Philobiblon: November 2004

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Helena, politician and Christian

My recent Byzantine history postings have left me musing on how little known many of the powerful, interesting women of Byzantium are today, so I've decided to start an occasional series of posts on them.

The logical place to start is Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who is probably one of the best known, yet still much about her life remains obscure.

She's been, inevitably, captured by the Christians as the mother of the "first Christian" emperor (well, he was more a man hedging his bets in truth), but she does seem to have been genuinely converted in later life, although seems to have been a "heretic" in church terms, being at least strongly sympathetic to Arianism.

Her journey to the east of the empire in 327-328 was probably not, as described by Eusebius, a pilgrimage, but a political expedition to dampen down disaffection there about the suppression of pagan cults. She was, as befits the mother of an emperor, a political animal.

A good place to start is the biography on Feminae Romanae. She was, of course, created a saint, so this is the Catholic view.

An interesting sideline is Evelyn Waugh's short novel Helena, which he considered his best work, although few critics agreed. It is a good read - he makes Helena into a old woman pursuing a singleminded mission, a captivating character. There's an excellent essay on the novel here.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Last chances to see

palmbeauty, originally uploaded by natalieben.

.. the rather awkwardly named "Ancient Art to Post-Impressionism" exhibition at the Royal Academy, which finishes on December 10.

I wasn't much taken with the modern stuff, mostly just the usual suspects you can see in regular exhibits around London, but the ancient collection, covering (mainly) Egypt and Rome is spectacular.

A 26th-dynasty bronze mongoose struck me as rare (usually you get animal-headed gods). The label said that mongooses were regarded as sacred, since they protected the sun god Re against Apophis, serpent of the underworld. If the latter was not killed (presumably by a mongoose) each night, the sun would not rise. More here.

Also on Egyptian gods there was a Ramesside era Seth in bronze that had later been remodelled, the jackal's head being ingenious turned into a ram, presumably by a bit of "panel-beating", and the addition of horns. Fashions in gods change, as in all else.

I was also taken by some of the Greek sculpture, excavated from the "Gardens of Sallust" a posh area in the north of ancient Rome, in the late 19th century. It had been put there by Roman collectors, to them already up to 600 years old, then re-collected by a rich Dane 2,000 years later.

There's a lovely circularity there. Just imagine an archaeologist striking the British Museum 2,000 years from now.

More on the gardens here.

There's also sculpture from the sanctuary of Diana on the shores of Lake Nemi in the Alban Hills, famous for its method of governance - the priesthood was held by a runaway slave who gained his position by murdering his predecessor. The sanctuary has apparently been reburied since the 1890s.

There's also a small but select collection of Palmyrian sculpture, including the above "Beauty". (I'm sure she looked better before she lost half her nose, but aren't her eyes awfully close together?

Women and eunuchs

The existence of what has been called the "third sex" in Byzantium, the eunuchs, could be useful for women in giving them an alternative cross-dressing option.

I've commented elsewhere on how eras of gender-distinctive clothing could help women disguise themselves, but passing as a eunuch was even easier - no need to lower your natural voice tone or even pretend to shave. And since eunuchs could become monks, hermits, priests and even in at least two cases patriarchs, there were plenty of career choices available.

So women in Byzantium "pursued their dedication to the spiritual life. In numerous stories written about them, they fled arranged marriages, repented of their previously unchristian lives as prostitutes and sought refuge in monasteries of men, where their angry relatives were least likely to come looking for them." (p. 109)

Among them were St Eugenia, who in a typical twist in the tale was accused of adultery as a man, and St Euphrosyne, who offers spiritual counsel to her own father without being recognised.

Characteristic of the "reformed" group is St Pelagia of Antioch, said to have died 481 who after a successful career as a prostitute. She "gave away to the poor the enormous wealth she had amassed by her immorality and went secretly to Jerusalem, where, under a man's name as the monk Pelagius, she shut herself in a cell on the Mount of Olives and there began a strict ascesis of fasting, prayer and vigils."

It is interesting that such gender-bending behaviour was treated approvingly by the church - these stories would have been read out on the saints' holy days. But of course it couldn't last ...

"By the eighth century, the pattern of creating female Byzantine saints had changed radically and early Christian opportunities for travel, pilgrimage or pursuing a solitary or communal life disguised as a eunuch had been gradually removed. Women could still be sanctified by martyrdom, by demonstrations of excessive piety and good works, especially if miracles occurred at their tombs, but it was no longer considered suitable for them to adopt the disguise of the eunuch." (p. 110)

Which doesn't mean of course that they didn't do it.

From Judith Herrin, Women in the Purple, Rulers of Medieval Byzantium, Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2001.

Be very scared

The Maya's ruined temples reveal a frightening message for us all, says archaeologist Ronald Wright.

As I cycle through London, dodging those ridiculously large Mercedes (why are they allowed to manufacture cars too wide for an ordinary lane!), Range Rovers, and even one night a Hummer! (which nearly took my shoulder off - the driver obviously had no idea of its real size) I wonder what the people who buy and use these vehicles can be thinking of.

The ice cap is melting, the polar bears are doomed, Australia is looking at a year-round bushfire season, and still they drive on.

What we need to do is redevelop charivaris ("rough music"), shaming rituals, to show them their behaviour is just not acceptable. (That's failing the government banning all of these, which of course it won't have the guts to do.)

(Via Scribbling Woman)

Sorry, I've had a depressing morning, but increasingly I've concluded that we are right on the environmental tipping point, and once we've gone past that, there's no going back.

Quick techie question

For any experts out there: I'm trying to greatly reduce the gap between my blog description and the first post, which is usually off the bottom of the screen. I've just spent half an hour playing with all the numbers in the template, or so it seems, without success. All help gratefully received!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

This week's acquisitions

* My Journey to Lhasa, Alexandra David-Neel, "The personal story of the only white woman who succeeded in entering the forbidden city". First published 1927, my copy is a 1940 war-time austerity edition with some wonderful adverts in it that I might get around to scanning later. With a faithful companion lama, Yongden, she pretended to be a mendicant pilgrim, an arjopa. For the women writers reading group.

* Memoirs of Hadrian, Margeurite Yourcenar, prompted by the earlier discussion of another of Yourcenar's books.

*Fanny Burney, by Christopher Lloyd, 1936, Longmans, London, claimed to be the first biography. The introduction says of her: "As a result of a curious connection of circumstances, she, the most retiring of women in that garish age, was drawn into the Court of George III and Napoleonic France. Her attitude even after she had attained fame as the outstanding novelist of her day, was always the same : that of an intelligent, humourous, essentially feminine observer; ready to note the absurdities of the world and yet always idealising those she loved as a result of her deep sense of loyalty: passive, conservative, modest, amused - a very woman". (p. 9) Mmm ...

* Dame Alicia Chamberlayne of Ravensholme, Gloucestershire: Memories of Troublous Times, by Emma Marshall, 1887, Selley and Co, London. An interesting piece of Victorian fiction. I'm wondering why the Victorians seem to have been so keen on historical fiction, particularly, it seems from what I've stumbled across, about the Civil War. (This covers the siege of Gloucester of 1643.)

* The Measure of Man: Incursions in Philosophical and Political Anthropology, David J. Levy, 1993 - a second-hand bookshop sale (always fatal). It may have some relevance to current musings on atheism - that's the excuse anyway.

* Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Other Writings, by the American feminist and journalist Margaret Fuller, of whom I confess I have not previously heard. "Susan B. Anthony judged that Fuller had a greater influence on the nascent women's movement than any other writer of her time."

* Lying in State, a thriller by Julian Rathbone. (I really enjoyed his Kings of Albion, so couldn't resist another sale cheapie.)

Creationism and belief

A coherent and cogent explanation of the growth of belief in creationism by Timothy Burke over on Cliopatra.

"One tentative hypothesis that requires thinking in rich and subtle ways about the history of the United States over the last century is this I'd offer is this: evolution and creation science have become over many decades symbolic compressions of much wider, more complex and more difficult to articulate social and cultural cleavages. They're containers for a wide variety of resentments, conflicts, fears and misrecognitions. In this reading, you have to learn to look below the surface of the ocean for the rest of the iceberg."

