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Thursday 31 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 31st March

[T]he wound is healed, the secret told, the riddle becomes plain, the reconciliation is made between man and what surrounds him. Each happening depends on the other. But if it was for all time, the flowers might go on blooming but the spirit would wither. It would be sad beyond all telling if the finding of the Grail were to happen once for all. Because then it could not happen again for anyone.
Naomi Mitchison, To The Chapel Perilous (1955)
Finishing up the month with my beloved Naomi Mitchison, and possibly my favourite of her works, although it's really impossible to choose. My short bio-critical study of her is still available from Aqueduct Press, and she does seem to be garnering, finally, some degree of scholarly attention. I will concede that such a prolific writer in such varied genres, and dedicated social activist in so many diverse fields, is something of a daunting prospect. Also, it continues less than easy to obtain most of her works, though kudos to Kennedy and Boyd for the Naomi Mitchison Library and Naomi Mitchison - Essays and Journalism series bringing some of her works back into print and collecting her scattered essays and journalism.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 30th March

I much prefer being as I am now. I have a much larger capacity for everything. I see a lot more and care a lot less about things like people and whether they like me.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Talking about Stella Browne

6.30 pm at Bookmarks Bookshop, Bloomsbury Street, London, WC1B 3QE
Call 020 7637 1848 or email to reserve your place.

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 29th March

Supposing it was true that Lorna, regarded soberly and dispassionately, was a vain, hypocritical, super-rayfeened bitch: had these shortcomings prevented them from having twenty years of good times together? Maybe it was the difference in their faults rather than the similarity of their virtues that bound them together.
Dawn Powell, The Locusts Have No King (1948)
I found it very hard to choose one quote from Dawn Powell, as I don't think there's a book of hers I've read that doesn't have numerous pages flagged up for some particularly incisive passage. The rediscovery of Powell's remarkable novels, their republication, the issue of edited selections from her diaries and letters, and the production of a biography, is largely owing to the work of Tim Holt to bring her back into recognition. K

And elsewhere

Listen again link to discussion on Victorian prostitution in which I participated yesterday evening on BBC Radio 3 Nightwaves.

And my most recent contribution to the Wellcome Library blog from last week.

Monday 28 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 28th March

These two women care for each other more than they care for any man. They are bound together by a curious feeling about men, a sort of muffled contempt, a mixture of mild antagonism and irritated sympathy, and they have an obscure stifled feeling of impatience with an instinct in themselves which draws them to men.

I see that someone has now, quite recently (2009) produced a biography of Borden, further details on this website here. Borden sounds like a fascinating character, but I'm not sure her novels have lasted very well, on the basis of the ones I've read.

Sunday 27 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 27th March

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Edna St Vincent Millay, 'Dirge Without Music', from The Buck in the Snow (1928)
In memoriam for that wonderful writer Diana Wynne Jones, who died yesterday.

Saturday 26 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 26th March

Too many folks might convert to feminist thought if they knew firsthand the powerful and passionate positive transformation it would create in every area of their sexual lives. It is better for patriarchy to try and make us believe that the only real sex available to feminist women who like men must be negotiated using the same old patriarchal modes of seduction that are perpetually unsatisfying to all women.
bell hooks, 'Talking sex: beyond the patriarchal phallic imaginary' in Outlaw Culture: resisting representations (1994)

More details of Stella's schooling

From the admission records of St Leonard's School:

Previous School               High School/Private School in Canada
Special care                        Highly nervous or excited [this certainly matches with things she said in later life about her adolescence]
Church                                 Church of England
Referee                                               A Siemens, & Airlie Gardens
Godfrey Worsley Esq,    ?, Hillingdon, Middex
Signature of applicant  Isabella Dodwell, widow of ??, child’s grandmother, 5 St Catherines Terrace, ?. Isle of Wight
Date August 23rd 1893
Stella was at St Leonards for two terms only – September 1893 and January 1894

Friday 25 March 2011

Ellen Bayuk Rosenman, Unauthorized Pleasures: accounts of Victorian erotic experience

I enjoyed reading this book, but I'm not sure how useful it is likely to be for my particular purposes. Also, it has that thing I am never quite sure about, where the book is more or less several articles fixed-up into a single volume with the indication that there is a common theme. But they remain separate articles. Sometimes I want things brought into a closer and more interwoven relationship, rather than a series of case studies.

