Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ada Kepley: A Lawyer Who Couldn't Practice Law

Ada Miser Kepley (earned a law degree, 30 June 1870)


On this day in 1870, Ada Miser Kepley (b. 1847) earned her bachelor of laws degree from Union College of Law (now Northwestern University), becoming the first woman in the United States to receive a law degree. 
Ada Miser Kepley,
1893

But, while she could work as a legal assistant for her husband, Henry B. Kepley, who had his own law practice, she could not practice law in the state of Illinois, which denied women a law license.

An appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois was denied, meaning that if there was to be a remedy, it was not going to be judicial but legislative. Although Henry Kepley helped to change the law, and the ban against women was lifted in 1872, Kepley did not apply for a license to practice until 1881.

In the mean time, she played an active role in the temperance movement and ran for Attorney General of the state of Illinois in 1881. She was also involved in the suffrage movement, leaving the Prohibition Party when it removed its support for women's suffrage:  
I work as hard as a man . . . I earn money like a man. I bear the burdens of community like a man. I am robbed as a woman! I have no voice in anything or in saying how my money, which I have earned, shall be spent. The men of Illinois and the United States run their hands into my pockets, take out my hard earned money, and say impertinently, "What are you going to do about it, you can't help yourself."
(Doesn't this quotation sound as if it could be spoken today? On women and the pay gap, click here or here or here, and if you can stand it, here! On women and the lack of elective representation, click here and here. On still no Equal Rights Amendment, click here.)

In 1892, Kepley was ordained as a Unitarian minister, and she preached for twenty years at The Pulpit, formerly a Methodist church, which she and her husband purchased. 

After her husband's death in 1906, Ada Miser Kepley moved to the Kepley family's farm. Although she tried to support herself by farming and by writing, she lost the farm. She died in poverty, a charity case at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital (Effingham, Illinois) in 1925.

The work that Kepley published in an effort to support herself--an autobiography, A Farm Philosopher: A Love Story, and a collection of poems and songs, The Effingham Town and Country Song Book: the First Town and Country Song Book in the World--is available in a variety of print-on-demand formats. You can read A Farm Philosopher online at the Internet Archive. Her earlier work, a seven-page pamphlet, The Ways to Teach Temperance (1883), seems to be unavailable in print or online.

Although there are a few brief references to Ada Kepley in Jill Norgren's Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers and in Mary Jane Mossman's The First Women Lawyers: A Comparative Study of Gender, Law and the Legal Professionsthe fact that she did not practice law seems to have kept her out of these histories--and Jane Friedman's America's First Woman Lawyer is about Myra Bradwell, not Ada Miser Kepley. A good biographical essay by Judy Rosella Edwards, from the Dictionary of the Unitarian and Universalist Biography  is posted at Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Beatrice d'Este: "Happy by Nature and Very Pleasing"

Beatrice d'Este (born 29 June 1475)


By and large in the posts I'm making this year, I'm focusing on women who do rather than women who simply are--but today I am noting the birth of Beatrice d'Este, the younger sister of Isabella d'Este, whom we've met before.

Beatrice d'Este,
a detail from the
Sforza altarpiece, , 1495
Unlike her elder sister, Beatrice did not live long enough to become a formidable political actor. In 1491, she was married to Ludovico Sforza, then regent of Milan for his nephew Gian Galeazzo, but, by then, equally well on his way to replacing his nephew as duke. (His nephew conveniently died in 1494.)

Beatrice's marriage festivities were designed and directed by Leonardo da Vinci. The fifteen-year-old bride became the center of lavish court life in Milan, noted for her beauty, her fashion, her taste, and her zest for life.

An important part of this courtly life were the poets, intellectuals, and artists with whom she associated, including the courtier, diplomat, and writer Baldassare Castiglione, the poet and courtier Niccolò da Correggio, the architect Donato Bramante, and, of course, Leonardo. In her husband's words, she was "lieta di natura et molto piacevolina"--or, as I have translated above, "happy by nature and very pleasing." 

What she might have become, had she lived longer, is glimpsed in 1492, when she acted as an ambassador to Venice on her husband's behalf, and again in 1495, when she attended a peace conference at Vercelli between the French king, Charles VIII, and notable Italian political figures, including her husband. 

But those glimpses are all we have. Beatrice d'Este died in childbirth on 3 January 1497, just twenty-one years old. Her two sons, Massimiliano (b. 1493) and Francesco II (b. 1495) each took a turn in a precarious role of duke of Milan. 

Tomb effigy of Beatrice d'Este
There is only one biography of Beatrice d'Este, Julia Carthwright's 1907 Beatrice d'Este, Duchess of Milan, 1475-1497. You can buy this in a variety of print-on-demand reprints, and you can also download a free Kindle version. You will also find it in a variety of formats at Project Gutenberg.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Maria Goeppert-Mayer: Theoretical Physicist, Nobel-Prize Winner

Maria Goeppert-Mayer (born 28 June 1906)


In 1963, Maria Goeppert-Mayer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics--just the second woman to win this award, after Marie Curie (in 1903).

Maria Goeppert-Mayer, 1963
Educated at the University of Göttingen, Maria Goeppert studied mathematics but became interested in physics; she completed a Ph.D. in physics in 1930. In the same year she married Joseph Mayer, an American student studying in Göttingen as a Rockefeller Fellow and moved with him to the United States.

Her academic biography is an interesting study in the career limits for a woman at the time. She received a "very modest assistantship" at Johns Hopkins, where her husband landed a job as a faculty member; she did have access to lab facilities and, after some time, was able to offer "some lecture courses."

She briefly returned to Göttingen, during the summers of 1931, 1932, and 1933 to continue work with the German physicist Max Born, but that work ended once the Nazis came to power. 

After her husband left Johns Hopkins (he was fired--Mayer attributed his termination to a dean's misogyny, believing that the dean didn't like having Maria Goeppert-Mayer in the lab), she followed him to Columbia, where again he held a faculty position and where she had a position that was "even more tenuous" than the one she had had at Johns Hopkins. She got an office, but "no appointment."

In 1941, she was offered her first real academic job, a half-time position, teaching science, at Sarah Lawrence College. She taught there, "on an occasional basis," throughout the war. She also taught part-time for Columbia. Although she briefly worked for the Manhattan Project in 1945, after the war, when her husband took up a position at the University of Chicago, she was offered another "voluntary" position. (Her "voluntary" work included "lecturing to classes, serving on committees, directing thesis students, and participating in the activities at the Institute for Nuclear Studies.")