Also in today's Times (unfortunately needing a subscription if you are outside the UK), an attempt to explain why more people in Britain say they believe in ghosts.
A sample:
"Psychologically, the death of others is a highly emotionally, challenging experience,” he [Philip Corr, a psychologist at the University of Wales Swansea]says.
“The belief in ghosts and religion in general may well have a strong Darwinian basis in natural selection. Individuals who had coping strategies, albeit irrational ones such as believing in the existence of spirits, might have been better able to deal with these negative health consequences. So we should not be surprised to find the widespread acceptance of such beliefs that protect us against the realisation that death is inevitable and final.”

I was interested in both of these because I've been recently musing on a claim that a fundamental turning point in intellectual discussions - when religion was forced on to the defensive, as the position that had to be fought rather than the automatic belief - came in John Stuart Mill's Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy of 1865.

Berman says: "In a discussion of atheism, Hobbes had asked: 'Upon what confidence dare any man, deliberately I say, oppose the omnipotent?' Mill had the confidence to do this 'on the acknowledged principle of logic and of morality', and he did so openly and boldly and with devastating effect ... He broke a spell and ... opened up a new irreligious era".*

This site appears to some degree to share this view. (And there's a solid exploration of Mill the philosopher here.)

I'm trying to decide if Berman was right, at least about this being a tipping point, and about whether we are still going forward or indeed in recent years, at least in Britain and Australia, the two countries with which I am most familiar, we have at some times gone backwards, or indeed are going so. Certainly the academic in The Times is happy to proclaim his atheism, but I think most news sources are careful not to address the issue, although if you dig deeply enough you'll find an underlying assumption of atheism.

It makes sense for newspapers no doubt, to avoid offending readers (and many still run lists of church services, weekly columns from religious figures etc), but is it good for public discourse to dodge the issue?

*From D. Berman, A History of Atheism in Britain: From Hobbes to Russell, London, Routledge, 1990, p. 237.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

An excessively fertile imagination

Apparently for Dr Johnson, women writing poetry enacted a "tribadic lust" by forcibly raping the female muse.

... I diagnose an overactive, and undersatisfied, imagination.

Complaints about the dangers of poetry for women go back a long way. In 1589 George Puttenham worried about the "poesies and devises of Ladies and Gentlewomen-makers, whom we would not have too precise poets lest with their shrewd wits, when they were married they might become a little too fantastical wives".

(From Subjectivity and Women's Poetry in Early Modern England, L. McGrath, Ashgate, 2002, Aldershot, p. 4)

But if you're still interested in Dr Johnson - and I have been looking forward to reading Norma Clarke's Dr Johnson's Women - I'd recommmend a visit to his house, which is just down the road from me. It is a remarkable survivor run on a volunteer basis - they need your support!

Friday, November 26, 2004

My favourite Byzantine

After posting a couple of days ago on some lesser-known Byzantine empresses, I thought I had to put together something on my favourite, Theodora, wife(and spine-stiffener) to Justinian.

I've found for her some wonderful resources on the web, most notably Justinian, Theodora and Procopius, "a web directory about 6th-century Byzantium and its greatest historian". It includes a complete text, with a commentary to which you can add, of Procopius's Secret History, so called because he wrote it for posthumous publication, while in the meantime writing more or less sycophantic stuff for earlier consumption.

There's an excellent introductory biography here and the famous Ravenna mosaic portraits.

I've posted elsewhere about how certain sorts of women attract certain sorts of sexual slanders, and Justinian as the powerful empress who might have originally been an actress was open to the hottest accusations that antiquity could come up with, which was pretty hot indeed. Gibbon, of course, had to repeat them in his Rise and Fall, but did so in the classic "scholarly" way. In the text he wrote: "Her murmurs, her pleasures, and her arts must be veiled in the obscurity of a learned language." His footnotes, in Greek, revealed all.

As for the spine-stiffening, well that's why she's my favourite empress. After the five-day Nika revolt in 532AD, and the proclamation of Hypatius as emperor in Byzantium, Procopius (no friend of hers), quotes her as saying as Justinian and all of the couriers, locked in the palace, plan to flee:

"As to whether it is wrong for a woman to put herself forward among men or show daring where others are faltering, I do not think that the present crisis allows us to consider whether we should hold one view or another.
"For when a cause is in the utmost peril there seems to be only one best course--to make the very best of the immediate situation. I hold that now if ever flight is inexpedient even if it brings safety.
"When a man has once been born into the light it is inevitable that he should also meet death. But for an emperor to become a fugitive is a thing not to be endured . . .
"If you wish to flee to safety, emperor, it can easily be done. We have money in abundance; yonder is the sea; here are the ships.
"However . . . as for me, I hold with the old saying that royalty makes a fine winding sheet'"

They stayed, and re-established control. There was a massacre of the other side. Of course.

You are this site's 2,000th visitor

greyhound, originally uploaded by natalieben.

(or thereabouts)... and as a reward, I offer you a lovely greyhound, thanks to Scribbling Woman, and the Victorians.
It goes to show that there's nothing new about "novelty" books. Last year it was Eats, Shoots & Leaves; what will it be this year?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Violence against women

Today, 25 November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

"By resolution 54/134 of 17 December 1999, the General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and invited governments, international organizations and NGOs to organize activities designated to raise public awareness of the problem on that day. Women's activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. This date came from the brutal assassination in 1961, of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961)."

From this UN site, where there are more links and reports.

Browsing around the topic, I found the BBC has a sensible-looking advice site on domestic violence here.

The Home Office says two women a week on average are killed by their partners, and on average a woman is assaulted 35 times before she calls police.

I was having a conversation recently where someone said: "is it really two a week? You never hear about them."

If you want to find the murders in newspapers look in the "in brief" columns of the national papers on Mondays. You'll usually find a paragraph or two saying "The body of a woman was found in a house in XXX. A man aged x is helping police with their enquiries." (The stories only make it into the papers on Monday when there's little other news.)


To the theatre last night for Becket.

The reviews were far from good, and it is a flawed production, but still I thought a powerful one. The play, by Jean Anouilh, works well in places but not in others (Becket seems to go in the second act from embracing God to being angry at Him, without a transitional scene). And, while this translation by Jeremy Sams might work in a "modern dress" production, it grates horribly with the entirely traditional staging: "I see you're a man I can do business with", says Henry early on.

But it is in places very funny and played for laughs, particularly the strongly anti-Church scenes, and some of the political manouevres (although the audience seemed disinclined last night to be amused). (The script is not, however, very female-friendly, with Henry's wife and mother mere caricatures.)

It could be very easily slanted into an anti-war, anti-abuse-of-power vehicle that commented on recent events (as with Iphigenia at Aulis at the National - a fine production); I wonder why it wasn't?

But Dougray Scott as Becket is really spectacular, strong, coherent, and utterly believable. Jasper Britton is good as Henry in spoiled brat mode, but works rather less well as tortured soul. In the final "whipping" scene he really looks like a drama student miming agony, sad to say.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

18th-century postmodernism ...

... or at least pastiche was today's topic, when I popped up to the British Museum for a talk on the Piranesi vase, the unmissable marble monstrosity - it is a fascinating piece, but you really couldn't call it fine art - inside the entrance of the Enlightenment gallery.

The current view if that two of the three bull's heads in the base are 2nd-century AD Roman, possible from Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, as the sellers claimed, as are the "calf" part of the lions' legs, and probably one of the three main images around the main "bowl", the one showing the picking of the grapes.

All of the rest is 18th-century work by Piranesi and his co-conspirators, whoops artists. No I suppose that is a bit unfair; from what I understand the Grand Tour buyers didn't really care if it was original, what mattered was that it was true to the "spirit" and "aesthetic" of ancient Rome.

It was at one time in the entrance to the BM, but when the museum realised in the 19th century that it was mostly "fake", it was condemned to a shed for decades.

I knew a bit about Piranesi but I also learnt for the first time about Johann Joachim Winkelmann, who worked with Piranesi and who is said to be the founder of modern art history. There's a biog of him here and a portrait here.

He was also, to put a female slant on it, the guide when Emma and Sir William Hamilton visited Rome soon after their marriage (and before she'd met Nelson). For her story, here's not a bad place to start.

I'm looking for the female slant a bit harder than usual because this post, as are all of mine, are now also going up on Feminist Blogs, a "community of weblogs by self-identified feminists, women's liberationists, womanists, and pro-feminist men. We use free software to syndicate our weblogs, in order to raise awareness, bring together feminist voices, and promote cross-linking and discussion between feminist bloggers."

Hi folks and thanks; great idea!