However, I do give it massive plus points for its acute awareness of the oppressive anxieties that ideologies of 'patriarchy' and  'masculinity' placed on privileged Victorian males. I haven't yet read this other book which is sitting in my to be read pile, largely because at a first glance I was already picking up what that reviewer comments on
 Yet all the protagonists are male, with the women reduced to mere quickly potted biographies. The book leaves the "new eroticism" as a masculine invention.
that it appears to be about male libertine subcultures (which I very much doubt were really that rebellious and subversive). I probably should read it, but I'm not sure it's going to bring the critical analysis to the formations of Victorian masculinity that I might like, and which Rosenman does go some considerable way with.

I was also prepossessed by her response to Walter's My Secret Life that his unexamined class attitudes are rather more noxious than his sexual desires.

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 25th March

[I]t would be strange... if they had not, in the course of ages, acquired a measure of that mental dexterity and rapid skill which, in any other business, would be dubbed mechanical, but in a woman's business of obtaining and managing a lord and master is commonly described as intuitive.
Cicely Hamilton, 'Intuition', published in Time and Tide, 16 Sep 1927, reprinted in Dale Spender, Time and Tide Wait for No Man (1984)

Hamilton is probably these days best known for her 1909 polemic, Marriage As a Trade, but in her day, alongside her suffrage activism (including the lyrics to March of the Women even if Ethel Smyth actually copyrighted them) she wrote plays, novels, works on war, and travel books. One of her short suffrage plays ('How the Vote was Won', co-authored with Christopher St John) was produced last year at a fringe theatre in London and was still extremely entertaining. She was active in the birth control movement between the wars and also a supporter of abortion law reform, and is yet another example of someone who really doesn't fit in to categorisations of 'New' and 'Old' feminism at that period but was both involved with egalitarian campaigns and those addressing women's specific needs. (I am not sure that anyone, except possibly Eleanor Rathbone, who pretty much invented the concept of 'New' feminism around her concerns for Family Allowances, etc, really fits at all neatly in that simplistic division.)

Thursday 24 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 24th March

'The trouble is,' said Selena, with a certain wistfulness, 'that you and I, Julia, have been brought up in an era of emancipation and enlightenment, and we have got into the habit of treating men as if they were normal, responsible grown-up people.'
Sarah Caudwell, The Sirens Sang of Murder (1989)
I thought this somehow went rather aptly with yesterday's quotation, though so many decades later: but at least in a rather different tone.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 23rd March

The sexual relation is a matter upon which average man--and we emphasise the average--is unfit to reason; the finer shades of thought seem invisible to him: in his view a woman is just a woman, the object of whose life should be to subject herself to his will: he can see no good in one who repudiates this position.
Margaret Dalham, Mere Man (1911)
It seems impossible to find out much more about Dalham besides her authorship of this work, at least without a lot of detailed research in the records of suffrage and social purity organisations in the early C20th. However, on the basis of this work she can be identified as one of the several feminist polemicists attacking the existing relations of gender and sexuality of the pre-Great War era, though a good deal less well-known than Cicely Hamilton or Christabel Pankhurst or even Louise Martindale; or, of course, Rebecca West, who summed up their case admirably in one short sentence: 'Men are terribly poor stuff'.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 22nd March

It was a pleasant side of Mrs Tebben's character that although her own books were described, by those who read them, as important, she was entirely modest about what she had done and never dreamt of demanding elbow-room or solitude for herself, although she accepted their necessity for her husband.
I do tend to find Thirkell both compulsively readable and in many ways exasperating. She creates female characters of considerable awesomeness and outstanding competence (alongside maddeningly vague, but, we are given to believe, utterly charming, ditzes) but on the position of women seems to be right there with Mrs Garth in Middlemarch in insisting upon female subordination, the greater significance of the man's career and interests, etc. Also, in the wartime and postwar volumes of her Barsetshire Chronicles, there is altogether too much about how Nice People Like Her Characters are being ground under the iron heel of socialism and the rising tide of uppity lower orders.

However, this vignette of a serious scholarly economist (whose works appear to be approved of even by misogynistic old dons) writing her books very much in a manner like unto that for which Jane Austen is reputed does, I think, at least suggest a recognition of some of the difficulties women doing other things than the domestic laboured under (though as I recall Mrs Tebben does get badly marked  down for domestic incompetence).

