t quite choice. That is, “take it leave it.”
 Embarked (Verb): Started out, as is sailing in a boat.
 Odyssey (Noun): An epic journey–and the title of the book in the foreground.
 Episodic (Adj.): In a series of episodes or quick stories
 Inevitable (Adj.): Bound to happen, fated.
 Convergence (Noun): A coming together or comparison
 Abstracted (Adj.): Seen as somewhat unreal or symbolic.
 Elated (Adj.): Thrilled.
 Helen of Troy and Paris (Names): Maybe you’ve heard the line about “the face that launched a thousand ships.” That was Helen, daughter of Zeus and Lela, who was abducted by Paris, and the thousand ships was the navy sent to rescue her.
 Inciting (Verb): Starting–as in “inciting a riot.”
 Epiphany (Noun): A really complex term. In plain terms, a revelation or insight.
 Nestor (Name): He counsels Telemachus, who is looking for Odysseus, his father. Nestor likes the sound of his own voice.
 Megalomania (Noun): Excessive belief in one’s one worth or power.
 Nausicaa (Name): A local goddess?? who saves Odysseus’s life.
 Anaphrodisiac (adj.): An “aphrodisiac” is a substance or experience that heightens sensual responses–this does the opposite.
 Voluptuous (Adj.): Having a strong sensual appeal. Not a likely word to be used in association with a suicide.
 Catechism (Noun): An explanation of religious doctrine.
 Lotus-eaters (Name): In general, this term refers to any group who becomes so pleasantly addicted to something that they lose their way.
 Amazons (Name): In art and literature and mythology, a race of woman warriors.
 Benign (Adj.): Harmless.
 Underworld/Hades: Similar in meaning, but Hades is far more scary.
 Trepidation (Noun): Fear
 Unmoored/Broadside/Swamped (Adj./Noun/Swamped): Think of boat that has been cut loose from its anchor and then hit on the side by a huge wave that flips it over.
 Reciprocal (Adj.): See the sentence for context–it refers to what one person thinks another person thinks about them.
 Scylla and Charybdis (Names): In The Odyssey, Scylla is a monster who eats sailors and Charybdis is a monster who creates whirlpools that sink entire fleets. Odysseus must try to sail through the narrow gap strait between them
 Cyclops and Polyphemus (Name): Two names for the same one-eyed, man-eating creature who enjoys eating several members of Odysseus’s crew.
 Penelope (Name): In The Odyssey, she is the patient and faithful wife who waits twenty years for the return of her husband.
 Tinderbox (Noun): A place that is ready to explode.
 Sirens (Noun): NOT like a firetruck siren. In The Odyssey, the “sirens” are beautiful female creatures that lure men with their songs–and then destroy them.
 Derision (Noun): An insulting tone–just think “Snort!”
 Odysseus and Telemachus (Names): Father and son in The Odyssey. Please note the reference to this in the Obama essay!
 Predilection (Noun): An interest, often a hidden one.
 Ithaca (Proper Noun, here an Adj.): The home of Odysseus.
 Obtunding (Adj.): See the words before it–this is the opposite of stimulating.
 Mortified (Adj.): Scared to death–remember he’s a “mortician.”
 Trojan Horse (Adj./Noun): A gift that is actually more of a weapon.
 Limbo (Noun): A complex (and discredited) theological term. Here it means stuck between two bad options.
 Unnatural / Unusual (Adj.): Familiar words, right? Then why does he apologize for one of them?
 “They have no mercy on that” (Phrase): I know you know these simple words. What they mean here is that “suicide” is considered the ultimate sin.
 Resilient (Adj): Able to “resist” difficulties.
 Imputes (Verb): Gives, associates.
 Beseeching (Adj.): Yearning, pleading.
 Libidinal (Adj.): We saw this before on page 7.
 Cumulative (Adj.): Building up gradually (like “accumulate”).
 Renunciatory (Adj.): To “renounce” means to give up something–and it often has a spiritual meaning.
 Inverted Oedipus complex (Adj./Adj./Noun): In Freud’s Oedipus Complex, a father unconsciously wants to “keep” his daughter–here, Alison wants to “keep” her father.
 Consubstantial (Adj.): Made of the same substance or essence.
 Hurtle (Verb): To fall uncontrollably.
 Impels (Verb): Drives, pushes.
 Mikhail Baryshnikov was an incredible dancer. Many people assumed he was gay–he says otherwise. The key thing then–and now–was that he spoke out very openly in defense of gay rights. For some recent comments, see:
If you were a fan of Sex in the City, you’ve seen him before.
 A Chorus Line was a long-running Broadway musical (later a movie) about the many, many singers and dancers who are NOT the stars of the show, and it features numerous monologues in which characters speak very candidly of their joys and despairs as young artists. This attachment leads to the monologue that Bechdel is watching.
[192–193] In 1970s New York, few places were more different than the West Side Piers and the Frick.
When you think New York piers in the 1970s, don’t think of the 2016 Chelsea Piers, the High Line, the pricey boutiques, and all that. See>>
The Frick: Actually, it’s the Frick Museum, but few New Yorkers call it that. Find more at http://www.frick.org.
 The Band Played On is a powerful film about the fear, bravery, hesitation, and desperate choices of people during the first years of the AIDS crisis.
 JAMES JOYCE: A famous, and famously difficult, Irish writer.
You can start with the excerpt from the famous closing scene of John Huston’s movie The Dead.
The last chapter has numerous references to Joyce and to Molly Bloom–and to a love letter written by Bruce Bechdel to his wife. The speech by Molly Bloom is both incredible and really difficult to read, primarily because it’s roughly 30–35 pages (depending on the edition) and there is NO PUNCTUATION. This site has the full version AND a film version of the last page of it (the one that Bruce quotes so fervently).
Links to the musical:
There are 27 songs in the soundtrack. If you want to hear an anguished song from Helen Bechdel’s perspective, try:
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