A part-time job at the Argonne National Laboratory, beginning in 1946, led to the work on the nuclear shell model for which she won the Nobel. In 1960 she was finally offered a regular faculty appointment, one that recognized her as a professor "in her own right," at the University of California at San Diego.

She died in San Diego on 20 February 1972.

While I generally love the insight, information, and supporting material found at the Nobel web site, the biography of Maria Goeppert-Mayer posted there makes me gag. (About the situation at Johns Hopkins, for example, you'll find this: "This was the time of the depression, and no university would think of employing the wife of a professor. But she kept working, just for the fun of doing physics.") But you can read her Nobel lecture, watch a video clip of her receiving the award, and access a photo gallery at the Nobel site by clicking here

A much better biographical essay is at the American Physical Society website. A longer piece, from which I've quoted here, is a "biographical memoir" written by Goeppert-Mayer's student, Robert G. Sachs, for the National Academy of Sciences. There is a biography, Joseph P. Ferry's Maria Goeppert Mayer: Physicist. But I don't know whether to laugh or cry that the only biography of the second woman to have won the Nobel Prize for Physics is a children's book.

And, as you consider the obstacle to employment Goeppert-Mayer had to negotiate, consider that she won her Nobel the very year that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Harriet Martineau: "A Great Lion in London"

Harriet Martineau (died 27 June 1876)


Born on June 12 1802, Harriet Martineau was the daughter of Thomas Martineau and Elizabeth Rankin. Martineau's father was a manufacturer of textiles (the "Norwich staples" of "bombazine and camlet") and an importer of wine, her mother the daughter of a wholesale grocer and sugar refiner, based in Newcastle. Nothing about this family background marked Harriet Martineau out for the remarkable career she would make for herself--except for her family's progressive views on education. 

Harriet Martineau, 1834,
portrait by Richard Evans
Harriet Martineau was provided with the same education as her brothers, at least until the brothers went off to continue their education at the university level. In 1823, Martineau would publish "On Female Education" in the Unitarian journal Monthly Repository describing this essential injustice--an article her brother James, studying to become a minister, praised. And once he learned his sister was the author, he encouraged her to do more than point out the injustice: "Now, dear, leave it to the other women to make skirts and darn stockings, and you devote yourself to this." 

Martineau did indeed devote herself to "this"--and to much more. Although tempted by a marriage her father arranged, she ultimately rejected a domestic life. She continued to write for the Monthly Repository on a number of subjects before relocating to London. There she wrote devotional works before turning her attention to topics much less "suitable" for women--she wrote on politics and economics, publishing Illustrations of Political Economy (1832–34), Poor Laws and Paupers Illustrated (1833–34), and Illustrations of Taxation (1834). It was in 1834 that Charles Darwin, in Galapagos, received a letter from his sister noting that Martineau had become "a great Lion in London."

Martineau traveled to America in 1836 and published two works after that trip, Society in America (1837) and Retrospect of Western Travel (1838). In both she was highly critical of the way that the supposed democratic society operated. The chapter on women in Society in America--"The Political Non-Existence of Women"--is particularly noteworthy. In America, Martineau met with a number of important American abolitionists, and in addition to the two books on her trip, her 1839 essay in the Westminster Review, "The Martyr Age in the United States," focused on the abolitionist movement in the United States.

In her long writing career, Martineau published novels, children's stories, histories, an autobiographical account of illness and invalidism (Life in the Sickroom: Essays by an Invalid), books on education (Household Education, 1848) and gardening, and on philosophy (Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development, 1851), all the while continuing regular journalistic work (she contributed some 1600 articles just to the Daily News). She also traveled to the Middle East, publishing Eastern Life Past and Present (1848) and, a little closer to home, A Complete Guide to the English Lakes in 1855.

Although she suffered a number of disabilities and illnesses throughout her life, Martineau lived a relatively long and full life, dying in 1876 at the age of seventy-four.

Martineau is remembered today as a social activist and reformer, an economics and history writer, a journalist, and a feminist. In her now-classic anthology The Feminist Papers (1973), second-wave feminist and sociologist Alice S. Rossi had this to say about Harriet Martineau:
Crusty, garrulous, a prodigious writer, a forerunner of the discipline of sociology not yet born, Harriet Martineau stands as an early ardent defender of women's rights, the first woman sociologist, and a sympathetic observer of the social condition of women in a society that proclaimed freedom and justice for all but did not grant it to more than half its population.
You can read Martineau's "The Political Non-Existence of Women" (in the first volume of Society in America) by clicking here. Another section, "Woman" (in the second volume of Society in America) is available here. Society in America and many other works by Martineau are available through Google Books; many are also accessible at Project Gutenberg or through a free Kindle download. Martineau also wrote an autobiography, published posthumously, but you may enjoy Deborah Anna Logan's The Hour and the Woman: Harriet Martineau's "Somewhat Remarkable" Life.

Bonus trivia: according to Christopher Wilson's article in The Telegraph, "The Benefits of a Feminist in the Family," Kate Middleton is a descendant of Harriet Martineau: "Harriet Martineau's father was Kate's great, great, great, great, great grandfather." Why so backwards, Mr. Wilson? Instead of focusing on Martineau's father for this genealogical link, why couldn't you put it in these terms:  "Kate Middleton's great great great great great grandmother Elizabeth Rankin Martineau"? 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hedvig Sophia of Sweden, Princess and Regent

Hedvig Sophia Augusta of Sweden, duchess of Holstein-Gottorp (born 25 June 1681)


Hedvig Sophia was the oldest child of Charles XI of Sweden and his queen, Ulrika Eleanor of Denmark. After her mother's death in 1693, Hedvia Sophia was raised by her influential grandmother, the dowager queen Hedvig Eleanora of Holstein-Gottorp, who had been regent of Sweden for her son, Charles XI, between 1660 and 1672, and who would again be regent of Sweden, this time for her grandson, Charles XII, in 1697.

Hedvig Sophia Augusta,
in a late seventeenth-century portrait
by David von Krafft
On 12 May 1698 Hedvig Sophia married her cousin, Frederick IV, duke of Holstein-Gottorp. This was not a marriage she had desired, and although she lived with her husband for a year, Hedvig Sophia returned to Sweden in 1699. 

Her brother and her husband were famous friends and fought together in "The Great Northern War"--Frederick was in Sweden in late 1699 and spent enough time with his wife that the two managed to have a child, a son, Charles Frederick, born on 30 April 1700.

