Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, November 30, 2015

Shirley Chisholm: "Unbought and Unbossed"

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (born 30 November 1924)


In 1972, Shirley Chisolm became the first African-American woman representing a major political party to run for the office of President of the United States. (Three women sought to become the Democratic party's candidate for president that year: Bella Abzug, Patsy Mink, and Chisolm.)

Shirley Chisholm in 1972,
the year she ran for President
of the United States
Shirley Anita St. Hill was daughter of Caribbean immigrants, her father, Charles St. Hill, born in British Guiana, her mother, Ruby Seale, in Barbados. The couple immigrated to the United States in 1923, their daughter born in Brooklyn the next year. 

Her parents sent Shirley Anita St. Hill to Barbados when she was three so that she could receive the best possible education--as she noted, "Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason." 

She returned to the United States in May 1934, to Bedford-Stuyvesant, where her parents had settled and where she would attend the prestigious Girls' High School. After graduating from Brooklyn College in 1946, she began her professional life as a nursery school teacher while she was enrolled in the M.A. program at Columbia.

In 1949, she married Conrad Chisholm, earned her Columbia M.A. in 1952, and worked for New York City's Division of Day Care until 1964, when her life changed.

In 1964, Chisholm ran for state office and went to Albany, where she became the second African-American woman to become a state member of the New York state legislature. After a court-ordered redistricting, Chisolm ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representative in 1968--her campaign slogan was "unbought and unbossed." 

Only two African Americans were elected to Ninety-First Congress (1969-1971), bringing the total of African Americans in the House to nine. Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House--where she would serve for seven terms. 
A 1972 campaign button.

Chisholm had a long and influential role in the House, where she served until 1983, and I will link you here to here to the U.S. House of Representatives History, Art & Archives page for her official biography, details of her committee assignments, and a detailed bibliography.

But I thought that what might be fun to do today, on the anniversary of Chisolm's birth, is to add a list of women who preceded her in running for the office of president:
  • Victoria Woodhull, as we have seen, ran in 1872 as a member of the Equal Rights Party; she ran again in as a member of the Humanitarian Party in 1892;
  • Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood also ran for president twice, in 1884 and in 1888, both times as a member of the National Equal Rights Party
  • Margaret Chase Smith ran for president in 1964 as a member of the Republican Party, the first woman to have her name placed in nomination at a national nominating convention (she had received primary votes in New Hampshire, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and Oregon, among others, and she gained twenty-seven first ballot votes at the Republican National Convention--after the first ballot, she withdrew her name from consideration); 
  • Charlene Mitchell was the Communist Party candidate in 1968, thus becoming the first African-American woman nominated for the office of President (she was on the ballot in only two states, winning fewer than 1,000 votes);
  • And then, as noted above, there was 1972: Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisolm, and Patsy Mink, all running as Democrats. In that same year, Linda Jenness was the nominee for the Socialist Workers Party. 
Chisolm died on 1 January 2005. There are a number of biographies, but why not read her autobiography, recently published in a fortyieth-anniversary edition: its title is taken from her original campaign slogan, Unbought and Unbossed.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dhuoda of Uzès: Writing to Save Her Life?

Dhuoda of Uzès (son William born 29 November 826)


Almost everything we know about the ninth-century Frankish noblewoman named Dhuoda of Uzès is recorded in the book she completes on 2 February 843. The day is specified in Dhuoda's text, the year conjectural: as she dates it, her work was "finished four days before the Nones of February, the feast of the Purification of the holy and glorious Mary, always virgin, under the favorable reign of Christ in the and in the hope for a God-given king." (After the death of Louis the Pious, the son of the Emperor Charlemagne, his three sons went to war with one another, a war that ended in August 843--thus Dhuoda's "hope" for an end to the question of who was to rule suggests she was finishing her book before the matter was decided.)