Monday 21 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 21st March

I can only observe that in a changing world the oddest individual arrangements do seem to work, and to be compatible with loyalty, and suggest that, as the success of marriage appears more and more to depend, as we become more and more civilised and self-conscious, upon the fitting together of the personalities of individuals, we should more and more aim to be tolerant of the arrangements adopted, whether they seem to Puritans immoral, to feminists degrading, or to rationalists irrational, and not to interfere with them, or even to take public cognisance of them, more than we can possibly help.
Cole was very much part of the Mitchisons' circle and shared, at least in theory, their views on open marriage.  I have no idea whether the detective novels she co-wrote with her husband remain readable.

Sunday 20 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 20th March

'Tell me, Wyndham, what makes you think I'm any better at sewing buttons on than you are?'
'Well, you're a woman. More practice.'
'You could start practising now. Then you wouldn't have to take women to bed with you in order to get your buttons sewn on. I'll give you a lesson.'
One would like to think that this sort of exchange is very much of its time and could not happen in the C21st, but I wonder...

Saturday 19 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 19th March

Then there was the book, The Anxiety of Influence.... The book came out at the same time that a lot of us were energetically rejoicing in the rediscovery and reprinting of earlier women writers, the rich inheritance that had been withheld from all writers by the macho literary canon. While these guys were over there being paranoid about influence, we were over here celebrating it.
Ursula K Le Guin, 'The Wilderness Within' (1998) reprinted in Cheek by Jowl: talks and essays on how & why fantasy matters (2009)

Pretty chuffed

A very nice review by Jad Adams of the Stella biography in today's Guardian Review section.

Also, a link to a recent post of mine on the Wellcome Library blog on the Birth of the Birth Control Clinic conference last week: as I said there, without the materials now at the Wellcome, that conference couldn't have happened: or at least would have been rather different.

Friday 18 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 18th March

[N]o doubt about it, ideas about what women can do, and do well, have changed. And what women mind has changed. Male behaviour, from the caddish to the outright violent, that until recently was accepted without demurral is seen today as outrageous by many women who not so long ago were putting up with it themselves and who would still protest indignantly if someone described them as feminists.
Susan Sontag, 'A Photograph is Not an Opinion. Or Is It?' (1999), in Where the Stress Falls: essays (2003)
Which is a useful apercu that things do change and attitudes alter and the alteration diffuses beyond the original protesters against things as they were.

Thursday 17 March 2011

A quotation a day for Women's History Month: 17th March

Opticians, apparently, are not a litigious class, but they must often have been sorely tempted to protest. In film after film the suggestion has been made that a pair of spectacles will cut down any heroine's love-life. Again and again a plain girl has blossomed into a tearing beauty by the simple device of taking off her glasses. She simply smashes the nasty things, and steps out towards romance without a blink; better-dressed, clearer-skinned, head held high, and sight totally unaffected.
C A Lejeune, 'Come Now, Voyager' (Review of Now, Voyager), 1943, in Chestnuts in her Lap, 1936-1947 (1948)
As a wearer of glasses since the age of 8 and a sufferer from a serious degree of myopia, I greatly appreciate this apercu by Lejeune. She is one of those much neglected female cultural figures who tend to be beneath the radar because they were working in marginalised areas (such as film criticism before it became a serious and respectable endeavour) and often several of them. In spite of the sniffiness of the BFI biographical note her film criticism is well worth reading, and just because it is not ponderous and solemn doesn't mean it's not serious in intent.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 16th March

Women have ever been useful to ambitious young men. Why not? It is part of the social mechanisms. But until we worked it out... women then in the news were always being puzzled by how we were being embraced in theatre foyers and public places by young men we scarcely knew, whose attentiveness impressed the onlookers, if not us.
There's a dedicated Doris Lessing site and there's a brief biographical overview here. She even has a MySpace page but this doesn't appear to being kept updated and it's not something she maintains herself. Interview with her on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Updates, website and other

No major updates of recent weeks - mostly either tidying up entries for events gone by or adding new info about forthcoming conferences etc - but I have added the following links
Women's History Sources to the Women's History Links page under Research Resources
a collaborative blog that serves as a current awareness tool for anyone
who is interested in primary sources at archives, historic sites and
museums, and libraries. Although there is an emphasis on U.S. women's
history, our goal is for the blog to be international in scope.
And the page for Abortion in the The Literature, Arts, & Medicine Database annotated multimedia listing of prose, poetry, film, video and art to my own Literary Abortion page.