After her husband's death in July 1702, the duchess Hedvig Sophia became regent of Holstein-Gottorp on 18 October of that year. Even then, she did not return to Holstein-Gottorp. She stayed in Sweden and left the day-to-day running of affairs to her late husband's uncle, but as regent she reserved the right to make the final decision on important matters. She continued as regent of Holstein-Gottorp until her death, as a result of smallpox, in 1708. 

By the way, Hedvig Sophia's younger sister, Ulrika Eleanora, was regent of Sweden from 1713 to 1718 while her brother, Charles XII, was at war in Norway. On his death in November 1718, Ulrika Eleanora became queen regnant of Sweden. 

Ultika Eleanora "the younger,"
Hedvig Sophia's sister,
who became queen of Sweden

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mary Rose, "the French Queen"

Mary Tudor (died 25 June 1533)


Mary Tudor was the younger sister of Henry VIII, the fifth child of Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York.

Mary Tudor, detail
from a portrait made during her
brief reign in France
Born on 18 March 1496, Mary Tudor was married off--much against her wishes--to a fifty-two-year-old Louis XII of France.

She was eighteen--married on 9 October 1514, crowned on 15 November, and widowed on 1 January 1515, less than three months after her marriage. She may have lost her king (a loss she surely did not mourn), but she gained the title by which she would be known for the rest of her life, "the French queen."

While still in France, Mary chose her second husband for herself. Fearful of whatever political match her brother, Henry VIII, might next arrange for her, she married Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, on 3 March 1515. All things considered, he was an interesting choice, husband-wise.

At this point, Brandon's marital adventures had gone far beyond those of his new brother-in-law, Henry VIII, who was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. In 1515, Mary Tudor, now the widow of the French king, was Brandon's third--or fourth-- wife, depending on how you did the counting.

About 1505, Brandon had engaged himself to Anne Browne by a binding contract of sponsalia per verba de praesenti--a valid marriage under canon law by which both parties "in the present" mutually agree. In the case of Brandon and Anne Browne, their exchange of promises must also have been followed by consummation, because she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter in 1506. 

But then Brandon changed his mind; he had his "marriage" with Anne "declared void" in 1507 and married her aunt, Margaret Neville, the widow--the wealthy widow--of Sir John Mortimer. When that marriage was declared "null and void" by angry family members, Brandon returned to Anne Brown, and they had a second daughter, born in 1510.

After Anne Browne died in 1511, Brandon was not too heartbroken to consider another marriage. In 1512, Brandon had been granted the wardship of Elizabeth Grey, the eight-year-old daughter of the recently deceased John Grey, viscount Lisle. In 1513, Brandon decided he would marry the child, and the two were betrothed; on 15 May 1513, Henry VIII created Brandon Viscount Lisle, in right of his betrothed wife.

But this didn't prevent Brandon from marrying Mary Tudor when he had his chance in 1515. At the time he married, he was still "betrothed" to Elizabeth Grey (eventually he had to give up his wardship and titles). Not only that, his second "wife," Margaret Neville Mortimer, was still alive (she would marry again, too, but not until c. 1521). Brandon's divorce from Margaret wouldn't be confirmed as valid until 1528, when Pope Clement VII issued a papal bull, thereby insuring the legitimacy of his two daughters by Anne Brown.

Still with me? We might as well finish up Brandon's marital (mis)adventures: less than three months after Mary Tudor's death, Brandon would marry yet again. His fourth or fifth wife (again, her position depends on how you count Brandon's marriages) was Katherine Willoughby, just fourteen when she married the forty-nine-year-old Brandon--she was his ward, a bride destined for his son. Oops. Katherine Willoughby Brandon survived her marriage to Brandon and went on to choose a husband for herself the second time around.

Well, that was a bit of a detour. And, by the way, don't you just love "traditional marriage"?

Although "the French queen" had chosen a husband for herself when she was a young widow, she died when she was just thirty-seven years old, leaving three surviving children: Frances Brandon, Eleanor Brandon, and Henry Brandon. The boy died less than a year after his mother.

Frances Brandon, Mary Tudor's elder daughter, was the mother of Lady Jane Grey, whom we've met before. All three of Frances Brandon's daughters--Jane, Catherine, and Mary--came to grief over their claims to the throne.

Mary Tudor, detail
from a portrait with Charles Brandon
Mary Tudor's younger daughter, Eleanor Brandon, was eighth in line to the throne by the terms of Henry VIII's Third Succession Act of 1544. Eleanor died in 1547, leaving her daughter, Margaret Clifford, in the line of succession.

Margaret Clifford also suffered because of her inheritance--in 1579, she was accused of sorcery and plotting against Queen Elizabeth I and was imprisoned. Although Eleanor's physician was executed, she was spared, though she was banished from court and increasingly mpoverished. She died in 1596. 

None of Mary Tudor's descendants succeeded Elizabeth I when she died in 1603. The crown went to James of Scotland.

Although the noted historian David Loades published a biography of Mary Tudor, Mary Rose, in 2012, she plays a relatively small role in a book that offers very little information about her that has not appeared in biographies of Henry VIII or Charles Brandon. Much better is Jennifer Kewley Draskau's The Tudor Rose: Princess Mary, Henry VIII's Sister

But you might prefer Maria Perry's The Sisters of Henry VIII: The Tumultuous Lives of Margaret of Scotland and Mary of France--it's very reasonably priced and you get two for the price of one!


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bathsua Makin and the Education of Women

Bathsua Reginald Makin (elegy addressed to the Countess of Huntingdon, 24 June 1649)


Although Bathsua Makin is a noted writer and proponent of education for women, much of her life is not well documented. Her date of birth is not known (even the year isn't certain), and the year of her death is also unknown. So I've linked this post to an event in Makin's life that can be dated--on 24 June 1649, Makin wrote a Latin elegy to Lucy Hastings, the dowager countess of Huntingdon, commemorating the death, by smallpox, of the countess's nineteen-year-old son, Henry.

Bathsua Makin, c. 1640-48,
engraving by William Marshall
Bathsua Reginald was the elder daughter of a schoolmaster named Henry Reginald. (We don't know the name of her mother.) Her year of birth is generally given as "c. 1600"--her younger sister, Ithamaria, was baptized at the church of St. Dunstan and All Saints in Stepney in 1601.

Henry Reginald ran a school in London, and a former student was to note that Bathsua had "an exact knowledge in the Greek, Latin, and French tongues," as well as "some insight" into Hebrew and "Syriac." Indeed, she "doubtless" had "much more learning" than her father, who was "a mere pretender to it."