Detail from a late-tenth- or early-eleventh-century
fragmentary manuscript of Dhuoda's handbook,
now in Nîmes
At first glance, the kinds of details we might want to know about Dhuoda are few: she was married to Bernard of Septimania at the imperial court of Aix-la-Chapelle in June of 824. After her marriage, she seems to have been taken to the town of Uzès, in southern France near Nîmes, where she spent the rest of her life.

Dhuoda tells us nothing at all about her parents, about her childhood, or about how she came to be married to Bernard. 

On 29 November 826 Dhuoda gave birth to her first son, William. On 22 March 841, she gave birth to a second son in Uzès. Scholars now indicate that child may have been named Bernard, but Dhuoda herself did not know his name. In writing to her older son, she says, "And when your little brother, whose name I still do not know, has received the grace of baptism in Christ, do not hesitate to teach him, to educate him, to love him, and to call him to progress from good to better."

Between the birth of her two sons, Dhuoda's husband, Bernard, who had been a close counselor of Louis the Pious, encouraged the emperor's son Pepin to rebel against his father--the civil war that followed (831-833) resulted in Bernard's loss of possessions and titles. During a subsequent revolt, this time by the emperor's son Lothair (833-834), Bernard remained loyal to Louis, and in 835 his titles and possessions were restored.

Still, Bernard's disloyalty--and suspicion that he had a sexual relationship with the emperor's wife, Judith--had resulted in more than the loss of his possessions. As one scholar notes, Bernard was "punished through his sister Gerberga"--a nun in the convent of Chalon-sur-Saône, in 832 Gerberga was accused of witchcraft, thrown into "a wine cask," and tossed into the river to drown.

Although Bernard survived, about the year 840 he removed Dhuoda's fourteen-year-old son, William, from her care and sent him as a hostage to the court of Charles the Bald, the third son of Louis the Pious, likely as a guarantee of his Bernard's continued good behavior. Later, after the birth of their younger son--even before he has been baptized, as we have seen--Bernard removed the infant from Dhuoda's care as well.

Isolated and now separated from her children, Dhuoda begins to write. As she tells us, she begins the composition of her "little book" on 30 November 841; or, rather, in her words, "This little book was begun in the second year after the death of Louis, the late emperor, two days before the Kalends of December, on the feast of St. Andrew, at the beginning of the holy season of the Lord's Advent."

As you can see, she also begins her book on the day after William's birthday. 

Dhuoda is quite specific about what her book is--it is, she says, a handbook, "the handbook of Dhuoda, which she sent to her son William." In this, she emphasizes the intimate, personal, nature of her work. It is the physical link that connects them, even though they are physically separated (Dhuoda is not even sure where William is): 
I wish that you eagerly take this work in your own hand and fulfill its precepts, after my hand has addressed it to you. I wish you to hold it, turn its pages and read it, so that you may fulfill it in worthy action. For this little model-book, called a handbook, is a lesson from me and a task for you.
As a woman, Dhuoda struggles with her role as author. She knows that her son has books "to read, ponder, contemplate, study, and understand," and she knows that he has, as well, "learned men" who will teach him--but she writes as his mother.

It still doesn't mean her task is easy. Many scholars have noticed the hesitations that are characteristic of the texts of medieval women writers, and Dhuoda's is no exception. The many and varied "beginnings" of her Liber manualis seem to represent, visibly, the difficulties and obstacles she faces--almost as if she needs to gather momentum, she starts with an incipit textus ("Here begins the text"), followed by an incipit liber ("here begins the book"), then an epigraph (Latin couplets with an acrostic that reads Dhuoda dilecto filio vvilhelmo salutem lege, "Dhuoda sends greetings to her beloved son William. Read."), then an incipit prologus ("Here begins the prologue"), and, finally the praefatio ("preface"). Only after all this can she "begin."

The Nîmes manuscript; a fourteenth-century
manuscript survives in Barcelona,
a seventeenth-century copy also survives (Paris)
Eleven books of advice, recommendations, cautions, instructions, information, and love follow: "Loving God," "The Mystery of the Trinity," "Social Order and Secular Success," "Moral Life," "God's Chastisement of Those He Loves," The Usefulness of the Beatitudes," "The Deaths of the Body and of the Spirit," "How to Pray and for Whom," "Interpreting Numbers," "Summary of the Work's Major Points," and "The Usefulness of Reciting the Psalms."