Further on the subject of research resources, it may be worth mentioning that my short article on finding female health workers in the archives has come out in the most recent issue (no 65, Spring 2011) of Women's History Magazine.

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 15th March

Emily pushed her hair behind her ears. 'But I'm not sure, Cee, that there is a correct way for people to oppose the system. All these people were produced by the system, all have found their own needs and ways of resisting or opposing it. I agree that some of those ways are extremely undesirable. But who has the right answer, if there is one?'
L Timmel Duchamp, Blood in the Fruit (2008)
This is from the penultimate volume in Duchamp's marvellous Marq'ssan Cycle, which won a Special Honor from the judges of the Tiptree Award 2009 (and now, I see, the entire sequence is available as e-books).

Check out the other wonderful works of feminist science fiction that Duchamp publishes at Aqueduct Press.

Monday 14 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 14th March

"Man" always includes "woman" when there is a penalty to be incurred but never includes "woman" when there is a privilege to be conferred.
Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, The Sphere of man in relation to that of Woman in the Constitution, 1907
This work appears to be exceedingly rare: there are a couple of copies listed on at immense prices, and doesn't list it under 'Charlotte Stopes' (under which name are included a number of works by her daughter Marie, the famous advocate of birth control. Her reputation as a pioneering feminist scholar has perhaps been occluded by the eminence, or possibly the notoriety, of her daughter.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Marcus Collins, The Permissive Society and its Enemies: Sixties British Culture (2007)

I was rather underwhelmed by this volume, which is not anything like as useful for my purposes as I hoped it might be. There is a useful chapter by Alison Oram on lesbian politics in the 60s before the rise of the Gay Liberation Front. Matt Houlbrook's chapter doesn't really say much more than what one can glean from Queer London about class issues and respectability in homophile campaigns up to 1967.

Generally, there seems a perspective to most of the chapters which is straight male, and I don't think giving a passing acknowledgement to the sexism, sexual exploitation and misogyny going on in subcultures/counter-culture entirely absolves from doing things like seeing whether/how women were engaging with those phenomena (e.g. c.f. Caroline Coon and the establishment of Release) - before the frustration of so many came to a head and was one of the driving forces behind the new militant revived feminism of 'Women's Liberation'. Yes, some of the male figures around were giving lip-service to equality, but no, we don't really have a sense from these chapters of how compromised that was in practice (and was possibly more about abdication of responsibility than acknowledgement of women as actual equals).

There are also some very odd omissions when considering what subcultures were actually around in the 60s. E.g. Mod culture and issues of male dandyism and subversion (or not) of conventions of masculinity.

I found the categorisation of 'civil disobedience' and 'direct action' as 'moral rather than political campaigns' (p. 101) really odd - given that the inspiration there was Gandhi! In fact one of several places where I felt distinctions were being made more hard and fast than the fluid reality must have been.

Okay, edited volumes are always dependent upon who can be persuaded to contribute and is available to do so and working on questions of pertinence to the theme, and this one came out of a conference, which may have added in additional limitations on what could be covered. But I still felt that the choices here were a bit odd.

A quote a day for Women's History Month:13th March

Those who stick their necks out to start social movements tend to be in certain respects atypical. Paradoxically, they are likely to have economic and social privileges that free them from an overwhelming preoccupation with survival, that make them feel less vulnerable and more entitled.... Or conversely, they may already be social outcasts or misfits in one way or another and so feel they have little to lose.... Yet rebellious minorities are really just canaries in the mine. When their complaints speak to widespread, if unadmitted, disappointments and desires, it's amazing how fast ordinary people's desires and the whole social atmosphere can change.
Ellen Willis (this is a wonderful site with lots of links to her writings) was another of the not recognised as well as she might be feminist polemicists/analysts starting out in the 1970s.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Birth of the Birth Control Clinic conference 11th March

Since I got my paper over very early on, I was able to focus a bit more on the rest of the proceedings. It was an excellent day - attendance was perhaps smaller than one might have liked, but it was a group intensely interested in and knowledgeable about the general areas under discussion, which generated a lot of excellent discussion of papers and panel sessions. Some interesting connections were made.

Because of the vigour of the discussions and the numbers of questions and comments, there was a significant amount of time-slippage over the course of the day, even though one speaker (Sarah Hodges on the neo-Malthusians of Madras) had, sadly, had to drop out.