UPDATE: Sorry, but I've just removed the two links to the BM site, because it is suddenly not working properly (see comments). From here you should be able to search for all of the relevant material.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Thanks for all the art

I'm currently reading about Byzantine empresses, particularly Irene (empress 775-80), Euphrosyne (820-29) and Theodora (829-42), all of whom were supporters of icons in the great battle over religious rules during this period. Without them, it is suggested, the iconophiles might have won and we'd live in a very different visual world.

When Theodora's husband, Theophilos, died in 942, she became regent for her two year old son. Criticised by a holy hermit, she responded. "I will rule with a firm hand. You will see." She is celebrated as a saint for the restoration of icons the following year, marked as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy". (p.2)

Earlier, Ignatios the deacon said of Irene's behaviour during the council of 787: "Irene was a mere woman, but she possessed both the love of God and firmess of understanding, if it is right to give the name of woman to one who surpassed even men in the piety of her understanding." (p. 8)

Years ago, when I first encountered Byzantine history, I was fascinated by the number of prominent empresses, quite a contrast to the Arab and Muslim world of its early centuries, when women are almost invisible. The explanation that I came up with then was that Byzantium remained throughout most of its history supremely confident; it was "new Rome", and it had all that history stretching back, so it could allow lots of "odd" things to happen without feeling threatened by it, not the case with the new upstart empire and religion. Later, when Islam was more confident during what we usually call the early Middle Ages, women became more prominent. Not perhaps an entire explanation, but I think quite a useful one.

I wonder, could you generally say that women do better in confident societies than nervous ones?

I couldn't find a single useful web page on any of the empresses. On iconoclasm there's the (biased) Catholic view here, the Orthodox, and a shorter but more balanced outline here.

And some gorgeous pictures here

From: Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium, Judith Herrin, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2001. (Now in Waterstone's Goodge St for £7.)

Monday, November 22, 2004

A truly different take

... on the US election, that:

"Which side of the Red/Blue divide you you're on is a matter of whether you see government as an insurance scheme or a patronage system. And that, in turn, depends upon whether you believe that people can and should operate according to universalizable moral principles or think that moral obligation supervenes upon sentimental bonds of family, tribe, and community."

The full post is here.

I find it particularly interesting having had, from living in Thailand, experience of an almost perfect patronage system. A comment piece in the Bangkok Post once explained that there was no such thing in Thailand as "public" land. There was the king's land, which of course had to be treated with reverence, and "no one's land", on which it was perfectly acceptable to dump rubbish, or industrial waste or whatever, even if it was outside your, or someone else's, door.

Courtesy of Majikthise.


A lovely quote from Pierre Bayle, on whom I have posted elsewhere:

"It is the purest delusion to suppose that because an idea has been handed down from time immemorial to succeeding generations, it may not be entirely false."

Quoted in A Short History of Western Atheism, J. Thrower, Pemberton Books, 1971, p. 81

Sunday, November 21, 2004

This week's acquisitions

I thank The Little Professor for the inspiration for this post; she regularly posts a list of her week's book purchases and it makes fascinating (and often tempting) reading. Her list this week is here.

I was going to start this last week, but it would have been embarrassingly large. (I went mad with a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstone's.) This week I was rather more continent.

So here it is:

* Woman in World History: Her Place in the Great Religions, E.M. White, Herbert Jenkins, London, 1924, on which I posted here.

* An English Wife in Berlin, "A private memoir of events, politics and daily life in Germany through the war and the social revolution of 1918", by Evelyn, Princess Blucher, an English aristocrat married to a German prince - very readable. I'm trying to find out when she died - there's a Princess Blucher in London just before WWII, but I'm not sure if it is the same one; all information welcome! Constable and Co, London, 1920.

* Alexis, by Marguerite Yourcenar. I found this 20th-century French historical fiction writer through the Women writers group, which has just finished reading The Abyss, as have I - a very interesting exploration of 16th-century Europe.

* The House of Doctor Dee, P. Ackroyd, which I bought and read yesterday after being asked by someone who knows I live in Clerkenwell how close to reality the geography in it was. I'm not entirely an Ackroyd fan - he does get rather too mystical for me, and this is one of his most mystical ones; The Clerkenwell Tales was much better.

* Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives, M. Yamani (ed)New York University Press, 1996. (Now remaindered for £4 in Unsworths opposite the British Museum, for anyone interested.) I haven't had time to look at it yet.

Sex was not invented in 1963 might not be surprised to hear. But women's writing about it in the past has frequently been ignored, even by scholars looking at other aspects of their work.

I've just been reading an article on Rose Scott (1847-1925), an early Australian feminist and social reformer. The article by Judith Allen is remarkable for its author's openness about how her view of her subject had changed over time. Allen writes: "My first work on Scott substantially ignored her writings on masculinity and sexuality. Instead, by splitting the public and the private, I focused on those of her activities generally accepted as giving Scott her importance to the history of feminism", e.g. suffrage, legal issues, the condition of prisoners. (p. 158)

"The personal is political" has been around a long time, but there still seems to be considerable discomfort in recognising the fact. Of course sometimes past writings were so coded, because that was the way women had to write, that it can be hard to recover the meanings, but that's not the case with Rose. She wrote about the "animal in man", which coiled itself around woman, suffocating her spirit. Woman had to endure "the snake". (Clear enough!)

Allen suggests that while it is easy to dismiss this "ignorant, misguided or cavalier on the question of women's pleasure", this ignored the fact that "heterosexuality as men enforced it was central to the oppression of women"(p. 164).

Rose in fact should perhaps be seen as a foremother of Andrea Dworkin, although Feministe pointed me to an article in which she explains she never said "all sex is rape". Her comments there also on violence within marriage tie with my earlier post on honour killings.

A short biog of Rose can be found here.

From Crossing Boundaries: Feminisms and the Critique of Knowledges," Barbara Caine, E.A. Grosz, Marie de Lepervanche (eds), Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1988, pp. 157-165

Honour killings

An excellent piece in today's Observer, Death before dishonour, about honour killings in a variety of cultures, and among communities that have brought those cultures to Britain.

I started to count up the number of countries around the world in which such attitudes (if not always carried to these extremes) prevail, but it was so depressing that I had to stop. (When I lived in Thailand I learnt the lovely Thai proverb: "Having a daughter is like having a toilet in your front yard.")

Then again, looked at the other way, there are quite a number of countries where such attitudes used to prevail but from which they have almost entirely been banished. The Observer makes the point that: "Not so long ago, British women could be locked in mental asylums for getting pregnant out of wedlock; in living memory in the UK, it was preferable to have a daughter who was mad than one who was bad." (And there were also the horrific Magdalene laundries in Ireland, about which Joni Mitchell wrote.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Future history

Not my usual territory, but I am fascinated by space, into which I think it is vitally important humankind continue to venture and, eventually colonise.

It was one of my standby topics in the days when I wrote far too many newspaper editorials in a year: "not all eggs in one basket", the need for adventure and frontiers, the technological spinoffs and understandings of our own planet ... etc etc - can write that one in my sleep and probably sometimes did.

Consequently I was really taking by a considerably better informed post, and great debate, at Cronaca, on Space tourism: (too) risky business?

As for books, it is many years ago now that I read the Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars, trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson - terrible, clunky writing, but interesting ideas about science and society.

Friday, November 19, 2004

More sources ...

Courtesy of Feministe, the Internet
Women's History Sourcebook

From it, continuing today's Mesopotamian theme, Herodotus on two Babylonian queens:

Many sovereigns have ruled over this city of Babylon, and lent their aid to the building of its walls and the adornment of its temples, of whom I shall make mention in my Assyrian history. Among them two were women. Of these, the earlier, called Semiramis, held the throne five generations before the later princess. She raised certain embankments well worthy of inspection, in the plain near Babylon, to control the river, which, till then, used to overflow, and flood the whole country round about.

I.185: The later of the two queens, whose name was Nitocris, a wiser princess than her predecessor, not only left behind her, as memorials of her occupancy of the throne, the works which I shall presently describe, but also, observing the great power and restless enterprise of the Medes, who had taken so large a number of cities, and among them Nineveh, and expecting to be attacked in her turn, made all possible exertions to increase the defenses of her empire.

Feministe also points to Feminist blogs, a syndicated stream of a number of blogs, inevitably of varying quality and interest, mostly from the US, but there is some good stuff in there,

A new toy ...