In the penultimate chapter, "Summary of the Work's Major Points," we again see Dhuoda's hesitations--as if she dare not sever the connection of the handbook, the only link between her and her son. The book opens with Latin verses "On the age you have attained," in which she begins, "You have now reached four times four years" (thus 29 November 842). Then there is another acrostic, each line of verse, she says, "begun with the letters of your name." Ten there is a "postcript," beginning "Here the words of this little book conclude." 

Except Dhuoda can't end. She adds another section, headed "Returning to myself, I grieve." (Here too she refers simply to William's "little brother," suggesting that she still does not know the boy's name.) This section ends, "This handbook ends here. Amen. Thanks be to God." 

But then there is more. A list of members of Berhard's family. Then an epitaph, which she asks that William make sure is written on her grave--an epitaph that not only names her ("Formed of earth, in this tomb / Lies the earhly body of Dhuoda. / Great king, receive her.") but that also includes her name in an acrostic.

After all these "conclusions"--and what, really, could be more conclusive than her epitaph?--there's Book Eleven, on choosing and reading Psalms. And then one final conclusion: "Thanks be to God, the handbook for William ends here in the word of the gospel: It is consummated."

In the pages of her book, Dhuoda reveals her erudition--she is writing in Latin prose, composing in Latin verse (including the multiple acrostics), and demonstrating her familiarity with the Vulgate Bible, the writings of the Church Fathers, including Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, her knowledge of Latin classics and Christian classics (such as the Rule of St. Benedict), and her familiarity with the work of Carolingian scholars like Alcuin. 

She conveys her knowledge of court culture and etiquette, something of her sense of diplomacy, and even hints at the reasons why Bernard has placed her in Uzès (she has been acting in Bernard's interests, and she indicates that, in order to "defend the interests" of her "lord," she has negotiated many loans, "not only from Christians but also from Jews"--she wants William to make sure all of these debts are discharged if she dies before she has completely discharged her obligations to her creditors.)

But I have to admit that I am most deeply moved by Dhuoda's emphasis on the physical connection that her writing maintains with her distant son. It is, as she frequently says, a book that travels from her hand to his. I love her repetitions of "I am your mother." William may have books and advisors, but "I am still your mother."

And, finally, I am deeply moved by Dhuoda's voice, reaching out to us over the course of the centuries. She is writing to William. She hopes William will share her book, certainly with his younger brother. But she also, it seems to me, imagines us
And as for any other who may someday read the handbook you now peruse, may he too ponder the words that follow here so that he may commend me to God's salvation as if I were buried beneath these words.
Find here, reader, the verses of my epitaph: 
† D † M † [the abbreviation for dis manibus, "into God's hands"]
And again, one last plea: "Reader, if you are found worthy to see Christ in eternal happiness, pray for that Dhuoda who is mentioned here."

Dhuoda seems to have died not long after she completed her handbook (throughout the work she refers to her illness and declining health.) I don't know that I am "worthy" in the terms that Dhuoda sets, but I do offer my prayers for her.

Dhuoda's work is available in Carol Neel's Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for Her Son, whose translation I have relied on here.

By the way, in case you were wondering: Bernard of Septemania rebelled again and was executed in 844. Dhuoda's son William was killed in 850, as Neel writes, "in an attempt to avenge his father." The younger son, whose name Dhuoda did not know, may be Bernard Plantevelue--if so, although he too tried to murder Charles the Bald (in 856), he was pardoned by Charles the Fat, granted the title of margrave of Aquitaine, among others, married Ermengarde of Auvergne, and had two children, William of Aquitaine, known later as William the Pious (he founded the Benedictine abbey of Cluny), and Adelinda, who married and had three children. If this is Dhuoda's son, he at least managed to live until 886 or 889. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Eleanor of Castile, Queen of England

Eleanor of Castile, queen of England (died 28 November 1290)


First of all, Eleanor of Castile, queen of England, is not to be confused with Eleanor of England, queen of Castile. Got that? 

