Philobiblon: September 2004

Sunday, September 26, 2004

How addicted am I ..

... to blogging?

I'm about to find out. Being off to France for a week, I may be off the air for that long, but only if the withdrawal symptoms don't get too acute.
A last word ... in the Guardian yesterday an excellent piece on
Edward Said, which made me dig out my old copy of Orientalism, which was one of the most enlightening books that I have ever read. It helped me throw off many of the more unpleasant aspects of Australian middle-class culture of the Seventies, with which I grew up, although also left me with an excess of idealism that it took Thailand to throw off.

P.S. Just discovered that the dictionary wants to replace "blogging" with "flogging". It's not that bad, surely.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The distraction of news

Pierre Bayle was a man with a big idea. In his own words:

"Somewhere about the month of December 1690 I conceived the idea of compiling a critical dictionary, i.e. a dictionary which should comprise a complete inventory, as it were of the various errors perpetrated, not only by lexicographers, but by writers in general; the details of each such error to be set out under the name of the individual town or city associated with it." (p. 131.)

Like most of us, however, he was easily distracted: he implored his friends in various European capitals to send him news. "I recognise quite plainly that my insatiable craving for news is one of those inveterate diseases that set all treatment at defiance. It's dropsy; that's what it is. The more you give it, the more it wants." p.125

And what happened to his ideas?
"Bayle's brand of criticism is much too potent to be taken neat. It needed to be diluted ... Being decanted into the Dictionaire it was removed from the province of purely theological controversy and came within the reach of people in general: there were the arguments plain as plain could be, and so it became the inspirer of heterodoxy in every land, the sceptic's bible." (p.141.)

(This from P. Hazard, The European Mind 1680-1715, Penguin, 1964 (French original 1935). A fascinating little book, in the most amazingly florid language, which I can only presume reflects the original French. I don't think even in French they write like this any more, at least I hope not!)

What am I supposed to be doing at the moment? The ironing - shifting the wardrobe from summer to winter -- ahh, that explains this post. Funny how when you've got a writing deadline to meet the ironing becomes a distraction, but when there's no deadline, the trend of attention is reversed.

A feminist space

An interesting feminist journal, Third Space. There's also an email list. Now can I possibly manage any more arriving every day? ....

Finally: not just gathering dust

Scribbling woman reports on a new(ish) site, Thesis Canada Portal, where Canadian theses since 1998 can be searched.

Great to see this further step towards a wired world. It always annoyed me as a writer of several theses (no, not a PhD one, not yet anyway) that you did two copies, one of which would rot on your shelf, the other of which would rot on some library stack. And someone else would probably go out and repeat your work all over again in a few years' time, rather than be able to build on it and go forward. (This is why I've posted a couple of pieces of modest original academic research that I've done on my website, plus some UN-related work that I have done)

And I will soon be adding to it with my honours thesis, thanks to a supervisor who deserves a special award, Dr Denis Wright at UNE, who I emailed about something else last week, noting that my thesis wasn't posted because somewhere in moves across three continents the electronic version had gone astray. He almost instantly emailed me back his electronic copy, which was my almost final version; all this 10 years after I graduated!

The attractions of Anglo-Saxon

I've been interested in the Anglo-Saxon scholar Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756) since I read an nice little volume, Before the Bluestockings, Ada Wallas, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1929.

She's a great example of the difficulties under which women could labour to become scholars: when her mother died when Elizabeth was 8 years old, she already knew some Latin, but she then was sent to live with an uncle who had no truck with women's learning, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that she was able to get permission to learn even French.

But she was able finally to move in with her brother in London and acquired knowledge of at least eight languages, one of them Anglo-Saxon, for which she prepared and published a Grammar.

I had thought this was heading off into very esoteric territory, until set straight by Norma Clarke's The Rise and Fall of the Women of Letters, Pimlico, 2004. It says:

"Elstob was making a conscious polemical point. The argument for the vernacular tradition over the classical was of obvious use to women. The established institutions of learning, the Church and the universities, excluded women and rooted scholarship in classical training. [By} quoting a prelate ... handing over possession of the native language 'our mother tongue', to women as their 'proper' concern, Elstob opened up a path for women that was independent of the old forms and practices, and untainted by foreign associations. The Anglo-Saxon grammar was represented in nationalistic terms as an aid to understanding 'our ancient English poets'. Poetry in the vernacular could be freed from the powerful interests of established institutions and function as a vehicle for newly formed modes of working that had not tradition of excluding women." (p.63)

I wonder was this followed up by other women?

More: a bibliography, a good description of her work and a small piece about one of her translations.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Isobel's advice

... on Things a Woman Wants to Know, No 12 in the Isobel Handbooks, Price One Shilling, perhaps 1930s.

Now get your mind out of the gutter, this boasts a special "illustrated section on The Folding of Serviettes".