... whoops, I meant serious research tool.

I just used it to update my bibliography of the poet Isabella Whitney.

And I'm off to the library soon to check them out - that step is still necessary, but we really are getting closer to Roland Barthes's ideal text: "the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest … it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances".

See my thesis here for the reference.

Cuneiform, now I get it

I know the cuneiform classes at the British Museum are popular, but I'd never really understood why. Hieroglyphs are too, but then ancient Egypt is so sexy, with so many amazing materials surviving in the Egyptian desert, and the formal hieroglyphs so nicely written in picture form even when the language ceased to be pictographic, that's less surprising.

Then today I got the notes for the tablet, from about 2,100BC, that we'll be using for handling in the Enlightenment gallery.

Then I learnt that the script was created by the Sumerians earlier than 3,000BC, and last used in 75AD (that we know of), for Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite and Urartian and other languages - it was the script of Mesopotamia, not just of one nation as with hieroglyphs - for a very long time indeed.

The cone-shaped peg that we'll be handling was probably inserted in the foundation of a wall surrounding a temple. The inscription reads:
"For the god Nanna,
impetuous calf of the god An,
first-born son of the god Enil,
his lord,
mighty man,
King of Ur
Built this E-temen-ni-guru
For him"

I'm told Nanna, the Sumerian moon god, had a cult centre at Ur, and E-temen-ni-guru was the name of the wall which surrounded the ziggurat of the god Nanna at Ur.
The question immediately arises: why did a wall have its own name? I suspect that might be one of those without an answer.

Now here's a good test for Google. It didn't answer my question, but did come up with The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (including translations), a Praise Poem of Shulgi, the son of Ur-Nammu, military commander, temple builder and patron of instrumental music and a Lamentations over the destruction of Sumer and Ur".

P.S. As with so many things that I learnt about from books, I used to pronounce "cuneiform" very oddly. I've now learnt it should be Q-nair-form. (The Q said just as in the letter.)

I can no longer remember what it was that I did with Ashurbanipal, but I know the teacher fell about laughing in Year Seven the first time I said it.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Who says women's sport can't pay?

From yesterday's Oxford Dictionary of National Biography email:

"In 1933 [Joyce] Wethered took a job as the golf adviser at Fortnum and Mason's. The following year the definition of an amateur golfer was changed, and on 5 March 1934 the Royal and Ancient ruled that she was not eligible to play as an amateur if she received any 'consideration' in connection with her appointment.

"She took advantage of her new professional status in 1935 to tour the United States and Canada, representing the John Wannamaker Company. It was reputed that the tour earned her in excess of 4000, having received a guarantee of 300 per match.

"She played at least fifty-two matches, travelling all over America from May until September, and set thirty-six new records. One of the highlights was when she played in a foursome against Bobby Jones at the East Lake country club in Atlanta. O. B. Keeler, Jones's biographer, felt that the sight of Jones and Wethered playing in the match 'will stand out as the prettiest picture of a lifetime in sport ... the greatest match I ever witnessed' (Keeler)."

(I'm not sure if those sums should be dollars or pounds; either way it must have been a lot of money.)

She won a total of nine national championships, married "well" and became a much-respected horticulturalist. A great character.

See also the money-making village cricketers.

Worth clicking through the advert ...

... even though it is inappropriately for a ridiculously large and expensive car, for an excellent article on on the "new Cold War" between America and Europe, a "war" of social ideologies which unfashionably, at least from the British perspective, it suggests Europe is soundly winning.

It concludes:

The rise of the European Union may in fact, as Rifkin says, represent a new phase of history, and we barely saw it coming. While the outcome of this new cold war between Europe and America is far from clear, we should feel humbled by the way it's gone so far. The EU has succeeded so dramatically in its ambitious goals that the utopian dreamers of the last century who dared to imagine a peaceful, prosperous, united Europe seem eerily prescient now. If nothing else, it's an object lesson in the power of vision.
"I am a democrat," James Joyce wrote in 1916, while an entire generation of Europe's young men were slaughtering each other in the fields of Flanders. "I'll work and act for the social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of the Europe of the future." People read that and laughed bitterly. Europe seemed poisoned by mustard gas and history; America was the land of liberty, democracy and the future. Nobody's laughing now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A message of hope

Today's arrival in the ebay "irresistable, under £5 with postage" range is Woman in World History, Her Place in the Great Religions, by E.M. White, a female author on whom Google does not help. (Herbert Jenkins, London)

Anyone know anything about her? (I admit a small extra interest because that was my mother's family name, not that I really think there's likely to be a connection.)

It is a product of its time, dreadully racist in places by today's standards, but boasting some pretty solid scholarship, and it is surprisingly evenhanded on the different religions, not even assuming that Christianity will be the one to go forward.

Following on from last night's post, it reports on the efforts of early 20th-century Muslim reformers, such as "Mr M. S. Mohidin, a magistrate of Madras, who wishes to break down the purdah". In 1911 he offered a prize of 1,000 rupees "to anyone who could prove from the Koran or the traditions of the prophet that the seculsion of women is authoried; he also brought the matter before the Universal Races Congress of 1911 and spoke of the miseries of the purdah system resulting in ignorance through want of education and lung disease through want of fresh air." (p. 158)

I was taken by the book's conclusion:
"The whole history reveals a great growth of the human spirit struggling against material obstacles and its own shortcomings. Through this growth woman has shared in the struggles and failures and successes ; her part has been distinct from yet parallel with man's. So it will prove in the future, for nothing can frustrate the evolutionary movement nor prevent humanity as a whole from attaining and achieving its purpose. What that purpose may be, and what the religion that will inspire towards it may be, is left to the present and succeeding generations to determine." (p. 395)

She seems curiously optimistic for an author writing in 1924, but perhaps it is a good message for those of us feeling depressed about the direction of the world now.

A brave woman

Chapati mystery posts on a very brave woman, presumably a local, who tried to use a male disguise to preach at a major mosque in Bahrain.

One hates to think of how she is being treated right now; I think of the few brave women who tried to assert women's right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 1990, who reports at the time suggested were very harshly treated for this relative mild infraction. More on the driving issue here.

See also Amnesty International's report on the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia here. Bahrain's probably not as bad, but ...

The would-be imam is already being dismissed as "mad", such an easy label to apply to any woman who tries to fight for her rights in a direct way.

The immediate parallel that springs to mind is Lady Eleanor Davies, the Civil War prophet, who in a religious protest in the cathedral of Lichfield, in which she was accompanied by several other women, sat (shock, horror) on the bishop's throne, tore down "popish" hangings and threw dirty water over them. It was clearly a political action, but she ended up not in a jail, but in Bedlam.

So many other women, the meaning of whose actions can now never be recovered, must have suffered the same fate. It is surely beholden on us to look very hard for rational driving forces behind actions before accepting others' diagnoses of "madness".

There's little about Lady Eleanor on the net, but there is a short biog here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Ganesh and his tusk

Re-reading yesterday's references to obstacles and magic made me look up above my head to my Ganesh mask (which came from Madras, if I remember correctly).

He has one broken-off tusk, as Ganesh always. The story of why is popular with British Museum visitors.

As I tell it: One day, after his elephant head and body had grown together (that's another story) he was sitting at the feet of a great sage (Vyasa), who started to tell him a story, which turned out to be the Mahabharata, "The Story of the Wars". Ganesh sighed and thought: 'I'm never going to remember all of this; it's much too long.' So he broke off his tusk and used the bloody end to write down the story.

That's why he's the god of writers - should you be needing any inspiration - as well as the "remover of obstacles".

More about Ganesh here and a useful-looking glossary here.

Monday, November 15, 2004

How to stop fairies tiring the horses

Re-emerging from my desk as the paper continues its regular slow churn (interrrupted only occasionally by a nasty explosion of cellulose when a whole pile falls over) is the collection of essays from which I posted last week on women servants.

It tells me that in Cambridgdeshire in the 19th century it was common practice to hang a stone with a hole through it behind the horses in the stables to "keep the fairies from riding the horses at night". (As recorded from the words of a stable foreman in the 1850s.) (p. 209)

For the protection of humans, in Dorset, a bullock's heart was hung in the hearth to prevent fairies and witches entering through the chimney. (p. 209)

It is easy to laugh, and I do, just a little - surely the heart must have stunk after a few days, or maybe the smoke preserved it? - but the essay makes the fair point that this was how people came to an understanding of their world with few of the tools that we have available today.

