The Ring of Truth And Other Myths of Sex and Jewelry

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2017-05-01
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Why are sex and jewelry, particularly rings, so often connected? Why do rings continually appear in stories about marriage and adultery, love and betrayal, loss and recovery, identity and masquerade? What is the mythology that makes finger rings symbols of true (or, as the case may be, untrue) love?

The cross-cultural distribution of the mythology of sexual rings is impressive--from ancient India and Greece through the Arab world to Shakespeare, Marie Antoinette, Wagner, nineteenth-century novels, Hollywood, and the De Beers advertising campaign that gave us the expression, "A Diamond is Forever." Each chapter of The Ring of Truth, like a charm on a charm bracelet, considers a different constellation of stories: stories about rings lost and found in fish; forgetful husbands and clever wives; treacherous royal necklaces; fake jewelry and real women; modern women's revolt against the hegemony of jewelry; and the clash between common sense and conventional narratives about rings. Herein lie signet rings, betrothal rings, and magic rings of invisibility or memory. The stories are linked by a common set of meanings, such as love symbolized by the circular and unbroken shape of the ring: infinite, constant, eternal--a meaning that the stories often prove tragically false.

While most of the rings in the stories originally belonged to men, or were given to women by men, Wendy Doniger shows that it is the women who are important in these stories, as they are the ones who put the jewelry to work in the plots.

Author Biography

Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago and the author of over 40 books, including On Hinduism and Redeeming the Kamasutra.

Table of Contents

Preface: My Family Jewels, and Other Tall Tales
Introduction: The Signifying Ring

Chapter 1: Marriage Rings (and Adultery Rings)
Rings in History
The Meaning of Rings
The Signet Ring
The Ring on Her Finger
The Sexual Ring
Hans Carvel's Ring
The Vagina Monologues
The Rings of Wives and Courtesans

Chapter 2: The Ring Fished from the Ocean
The Story in the Fish
Solomon's Ring
Polycrates' Ring
The Bishop of Glasgow's Salmon
The (Not-So) Fortunate Farmer's Daughter
The Child and the Ring in the Water
The Family Romance
The Pope's Ring and the Fish
Rings of Incest
Cinderella's Ring
Cinderella's Fish
Shakespeare's Rings I: The Lost Child
The Winter'sTale
The Ring (and Child) in the Fish in the News
The Token Rings of Lost Children

Chapter 3: Shakuntala and the Ring of Memory
Rings in Ancient India
Sita's Jewels
Ratnavali, the Lady with the Necklace
The Rejection of Shakuntala
The Ring of the Bodhisattva
The Recognition of Shakuntala
The Return of the Repressed
The Lost and Found of Rings

Chapter 4: Rings of Forgetfulness in Medieval European Romances
The Man who Forgot his Wife when he Lost his Ring
Yvain, The Knight of the Lion, and the Lady of the Fountain
Lancelot and Guinevere
Tristan and Isolde
The Ring on the Statue
Shakespeare's Rings II: The Lying Ring
The Merchant of Venice

Chapter 5: Siegfried's Ring and Wagner's Ring
The Man who Lost his Ring when he Forgot his Wife
Siegfried and Brünnhilde
Stage One: Thidreks Saga
Stage Two: Völsunga Saga
Stage Three: Nibelungenlied
Stage Four: Ibsen's The Vikings at Helgeland
Stage Five: Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung
The Twilight of the Ring
Wieland the Smith
The Rehabilitation of Cads
The Alibi Ring: Oxytocin

Chapter 6: Pregnant Riddles and Clever Wives
The Man Who Wouldn't Sleep with his Wife
Until She had Borne Him a Son
Muladeva and the Brahmin's Daughter
Other Indian Variants
Tamar and Judah
The Clever Wife in the Decameron
Shakespeare's Rings III: The Riddle of the Ring
All's Well That Ends Well
Is All Well That Ends Well?

Chapter 7: The Rape of the Clever Wife
Rape and Rejection
Rape in Menander and Terence
The Dream Ring
How Budur Almost Raped her Husband Qamar
The Vizier's Daughter
Parental Imprinting and Uncertain Fathers

Chapter 8: The Affair of the Diamond Necklace
Marie Antoinette and the Scene in the Bower
The Official Trial
Trial by Libel
Alexandre Dumas
Fact and Fiction
Beaumarchais and The Marriage of Figaro
The Ghosts of Versailles
Asimov's Norby and the Queen's Necklace

Chapter 9: The Slut Assumption in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Chains in Mansfield Park
Jewry and Jewelry in Daniel Deronda
The "Memorial" Turquoise Necklace
The "Poisonous" Diamond Necklace
The "Memorable" Ring of Lost Fathers
Guy de Maupassant and Henry James
W. Somerset Maugham and China Seas
Twentieth Century Films
Random Harvest
Vertigo (and Gaslight)
The Earrings of Madame de
Real Jewelry and False Women

Chapter 10: Are Diamonds A Woman's Best Friend?
The Symbolic Baggage of Baguettes
Who Said, "Forever"? Anita Loos, Leo Robin, De Beers, and N. W. Ayer
The Divorce Ring and the Apology Ring
The Anti-Myth: Diabolical Diamonds
Take Back Your Ring: The Legal View
Hard Values
The Rebellion of Twenty-First Century Women
The Ties that Bind

Chapter 11: Two Conclusions, on Money and Myth
I Money: The Lap of Luxury
II Myth: Recognition, Rings, Reason and Rationality
The Recognition of Myth and the Myth of Recognition
Repetition and Originality
The Colluding Audience
The Ring to the Rescue
Sexing Texts
Reason and Rationality
The Ring Runs Rings Around Reason
Rationing Rationality
The Triumph of Myth over Reason

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