48 pages 1 hour read

Wendy Wasserstein

The Heidi Chronicles

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1988

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Symbols & Motifs

Portraits of Women

Heidi’s research, as she explains at the feminist consciousness-raising meeting, focuses on the representation of women in portraits throughout history, “from the Renaissance Madonna to the present” (180). In the lectures she delivers in the prologues of the acts, Heidi focuses on paintings by women artists, including their portraits of themselves and other women. She comments on the uniquely female qualities in these portraits by women, as women artists seem to recognize the way their subjects are standing back and watching rather than joining in. The painters she teaches speak in different voices through differing styles. Lilla Cabot Perry uses Impressionism, and when she commits to the style, she “is willing to lose her edges in favor of paint and light” (206). In contrast, the accidental slide of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi is fierce and bold, with dramatic shadows and lighting, a brief warning that women don’t always hesitate to act. The play itself is semi-autobiographical, so it is, in a sense, is a self-portrait of the playwright Wendy Wasserstein in which Heidi admits that she recognizes the tendency in herself to be an observer. Even the main character’s namesake, Heidi, is the central figure in the portrait created by Johanna Spyri, a woman writer, in the 1880 children’s novel Heidi.