Eleanor of Castile's tomb effigy,
Westerminster Abbey
Eleanor of England (1162-1214) was the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine--she was married to Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1177. Eleanor of England's namesake, Eleanor of Castile, is her great-granddaughter, the daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile and his second wife, Joan of Dammartin, countess of Ponthieu in her own right. (By the way, I'll be posting about Eleanor of Aquitaine next month.)

Our Eleanor married Edward of England, the son and heir of Henry III of England; when Edward succeeded his father as king of England, becoming Edward I, Eleanor of Castile became queen consort of England. 

(Interestingly, there were plans for Joan of Dammartin, Eleanor of Castile's mother, to have married Henry III of England, Eleanor of England's brother. Sheesh! All this gets so complicated!) 

Eleanor of Castile was probably born in the year 1241. On the first anniversary of her death, the commemoration included forty-nine candle-bearers, one for each year of her life--thus suggesting the year of her birth. 

As John Carmi Parsons writes in his study of Eleanor of Castile, "A single paragraph would suffice to state the year of her birth and all that is known of her life in Castile, but pages are needed for the negotiations preceding her marriage in 1254, and the sources thereafter fall silent again until Edward's accession in 1272."

About Eleanor of Castile's early life, Parsons notes that is is "unlikedly that Eleanor was raised like her half-brothers, in spartan conditions." She seems to have imbibed the values and ideals of chivalric culture in a royal court that was both cultured and cosmopolitan. 

As a queen, Eleanor gave birth to sixteen children between 1255 and 1284, six of them surviving into adulthood--the youngest, Edward of Caernarvon, succeeded his father as Edward II. She accompanied her husband to the Holy Land on the Eighth Crusade, leaving England in 1270. Eleanor gave birth to two daughter while she was in Palestine, only one of whom, Joan of Acre, born in April of 1272, survived. The royal couple learned of the death of Henry III on November 1272 while on their trip back to England (they were in Sicily when they received the news in December). The couple were crowned on 19 August 1274. In 1279, Eleanor succeeded her mother as countess of Ponthieu.

As queen, Eleanor took up the business of queens, negotiating marriages for her royal family (mostly her maternal relatives), her "matrimonial ventures" avoiding the kinds of opposition and suspicion that her mother-in-law Eleanor of Provence had encountered. By contrast, Eleanor of Castile's arrangements were "businesslike," with the aim of generating loyalty to the crown through these marital alliances rather than personal gain. 

Eleanor had spent her childhood in "the most aggressively literary court in Europe"; as an adult, she established scriptoria for the production of books, was a patron of literature, and commissioned writing both secular (an Arthurian romance, for example, and the life of a count of Ponthieu) and spiritual--several noted psalters were produced for her. 

She was also a patron of the emerging universities at Oxford and Cambridge, supported the Dominican order and the foundation of numerous Dominican institutions, and popularized the incorporation of tapestries and carpets in domestic spaces and specially designed gardens in exterior spaces. 

After she died in 1290, her husband constructed a series of crosses to mark each day's stage as her body traveled from Lincoln to Westerminster Abbey. At each of the twelve overnight stops, an Eleanor Cross was erected (giving the name to London's Charing Cross). Three of the original crosses remain (Geddington, Hardingstone, Waltham). 

The surviving Eleanor Cross
at Geddington (Northamptonshire)
Given the limits of the evidence about Eleanor of Castile's life, Parsons's work is not a biography but, as I noted above, a study: Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England. Parsons focuses a great deal of attention on medieval queenship in his analysis of Eleanor's accounts and her administration of household, her wardrobe, exchequer, and treasury records, and her administration of her lands. 

While all "foreign" queens suffered from some degree of suspicion and gossip (as we have seen with Isabeau of Bavaria, queen of France, to name just one example), Eleanor of Castile's property deals caused controversy--providing another rich source of information about her. As Parson notes, the queen "acquired a great amount of land by means that were often questionable, and popular reaction was negative." 