Plus: rules for sleeping (p.104)
"There are two rules for sleeping which everybody may adopt without hesitation. First, never let yourself be awakened, but wait until you have slept out your sleep. Second, get up as soon as you are awake. If you follow these two rules the hours of sleep will soon regulate themselves to the requirements of your constitution."

... ahh, if only, I say, speaking as a night-shift worker who sometimes lies in bed in a dozey state trying to work out if I'm supposed to be going to sleep or waking up.

Mind you, I'm not too sure about "Ripe Tomatoes will remove ink stains from white cloth, also stains from the hand." (p. 75)

(Yep, another frivolous purchase on Ebay antiquarian - I must have been trying to avoid something earlier this week.)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Stays are quite low, with the bosom much exposed

In honour of London Fashion Week - yes it is: I'm a journalist so I know these things (unfortunately) -- I thought I'd repeat the fashion advice of Ladies Magazine for June 1775:

The head-dress was ushered in at the beginning of the spring with a Small tuft of feathers which was Soon changed to two or three distinct ones of the largest size placed remarkably flat with a rose of ribbons on the fore part, and a knot Suspending at the back of the head.
The hair low before, yet rising on the forehead nearly perpendicular, in a round small toupee. The sides down to the ears combed smooth, very far back and broad behind. The corners raised but a little above the front, with two, three or four large curls down the sides, the bottom curl in many nearly upright. The bag not so low as the chin, small and smooth at bottom, in general. The robings straight, in many puckered. Stays quite low before, and the bosom much exposed. Breast-knot small ; bouquet large. The round cuff, variously trimmed, in some up the arms, was indiscriminately worn on sacques, or the loose gown, which was thrown carelessly behind, and gathered up the sides, or close to the back of the waist ; in either tied up with ribbons of a different colour.
Hats little worn ; white roses were generally worn in the shoes or slippers."

(A sacque, the dictionary tells me, is a short, loose-fitting outer garment, something like a shawl I gather.)

This from my newest Ebay antiquarian, English Women in Life and Letters, by M. Phillips and W.S. Tomkinson, OUP, 1927, p. 122. (It is not like the books the press put out now, being profusely illustrated and distinctly frivolous.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The plasticity of gender

... that's what I've been musing on after seeing this evening the production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe with an all-female cast.

It's amazing how well it works, how soon you even stop thinking about it working. The "actor" playing Benedick - a star playing in this role somewhat against part as the fool - reasserts his "lead star" quality at one point by flirting with female members of the audience, and it IS a male actor flirting, not a dressed-up woman.

Benedick (Josie Lawrence) is the undoubted star of the show; Beatrice (Yolanda Vasquez) has a great stage presence too, but without the problem of playing across gender.

It makes it much easier to understand through all those centuries when clothing was very strictly gender-specific how so many women (and they are just the ones we know about) were able to "pass" as men for long periods of time. Lower the pitch of your voice, walk in a swaggering way, wear the right clothes, and voila!

Who says civil society is dying?

I thought of that thesis, and Francis Fukuyama's The Great Disruption, one of the most ridiculously ill-informed books I have ever read, when C-18L this morning delivered this wonderfully useful website, Selected readings.

I dug out the book, which has a bookmark about half-way through that marks the point where I finally threw it against the wall in frustration. It was when it said for about the 50th time about how good it was that Asian cultures tried to keep women unemployed and pregnant ...

Flicking through now I came across this wonderful paragraph, which really could not be satirised:

"At the core of Victorian morality was the inculcation of impulse control in young people, the shaping of what economists would today call their preferences so that they would not indulge in casual sex, alcohol or gambling that would be bad for them in the long run. Victorians sought to create respectable personal habits in societies where the vast majority of inhabitants can be described only as crude. Today the desire for respectability if usually derided as an expression of insufferable middle-class conformism, but it had an important meaning in the first half of the nineteenth century when civility could not be taken for granted. Teaching people habits of cleanliness, punctuality, and politeness was critical in an era when all three of these bourgeois virtues were lacking." (p. 270, Profile, London, 2000)

History by an economist.

Not exactly homesick ...

I can't say that there's much that I miss about Australia -- cheap BYO restaurants and good Asian food perhaps -- but I was rather taken with this blog.

The picture of the tunnel in Central Station in Sydney certainly took me back to when I was first venturing out of the suburbs; I thought the dingy, tatty (and I bet it still is) area around the station was the height of intellectual sophistication - there were Chinese shops, and secondhand bookshops and everything.

I guess it goes some way to explaining why one of my favourite quotes is Marlowe: "But that was in another country, And besides, the wench is dead."

Monday, September 20, 2004

Literary fame

A convergence of two items about Shakespeare has left me musing this morning on the nature of literary fame. The first was in Today in Literature (that link will only work for a couple of days) and the second was further English Garner browsing: "Sketch of English Literature, Painting, and Music up to September 1598,", by Francis Meres.(Vol II pp. 94-106).