Aside from this later recollection, the earliest clear information about the young Bathsua's life comes from Musa virginea, published in 1616 by Henry Reginald, a collection of his daughter's  poems in praise of King James and other members of the royal family composed in six languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and German. (A gift of praise the king obviously appreciated: when he received the volume, the king is reported to have asked, "But can she spin?") On the book's title page, Reginald says that the book is published in his daughter's "sixteenth year of age."

A second publication may be dated from the same year--a book published by her father, probably in 1616, contains a demonstration of a new system of shorthand, which seems to be Bathsua's original creation. Bathsua may have published a pamphlet, under her own name, on the system--a 1619 title page for her Index Radiographia is all that remains. 

The young woman was already gaining a reputation; by 1619, the king's physician wrote that she was "eruditiones eximiae virgini" (an exceptionally learned young woman), and part of her exceptional learning may have been her medical knowledge; a noted London doctor was later to claim that she had accumulated a trove of medical "receipts" (Sir Walter Raleigh's medical receipts, to be exact!), and that she had treated and cured one of Charles I's chaplains. 

Bathsua Reginald married Richard Makin, a minor court servant in the court of both James I and Charles I, on 5 March 1622, and over the course of the next two decades, she gave birth to eight children (1623, 1627, 1628, 1629, 1630, 1633, and 1642). 

But, while Richard Makin lost his place at court by 1640, Bathsua gained one. Although it is not at all clear how, she had become the tutor of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of Charles I, responsible for instructing the princess in classical and modern languages and mathematics. She continued in this position at least until 1644, when she writes about Elizabeth's skills at age nine, and perhaps until the death of the princess in 1650. 

After the death of Princess Elizabeth, Makin suffered financially. In 1655 she petitioned for payment "of the arrears" for her "attendance on the late king's children," but this petition was dismissed. The death of her husband Richard, in 1659, was a personal loss and further contributed to her financial difficulties. But, at some point, she found another influential pupil, Lucy Hastings, countess of Huntingdon, whom she instructed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Spanish. She also taught the countess's son, Theophilus, who would become the seventh earl of Huntingdon. When her role in the household began isn't clear, though her elegy for the countess's oldest son, Henry, was dated 1649. In 1664, when Lucy Hastings died, Makin also wrote an elegy dedicated to her. Letters from 1668 show Makin's ongoing connections to the family. 

By 1673, Makin had established her own school, in Tottenham, designed to educate the daughters of gentlemen; her Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen in Religion, Manners, Arts, and Tongues, published in that year, provides a rationale for educating women (or, at least, some women); delivers a brief history of women’s accomplishments in a range of fields, including languages, philosophy, and mathematics; includes the names of women renowned for their learning; and serves as an advertisement for her school.

For Makin, education for women is not only a practical advantage but a moral necessity, enabling women, like men, "to employ their lives to those noble and excellent ends for which the omnipotent and all-wise Creator made them, which are the glory of God, the eternal happiness of their immortal souls, and to be useful in their places."

Interestingly, while objecting to the "barbarous custom to breed woman low," Makin's "essay" is actually composed in the voices of not one but two "men," who exchange letters, one male writer arguing in favor of women's education, the other opposing it. 

It's not clear whether Makin's school was a success, how long it was open, how many students she may have taught, and who some of those students may have been. It isn't even clear when she died--the last letter from her that survives is dated November 1675 and shows that she was still living in London. There are no death or burial records.

The best account of Makin's life is Frances Teague's entry for her in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biograpphy--access is by subscription, however (which I don't have--I have to get it via Interlibrary Loan, so that's another option). Teague also published Bathsua Makin: Woman of Learning, which seems to be out of print, though copies are available. There is also a wonderful chapter on Makin, "Bathsua Makin: Female Scholars and the Reformation of Learning," in Carol Pal's Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century.

Makin’s Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen in Religion, Manners, Arts, and Tongues is available online at A Celebration of Women Writers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972

Title IX (signed into law 23 June 1972)


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to end discrimination based on religion, race, color, or national origin--although it prohibited sex discrimination in employment, it did not include any provisions to end discrimination on the basis of sex in education or in federally funded programs.

Thus the need for further legislation. Title IX, which was introduced into the Senate by Birch Bayh on 28 February 1972 and which was co-authored by Representative Patsy Mink, is simple and straightforward: 
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
An "overview" of the statute is provided at the Department of Justice website:
Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The principal objective of Title IX is to avoid the use of federal money to support sex discrimination in education programs and to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices. Title IX applies, with a few specific exceptions, to all aspects of federally funded education programs or activities. In addition to traditional educational institutions such as colleges, universities, and elementary and secondary schools, Title IX also applies to any education or training program operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance.
Title IX was signed into law by Richard Nixon. After Mink's death in 2002, the U.S. Congress renamed the Title IX Amendment, which is now known officially as the "Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act."

There are multiple controversies surrounding Title IX--and a surprising amount of opposition to it--particularly in light of the "damage" that Title IX does to men's athletics and the way Title IX can be used in campus sexual assault cases. I wish I found that hard to believe. So, it's important to:



Monday, June 22, 2015

Lucrezia Tornabuoni: Business Woman, Political Adviser, Poet

Lucrezia Tornabuoni Medici (born 22 June 1425)


Lucrezia Tornabuoni, c. 1475,
portrait by Domenico Ghirlandaio
A member of one influential Florentine family, Lucrezia Tornabuoni married into another influential family, the Medici.

It is possible, of course, to write about Lucrezia Tornabuoni exclusively in relationship to the powerful men in her life: daughter of Francesco di Simone Tornabuoni, a wealthy banker and elected magistrate in the city of Florence; sister of Giovanni Tornabuoni, a papal ambassador, banker, and office holder in Florence; wife of Piero de' Medici, banker and the de facto ruler of Florence from 1464 to 1469; mother of Lorenzo de' Medici, known as "the Magnificent"; grandmother of two popes, Leo X and Clement VII. 

But, as Gerry Milligan notes, "In Florence, a city where there was no princely court to provide titles of authority to women and at a time when women were frequently kept from the public sphere of men, Lucrezia Tornabuoni (b. 1425–d. 1482) exercised an impressive influence over the politics and culture around her." 

While it is true that her "family network" was her "source of influence," Lucrezia Tornabuoni is significant beyond her role as daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother.

She was a successful landowner, buying and leasing property, collecting rents, and renovating a hot springs, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a family retreat and a spa for paying guests. 