This meant, unfortunately, that the really excellent last paper - Christina Hauck on Stopes's plays and their relationship to particular episodes in her own life - was rather more thinly attended than it deserved as attendees had to dash off to catch planes and trains or for other commitments. While I suspect anyone who has read any of Stopes's plays will have taken away the impression that the protagonists are very much Marie Sues, Hauck illuminated the extent to which particular plays were working through specific personal issues, and the problems posed by the disjuncture between Stopes's own public and private personae in how she dramatised these.

There was further good informal conversation over wine at the reception and at dinner. At least some of the presentations were recorded and should eventually be available as podcasts, but I also wonder whether the papers would not make a useful edited volume or journal special issue?

A quote a day for Women's History Month:12th March

Necessity compelled Char to work twelve hours a day some two evenings a week... but on the remaining days, when work was comparatively light and over early in the evening, she did not choose to spoil the picture which she carried always in her mind's eye of the indefatigable and overtaxed Director of the Midland Supply Depot.
Because I haven't yet posted anything by Delafield. She's best known probably for Diary of a Provincial Lady and its sequels, but her other novels are well worth reading and ratchet up the acerbic note that is there but dialed down by The Provincial Lady (whom many people take, I suspect, to be a good deal more autobiographical of EMD than other evidence suggests). Some of them, indeed, are positively painful to read - her early novel Consequences is particularly harrowing. Nice appreciation here by Jilly Cooper. There is an EMD appreciation website.

Friday 11 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month:11th March

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking women only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.
Because it is, in its way, a classic.

I shall also be participating today at

The Birth of the Birth Control Clinic

Thursday 10 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month:10th March

When men decide that a woman has character and will be all right, they usually also decide that there is no need to worry about her feelings.
Stella Gibbons, Here Be Dragons (1956)
Stella Gibbons is best known for her brilliant fantasia on rural life, Cold Comfort Farm, a satiric riff on the earthier novels of the interwar era, but although that is full of the most wonderful lines worthy of quotation, I thought I'd go for one of her much less well-known but still excellent later novels.

Performing today in the Wellcome Library

Insights session on Women, Health and Healing at 15.00 - 16.00

Wednesday 9 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 9th March

[W]hen it comes to housework the one thing no book of household management can ever tell you is how to begin. Or maybe I mean why.
Perhaps no book can answer it completely: but what I am waiting for... is a book that starts off on the assumption that all sorts of goads and bribes are necessary to get some of us up off the hearthrug and doing the housework at all.
Katharine Whitehorn, 'Nought for Housework', in Roundabout (1952)
O the wonderous Katharine Whitehorn! Well before the advent of the so-called 'second wave' of feminism, indeed, during what is often considered a time of invisible feminism, she was slashing away in her columns with incisive wit about the inequities of women's position in society. E.g. on the attitudes of banks towards women, on abortion law reform, on women in the workplace, etc etc. She also fought the corner of women whose lives are full of domestic disarray, and assumptions that women were naturally good at the domestic arts.

Perhaps I am getting old and cranky, but I came of age when there was a wonderful array of women journalists telling like it was, with both passion and humour. There don't quite seem to be any contemporary equivalents.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 8th March

Has it really taken me this long to get round to George Eliot?
'You are not a woman. You may try -- but you can never imagine what it is to have a man's force of genius in you, and yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl.... [T]his is what you must be; this is what you are wanted for; a woman's heart must be of such a size and no larger, else it must be pressed small, like Chinese feet; her happiness is to be made as cakes are, to a fixed receipt.'
George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876) 
Deronda's mother, formerly the singer and actress The Alcharisi, latterly the Princess Halm-Eberstein. I didn't see the more recent televisation but there was an excellent version in 1970. This too does not appear available on DVD. 

International Women's Day

Shout, shout*, up with your song:
Dame Ethel Smyth (neither of those bios strikes me as altogether satisfactory), The March of the Women - lyrics (which often get overlooked in the attribution to Smyth) by Cicely Hamilton (though Dame E apparently copyrighted them to herself along with the music).

I first heard this when it was the theme song for the 1974 drama series, Shoulder to Shoulder (1974 was a good year for television drama with feminist content - it was also the year of the good version of South Riding).  What would be a nice thing for 100 years of International Women's Day would be for this to be available once more on DVD, which it isn't (rights issues? deterioration of the originals? - surely there would be interest in it). I'm sure I'd find things now to criticise in its depiction of the suffrage movement (i.e. very Pankhurst-focused) but there was so much in it that I still remember fondly that I'd at least like to see how it held up. It might at least open up debates about the iconography of the suffrage movement and the way it's remembered.