It starts with the ancients, and tries to match them up with the moderns, so:
"As Greece had three poets of great antiquity, Orpheus, Linus and Musaeus, and Italy, other three ancient poets Livius Andronicus, Ennius and Plautus: so hath England three ancient poets: CHAUCER, GOWER and LYDGATE." (Fair enough - but then Meres already had a couple of centuries perspective.)

Then he gets to his contemporaries, and Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Pindarus, Phyocylides and Aristophanes; and Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Silius Italicus, Lucanus, Lucretius, Ausonius and Claudianus, "so the English tongue is mightily enriched, and gorgeously invested in rare ornaments and resplendent habilments by SIR PHILIP SYDNEY, SPENSER, DANIEL, DRAYTON, WARNER, SHAKESPEARE, MARLOW, and CHAPMAN."

Several "who?"s in that one.

The Matter of America

Just finished Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with America?, an interesting exploration of the right-wing working-class voter. It's not quite so original a phenomena as he claims, I would suggest, nor does he really manage to explain why so many voters are suffering from what he effectively describes as "false consciousness", but interesting nonetheless.

His account is almost entirely focused on his home state of Kansas, which was, he says, a hotbed of radicalism 100 years ago, "when those in the hardest-hit areas [economically] were the most radical. In Kansas, the political geography of class has been turned upside down".

He argues the right has largely achieved this by hijacking the left position of perpetual victimhood, through fighting issues of abortion, gay rights, TV and movie content that it almost certainly cannot win. He concludes, without really exploring, the reason why the right has got away with this is that liberalism has surrendered the economic arguments, leaving that ground to laissez-faire capitalism as a fait accompli.

I still don't think that he gets to the "why", but an interesting discussion.

The Observer's reviewer was more complimentary.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

That printed list

... I was wrong, it is in Volume I of the Garner, by John Taylor, the "water poet", The Carriers' Cosmography: or A Brief Relation of The Inns, Ordinaries, Hosteleries and other lodgings in and near London; where Carriers, Waggons, Foot-posts and Higglers do usually come from any parts, towns shires and countries of the Kingdoms". (Dated 1637.)

I obviously wasn't awake when posting this morning, and hardly am now, after playing squash at 11am: too early! If you saw someone yawning broadly in the BL this afternoon, that was me.

As well as the carriers Taylor's text also has "certain directions for to find out Ships, Barks, Hoys and Passage Boats that do come to London, from the most parts and places by sea, within the King's dominions; either of England, Scotland or Ireland". (p.245)

That's what the heading says, although the text adds that:
"From most parts of Holland or Zealand, pinks or shipping may be had at the brewhouses in Saint Katherine's."

None of my reference books explain the "pinks": any suggestions?

For his more lyrical works, a small sample is found here.

Find your carrier ...

... at which inn?

A useful website (via the 18th-century list) about routes out of London.

It sent me off to one of my favourite browse-reads, The English Garner: Ingatherings from Our History and Literature, Edward Arber, 1879, 8 vols, in which I'm sure I've read one of the sources for these routes, although it seems not in Vols I-III or VIII, the ones I own. (I'm trying to collect the rest.)

Who says speculative history is a new idea? I've just been checking out Sir Walter Raleigh's view on "Could the Romans have resisted Alexander? The Englishman a better warrior than either Macedonian or Roman," from his History of the World.

He concludes that he would "prefer that army, which followed not only PHILIP and ALEXANDER but also ALEXANDER'S princes after him, in the greatest dangers of all sorts of war; before any that Rome either had or, in long time after, did send forth". (Vol I, p. 67)

But, of course, an Englishman is certainly a better warrior than either: "For it will soon appear to any that shall examine the noble acts of out Nation in war, that they were performed to no advantage of weapon; against no savage or unmanly people; the enemy being far superior unto us in number and all needful provision; yea, as well trained as we, or commonly better, in the exercise of war."(p. 68)

I suppose that was probably true at the time (the Garner dates this to "before 1611"), although certainly not in the three centuries after!

Friday, September 17, 2004

Love letters

Was browsing Ebay this morning for some cycling gloves, and somehow by "accident" ended up in the antiquarian history books section, again.

A reference to Dorothy Osborne and an apparently 17th-century book led me off to find an entire copy of her love letters on the web. Anyone who's got here by accident shouldn't be overexcited now -- this was the 17th-century, but the real affection between her and her swain shines through nonetheless:

"I humbly thank you for your offer of your head; but if you were an emperor, I should not be so bold with you as to claim your promise; you might find twenty better employments for't. Only with your gracious leave, I think I should be a little exalted with remembering that you had been once my friend; 'twould more endanger my growing proud than being Sir Justinian's mistress, and yet he thought me pretty well inclin'd to't then. Lord ! what would I give that I had a Latin letter of his for you, that he writ to a great friend at Oxford, where he gives him a long and learned character of me; 'twould serve you to laugh at this seven year."