Her husband sent her on diplomatic missions that required tact and delicacy. After her husband's death, she continued to have an influence in Florentine civic affairs, measured not only by the advice she offered to her son but also by the careful arrangement of her children's marriages, building political bridges and reinforcing links between important allies. 

Her public role was also maintained by her key role in funding charitable enterprises throughout the city. I particularly like her role in helping to provide dowries for young women who petitioned for her assistance and answering the requests of nuns for cloth so that they could make their habits! 

Well-educated herself, she made sure her children were also well educated. She was an important patron of the arts, one recent study detailing her influential role as a promoter of the "visual arts of fifteenth century Florence." 

Lucrezia Tornabuoni,
detail from a fresco in the Medici Palace,
Ghirlandaio
Tornabuoni was also an accomplished writer. Aside from a large number of surviving letters, her works include a religious sonnet (only one sonnet survives, though it is clear from her correspondence that she composed more lyric poems in this form), a series of storie sacre, or verse narratives, retellings of Old  and New Testament stories (including several lives of female figures, including Susanna, Judith, and Esther), and a series of nine laudi, or poems of praise, set to music.

Lucrezia Tornabuoni died on 28 March 1482.*

Gerry Milligan's very informative essay on Lucrezia Tornabuoni is available through the online Oxford Biographies; you can access it by clicking here. Mary Bosanquet's 1960 biography, Mother of the Magnificent: A Life of Lucrezia Tornabuoni is out of print, but used copies are available; this is a bit romanticized, but the history itself is solid. I also like Natalie Tomas's The Medici Women: Gender and Power in Renaissance Florence, but it's incredibly expensive--InterLibrary Loan??

Lucrezia Tornabuoni's letters are available only in Italian, but the verse narratives and lyrics are available and affordable in Jane Tylus's English translation, Lucrezia Tornabuoni de' Medici: Sacred Narratives. This volume also contains an extended introduction, with a good biography.

And, by the way, Lucrezia Tornabuoni is a foremother of a woman we have met before, Caterina de' Medici, who ultimately became queen and regent of France. Lucrezia is Caterina's great-great-grandmother.

*In my original post, I inadvertently repeated Tornabuoni's birth date here instead of giving her date of death--this post has now been updated, thanks to antoniafiorenza 1469's observation!

**And thanks to Alexandra Lawrence for her correction to my spelling of Gerry Milligan's name!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sappho of Lesbos: The "Tenth Muse"

Sappho of Lesbos (new poem published 21 June 2005)


Today's post on Sappho may seem oddly dated--but we know so little about the life of this renowned lyric poet, and we have no definite dates.

But on 21 June 2005, classics scholar Martin West announced the recovery of a "new Sappho poem" in the Times Literary Supplement: scholars had matched a newly discovered Sappho fragment with a previously identified fragment, the two together making a "new poem," though still incomplete, of about twelve lines. So I've used this date for today's post on Sappho

A Roman copy of a 5th c. BCE
bust of Sappho
The Greek poet Sappho was likely born around 620 BCE (dates range from 630 to 612), and she seems to have lived into the mid sixth century BCE--perhaps to around 550. 

All we really know about Sappho is found in her poetry--and even that is mostly fragmentary.

The great Library of Alexandria had nine books of Sappho's poetry, organized by the kind of metrical patterns in the lyrics. Today, only one complete poem survives, the "Hymn to Aphrodite," usually labeled as Fragment 1. Fragment 16, "Some Say," is about twenty lines.

Fragment 31 is perhaps my favorite lyric poem in the western canon. Here it is, in Mary Barnard's 1958 translation: 

He is more than a hero
He is a god in my eyes—
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you—he

who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing

laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can’t

speak—my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,

hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body

and I turn paler than
dry grass. At such times
death isn’t far from me.
                                                                       
And here it is, in Diane Rayor's, from 1991 :
To me it seems
that man has the fortune of the gods,
whoever sits beside you, and close,
who listens to you sweetly speaking
and laughing temptingly;
my heart flutters in my breast,
whenever I look quickly, for a moment--
I say nothing, my tongue broken,
a delicate fire runs under my skin,
my eyes see nothing, my ears roar,
cold sweat rushes down me,
trembling seizes me,
I am greener than grass,
to myself I seem
needing but little to die.

But all must be endured, since. . . .
Aside from Sappho's hymn addressed to Aphrodite and a handful of extended but incomplete poems, the remaining poetry is fragmentary, sometimes just a word or phrase. In modern editions, all of the fragments together number about 264. 

Just recently, another large bit of fragment has been recovered--its discovery was made  in 2014.

I've already had my little rant about Plato's reference to Sappho as the "tenth Muse" elsewhere on this blog--so I'll restrain myself here and just provide a link in case you want to see for yourself . . . We'll also see this "praise"--she's the "tenth muse"!--several more times, later in the year.

There's a nice overview of Sappho at the Poetry Foundation website. But, more important than reading about Sappho, read some Sappho today!!! 

Fragments of Sappho
K

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Blessed Margareta Ebner, Nun and Visionary

Margareta Ebner (died 20 June 1351)


Born in southeastern Germany (Swabia) in 1291, Margareta Ebner was a member of an aristocratic family and well-educated. Without any of the opposition or controversy that many young women experienced before entering into a religious life, Ebner joined the Dominican nuns at the convent of Maria Medingen, near the Bavarian town of Dillingen, probably around the year 1305. She spent the rest of her life there. 

The tomb of Margareta Ebner,
convent of Maria Medingen
From 1312, she suffered a series of traumatic, debilitating illnesses--at times she experienced bouts of uncontrollable laughter and tears that lasted for days at a time, while at other times she was bedridden, occasionally for months at a time. 

However, as Bernard McGinn notes, her illnesses became "the occasion, even the stimulus, for her conversion to a deeper mystical life of devotion." In 1315, her "mystical life" began; she would later record these experiences in her Revelations, "a kind of mystical journal, or autohagiographical narrative." She was encouraged by the priest Henry of Nördlingen, a spiritual adviser with whom she exchanged letters (fifty-six of his letters to her survive; unfortunately, only one of hers, to him, survives). 

Ebner began the process of composing her Revelations in 1344 and completed her task in 1348. She died on 20 June 1351. 

Interestingly, Nördlingen not only provided the impetus for Ebner's recording of her visionary experiences, he also translated the beguine Mechthild of Magdeburg's The Flowing Light of the Godhead into Middle High German and sent a copy to Ebner. (The original seems to have been written in Mechthild's Middle Low German; it had then been translated into Latin.) 