*And how much do I like that exhortation to women to shout? particularly when articles in the Observer Magazine on Sunday, in what was presumably intended as an IWD-themed issue, invoked the 'strident' motif as a negative symbol of feminism.

Monday 7 March 2011

PSA: Fragen project: texts on European feminism

For the first time, core feminist texts from the second wave of feminism in Europe have been made available to researchers in an easily accessible online database. The FRAGEN project brings together books, articles and pamphlets that were influential in the development of feminist ideas in 29 countries during the second half of the 20th century.
And for Women’s History Month, the online archive, Women and Social Movements, International—1840 to Present, will be freely accessible during the month of March. Fragen, however, appears to be open access.

A Quote a Day for Women's History Month: 7th March

The feminism I know began as politics, not rules for living. To call X a feminist issue did not then mean that there was a good way to do X and a bad way, and that we were trying to replace the bad way with the good way. X was a feminist issue because it was the locus of various social pressures (which it made visible) and those social pressures were what feminism was all about.... Those who don't see the distinction are building a religion, not a politics.
A brilliant essay by this perhaps undervalued writer, or at least one who has not obtained the notoriety of some others of her generation (roughly speaking, the beginning of the so-called 'second wave). Possibly better known for her science fiction? I may think that because my sff reading friends pretty much all know about her: but this may not constitute a particularly representative group.

Sunday 6 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 6th March

Time for a classic from Rebecca West:

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute.
Rebecca West, 'Mr Chesterton in Hysterics: A Study in Prejudice', first published in The Clarion, 14 Nov 1913, reprinted in The Young Rebecca (1982)

Saturday 5 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 5th March

Because we can't omit Virginia Woolf, can we? I had to look for this one for a long time, having thought, initially, that it was either in A Room of One's Own or Three Guineas:

You may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it -- in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all -- I need not say it -- she was pure.
Virginia Woolf, 'Professions for Women', in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942)
Woolf went on to exhort women to kill the Angel in the House. Unfortunately, she keeping coming back from the dead like Dracula in a Hammer Horror film, and shapeshifts into all sorts of mutated forms.

Friday 4 March 2011

A quote a day for Women's History Month: 4th March

It is agreeable to distemper ones' own nursery, bake crusts, squeeze oranges and mix nourishing salads; it is not agreeable to sit on quarrelling committees, listen to tedious speeches, organise demonstrations and alter systems, in order that others -- for whom such wholesome pleasures are at present impossible -- may enjoy them. Yet women are praised for the maternal instinct which makes the care expended on their own children natural and pleasant; they are criticised for the political activities which result in the safeguarding of other people's children as well as their own. Winifred Holtby, Women and a Changing Civilisation (1932)
Winifred Holtby (1898-1935), another on the list of interwar middlebrow women novelists and a friend of Stella Browne, alas taken from the world so very soon. An extraordinarily full life of writing and assorted activism, etc. Currently, her greatest novel, South Riding, is being horribly travestied in a dreadful TV adaptation - 3 hour-long episodes for a long novel full of intertwining characters and plots just does not work, and is reductionist. If you can, get hold of the DVDs of the glorious 13-episode 1974 Yorkshire TV version (Dorothy Tutin as Sarah,  Nigel Davenport as Carne, Hermione Baddeley as Alderman Beddows).  But while the 1938 movie version has some renowned names from the ranks of British thespians, the plot summary has always deterred me from seeking this out. Holtby was writing against romance conventions, not with them. Even if Sarah Burton is one of the few true legitimate descendants of Jane Eyre.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Adrian Bingham, Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life and the British Popular Press, 1918-1978

This really does fill in a much needed gap (which I flagged up in one of my chapters in The Facts of Life) about how sex figured in the popular daily/Sunday papers in Britain in the earlier part of the C20th, given that that was where a lot of people would have been picking up such sexual knowledge as they had.

Bingham does an excellent job, showing the ways in which newspaper proprietors and editors were well aware that 'sex sells' but also of the ways that they had to negotiate around societal taboos and the idea of being 'family newspapers' and making sure the content was suitable for the kiddies. One does get a very strong impression that sex got discussed rather a lot in the context of society scandal/divorce and criminality, although there was also a dimension of (male, heteronormative) 'healthy/normal' embodied in  the phenomenon of the extensive use of pin-up photos.