Changing entertainments

The Hon. John Erskine of Carnock was in his early 20s when he wrote his diary, covering his time in Scotland in the final years of Charles II, his flight to Holland, his time with the Earl of Argyll's invasion force and a little after.

His editor notes that in exile "to him the most remarkable feature ... was the freedom to hear preaching every Lord's day. The sad record 'I heard no preaching,' which studs the earlier portion of the diary disappears; and there is ample choice of ministers, both Scotch and English ..." (p. xxii)

The young John really was a bit of a prig, complaining, however, that in Holland medical teachers did dissections on the Lord's Day "... not only did they continue the dissection but explained those parts of a man's body which might occasion greatest laughter and disturbance among young men, yea, to all, very unsuitable thoughts for the Lord's day". (p. 167)

Nice to know some aspects of human nature (or at least adolescent nature) haven't changed then.

Journal of the Hon. John Erskine of Carnock, 1683-1687, W. Macleod Ed., Edinburgh, 1893, Scottish History Society.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Ugly Britons

I made a lovely little discovery in the BL today, although it didn't cover the subject I requested it for.

The Delights of Holland, or Three Months Travel About That and the Other Provinces, by William Mountague Esq, John Sturton, London 1696. He was definitely a storyteller, e.g. He's in Helvoetflyice, which I gather is near Briel, and ...

"We had little to remarque here ... only a pleasant Adventure, of a parcel of English Gentlemen that had never been abroad before, when they first came on shore here, they went to the best House and Accomodation, and immediately fell to kissing and feeling the Maids, which is not customary here, as at home, the Servants would not come near 'em but splutter'd in Dutch, which they understood not, the Mistress did so too, the mad English Sparks they swore and hust, they'd be gone out of the House, which they did ... [only to find no one else would take them in] ... we told them these Frolicks would not go down in this country."(p. 3-4)

(Original spelling and punctuation, except I've modernised the long Ss)

The rest of the book looked just as colourful, altho' I didn't have time to read it all. I'd recommend it as preparatory reading for anyone heading that way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Selling a wife

Thompson also has a chapter on the sale of wives, which was obviously a hot topic in academia at his time of writing the essay. (There are several pages of heated self-defence that make a fascinating little study of the sociology of the ivory tower.)

The procedure involved the woman being publicly displayed with a rope halter and the conduct of a public auction (although the 'winner' was usually pre-decided), which in some lower-class quarters was considered to make the transaction, effectively a divorce, perfectly legal.

Thompson says that while some wives were undoubtedly abused victims, in many other cases the wife connived at, or even drove, the event. He quotes (among others) a case in Wenlock market in the 1830s:

"When he husband got to 'market-place 'e turned shy, and tried to get out of the business, but Mattie mad' un stick to it. 'Er flipt her apern in 'er guide man's face and said, 'Let be, yer rogue. I wull be sold. I wants a change.'" (p. 462)

(Apologies to any ESL readers - if you pronounce it aloud it is easier to understand the dialect.)

Of course someone has also done it on eBay, as the BBC reports. Legal notes and some good cross-refs here and here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The success of the commons

A long time ago when I was studying agricultural economics, we were taught about The Tragedy of the Commons as a simplistic piece of propaganda for laissez-faire capitalism. The story goes that if something is not owned by someone everyone will exploit it until it is destroyed; the "obvious" answer is to privatise it.

Hence I was very pleased to read yesterday about a success of the commons, how in Woking "rough music" (i.e. loud public shaming rituals, like the charivaris discussed last week) was used to protect the common, being directed against those who overstocked the common or cut excessive quantities of woof or turfs (?) from it.

This from E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common, The Merlin Press, London, 1991, p. 519. (Thanks to Sharon from Early Modern Notes for directing me to it.)

Monday, September 13, 2004

A quickie

Was blog-browsing (or should I say blog-commissioning - you'll have to read my website to get that) and came across an interesting website:

Directory of Open Access Journals
In their own words:

Welcome to the Directory of Open Access Journals. This service covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. We aim to cover all subjects and languages. There are now 1248 journals in the directory. Currently 320 journals are searchable on article level. As of today 59830 articles are included in the DOAJ service

It includes 31 history journals, from the History of Intellectual Culture to Nordic Notes (curiously coming out of Australia).

Tamburlaine Must Die

As part of my relaxed cultural weekend, in addition to art and theatre (the "Bollywood" production of Twelfth Night, an excellent idea not as well executed or developed as it might have been but still well worth seeing), I read Louise Welsh's Tamburlaine Must Die, an imagining of Christopher Marlowe's explanation of his own fate at Deptford.