Henry of Nördlingen also correspond with, visited, and inspired the Dominican nun, mystic, and writer Christina Ebner (1277-1356)--to whom he also gave a copy of Mechthild's The Flowing Light of the Godhead. With his encouragement, Christina Ebner began a correspondence with Margareta Ebner--despite sharing a name, their religious order, and their mystical experiences, the two are not related.

Margareta Ebner was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 24 February 1979.

For an account of Ebner's visionary experiences, I recommend Bernard McGinn's The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism--1200-1350, the third volume of his monumental history of western Christian mysticism. Her Revelations is also available in a Classics of Western Spirituality edition, Margaret Ebner: Major Works.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Juliana Falconieri and the Religious Sisters of the Third Order of Servites

Juliana Falconieri, Order of the Servites (died 19 June 1341)


Born in 1270, Juliana Falconieri found her way naturally to the Servites, a mendicant order devoted to preaching and to the Virgin Mary (and thus its name, the Ordo Servorum Beatae Mariae Virginis, abbreviated O.S.M.) and established by her uncle, Alexis Falconieri, who was one of the order's seven original founders.

St. Juliana Falconieri,
St. Peter's, Rome
After her father's death, and under the guidance of her uncle, she became a member of the order in 1285, though she remained in her mother's home.

Like so many of the religious women whose lives we have already discussed, Juliana devoted herself to chastity, strict prayer, mortification of the flesh, severe penance, and acts of charity. (Stories about her life say that she never looked into a mirror or gazed into a man's face.)

In 1305, after her mother's death, Juliana and a group of young women, already her followers, established the first convent of the Sisters of the Third Order of Servites.

Juliana directed the convent for thirty-five years, until her death on 19 June 1341. 

Along with Catherine of Genoa, Juliana Falconieri was canonized by Pope Clement XII on 16 June 1737. Although she was not yet St. Juliana, Pope Benedict XIII (reigned 1724-30) had already recognized 19 June as a feast day for the Blessed Juliana.

St. Juliana Falconieri,
Church of Santissima Annunziata, Florence

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eleanor of Woodstock: Princess and Regent

Eleanor of Woodstock, countess of Guelders (born 18 June 1318)


The daughter of the ill-fated Edward II of England and Isabella of France, the "she wolf" we've already met, Eleanor of Woodstock was the third child and first daughter of this unhappily married pair. 

An early-fourteenth-century
miniature of Eleanor of Woodstock,
from a Book of Hours
Eleanor became the second wife of Reginald "the Black" of Guelders. The two were married in 1332. The count had four daughters by his first wife, and Eleanor obligingly provided him with two sons, giving birth to the first in 1334, the second in 1336. 

Her husband proved to be as problematic as his name suggests--although he was "the black" because of his dark complexion, his behavior was equally dark.

Even before the marriage was arranged, he couldn't wait to become count of Guelders, so he had seized power and imprisoned his father for six years, from 1318 to 1326 (Reginald didn't release his father from prison; his father died there).

Reginald the Black proved to be no kinder to Eleanor. He dismissed her from court in 1338 (after she had given birth to the two sons), then claimed she had leprosy so he could have the marriage annulled. She managed to prove she didn't have leprosy by stripping down in court to reveal her body, unmarked by the disease. The annulment was denied, and Reginald was supposed to receive her again as his wife.

Whether they were reconciled or not, Reginald died in a riding accident in 1343. Eleanor of Woodstock then became regent of Guelders for her eldest son (unfortunately, another Reginald, this one later to be known as "Reginald the Fat"). 

Eleanor was forced to resign as regent in 1344. In 1350, with her encouragement, Eleanor's younger son, Edward, rebelled against his elder brother. During this period of civil conflict, Reginald confiscated all of his widowed mother's wealth, and she found refuge in the Cistercian abbey of Deventer, which she had founded and where she died in poverty on 22 April 1355.

(Edward defeated his older brother in 1361, captured him, and imprisoned Reginald. It was during this imprisonment that he became "the fat"--he supposedly became so fat that he couldn't have escaped even if his prison door had been left open. But Edward died in 1371, and Reginald was released--he regained his role as count of Guelders, but died almost immediately.) 

And one further note: it's hard to say much about Reginald the Black's first wife, Sophia Berthout. She seems to have been born about 1303, she was married about 1325, she gave birth to four daughters (1326, 1327, 1328 and 1329), and then died, early in May 1329, at age 26.

There are a few bits and pieces about Eleanor of Woodstock in Alison Weir's biography of her mother, Isabella of France. The longest account is in volume 3 (1857) of Mary Anne Everett Green's The Lives of the Princesses of England; although published in the mid-nineteenth century, Green's account relies for detail on chronicles written in Guelders at the time of Eleanor's life there. Green's Lives is available through Google Books, and you can access it by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mumtaz Mahal: The Chosen One of the Palace

Mumtaz Mahal, Mughal empress (died 17 June 1631)


A Mughal painting intended to depict
Mumtaz Mahal
Born Arjumand Banu Begum in 1593, the Persian princess became Mumtaz Mahal when she married the Mughul emperor Shah Jahan.

She died on 17 June 1631, giving birth to her fourteenth child.

It took her husband twenty-two years to complete the Taj Mahal, designed and built in her memory and as her tomb.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Catherine of Genoa: Saint and Mystic

Catherine of Genoa (canonized 16 June 1737)


St. Catherine of Genoa,
eighteenth-century painting by
Giovanni Agostino Ratti
Caterina Fieschi was born in Genoa in 1447, the fifth and last child of Jacopo Fieschi and Francesca di Negro, both members of aristocratic and politically active families.

An account of Caterina's life, later recorded by her confessor, indicates that by the age of thirteen the young Caterina had professed a desire to enter the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a house of Augustinian Canonesses of the Lateran, where her sister was a nun. Although she was ardent, the nuns thought she was too young, and to take her into the convent at such an age was against their customary practice.

Instead, after her father's death, her brother used her marriage as a way of settling some family disputes. Not yet sixteen, Caterina Fieschi was married in 1463--although she was recognized for her holiness, Caterina was also noted for her "dutiful obedience." 

Her marriage to Giuliano Adorno was unhappy in the extreme--she endured his abuse for ten years and then, on 22 March 1473, after she experienced a mystical, transformative vision of God, the already religiously inclined young woman underwent a "conversion."