And such beliefs were mixed up with a lot of practical, and even sometimes subversive, information, that did help people navigate obstacles around them.

In the 19th century, and even sometimes today, such beliefs are traced back to pre-Christian religious structures and understandings, but, the essays says, they "were not something rooted in past religious beliefs but that which retained a contemporary function in the lives of the rural poor". (p.212) So they tend to be highly localised, grown up in response to local conditions.

From B. Bushaway, "'Tacit, unsuspected but still implicit faith,' Alternative belief in nineteenth-Century rural England,' pp. 189- 215, in T. Harris (ed) Popular Culture in England c. 1500-1850, Macmillan, London, 1995, pp. 143-167.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Cultural roundup

Haven't got much work done, but have fitted in lots of culture over the weekend.

This included:
1. Seeing The Mandate at the National Theatre, a curious blend of madcap drawing room comedy - people getting locked in chests, sitting on loaded guns, being mistaken for others - with serious political comment. It might have worked when Stalinism was a looming, immediate threat; now I think the tone and the content just don't hang together with the subject matter. Amusing, but no more. Still did learn that the Cottesloe £10 restricted view seats are well worth sitting in; useful for future reference.

2. Reading The Flood, by David Maine, a telling of the story of Noah and the ark in historical fiction. Noah, his sons and their wives each take it in terms to tell the tale (and their own "back stories") in a delightfully terse, minimalist style. Amazingly feminist and real about the women's feelings, can it really have been written by a bloke?

Africa and gender

Sharon's extensive post on web resources on African history, here, prompted me to pop down to the African Gallery at the British Museum this morning after my Enlightenment Gallery shift.

I've posted previously on some of the metal objects in the gallery, almost invariably made by men, since metal-working is strongly gendered as male.

Pottery, however, is broadly a female occupation, although I learnt today on further exploration that: "[Often] only males, or post-menopausal females are allowed to make artistic representations of the human form, on pain of loss of natural fertility."

This piece, however, is something of an hermaphrodite, made in Sudan made "in a colonial context where female Mangbetu potters were intermarrying with male Zande potters for the first time".

From much further south, here's a Zulu pot from a purely female tradition.

Finally, a gorgeous modern piece , which is at the entrance to the gallery at the moment. It is by the Kenyan-born, British-based Magdalene Odundo - it is wonderfully tactile even to look at; they obviously have to put it behind glass, but it just begs to be stroked.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The match factory women

The Bryant and May "match girls" strike of 1888 is one of those carefully selected events from which women pop into mainstream history; being a a nice balance for the suffragettes certainly helps.

But another talk today put flesh on the bones in more ways than one, suggesting that the strikers were considerably older than the 12 to 15 that is generally suggested. Certainly this picture of the elected organisers doesn't suggest young teenagers.

The talk covered the life of Sarah Chapman, one of these organisers, and the highest-paid worker involved in the strike (40s in the week before it started - CORRECTION, this should be 40 pence - see comments)). She is listed as a "booker", although apparently no one knows now exactly what that meant.

A huge amount of research has managed to almost entirely map out her life, and those of her relatives. She remained active in the trade union movement until 1891, when at the age of 29 she married. Yet despite probably two decades of working in a job that must have been in today's terms at least semi-skilled, no occupation is given on her marriage certificate. (Her husband, Charles Harry Dearman, is listed as a cabinetmaker.)

It's a good example of how so many women who were nothing of the sort end up listed as "housewife".

An excellent account, and some 1,200 documents relating to the strike, can be found at the TUC library.

Just because you are paranoid ...

... doesn't mean Special Branch is not following you.

A character shown in a new light at the seminar today was Nancy Cunard, of whom I was vaguely aware as a rebellious socialite. She was, however, I learnt, much more than that, being a writer, scholar and significant political campaigner, as this account indicates. Also here and an image of her by Man Ray here. (The biography by Anne Chisholm is apparently the one to read if you want to know more.)

A scholar studying the recently declassified files told us that while she was often dismissed as being paranoid for complaining about the police following her, in fact they were, very closely. The file only ends with her death in a French hospital in 1965.

Some of the PC Plods must have been seriously out of their depth in the job, however. There was a lovely letter from a local police station reporting the arrival of a letting agent from her flat (called out by neighbours' complaints that "lots of Negros" were going into it). The agent was charmed by her, seems to have accepted her explanation of political work, but immediately rushed down to the police station to hand over the "communist" pamphlets she had given him. A PC was waiting for Special Branch to collect them.

No soliciting in Wimpy's

General discussion at the seminar today produced a fascinating snippet; until at least the early 1970s "unaccompanied women" were not allowed into Wimpy's restaurants (a British burger chain) late at night. (Differing opinions suggested the cut-off was either 11pm or midnight.) This restriction was actually printed on the menu.

So, a former nurse recounted, she and a colleague, in full uniform, were supposed to stand outside to eat their meal, at least until the staff took pity on them, although they had to eat fast, before the shift changed.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that we have come a long way.

Dorothy L Sayers

I've been distracted (from various things I'd been planning to do) over the last couple of days by the arrival of several fiction purchases. I don't read much fiction these days - I find it just doesn't grab me the way facts do - but I have been building my Dorothy L Sayers collection, adding this time Busman's Honeymoon.

Sayers writes beautifully, intelligently, yet in no way pretentiously, sketching out her characters in a few deft strokes. You do have to feel that she was wasted on detective fiction, even though her efforts go far beyond the usual run of the genre. (I still have to read her Dante, as I suspect I promised to do about three months ago - one of these days.)

My favourite is Gaudy Night, a wonderful exploration of the difficulties the women of the Twenties faced in trying to carve out a place for themselves in the male world of academia, and the professions more generally, particularly in fighting their own conditioning.

But Busman's Honeymoon comes a close second in the favourites' list; its start, with a selection of "diary" items from different people about the same event, the wedding of Sir Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, is laugh-out-loud funny.

As with all of the books it is a wonderful portrait of the time, as was confirmed by a matchup of fiction and non-fiction today.

I spent most of the day at the London Archive Users Forum/Women's Library conference, which had a real mix of papers, including one on the "child development experts", a profession that developed in the first half of this century. At least I think that was what the paper was about; I only got to hear half of it due to the massive traffic jams caused by the Lord Mayor's Show - an annual irritating attempt to create total chaos across the City.

Anyway, whinge over: in Busman's Honeymoon, the Duchess, Peter's mother, an apparently scatterbrained woman who uses a fluttery manner as cover for a penetrating brain, reports on this trend. She writes: "Wonder whether Mussolini's mother spanked him too much or too little - you can never know, these psychological days. Can distinctly remember spanking Peter, but it doesn't seem to have warped him much, so psychologists very likely all wrong."

How right she was: the talk today started on the later Victoria, early Edwardian approach, in which mothers were supposed to ensure that their children, particularly the boys of course, were fearless to the point of stupidity, so they could serve the empire. Any sign of fear in the children, nightmares etc, all the things we'd now regard as a normal part of development, were seen as a failure of mothers.

The paper then discussed the approach in the late 1940s and 1950s to "schoolphobia", invented in 1924 and much discussed post-War. It was a middle-class disease; working-class kids were just truants - not much has changed there then.

It was not, however, perceived to be a disease of children; no of course the mothers were to blame - they were around too much and too close their children. To deal with the problem, so the experts said, it wasn't even necessary to see the children, you just had to treat the mothers.
(Busman's Honeymoon quote, p. 33, 1941, Ninth Impression, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London.)

Amy's Alpha

aplha2, originally uploaded by natalieben.

I didn't think it would reproduce, but for a picture taken from a near 100-year-old photo, printed in a newspaper, then scanned 15 years later, Amy's boat hasn't come up too badly. The story's here.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The wench is dead ...

... but the memories keep being stirred up.

The Marlowe quote is one of my favourites, but events have been conspiring lately to bring up most past.

Gordon of The Worsley Blog" has been remembering one of his former "guests", a persistent possum, whose story is told here.

His description of their "good imitation of hobnail boots when trotting across ceilings" reminded me of when I was a teenager in my study, which had a flat tin roof. Possums didn't seem to like to live in the huge old oak tree in the front yard, but they certainly liked its acorns, so they used to stamp across the roof from the trees in the backyard to the front in the early evening, then back at various stages during the night. If the cat happened to be out during the procession they'd sit on the guttering and hiss and snarl at her.