It's had mixed reviews, see a selection here. The language doesn't always seem appropriate, but the pace is brilliant and the mentality of late Elizabethan London seems to me just right: the amorality, the fatalism, and the fervent but unreliable passions. You might ask where I'm getting that sense from and I guess to a large extent Shakespeare: a nice little piece of consilience.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

A question of taste

More on Vanessa Bell. (Although I'm not usually into the Bloomsbury set, I think I would have liked her.)

"Her love of strong shapes and unusual colours was deeply rooted, and in her heart she was quite unapologetic. She could be fiercely condemning of other people's taste when it fell into what she saw as the fatal traps of prettiness and refinement. Staying with her lady artist friends Ethel Sands and Nan Hudson in Oxfordshire she found herself repelled by the contrived and excessive care that had gone into their choice of decor - everything matched, merged and chimed; she found it dispiriting." (p.111,112)

Having been scarred for life by a youthful exposure to such "taste", and cushions always at a 45-degree angle, I can only sympathise.

"At Asheham, the Bell's first Sussex home, Vanessa hung up flame-orange curtains lined with mauve. At Wissett Lodge, her rented home in Suffolk, she and Duncan distempered the walls a brilliant blue, and dyed the chair-covers with coloured ink. They even painted the hens' tails blue. When they moved to Charleston Vanessa pained her bedroom black with red strips down the corners. Her son Quentin's early years in London were stamped with the consciousness the the family were quite different from their neighbours - because all the other houses in Gordon Square had sober front doors while theirs was "a startling bright vermilion". (p.115)

Let's see: my hall and study are brilliant pink, my bedroom turquoise, my living room deep blue: getting there!

From: Among the Bohemians, Experiments in Living 1900-1939, Virginia Nicholson, Viking, London, 2002.

Sad women

I also had a look at the Courtauld general exhibition, and was particularly taken by two paintings, both of women who seem to me sad.

The first, unoriginally, since everyone in the gallery stopped to look at it, and it is widely used in publicity material, was Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.

The woman is described as a barmaid, but she seems far too well-dressed, and too vulnerable, to be that. The back view of her, which is almost but not quite a reflection, makes her look like a schoolgirl, with her ears reddened with embarrassment as the sinister-looking man leans towards her.

A really disturbing image.

The other piece that struck me, Vanessa Bell's Conversation, is less obviously confronting, but my reading of it is the woman on the left in black, who is speaking is telling some tale of familiar misery that the other two fashionably dressed women have heard many times before, and while they're putting on a sympathetic front, they're a bit bored with it. The reproduction doesn't really do it justice: go and see it would be my recommendation. (She was the sister of Virginia Woolf, by the way.)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Is the medium the message?

Went today to the exhibition at the Courtauld on 19th-century photography of "The Near East", Photographic Recollections: Ancient and Islamic Monuments in the Near East 1850-1880 (which finishes on September 26).

There was something very odd about looking at many of the places that I've seen in person through the lenses of 150 years ago. It took me a while to work out what it was; not just the sepia, or the effect of early photographic techniques, but the fact that the spaces are all so empty. There are often a few figures arranged artistically, but otherwise these are photos of vast open spaces that today would always be packed with people: a reminder that population growth doesn't just consist of bare statistics.

But what I found most interesting was the changing technical nature of photography over the period. Two views of the Qani-Bay Al-Mohamadi Mosque in Cairo brought this out.

The first, taken by Robertson and Beano in 1857, has a soft, almost water-colour-like quality, influenced, the caption said, by the early salt-paper negatives, but also by the tradition of Romantic drawings, with that said small group of figures arranged to give scale and local colour. One taken about a decade later, by Hammerschmidt, was done with a wet colloid negative, producing a sharp image almost like an architectural drawing, and in this there were no people and what the caption described as an "almost archaeological focus" on the monument itself.

No doubt times were changing, but the possibilities of technology were also affecting the way in which viewers of the photos could look at them: something of Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message". (Not that I'm a great fan of his; in my mass comm studies days I was severely disappointed when I got to read him at length; he was great at soundbites but lousy at sustained argument.)

These wet colloidal negatives had to be prepared on site, so Francis Frith, so the label said, had a special wicker-work dark-room wagon made for his expeditions. He wrote the locals decided it must be his harem, "full of moon-faced beauties, my wives all! - and great was the respect and consideration which this procured for me."

I was rather taken with two pics of Palmyra, possibly taken by Joseph Bonomi, later curator of the Soane Museum. In the technique he used, the photographer had to cover the sky on the negative with black paint, to make it appear light, but this was done clumsily, and in one place the sky behind an entire row of appears dark; rather like me trying to publish a website or blog, I felt!