In a wonderful section of his book, "Outcry and Gossip, Rumor and Scandal," Parsons analyzes correspondence (and the and the rumors, complaints, and gossip they conveyed in these letters), petitions, contemporary verse ("The king desires to get our gold / The queen our manors fair to hold"), and chroniclers ("a Spaniard by birth, who acquired many fine manors") that were either addressed to the queen or were written about the queen.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fanny Kemble: Actress, Abolitionist, Author

Frances Anne Kemble Butler (born 27 November 1809)


I am embarrassed to admit that, before embarking on this daybook project, I knew only that Fanny Kemble was a successful actress, born into a family of actors, and what little I knew about her as a nineteenth-century professional woman (and friend of the American novelist Henry James) was what led me to posting about her.

Fanny Kemble, 1830
But what I found out, once I began to investigate Kemble's life, was eye-opening--not that it wasn't there all along, but I was completely unaware of the totality of Kemble's career.

So, first Fanny Kemble as an actress: she was the daughter of two actors, Charles Kemble and his wife, Marie Thérèse de Camp, who was herself born into an acting family (she was born in Vienna but began performing in English theatres in the late eighteenth century). The great Sarah Siddons (born Sarah Kemble) was Fanny's aunt, her father's younger sister; the actress Adelaide de Camp was also Fanny's aunt, her mother's sister. Fanny's younger sister, Adelaide Kemble, was an accomplished and well-known opera singer. 

Fanny Kemble made her stage debut at Covent Garden in 1829, and she gained success almost immediately, credited with having saved her family from economic ruin. She was particularly known for playing Shakespearean roles--Juliet (her debut role), Portia, and Beatrice among them. She made a successful tour of the United States with her father in 1832 and, later in her career, focused on a series of highly regarded (and financially successful) Shakespearean readings.

This much I knew. What I didn't know, however, proved revealing. At first I learned that Kemble was a writer--she wrote and published plays, poetry, memoirs, translations, and, in Notes on Some of Shakespeare's Plays, what we might regard as literary criticism, based on her years of experience with and reflections on the Shakespeare canon (the volume was published in 1882, when Kemble was in her seventies).

More significantly, however, Kemble married Pierce Mease Butler, an American, in 1834--at the time that they met, Butler was the heir to one of the greatest of U.S. fortunes, including two plantations (a rice plantation on Butler Island, and a sea-island cotton plantation on St. Simon's Island). When he finally inherited his family properties in 1836, he also became one of the largest slaveholders in the United States. 

Kemble was later to write that she did not know the source of Butler's wealth when she married him--she was already a supporter of abolition. But in 1838, although he knew of his wife's views, Butler took her and their two daughters, Sarah and Frances, to live on the plantations in Georgia.

The couple clashed frequently over the morality of slavery and the conditions of the enslaved people on the Butler plantations. Kemble recorded her experiences in a diary--her views on the institution of slavery, her experiences on the plantations, her descriptions of the conditions of the slaves and of her encounters with them, her views of the other planters with whom the Butlers socialized. All of this she collected in a volume that she would later entitle Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation.

A year after leaving the plantations--ironically, the Butlers lived in Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Abolition Society had been founded in 1775, where William Lloyd Garrison had begun publication of The Liberator in 1831, where the American Anti-Slavery Society had been established in 1833, and where Lucretia Mott, Angelina Grimké, and Sarah Grimké were all organizing against slavery--Fanny Kemble would write to a friend, "I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution."

Kemble might well have published her Journal as a number of abolitionists were encouraging her to do--except that her marriage to Pierce Butler had become irretrievably broken. Certainly their conflict over slavery was critical--but Butler was also unfaithful, he isolated her, he separated her from her children, and he threatened to sever all ties between her and her daughters if she published her memoirs about life at the Georgia plantations. 