(Sadly the oak tree, and the house, are gone now. It was older than the Edwardian house, perhaps one of the oldest oak trees in Sydney - reputedly the site used to be a nursery and they'd pot new plants in its shade - but they knocked down both to build four villas on the big block - no doubt making a big profit since it was close to Epping station. So goes the history of Sydney.)

I've also been putting up on my website a couple of stories from my early days as a journalist (for reasons on which I may later post) in Henty, in southern NSW. The stories, I'm pleased to rediscover, make quite decent oral history - even if I'd now like to edit aspects of the writing.

There's the story of Amy Kleeman, who grew up on a Murray river paddleboat, the Alpha, and of Myrtle Jenkyn, for 50 years, on her own account, an (unpaid) correspondent for local papers. That's all so far; I might add more later.

I have only a dim memory of interviewing Mrs Kleeman - a very crowded, knick-knack-infested sitting room - but Myrtle was definitely memorable - a huge old farmhouse living room with every surface, and most of the floor, covered with piles of newspapers, magazines and clipping files. I also remember her "despatches", always written on small pieces of paper. The old-fashioned, spidery handwriting started in lines but then snaked around the sides, was squished in the corners, and generally almost impossible to follow. (Thanks Pat, who often helped me decipher it.)

The only story of hers that I remember was about the time an old carthorse was brought back into service after a car, then a tractor, both got bogged. The report was that it got them both out.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Now girls and boys ...

... sit down and I'll tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there were no "girls' books" with pink covers and princesses on the front, and "boys' books" with green and brown "camouflage" covers and a man with a spear, there were just children's books.

The genre of "children's book" is generally said to have begun in the 1740s, when three publishers, including Mary Cooper, "began to provide children with books designed to delight as well as instruct them. Increasing middle-class literacy and prosperity set the stage for this development, along with the gradual popular dissemination of John Locke's educational philosophy, which advocated teaching children through play." (p. 166)

In the late 18th and early 19th century, "all featured children of both sexes as characters and were intended for readers of both sexes. {They} ... taught obedience, submission to authority, and selflessness as the cardinal virtues of both girls and boys." (p. 167)

The sudden change, Elizabeth Segel suggests, occurred in the 1850s, with the market growing large enough for specialisation, with a desire to provide "suitable" reading for young misses past the childish literature stage but considered to innocent for "adult" reading, and the increasingly sharp differentiation of the genders in adult life (p. 169-170)

Boys' books sent them out into the world, having boundless adventures, with only the occasional moral message tacked on almost as an afterthought, while girls were being trained to accept their confinement in the home, as classically represented by What Katy Did (1872), in which a her exuberance and disobedience leads to her being crippled, by which she enters the "School of Pain", but in it she learns to be kind, virtuous and a replacement mother for her younger siblings. "The disturbing message that the ideal woman is an invalid is scarcely veiled". (p. 174)

I had a copy of What Katy Did, and the two (?) sequels, which had been Mum's, but remember not liking them much - I can see why now. If you want to depress yourself you can read it here.

By the time I "should" have been reading this I was in the "adult" section of the library - as I recall reading first Westerns, then romances (yes Mills and Boons, but I was only about 12), then war books ... what all of that did to my head I dread to think. (And of course the Harold Robbins's - I was about 12 when Dad said: "On no account should you read this book, which he'd got from the library; well you can guess the rest. It was "The Pirate", and it must have made quite an impression on an impressionable mind, because I remember it still quite well!)

From E. Segel "As the twig is bent ... gender and childhood reading, in E. Flynn and P. Schwickart (eds) Gender and Reading: Essays on Readers, Texts and Contents, John Hopkins Uni Press, Baltimore, 1986.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The lace entrepreneur

In her comment on my post two days ago on women servants, Sharon kindly pointed to her bibliography on early modern servants here.

She also reminded me in her Denbighshire account of another woman of my "acquaintance" who was not a servant but an entrepreneur in her own right: Hester Pinney.

Born in 1658 in Dorset, the daughter of a Puritan minister who was ejected from the ministry for his beliefs and then took up lace-trading, she moved to London in 1682. His wife, Jane, and Hester's four older sisters were also involved in the trade.

She lived in London for the next 58 years, although never with a permanent address. This might seem to be a "female" pattern, but her relation by marriage, the poet John Gay, did the same thing. Hester seems to have sometimes "lived in" with aristocratic patrons, being a high-class servant and semi-independent contractor, perhaps somewhat above a lady's maid, but she also spent much time trading independently at the Royal Exchange.

The stalls there did not have storage, "so the sisters presumably stored their bundles of lace in taverns" (where Hester also sometimes boarded). (Which brings up the old issue of women in taverns, also discussed here.)

Her brother Azariah was sentenced to be hung in Monmouth's rebellion, but she managed to bribe an agent who convinced the Lord Chief Justice to commute the sentence to transportation. (And he quickly set up a lace business in the West Indies.)

After her sister married (unwisely), Hester operated on her own, but didn't please her family (particularly the tavern bit). Yet she also met other businesswomen in taverns e.g. Dorothy Rose, a seamstress who seems to have been planning to make her lace up into clothes and drapery, in a tavern on the Strand.

By the 1690s she had built up her business (which also involved money-lending and other financial dealings) so that she was a serious "catch" on the marital market but although she showed definite affection for one suitor, she chose, and to some extent was pushed by the family, to remain single.

From "Dealing with Love: The Ambiguous Independence of the Single Woman in Early Modern England,' Gender and History, Vol 11, No 2, July 1999, pp. 209-212.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

What a record on human rights

According to Amnesty International, in 2002, 81% of known executions took place in three nations: China, Iran and the United States. As you might expect, China was the chief contributor, with 1,060 (and probably more that weren't documented), but the US and Iran were almost level in this macabre race: 113 to 71.

Leaves the state department complaints about human rights abuses in Iran pretty hollow, that does.

From Fifty Facts that Should Change the World, by Jessica Williams, Icon 2004: the first book that I have bought after reading about it on the author's blog, Vixgirl.

Fifty Facts also notes that every cow in the EU is subsidised by $2.50 a day, more than 75% of Africans have to live on, and since 1977 there have been nearly 80,000 acts of disruption or violence abortion clinics in North America. (And that's a statistic that can only get worse, in the current climate.)

It also talks about Brazilian Avon ladies and the American belief in aliens - a good read, if a bit depressing just at the moment.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The problem of servants

A book that I bought for a couple of its other chapters has greatly helped me to clarify in my own mind the position of women servants in London from the 17th to 20th centuries.

Patty Seleski's chapter on "Women, work and cultural change in Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century London", paints a picture of a group that belongs very distinctly to the working classes, has few or no emotive ties or investment in their employers, the members of which will change jobs at the drop of a hat, confident in the expectation that it will be easy to get another. They were working class, proud of it and assertive of their rights. Their jobs, however, were not much fun. "Urban domestic service emphasised the social distance between servants and their employers ... [the servants] primarily performed menial and not productive labour within the household ... the domestic drudgery which dominated maidservant's days could not be confused with the duties of a mistress in training." (p. 148)

This is the middle group in the period. The early time, to which this article makes reference, is one I've been exploring, when you tended to have "waiting women" rather than servants, in which, as Seleski puts it:
"Service was almost entirely contiguous with adolescence and young adulthood and it played an important role as a stage in women's lives during which they had an opportunity to learn the secrets of housewifery before they themselves became mistresses." (p. 148)

The final period is hinted at rather than described, but refers no doubt to our traditional view of Victorian "upstairs/downstairs" in which there was a plentiful supply of labour and servants faced a great risk, if they lost their "character", of having no hope of legal employment. They were thus far more in the hold of their employers and forcibly separated from working-class life.

How much nicer to be in the 18th or early 19th-century, when, after you'd decided you'd had enough of one place, you could as did Mary Warnett and Mart Curtain, spend your days idling at a public house in Honey Lane Market, Cheapside, drinking, singing and generally having a good time. "Their flirtatious behaviour led some newcomers to the pub to suspect them of being prostitutes, but the pub's regular customers defended their high-spirits and good-humour as innocent fun. Temporarily out of service, they looked and behaved like others among the labouring poor." (p. 151)

From T. Harris (ed) Popular Culture in England c. 1500-1850, Macmillan, London, 1995, pp. 143-167.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The 'first' female war correspondent

One of the first things you learn as a journalist is never to accept informants' claims that this is the _first time_ this has been done. The accepted form of writing this up is in a quote, or by saying "it is said to be the first" ...