Two carnivals

Natalie Zemon Davis has led me back to a book I read last when in Sancerre, France, Carnival in Romans: A People's Uprising at Romans 1579-1580, by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, a scholar I suspect from the same school. (1979)

It is a beautiful illustration of her point that carnivals could be points where the lower groups rose against the higher, although in this case unsuccessfully. The upper class group in the town was already in open conflict with a group that might be described as "middling sort" when the carnival ball was held on 15 February 1580. Judge Antoine Guerin, who led the upper group, claimed that the sumptuously dressed Carnival queen, led the men to "suddenly realise the possibilities offered by the situation to pillage and plunder other of the upper-class ladies". (p. 211.) The ladies were frightened and there was panic, which led the men to decide to act, so he said.

They ambushed the man seen as the leader of their opponents, Jean Serve, known as Paumier, who had not been involved in the incident, and it seems not been warned. He was "struck in the face with a boar spear, then ... suddenly hit by two pistol shots and stabbed several times", (p. 215.) i.e the upper-class mob murdered him in cold blood.

After that came a predictable slaughter, judicial and extra-judicial. "On 2 March a special court of justice, a temporary detail of the Parlement of Grenoble, came to Romans. It began its job of interrogation, and sentencing, to torture and death by hanging. The incarcerated Paumier supporters, whom Guerin had spared the fury of his own faction, did not have a chance. They were given a bad time of it before they died." (p. 240)

I was writing this listening to the latest on the situation in Russia after the Beslan school siege; somehow today we seem to think these sort of things are exceptional events, which "never" happened in the past. So much for historical perspective.

On a more cheerful note, I've been meaning to point to a blog carnival, (perhaps the first?), over at Early Modern Notes.

Riding Aristotle

More from Natalie Zemon Davis, from the famous "Women on Top" essay.

"The most popular comic example of the female's temporary rule, however, is Phyllis riding Aristotle, a motif recurring in stories, paintings, and household objects from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries." (p. 135-6)

Apparently, the story goes that his pupil Alexander (the Great) was admonished by the philosopher for paying excessive attention to the lady in question, one of his new subjects from India. Phyliss got her revenge in front of Alexander by flirting with the old man and getting him to get down on all fours, to be ridden like a horse, with saddle and bridle.

More on the source here; some images here and here.

Oddly enough, although I am something of a habitue of art galleries and museums I've never come across this before. Perhaps it wasn't a favourite topic for all those 18th-, 19th and 20th-century (male) collectors who shaped them.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Mrs Jameson

I just got around to looking her up, and she seems to have been quite a figure in literary circles. (And it seems she was the artist in my new/old volumes.)

From The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1845-1846 Vol. 2

"I like Mrs. Jameson nevertheless --I like her more. She appreciates you--and it is my turn to praise for that, now. I am to see her again to-morrow morning, when she has the goodness to promise to bring some etchings of her own, her illustrations of the new essays, for me to look at." (p5)

"Mrs. Jameson came late to-day, at five--and was hurried and could not stay ten minutes, but showed me her etchings and very kindly left a 'Dead St. Cecilia' which I admired most, for its beautiful lifelessness." (p. 9)

I also found her Shakespeare's Heroines and a rather dense theoretical piece on her that also includes a brief biography. It claims that in the 1820s and 30s she was "one of the first women to make a reputation ... as a multi-faceted professional writer". A biography of Jane Barker, to give just one example, makes similar claim, but for a woman living a century earlier.

Mind you, being a journalist I should know how many repetitive "firsts" there are in the world, in all sorts of areas.

The letters material comes from, a reasonably cheap subscription site that shows the real possibilities of the web. It boasts the full texts, fully searchable, of a huge number of books, even if it is a sometimes uneven selection with a bias to those out of copyright. Just imagine this, but the entire contents of every new book published, and gradually most of the older ones too: an entire on-line British Library. It must come one day.

Wave X of feminism

In England and American we've had, according to common labels, second and perhaps third wave feminism: thoroughly ethnocentric labels.

The first-wave of feminism, although we'll never be able to recover it unless time machines are invented, was probably paleolithic, but reading any period of history the continual presence of such "waves" soon become obvious.

I'm reading Natalie Zemon Davis's Society and Culture in Early Modern France, which contains her famous essay on "Women on Top". (It must be the single most-cited article that I've come across so I thought I had to buy the book: abebooks came through again, it's amazing how often American bookshops are cheaper, even with the postage. The price of the book was about £1!)

Writing about charivaris, "a noisy, masked demonstration to humiliate some wrongdoer in the community", Davis says: that while in the countryside protests against second marriages were dominant, in the cities most common were those against domineering wives. She says: "there were important and little-understood changes going on in the relations between men and women in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, reflected in the charivaris against henpecked husbands, in the worsening position of women in French law, and in the independent interest of some city women in Protestantism." (Stanford Uni Press, 1979, p. 117.)

So much historical writing still seems to read the conduct books and other injunctions to women and assume they were meek and complicit in their own oppression; I very much doubt that has ever been the case!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Stepping into a paleolithic 'parlour'

... well temple perhaps is a better word.