There's also interesting stuff about a moment, in the 40s and 50s and into the 60s, in which at least certain papers were taking a stance on being modern and the importance of knowledge and enlightenment around sex and there was a period in which it's arguable that there was some genuinely educational stuff going on  - note here role of women advice columnists and also the articles on e.g. abortion which were presenting the progressive legalisation case. Although this varied a lot over the range of topics and there is some very good analysis of the ways in which the popular press generally chose to deal with prostitution (as 'oldest profession' with occasional moral panics over 'white slavery', vice rings, etc).

But that moment was swept away by an increasing sexualisation and sensationalism that burgeoned in the 70s.

Useful stuff. I really ought to read his other book on Gender, Modernism and the Popular Press in Interwar Britain but it's wicked pricey. I could get it on ILL and take notes I suppose but I like to have my own copies so I can look things up when I need to.

A Quote a Day for Women's History Month: 3rd March

Scholastic ladies, I am convinced, have a vocation which they neither can nor desire to elude.... Now, when I meet scholastic ladies I like them, respect them, yet feel as though I were skating precariously on thin ice all the time; or rather, that my brittle ice is their solid terra firma. Will they find me out, I wonder? Find out those frightful gaps in my education?

Very rarely do I meet one scholastic lady alone; usually two or three in a group of friendship. They wear friendship like a warm durable cloak that does not fray or need patching. They do not insult one another; they tell gay teasing stories to show up each others' good and generous qualities, and while they are doing so, the subject of their story always tries to stop them.
G. B. [Gladys Bertha] Stern, Monogram (1936)
Stern was an interwar writer of novels and memoirs of whose works I am very fond, and fits well into a wider group of middlebrow women writers c. 1910-1960. I like this for its positive presentation of a group of women who are often rather negatively presented in texts of the same period. Even Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night is subject to preconceptions and stereotypes concerning the academic ladies of Shrewsbury College, even if, as a whole, the book vindicates women dedicated to the life of the mind. This depiction is particularly nice coming from a woman from a very different milieu with, or so she claims, an inferiority complex about her own credentials in the field of learning. I particularly like the lovely picture of female friendship.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

More about Stella, that I missed

Last week I came across a mention of a letter from her to The Lancet about the Ascheim-Zondek pregnancy test, which, checking out, I found was particularly concerned about the need to have provisions to guard the confidentiality of women getting the test done (which seemed particularly pertinent given some of the things that were being mooted in certain US states about policing miscarriages, etc).

Today someone has kindly sent me some details I did not have about Stella's educational career: apparently, before she went to St Felix Girls' School in Southwold, she was at St Leonard's School in Fife, c. 1893-1895. Her mother's address is given as Maschstrasse, Hanover, which rather confirms my supposition that Siemens family connections were involved.

I wonder what else will turn up?

Women's History Month: Quote for 2nd March

In actuality, each month the ovum undertakes an extraordinary expedition from the ovary through the Fallopian tubes to the uterus, an unseen equivalent of going down the Mississippi on a raft or over Niagara Falls in a barrel.... One might say that the activity of ova involves a daring and independence absent, in fact, from the activity of spermatozoa, which move in jostling masses, swarming out on signal like a crowd of commuters from the 5:15.

Mary Ellmann, Thinking about Women (1968)
This is a sadly fairly little known work of early 'second-wave' feminist literary criticism, extremely witty and incisive, even if I don't concur with some of Ellmann's literary judgements.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

International Women's History Month Project: A Quote a Day

I'm picking these from the large selection that I've been posting since 1999 weekly on my website, not all of them by women, but a large number of them have been.

To kick off, who other than Stella Browne, who featured very early on after the inception of that enterprise, with the following:
A political system which denies women alike equality of opportunity and adequate special protection; an economic system which is iniquity and waste incarnate; and sexual institutions founded on the needs and preferences of a primitive type of man alone, and now in their debacle, creditable and satisfactory to neither sex - these can have no moral claim on women's bodies as instruments of propagation.
Stella Browne, 'Women and birth control' (1917)
from one of her perhaps lesser-known writings (not that any of it is terribly well-known, but Sexual Variety and Variability in Woman gets an occasional mention, as does the one on female inversion, and the 1935 essay on abortion).

Stella in the bookshop

I shall be discussing Stella Browne, her life, times, politics, etc, at Bookmarks bookshop in Bloomsbury on 29th March - see under their tab 'Events' for details.