What followed was a "life of purification," one devoted to prayer and penance. She averted her eyes from all "sights of the world," spoke as few words as possible, slept as little as possible, and ate as little as possible, only enough to sustain life. (According to the account of her life made by her confessor, she fasted completely during Advent and Lent, sustained only by water "flavored" with salt and vinegar.)

As part of her devotional practice, she wore a hair shirt, and when she did sleep, it was on a bed filled with briars and thistles. She made her husband promise to live with her as if he were her brother--a promise that he kept, chastened by his own financial ruin. She was instructed directly by the holy spirit in a series of visions, and, aside from the six hours a day she devoted to prayer, she dedicated her life to ministering to the poor and the sick. She eventually converted her husband, who died in 1497. Catherine herself died on 15 September 1510.

In addition to writing his account of her "miraculous life," her confessor, a "Father Marabotti," preserved the two works attributed to her, a treatise on purgatory, Purgation and Purgatory, and The Spiritual Dialogue.

Catherine of Genoa was beatified in 1675 by Pope Clement X and canonized by Pope Clement XII on 16 June 1737.

For his account of the "most important late medieval Italian woman mystic after Catherine of Siena," I recommend Bernard McGinn's The Varieties of Vernacular Mysticism, 1350-1550, volume 5 of his mammoth history of western Christian mysticism. McGinn is excellent on the "problem" of "Catherine's" writings--since she knew how to write "but she chose not to leave anything of her own to posterity."

The texts attributed to her represent her "teachings" in "texts put together by her followers and not published until 1551." The works are available in a number of editions, but I like the version that is published as part of the Classics of Western Civilization series, Catherine of Genoa: Purgation and Purgatory, The Spiritual Dialogue.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lady Caroline Norton and the Hard Truths of "Traditional Marriage"

Caroline Sheridan Norton (died 15 June 1877)


Caroline Norton, 1832,
portrait by George Hayter
Born in 1808, Caroline Sheridan was the granddaughter of the famed English playwright and notable politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Elizabeth Linley Sheridan, a musician and performer (though after their marriage, Sheridan would not allow his wife to continue performing).

Caroline Sheridan's father, Thomas Sheridan, was a noted actor and playwright, but notably an unsuccessful politician, while her mother, Caroline Henrietta Calender Sheridan, was a writer who published three novels: Carwell, Or Crime and Sorrow (1830), Aims and Ends (1833), and Oonagh Lynch, (1833).

For Caroline Sheridan, then, political activism and artistic achievement were a family affair. Like her parents and grandfather, she wrote--novels, plays, and poetry.

Less happily, Caroline Sheridan's marriage to George Norton was a family tragedy. Rather than include biographical information here, I've linked to a wonderful essay about Caroline Sheridan Norton's life at The Victorian Web. Instead of focusing on the particular circumstances of her disastrous marriage, I'd like to focus on what she made of that disaster: her efforts to improve the status of women and children under British law. Out of the experiences of her own life, Norton campaigned to achieve three landmark pieces of legislation in Britain: the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, and the Married Women's Property Act 1870.

I spent a long career teaching women's history and women's literature, and the status of the lives of women in the medieval and early-modern periods is very difficult for students to comprehend. But why doesn't she just leave, I've heard students frequently ask--whether we are talking about historical figures, like Margery Kempe or Juana of Castile, or literary characters, like Shakespeare's Katharina or Desdemona. This is still a question we hear asked about women today, in the twenty-first century, suffering in abusive or exploitative domestic circumstances. 

Because it's often so hard for us to assess the status of women in the past--even as late as the mid-nineteenth century--I thought I'd post here from Norton's 1855 pamphlet, A Letter to the Queen On Lord Cranworth's Marriage and Divorce Bill. It is as succinct a statement of the realities of "traditional" marriage for women as I know.* 

Norton opens by addressing herself directly Queen Victoria. "Madam," she writes, "I will not do Your Majesty the injustice of supposing that the very different aspect the law wears in England for the female sovereign and the female subject must render you indifferent to what those subjects may suffer. . . . I therefore submit a brief and familiar exposition of the laws relating to women"--laws relating to women who are not the queen, that is.

These are the laws that affect the women in Victoria's kingdom--a kingdom where a woman rules as queen, and where a woman is also "head of the Church, head of the law, ruler of millions of men." 

But for all other women, women who are not Queen Victoria, Norton compiles a devastating list:
A married woman in England has no legal existence: her being is absorbed in that of her husband. Years of separation or desertion cannot alter this position. Unless divorced by special enactment in the House of Lords, the legal fiction holds her to be "one" with her husband, even though she may never see or hear of him.
She has no possessions, unless by special settlement; her property is his property. . . . It is now provided that a will shall be revoked by marriage, but the claim of the husband to all that is his wife's exists in full force. An English wife has no legal right even to her clothes or ornaments; her husband may take them and sell them if he pleases, even though they be the gifts of relatives or friends, or bought before marriage.
An English wife cannot make a will. She may have children or kindred whom she may earnestly desire to benefit. She may be separated from her husband, who may be living with a mistress. No matter: the law gives what she has to him, and no will she could make would be valid.
An English wife cannot legally claim her own earnings. Whether wages for manual labor or payment for intellectual exertion, whether she weed potatoes or keep a school, her salary is the husband's, and he could compel a second payment and treat the first as void if paid to the wife without his sanction.
An English wife may not leave her husband's house. Not only can he sue her for "restitution of conjugal rights," but he has a right to enter the house of any friend or relation with whom she may take refuge and who may "harbour her"--as it is termed--and carry her away by force, with or without the aid of the police.
If the wife sue for separation for cruelty, it must be "cruelty that endangers life or limb," and if she has once forgiven, or, in legal phrase, "condoned" his offences, she cannot plead them, though her past forgiveness only proves that she endured as long as endurance was possible.
If her husband take proceedings for a divorce, she is not, in the first instance, allowed to defend herself. She has no means of proving the falsehood of his allegations. She is not represented by attorney nor permitted to be considered a party to the suit between him and her supposed lover for "damages." . . .  
If an English wife be guilty of infidelity, her husband can divorce her so as to marry again; but she cannot divorce the husband a vinculo [from the bonds of matrimony] however profligate he may be. No law court can divorce in England. A special act of Parliament annulling the marriage is passed for each case. The House of Lords grants this almost as a matter of course to the husband, but not to the wife. In only four instances (two of which were cases of incest) has the wife obtained a divorce to marry again.
She cannot prosecute for a libel. Her husband must prosecute and in cases of enmity and separation, of course she is without a remedy.
She cannot sign a lease or transact responsible business.
She cannot claim support, as a matter of personal right, from her husband. The general belief and nominal rule is, that her husband is "bound to maintain her." That is not the law. He is not bound to her. He is bound to his country; bound to see that she does not cumber the parish in which she resides. If it be proved that means sufficient are at her disposal, from relatives or friends, her husband is quit of his obligation and need not contribute a farthing, even if he have deserted her or be in receipt of money which is hers by inheritance.
She cannot bind her husband by any agreement, except through a third party. A contract formally drawn out by a lawyer--witnessed and signed by her husband--is void in law, and he can evade payment of an income so assured by the legal quibble that "a man cannot contract with his own wife."
Separation from her husband by consent, or for his ill usage, does not alter their mutual relation. He retains the right to divorce her after separation--as before--though he himself be unfaithful.
Her being, on the other hand, of spotless character and without reproach gives her no advantage in law. She may have withdrawn from his roof knowing that he lives with "his faithful housekeeper," having suffered personal violence at his hands, having "condoned" much, and being able to prove it by unimpeachable testimony, or he may have shut the doors of her house against her--all this is quite immaterial. The law takes no cognizance of which is to blame. As her husband, he has a right to all that is hers; as his wife, she has no right to anything that is his. As her husband, he may divorce her (if truth or false swearing can do it) as his wife. The utmost "divorce" she could obtain is permission to reside alone, married to his name. The marriage ceremony is a civil bond for him and an indissoluble sacrament for her, and the rights of mutual property which that ceremony is ignorantly supposed to confer are made absolute for him and null for her.
Of course an opposite picture may be drawn. There are bad, wanton, irreclaimable women, as there are vicious, profligate, tyrannical men, but the difference is this: that to punish and restrain bad wives, there are laws, and very severe laws (to say nothing of social condemnation), while to punish or restrain bad husbands, there is, in England, no adequate law whatever. Indeed, the English law holds out a sort of premium on infidelity, for there is no doubt that the woman who is divorced for a lover and marries him suffers less (except in conscience) than the woman who does not deserve to suffer at all--the wife of a bad husband, who can inflict what he pleases, whether she remain in her home or attempt to leave it.
"Such, however, is 'the law,'" Norton sums up, as she draws her list to a close--demonstrating "the ridicule, confusion, and injustice of its provisions" for women.