By 1846, the two separated and, increasingly unhappy in the United States, Kemble returned to England where she resumed her role on the stage. In 1848, she learned that Butler had sued her for divorce, claiming that Kemble had "willfully, maliciously, and without due cause, deserted him on September 11, 1845."

After a protracted--and expensive--legal battle, Butler was granted his divorce. By the terms of the decision, Butler retained legal custody of the children, though Kemble would have the right to see them for two months in the summers. The daughters were not allowed any other contact with their mother until after they reached the age of twenty-one.

Kemble remained in the United States, giving successful performances of her readings from Shakespeare. She still could not publish the Journal, fearful of the effects that any publication would have on Butler and on her contact with her children. But after the outbreak of the Civil War and concerned about public opinion in England, she finally published Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 in 1863.

Publication notice in Harper's Weekly
Its publication was explosive and divisive. As Catherine Clinton notes, 
Kemble's riveting account of her husband's slaves provides gripping insight on life in the antebellum South. As the wife of a planter, Kemble had unimpeded access to plantation affairs and was especially poignant and pointed when she allowed the voices of slave women, so seldom heard during this era, to shine through in the pages of her journal. 
Fanny and her daughter Sarah were reconciled once Sarah reached the age of twenty-one. Fanny's younger daughter Frances remained with her father and, bitter over her mother's Journal, later published her own memoir in 1883, Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation, intended to refute her mother's work. 

As for Butler--he lost his vast fortune in gambling and stock speculation. He was forced to liquidate his assets, including the sale all his slaves, by auction, on 3 March 1859. It was the largest single sale of human beings in U.S., known forever as "the weeping time."

Kemble continued performing in the United States, in Europe and in England--she died in London on 15 January 1893.

There are several noteworthy biographies, but instead of linking to them (they are easily found), I thought I'd link to two online essays that focus on Kemble's abolitionist views and her Journal: Catherine Clinton's essays is in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, which you can access online by clicking here; and the entry on Kemble at the African-American Registry, which you can access by clicking here.

You can buy various print-on-demand reprint editions of Kemble's Journal, but the book is also available through Project Gutenberg (click here) and at the Internet Archive you can read an online facsimile of the 1863 American edition, advertised above (read read, click here).

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sojourner Truth: "I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right"

Isabella Baumfree, who named herself Sojourner Truth (died 26 November 1883)


One of the most admired figures in nineteenth-century American history, Isabella Baumfree claimed her freedom when she escaped from slavery in 1826 and forged her identity by naming herself Sojourner Truth 1843.

One of Truth's visiting cards
Born and enslaved in the north--New York--and not the south, as most people might assume, Truth is perhaps best known for the speech she delivered at the Women's Convention (Akron, Ohio) on 29 May 1851, now commonly titled "Ain't I a Woman?"

The first accounts of the speech were brief, printed within days of its delivery first by the the New York Tribune (6 June) and then by the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator.

Truth collaborated with abolitionist Marius R. Robinson to publish a full (recreated) text of the speech in the Anti-Slavery Bugle, the weekly publication of the Ohio American Anti-Slavery Society. That version includes this line: "I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?"

In none of these accounts is the familiar question "ain't I a woman?" mentioned. In fact, the repeated question did not appear at all until 1863, when Frances Dana Gage, who had chaired the 1851 convention, published her version of the speech in the National Slavery Standard. In addition to adding in the refrain, Gage also ventriloquized Truth's voice using the dialect of a Southern slave--Truth herself was born in New York, her first language was low Dutch, and she never lived in the south. (The dialect of the Truth speech became even more pronounced in Gage's republished versions of 1875, 1881, and 1889.) Gage's text was the version included in Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage's History of Woman Suffrage.

For better or worse, this is the version we seem to be stuck with. But Sojourner Truth's life is so much more than that one speech. After she escaped to freedom with her daughter in 1826, she sought to recover her son who had been sold by his New York owner to a slaveholder in Alabama--she won her court case.