That way, when you get the inevitable, "but my grandfather did that in 1930" letters, you can point out that the newspaper didn't say it was the first.

If the Dictionary of National Biography says it, however, if must be true, so I'll report that I learnt today that the first female war correspondent, one of Barbara Tuchman's predecessors, was Lady Dixie. The DNB says says:
"The publication of Across Patagonia (1880) established Lady Dixie's reputation as a bold and resourceful traveller with a pen as ready as her gun. It was also partly the reason for her appointment as the Morning Post's war correspondent in South Africa where the Anglo-Zulu War was raging; she was the first woman to be officially appointed by a British newspaper to cover a war.
"Her husband accompanied her and, although on arriving in Cape Town in March 1881 they found to her chagrin that hostilities were over, they spent the next six months in southern Africa. They toured the country, visiting the battlefields and learning something of the causes and the course of the late conflict, while Lady Dixie contributed articles to the Morning Post in which she championed the cause of Cetewayo and his Zulu people. These provided material for A Defence of Zululand and its King (1882)."
This from the DNB's free daily email, for which you can sign up here.
(I know I also posted from one of these on Friday, but I'm not on commission, really!)

Personal ads in a civil war

A final note on Barbara Tuchman. I was unfair to say she only did highbrow journalism. She also wrote "real", on the ground, articles, including a piece for The Nation on Madrid in the Civil War (November 6, 1937), "What Madrid reads".
She writes: "If the war has permeated 90 percent of the newsprint, some pages still remain untouched by it. In one of the new weeklies, between two articles on "The Magnificent Discipline of the Republican Army" and "The New Workers' Institute of Valencia," appears a fiction serial entitled "Marion: Neither Maid, Wife, nor Widow." Marion is pure anachronism. She hails taxis and wears evening dresses, two things that might belong to the Stone Age, so vanished are they from the Madrid of today.
"Even the daily papers leave a corner open to matters outside the war. The siege of Gijon, the speeches of Dr Negrin in Geneva, the problems of evacuation and food, the machinations of the 'Fifth Column', the disputes of the CNT and the UGT occupy the news and editorial columns. But you can still turn to the back page of El Liberal and find an agony column overflowing with ardor. 'Single lady, serious, would like to become acquainted with a gentleman of position and education.' 'Gentleman, 38, cultivated, well-employed, would like to become acquainted, object matrimony, with lady 30 to 35, not tall, good-natured.'
"This is the quality of Madrid. A year of siege and shells has shattered the surface of life, but underneath the old wheels are still turning. Life conforms to civil war where it must and clings to the old ways where it can.'" (p. 103)
You don't find male war-correspondents noticing things like that - at least not unless the newsdesk forces it out of them.
More on Tuchman here, including source details, and here.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Democratic paleolithic art

I nipped up to the British Museum this morning for a talk on "animals in ice age art", a complement to my recent visit to the Peche Merle caves. (Discussed here and here.)
It was a good chance to look closely at some of the paleolithic items, including the wolverine pendant. It was interesting to learn that even among Arctic Circle hunter today these fierce predators (related to weasels, but in size between a fox and a wolf) are still a high-status species, so anyone who kills one can be assured of a great fuss being made about it. Their fur is also excellent for shedding water, usefully reducing the risk of your clothes sticking to your skin.
(This last point I already knew from Jean Auel's "Earth's Children" series, for which I must confess a shameful addiction - the writing is terrible, but the research seems pretty good, and the thesis - of one woman single-handedly inventing most of the advances of the Upper Paleolithic- irresistible!)
This piece, dated to about 12,500BP, is somewhat unusual for its time, however, in depicting a predator; the earlier art tends to show lions, wolves etc, and the later more horses, reindeer and other prey species. (Such as this horse.)
One theory suggests that as anatomically modern humans moved into Europe they first encountered, and did battle with, lots of animals which regarded them as dinner, but later on, having cut their numbers, they were more interested in their own dinner.
The other main point I got out of the talk is that the images on this portable art on useable, and used objects, the "art of the light", very closely match - in subject, motifs, design, perspective, pretty well anything you can think of - the "art of the night" (in the caves). It was suggested that this might mean that the cave art was not an "elite", restricted art, available only to the specially initiated, but "democratic", available to all, or at least all who could navigate the passages to get to it.
Mmmmm, not sure about that ... it seems to make sense, but if there was thought be a lot of power in the cave paintings would not inevitably someone have tried to restrict access to them?

Joining the carnival

The second Early Modern Bloggers carnival is in full swing over at Houyhnhnm Land - an informal, BYO occasion. (Mine's now a nice little French rose). On the carnival yours truly has a modest little stall.
The site that most interested me was The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, by which you can get a daily dose of the great man.

A sample from page 4:
"Begun at Florence, in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli, on the 22nd day of March 1508. And this is to be a collection without order, taken from many papers which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place, according to the subjects of which they may treat. But I believe that before I am at the end of this [task] I shall have to repeat the same things several times; for which, O reader! do not blame me, for the subjects are many and memory cannot retain them [all] and say: 'I will not write this because I wrote it before.'"

(I know the feeling - I can never remember to whom I have told various anecdotes; I get half-way through a tale and can see from the look in the listener's eye they've heard this one before.)

Philip the sparrow and other pets

Women and pets in medieval times proved just as interesting as I had hoped last night. I learnt that while Keith Thomas had suggested that the idea of pets was not invented until early modern times, there's plenty of evidence of a "pet" relationship in medieval times (although the term itself was indeed not invented until later).

Lap dogs, cats, squirrels, monkeys and talking and singing birds were not eaten, kept in the house and given a name - a working definition of what a pet is. Naming conventions, however, were quite different from today, so Philip Sparrow was not exactly unique - all sparrows were called Philip, or so people thought! Similarly a terrier might be called Terri, and apparently the word donkey came from Duncan, that species' generic name.

Giving pets individual "human" names is, however, a 19th and 20th-century invention.

Fluffy white lapdogs, of the sort seen in the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, seem to have been the most popular.

Men and women wrote eulogies when their pets died, and they seem to have been just as attached to them as anyone today.
For example, the mourning owner of the famous sparrow wrote:
"It had a velvet cap,
And would sit upon my lap
And seek after small worms,
And sometime white bread-crumbs;
And many times and oft
Between my breaste`s soft
It would lie and rest;
It was proper and prest.
Sometime he would gasp
When he saw a wasp;
A fly or a gnat,
He would fly at that;
And prettily he would pant
When he saw an ant.
Lord, how he would pry
After the butterfly!
Lord, how he would hop
After the gressop!
And when I said, 'Phip, Phip!'
Then he would leap and skip,
And take me by the lip.
Alas, it will me slo
That Philip is gone me fro!"

(I don't feel so bad about the dog pages of my website now.)

The tomb of Petrarch in Arqua was said to have also contained the body of his beloved cat. An early 20th-century visitor reports seeing in his house in the town what was said to be its mummy, "underwrit by an inscription in Latin which testifies that the cat was the poet's first love, not Laura, and that to her are due the thanks of humanity for saving from the rats his precious manuscripts". Plain-Towns of Italy: The Cities of Old Venetia by Egerton R. Williams Jr.; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911.

While researching the vital issue of the cat I also found a collection of papers on Petarch here.

The woman in Guy Fawkes' story

I'm only just too late to topically note, from my daily Dictionary of National Biography email, that there is a woman, and she's a merchant who must have been of some standing, in the Guy Fawkes story:

"They sent Fawkes-the unknown face-out to reconnoitre, but he came back with encouraging news that the tenant of a ground-floor vault below the Lords' chamber, a coal merchant appropriately named Ellen Bright, was vacating her premises. Percy at once set about securing the lease." (That's where they put the gunpowder, after finding the foundations too tough to tunnel through).

More about the emails here.

Quick techie question

The fact that blogger has been slow, and sometimes stopped, over the past couple of days - I'd have to guess due to a surge of post-election feeling - has made me (somewhat belatedly I admit) think about backups. I note from my profile that I'm past the 25,000 words mark, and the blog now contains lots of research that it would be a real pain to replicate. Does anyone know of a simple, easy way of backing up a blog on to a CD, or into a file that you could post to yourself, or similar?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Elizabeth Love, pensioner and centenarian

elizabeth, originally uploaded by natalieben.

