Excerpt

Excerpt from A Sentimental Education, by Hannah McGregor, pp. 3-5 (WLU Press, 2022)

I was raised on sentimentality: girl heroines whose pluck and imagination and capacity for care elevated them above other girls—in a world where girlhood itself had no innate value—and instead made them remarkable, noteworthy. I was raised on Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett and Anne of Green Gables’s Anne Shirley and Little Women’s Jo March, on The Little Mermaid’s Ariel and Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, all queer girls just a little out of step with the world around them, prone, as I was, to bookishness and flights of imagination and perhaps to an unbecoming surplus of feeling that somehow convinced them, despite the restraints of their worlds, not to settle, not to comply, to “want much more than this provincial life.” And they were rewarded, these plucky girls—who were all, it would take me years to realize, white—by beauty and marriage and some level of material comfort.

 

I recognized myself, a precociously smart white girl, in these heroines, and also knew that their story would not be my story until I solved the central problem of me, which was my fatness. Being fat can be radicalizing, if you let it, but sometimes it takes a while. I had a youthful conviction that I, too, had the stuff of a sentimental heroine buried beneath the body I’d been taught to think of as “not me,” but a thing I must be liberated from. This conviction was amplified by the domestic tragedy I lived through for most of my youth. My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was eight and died by suicide at the age of forty-four, when I was sixteen. As much as I was shaped by my mother, by the person she was, I was also shaped by the fact of her death and the stories I told myself to try to make sense of it.

I begin here, with my body and with my mother, because these are the objective facts about me. I’m beginning with the objective: what I have observed, recorded, experienced. This is how Manulani Aluli-Meyer, a scholar of Indigenous Hawaiian epistemologies, explains objectivity, as something located in the body: “Body is a synonym for external, objective, literal, sensual, empirical” (2006, 266). The objective is what we can count: I had one mother, and then I had none. We were four, and then we were three. What comes next, the subjective, the mind, is how we make sense of what we have observed; this is what I call theory, and what Aluli-Meyer calls “logic, rationality, intelligence, conceptualization” (272). We err when we mistake subjectivity for objectivity, when we begin with the interpretation and pretend that it isn’t an interpretation at all but a statement of fact, when we begin with the theory and discard any experiences (especially those of marginalized peoples) that don’t fit. But theories are damned seductive, and they can make the raw stuff of experience hurt a whole lot less.

Table of contents

Preface
Territory Acknowledgement
A Sentimental Education
Caring Ferociously
#Relatable
Words with Friends
Horizons of the Podcastable
Coming Back to Care
Works Cited

How can we reimagine feminist learning as a collective practice?

Description

How do you tell the story of a feminist education, when the work of feminism can never be perfected or completed? In A Sentimental Education, Hannah McGregor, the podcaster behind Witch, Please and Secret Feminist Agenda, explores what podcasting has taught her about doing feminist scholarship not as a methodology but as a way of life.

Moving between memoir and theory, these essays consider the collective practices of feminist meaning-making in activities as varied as reading, critique, podcasting, and even mourning. In part this book is a memoir of one person’s education as a reader and a thinker, and in part it is an analysis of some of the genres and aesthetic modes that have been sites of feminist meaning-making: the sentimental, the personal, the banal, and the relatable. Above all, it is a meditation on what it means to care deeply and to know that caring is both necessary and utterly insufficient.

In the tradition of feminist autotheory, this collection works outward from the specificity of McGregor’s embodied experience – as a white settler, a fat femme, and a motherless daughter. In so doing, it invites readers to reconsider the culture, media, political structures, and lived experiences that inform how we move through the world separately and together.

Reviews

In A Sentimental Education Hannah McGregor extends generosity on each page. The essays in this collection are deeply insightful, citational, and conversational. They are unwavering in their critique of the myriad boundaries that oppress us, and they offer ideas for collective resistance. A Sentimental Education made me laugh, cry, and reach for my pen to write everything down. This book is necessary, luminous, and crackling with joy and kindness. What is the collective noun for a group of essays that teaches, gives care, critiques repressive systems, and offers both humor and friendship? A companionship of essays? A feminist provocation of essays? An education of essays. – Erin Wunker, author of Notes from a Feminist Killjoy

In a pointedly powerful yet lyrical voice, McGregor offers us a timely and valuable series of insights that will resonate for many. McGregor demonstrates an acute ability to evaluate and comment on her own reflexivity as a white feminist scholar. A Sentimental Education is a love letter for those who have long awaited a discussion on the complex relationship between care, theory, love, and loss.

— Minelle Mahtani, author of Mixed Race Amnesia

A Sentimental Education is a generous work of unfolding. From Pamela to podcasts, scholar Hannah McGregor troubles the white woman sentimentalism that informed her childhood and later transformed her approach to scholarship. A queer, shapeshifting bunny emerges from a well-loved bedtime book. A fat girl podcast episode you loved once, doesn’t really see you after all. Intimate, vulnerable, pointy and kind, this is where personal memories and embodied experiences exist in relation with the ideas and arguments of queer, BIPOC, and feminist theory. This book is a journey, a reminder that “stories don’t interpret themselves, they unfold in relation to the reader”.

— Chantal Gibson, author of with/holding

McGregor, host of the podcast Secret Feminist Agenda, delivers a stirring collection of essays exploring sentimentality and the use of emotion in reading and storytelling. ... With verve and insight, McGregor underscores the contradictions of contemporary narratives that seek out the harrowing details of societal marginalization while offering no solutions to its problems. ... McGregor draws on the works of feminist thinkers including Sara Ahmed, Lauren Berlant, and Jia Tolentino, and her work will surely take its place among them. This radiates with intelligence.

- Publishers Weekly

"[A Sentimental Education] is a rich and extended meditation on what a feminist education looks like, and on the complex issues of sentimentality and care in literature and in life." — Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun

"Given her success as a podcaster, it’s not surprising that McGregor’s writing is powerfully conversational — not in the sense of being informal or casual, but instead in the sense that it engages very thoughtfully and thoroughly with other people’s words and ideas. McGregor is a highly collaborative thinker, and A Sentimental Education benefits from both her curiosity and her generosity." – Vanessa Warne, The Winnipeg Free Press