I was reading 'The Mind in the Cave', as mentioned yesterday, because I was in southwest France, not far from the Peche-Merle caves, the best original paintings that can now be seen, since Lascaux is closed.

What the texts I've read on the paintings don't emphasis is the glorious nature of the caves themselves: all the standard limestone features of stalagmites and 'tites, and also the incredible difficulties the "artists" had in getting to the sites that they did.

One area of Pech-Merle required a kilometre-long crawl along a narrow space in which you could not even lift your head: the experience of the first person to go along that, not having any idea at all of what he or she might encounter, with only a flickering torch, hardly bears thinking about, and even for those who came after it must have been terrifying.

Then some of the finger-scratchings in the ceiling, which could only have been done by climbing a pile of enormous, apparently precariously balanced boulders. A fall would surely have resulted in a broken leg at the least, and could you have then got out? (There is apparently evidence of some scaffolding in some caves, but here the position suggests the drawer must have climbed on the rocks.)

The paintings themselves frequently show considerable artistic ability, just a single line can suggest the entire shape of a mammoth's head, or the haunch of a deer. (I'm particularly alert to this since I utterly lack it myself - I love art, but I can't draw.)

I would one day love to learn more about the paleolithic experience, and maybe even write about it: most of the fictional representations of which I am aware are disappointing.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Those paleolithic minds

Yesterday's thoughts brought me back to the Upper Paleolithic, and most brilliant book that I've read in years, The Mind in the Cave, by David Lewis-Williams.

It seeks to understand something of the cave paintings of Europe by considering that anatomically, including in terms of brain structure, the people who painted them were identifical to us. It suggests furthermore that while cultural frameworks have a massive effect on conscious thoughts, the brain when in altered states - induced by drugs, meditation, or even the effect of crawling several kilometres underground in very difficult conditions - behaves in remarkable similar ways across cultures.

Thus, after considering parallel reports of altered states, he suggests that the cave painters believed the walls of at least some caves were thin membranes through which it was possible to touch or draw out the animals from the "underworld", or otherworld.

This is particularly useful in explaining the quite common effect of paintings being done one on top of the other with no apparent concern for the predecessors. Each painting was an event, not a work of art. Also the way that natural shapes in caves are used in the creation of the image: a bump is a nose, a broken-off piece an ear, etc.

The book also considers the reason why the art developed in Europe and not elsewhere, saying that the single different condition was the presence side by side for a considerable period of anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals. It suggests (and I'm not sure if it doesn't go a little too far here) that the modern humans realised they had a more complex understanding of religion and the abstract than did their rivals, and therefore sought much harder to develop it.

He focuses particularly on the Chatelperronian Neanderthals, who borrowed techniques of stone tool making, burial and personal ornamentation, apparently from modern humans, but were unable to follow them, he suggests, with advanced hunting techniques, burials with elaborate grave goods and image-making because their minds just could not get around these concepts.

Fascinating stuff!

Monday, September 06, 2004

The more things change

Reading the Guardian Review review of Imperial Hubris, about militant Islam, I was moved to go back for another look at Malise Ruthven's A Fury of God: The Islamist Attack on America, which I still think is one of the most original and perceptive approaches to the topic.

Two of the main points that I got out of it are how much radical Islam has been influenced by radical Western thought, from Lenin to the Baader-Meinhof gang, and how its members almost always come from a science/engineering, that is very Western-influenced objectivist educational tradition, which encourages them to read religious texts in a highly literal way.

There's much more to it than that - it also contains a history of the intellectual tradition that led to al-Qa'ida (yes there is one) - but well, I'd recommend you read the book.

In a broader sense it is a reminder that human nature and the human condition can produce very similar reactions in widely varying circumstances. Indeed, you could probably draw some parallels between some of the radical groups in 1650s England and al-Qa'ida - the Fifth Monarchists are perhaps the best candidates - which brings me to the new novel Havoc in its Third Year, which is being glowingly reviewed everywhere, e.g. the Guardian. It is set in Puritan England, but is being, so far as I've seen, universally regarded as a parable for our times.

I bet back in paleolithic Europe there was a group of young men running around destroying cave paintings because they thought they were dangerous perversions ... well something like that anyway.

Plus ca change ...

Friday, September 03, 2004

Falling out of antiquarian books ...

can be interesting things.

Mrs Jameson just delivered to me a small card, perhaps two-thirds of a normal personal one, saying:

The Preacher at St. Martin's
To-morrow, Sunday, October 14th at 11 am,
will be
An Indian Clergyman
the Rev. S.J.B. Bhosle

Someone went to some trouble to print that.

The perils of Ebay's antiquarian section

May latest Fall arrived this morning, a two-volume set, Sacred and Legendary Art by Mrs Jameson, 1890 (third edition). For £8 including postage, how could I resist? (In fact there's a really nice 18th-century book going tomorrow for £45, when on abebooks it's hundreds of pounds; very tempting.)