American readers may recognize the names of some of the women in the United States who played a crucial role in what has become known as the "first-wave" feminist movement: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Lucretia Mott, for example. 

Lady Caroline Norton is a contemporary of those American women, a founding mother we should all remember. 

*In the passage from Letter to the Queen, I've edited lightly, normalizing capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. I've retained the outraged italics from the 1855 publication!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank (begins her diary 14 June 1942)


Anne Frank received a diary as a birthday present on 12 June 1942. Two days later, on Sunday, 14 June, she recorded her first entry, noting that the first present she opened was the empty diary, "the nicest of all" her presents.

The last entry in her diary was made on 1 August 1944.

(Many sources online indicate that Frank began her diary on 12 June, the day of her birthday. But if you look at the entry, she begins writing two days later, on Sunday, the 14th of June..)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Fanny Burney and Mothers of the Novel

Fanny Burney (born 13 June 1752)


A few years ago, I was fortunate to have in class a wonderful student who had returned to college after taking several years off. She had a family, a job, and a full load of classes. She also had a problem--she needed one more class in her major so she could graduate at last, and when it came time to register for her final semester, nothing fit into her schedule. She had one other problem too--she was frustrated that she hadn't read any women novelists aside from Jane Austen.

Fanny Burney, c. 1784,
in a portrait by Edward Francisco Burney--
and I want that hat!!
So we sat down to think through an independent study, she bought a copy of Dale Spender's Mothers of the Novel: 100 Good Women Writers before Jane Austen, and we began putting together a syllabus. As I recall (I'm sure I still have a copy of her proposal on a thumbdrive somewhere, but I'm too lazy to search it out), she put a good ten or twelve novels on her reading list--a number I thought was completely unrealistic--but she wasn't willing to cut down the list. She was excited and ambitious.

She read Aphra Behn's Oronooko and was ready to start on Maria Edgeworth, but then decided to skip ahead to the heftiest book on her desk, Fanny Burney's Camilla, published in 1796. And that was as far as she got on her original list. It wasn't that the novel (which runs to 900 pages in the paperback edition on my shelf) was so long that she couldn't finish it and quit--it was, rather, that once she had raced through it, she was on to the rest of Burney's novels. What had started out as a sort of survey of women novelists turned into an intensive reading of Fanny Burney. And that was fine with me.

I'm sure it would have been fine with Virginia Woolf, too. Of the key role that Burney played for the women writers who would come after her, Woolf famously wrote, "Jane Austen should have laid a wreath upon the grave of Fanny Burney" (from the fourth chapter of A Room of One's Own).

The self-educated Burney had begun her career in "scribbling," as she called it, when she was a child, writing in a journal for her own amusement. She published her first novel, Evelina; Or a History of a Young Woman's Entry into the World, in 1778, writing anonymously and arranging for publication without the knowledge of her father. (Burney wrote in secret and even disguised her handwriting so no one would be able to recognize the manuscript as hers.) The novel was a great success.

Burney went on to write plays, three more novels (the last, The Wanderer, published in 1812), and to continue her journal writing, which extended for some seventy-two years after the first entry, dated 27 March 1768. Although her authorship was revealed shortly after Evelina's publication by George Huddesford in his "Warley, a Satire" (1778), subsequent novels continued to be published without her name. Her next, Cecilia, was written by "the author of Evelina," Camilla "by the author of Evelina and Cecilia," The Wanderer "by the author of EvelinaCecilia, and Camilla."

In 1810, suffering from pains in her breast, she consulted physicians and was diagnosed with breast cancer. On 30 September 1811, she had a mastectomy, operated on by doctors she described as "7 men in black" and without anaesthesia (for a brief history of surgery before the advent of anaesthesia, click here). Burney survived both breast cancer and surgery--she died on 6 January 1840.

All of Burney's novels are available online today: Evelina and Camilla are at A Celebration of Women Writers, all four are available through Project Gutenberg. In addition, all of the novels are available in affordable paperback editions, like the Oxford World's Classics edition of Evelina I've linked to above.

Claire Harmon's Fanny Burney: A Biography seems to be out of print, but used copies are readily available. Margaret Ann Doody's excellent Frances Burney: The Life in the Works combines biography and careful critical assessment of all Burney's literary output, including the plays, poetry, journals, and letters.