This is from the front cover of The Friendly Almshouses; Elizabeth died, aged 110, in 1838.
No details are given of her life, but some other examples of the society's many deserving cases of 1830 are.
For example: "Sarah Bunny, widow, aged 83 ... a very respectable woman, who has seen better days; in her husband's life they kept a public-house in St James's, but giving too much credit to the soldiers, they failed; he then had a situation in the docks, but his trouble broke his spirits and his health, and he did not long survive, leaving her in poverty; she has now only 1s per week from the parish, and some sacrament money allowed her by the chaplain of the London Hospital." (p. 16)

Liberty or death!

DelacroixLiberty1830, originally uploaded by natalieben.

Finally! I think I've worked out this photo-posting business. (I found "Hello" utterly incomprehensible, but flickr seems straightforward.)
This week, Delacroix seems to provide an appropriate first image; The first time I went to the Louvre it was my favourite artwork. Now I'm older it seems a bit heavy-handed, but maybe the time to be obvious in one's convictions is returning.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

How women disappear from history

On January 20, 1802, the Friendly Female Society was instituted. It was still going strong in 1939, when, as the Friendly Almhouses, it provided homes in Brixton and Camberwell (London) for 68 women, with "a room, a small garden, the use of a kitchen, coal in winter and eight guineas a year", and pensions of £3 to £10 a year for women living in their own homes who needed extra help.

But by 1939, already the name of the founder of this modest but no doubt to its clients greatly valued institution had already been lost. Hilda Martindale, the author of a booklet obviously designed to solicit funds for it, wrote that all which could be established was that the first committee meeting was held in Haberdashers' Hall in Staining Lane on February 3, 1802. "A woman was in the chair and 15 were present."

That chair must have been pretty well connected, since the first item on the agenda announced that: "The Duchess of York had graciously condescended to become the patroness."

At the first general meeting in Chancery Lane on April 7, 1802, Dr J.H. Hunter told the gathering: You have wisely taken the management of this great concern into your own hands. You stand in no need of male assistance. You need no law to regulate your conduct but the law of mercy to the miserable and the law of kindness among yourself." (He must have known a lot about committees with that last point.)

The organisation seems to always have been run by women, with the unusual note: "Gentlemen wishing to vote are requested to send their proxies by ladies who are subscribers."

Only two women organisers appear by name in this short history: Mrs Lloyd, treasurer from 1814 for 20 years and Mrs Courthorpe, who held the office for more than 30 years, until her death in 1865.

Somehow you get the feeling that if this had been run by men, the names of the founders and subsequent dignitaries would have been blazoned all over its history.

There's also, however, a remarkable pensioner, Elizabeth Love, who died in 1838 at the age of 110. (Her picture is on the cover.)

This is from one of my E-bay impulse buys - well for £1 who could resist? (H. Martindale, The Friendly Almshouses, Unwin Brothers, Bride St, 1939)

Just one more post on the election

... and then I am going to try very hard to forget about it for at least 24 hours. (Tomorrow I'm going to do lots of housekeeping-type stuff, look at a possible flat to buy and then go to a seminar on women and pets 1100-1550, which I hope will be a perfect antidote.)

But, since misery loves company, I was really glad to find lots of other people at work were just as depressed as I was - although we did agree it should sell more (moderately left-wing) newspapers.

What really, really depresses me is not just the return of Bush/Cheney, but the fact that 55 million people, give or take, were imbecilic enough to vote for them.

I'm almost tempted to think that the greenhouse effect this administration will accelerate might be a good thing after all - nature can wipe out all of the Homo sapiens and have another go at producing an intelligent species.

A Leunig cartoon - from another Australian election disaster - found by Barista, pretty well sums it up.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Retiring to a hermitage ...

...that's what I feel like doing this morning. It looked so positive early on last night, but I woke with a feeling of dread this morning, and when I worked up the courage to switch on the radio that was confirmed. How can the human race, en masse, be so blind, so stupid, so gullible?
Last night I was reading Barbara Tuchman, who was quoting "President Eliot of Harvard in 1896". She says:
"I was writing about the founding tradition of the United States as an anti-militarist, anti-imperialist nation, secure within its own shores, having nothing to do with the wicked armaments and standing armies of Europe, setting an example of unarmed strength and righteousness. ... I found in a newspaper report these words of Eliot, which I have not seen quoted by anyone else: 'The building of a navy,' he said, 'and the presence of a large standing army mean ... the abandonment of what is characteristically American ... The building of a navy and particularly of battleships, is English and French policy. It should never be ours.'"(p.35)
(Congress, however, had authorised the building of the first three American battleships in 1890.)

From B.W. Tuchman, Practicing History: Selected Essays, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1981. Ironically enough my recently purchased abebooks copy is ex-Dallas Public Library. Perhaps they should have kept it.

The writing of history

I stumbled across Barbara Tuchman (which undoubtedly shows my earlier ignorance) by accident in the British Library, and immediately felt that I had to buy her book of essays about how to write history.

The attraction is partly personal - she is also a journalist turned historian, although I gather her "journalism" was always distinctly at the highbrow end - but also because of her theories of how to write history for a popular audience. She's into narrative, anecdote and above all humanity rather than theory.

e.g. "The very process of transforming a collection of personalities, dates, gun calibres, letters and speeches into a narrative eventually forces the 'why' to the surface. It will emerge of itself one fine day from the story of what happened. It will emerge of itself one fine day from the story of what happened. It will suddenly appear and tap one on the shoulder, but not if one chases after it first, before one knows what happened." (p. 23)

... and one of the best apologies for history I have read:
"Why is it generally assumed that in writing, the creative process is the exclusive property of poets and novelists? I would like to suggest that the thought applied by the historian to his subject matter can be no less creative than the imagination applied by the novelist to his. And when it comes to writing as an art, is Gibbon necessarily less of an artist in words than, let us say, Dickens? Or Winston Churchill less so than William Faulkner or Sinclair Lewis?" (p. 45)

She's also very good on the importance of an efficient filing system ... something that I must personally really improve! Now I'm off to try to find notes from a recent conference that might make a newspaper piece ....

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Mary Pix, dramatist

Scribbling Woman directed me to an interesting Monash University
catalogue from a rare book exhibition.

A rough count finds 12 of the 104 exhibits are by women (including appearances in anthologies) - more than 10 per cent, and if the very early (pre-1500) authors are excluded, rather more. (No.s 32, 39, 56-58, 59, 62, 77-79, 91 and 91.) It is not of course a scientific sample, but still an interestingly high number.

A lot of the women are the "usual suspects" - Fanny Burney, Lady Montagu and "the fair Orinda" - but there is a dramatist whose name I have not previously heard: Mary Pix. Having been the wife of a merchant tailor, she seems to fit into that "middling sort", professional writer, class.

A neat biog can be found here, which notes that her supposed date of death, 1709, "is supported by evidence from the Post Boy, 26-28 May, and the Daily Courant of 25 May 1709, which both contain advertisements for a benefit performance of Susanna Centlivre's play The Busie-Body, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the proceeds of which would go to Pix's estate". Interesting that it was another woman playwright whose work was chosen.

Her work is in Eighteenth-century Women Dramatists (Oxford World's Classics) and there's a portrait of her in the National Portrait Gallery. Also her husband.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A cricket match, between Females

A complete report from the The Salisbury And Winchester Journal
and General Advertiser of Wilts, Hants, Dorset, and Somerset
of Monday, August 2, 1819, records that a team of married women took on a team of single women, the later, presumably younger and fitter, winning comfortably. "One of them played particularly well, and seldom missed a hit." (Unfortunately none of the players are named.)

And these were "professionals" - "we understand that a subscription amounting to £15 was divided amongst them, the winners of course having the greatest share".

As a cricketer - without qualifier, although I am usually the only "Female" on the pitch - nice to read about my predecessors.

Thanks the C-18 poster for this reference, which also has a selection of interesting other articles, including of course the inevitable dog story, from the same journal, but on Monday, August 26, 1782 ...

"Yesterday a young man leaped from the centre of Battersea-bridge, to swim up river against time for a wage of five guineas, but he was instantly followed by a Newfoundland dog, belonging to a casual passenger, who seized him by the arm, and without drawing blood, dragged him to shore, to the infinite merriment of a great number of spectators, who joined in paying a tribute of praise to this sagacious and generous animal."