Get there behind me Satan! Whoops, you can tell that I've been reading, or at least browsing, Mrs Jameson.

Apropos my earlier discussion of how powerful and scholarly women get slandered, here I've been seeing how the saints are all beautiful, fair and modest, which is usually what gets them into trouble.

I particularly liked St Filomena, whose remains were found in 1802 in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. "The remains, reasonably supposed to be those of one of the early martyrs for the faith, were sealed up and deposited in the treasury of relics in the Lateran; here they remained unthought of. On the return of Pius VII from France, a Neopolitan prelate was sent to congratulate him. One of the priests in his train, who wished to create a sensation in his district, where the long residence of the French had probably caused some decay of piety, begged for a few relics to carry home, and these remains were bestowed on him.... another priest ... was favoured by a vision in the broad noon-day, in which he beheld the glorious virgin Filomena, who was pleased to reveal to him that she had suffered death for preferring the Christian faith and her vow of chasitity to the addresses of the emperor, who wished to make her his wife ..." (vol II, pp. 672-3)

Finally, Mrs Jameson records, "in the last twenty years" she has become of the most popular saints in Italy. She says dryly: "it is difficult to account for the extension and popularity of this story". I think I might have to find out more about Mrs Jameson.

I was going to provide a sample of the line drawings of the art in the book, which I assume are also Mrs Jameson's, but having downloaded "Hello", as recommended by Blogger, I haven't got very far. Another day.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Nothing new about ...

... older mothers.

The Hon Georgiana Arstruther (1810-81) gave birth to her first child in January 1862 and twins in December of the same year, having been married at the age of 37.

from J. Lewis, "'Tis a misfortune to be a great ladie': Maternal mortality in the British aristocracy," in The Journal of British Studies, Vol 37, No 1, Jan. 1998, p. 48.

The article argues that aristocratic women's rate of maternal mortality matched the national average (although contemporaries thought that they were much more likely to die). It says that you might have expected, however, their rate to be lower, given their presumed better nutrition and living conditions; probably their earlier marriages were a factor.

God the Mother

Continuing from Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels ....

"The absence of feminine symbolism for God marks Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in striking contrast to the world's other religious traditions" but the Gnostics were different.

One group believed it had received a secret tradition from Jesus via James to Mary Magdalene. They prayed ... "From The, Father, and through Thee, Mother, the two immortal names, Parents of the divine being ..." (p. 71)

Marcus the magician invokes her as Grace (charis) and taught that the wine symbolised his blood. (p. 73)

Others declared her to be the Holy Spirit, or Wisdom, or sometimes she seems to be an earlier goddess, as in the Secret Book of John:

"[The creator] becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those things that were below him, and exclaimed, 'I am father, and God, and above me there is no one.' But his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out agains him, 'Do not lie, Ialdabaoth ..."(p. 77)

This seems to have had practical consequences, since at least three heretical groups had women in leadership positions: the Marcionites, Montanists (who honoured Priscilla and Maximilla as founders) and Carpocratians, but after 200 there is no evidence of any such role in the orthodox churchs.

Sometimes this went a long way into true democracy. A congregation in Lyon refused any hierarchy. At each meeting they cast lots (men and women equally) to decide who should be priest, bishop or prophet for the day. They believed by this they were leaving the choice to God. (p. 66)

What a different world it could have been, had the Gnostics won, although (see previous) post, it seems the meek never could inherit the earth.

Those women-friendly Gnostics

I've been saying for years when the subject of women and Christianity came up: "Well of course the Gnostics were different and women had a prominent place among them," without knowing any more than that.

So, prompted by a review of another of her books, I finally got around to buying Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels.

It is not so much about what they believed, in fact she suggests that the label was applied promiscously to a wide variety of beliefs that didn't square with the organisation that would become the established church.

Instead, it looks at why The Establishment won and the Gnostics lost. She argues this was not fundamentally because of politics, or chance, or geography, but because what became the orthodox beliefs were the most functional for the setting up and growing of the institution.

Among these were:
*Literal belief in the physical resurrection of Christ (which one Gnostic called the "faith of fools"). For the orthdoxy contact with the risen Christ gave the apostles an authority that they then passed down to the early bishops. Authority was in an agreed, settled form.

* Belief in Christ's humanity, and hence his suffering on the Cross encouraged others to be martyrs, hence strengthening the church. (Lots of Gnostics said this was a stupid idea and there was nothing wrong in lying to the Roman authorities about their beliefs.)

*Gnostics believed in a spiritual church that only consisted of those who had seen the light, dismissing organisational links as meaningless. (Rather as a lot of 17th-century English dissident grousp did.) For both lots, however, it did tend to be a basis for argument and schism, rather than agreement.

Next, why they were good for women ...