The New York Tribune account of
Truth's 1851 speech
She became a Methodist minister, preached against slavery, became a supporter of women's rights, religious tolerance, and pacifism.

In addition to her speech at the Ohio convention, she published her memoirs, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, she bought a home, delivered many other notable speeches, and, after the Civil War, worked to provide land grants for former enslaved people. She also attempted to vote in the 1872 presidential election.

For a good overview of the issues involved in the Gage version of the "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, I recommend Kay Siebler's "Far from the Truth: Teaching the Politics of Sojourner Truth's 'Ain't I a Woman?'" (Pedagogy 10, no. 3 [2010]: 511-33)--you can download a .pdf of this essay by clicking here.. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Katherine Swynford: Is It Really a Love Story?

Katherine de Roet, lady Swynford and, later, duchess of Lancaster (born 25 November 1349 or 1350)


For generations of readers, Anya Seton's 1954 historical novel Katherine was the means by which they came to the story of Katherine Swynford. Seton's is a romantic narrative in the extreme: the twenty-five-year-long love affair between a young woman with no social status or political significance and John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, the third son of Edward III, king of England. 

Katherine Swynford's device,
featuring Katherine Wheels,
adopted after her marriage to
John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster
Their passion, their heartbreak, their separation, their against-the-odds marriage (Katherine becomes Gaunt's third wife)--it's an amazing novel. I read it for the first time, just a few years ago, on the recommendation of a co-worker, and I loved it. Much to my co-worker's surprise, actually, since she thought I would hate a book that was, as she apologetically described it, "just fiction." (She said this to me, knowing that I taught literature!!)

I have also read Alison Weir's biography of Swynford, Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster. Weir begins her study by noting her own lifelong fascination with Seton's novel:
This is a love story, one of the greatest and most remarkable love stories of medieval England. . . .
Katherine Swynford's story first captured my imagination four decades ago, when I read Anya Seton's famous novel about her, Katherine. This epic novel made a tremendous impact on me as an adolescent, and still has the power to move me today. And I am not alone, because it has hardly been out of print since its first publication in 1954, and ranked ninety-fifth in the top one hundred favorite books voted for by the public in BBC TV's "The Big Read" in 2003.
While I loved Seton's novel, I did not love Weir's biography--I guess I expect more out of non-fiction. We simply do not know whether Katherine Swynford's relationship with John of Gaunt was "one of the greatest and most remarkable love stories" of the late Middle Ages--or of any time. Too much focus on the inner (and highly romanticized) feelings and motivations of historical figures in a work of history doesn't make for good history, or at least not the kind of history that I appreciate. 

There simply is not much information available about Katherine Swynford, for one thing. The broad facts of her life are known: she was the daughter of Paon de Roet, a knight from the county of Hainault, a principality that was part of the Habsburg empire (the area generally corresponding, now, to Belgium), who seems to have become a part of the English court around the time of Edward III's marriage to Philippa of Hainault. (While Paon de Roet was not named in the official list of Philippa's retinue, the fifteenth-century court historian Jean Froissart, himself from Hainault, indicates that he was one of the "other young squires" who accompanied her to England at the time of her marriage.)

Historians have never been able to identify Katherine de Roet's mother--there is simply no information about Paon de Roet's marriage. Even so, there is speculation he married more than once--that his four children, born over the course of fifteen years, must have had different mothers--and that Katherine's mother was somehow connected to the ruling family of Hainault, and thus that she was related to Philippa of Hainault. But no evidence.

I'm posting today because her birthdate is conventionally cited as 25 November--but that is speculation too, simply because it is the feast date of Katherine of Alexandria, a saint for whom Katherine would demonstrate particular reverence (as we might expect if this were her patron saint). The badge she adopted after her marriage to John of Gaunt incorporated Katherine Wheels in its imagery, as did a variety of vestments she offered as gifts to Lincoln Cathedral.

Katherine Swynford's tomb,
Lincoln Cathedral
Katherine's eldest sister, Elizabeth de Roet, was probably born around the year 1335; she became a canoness at the Abbey of St. Waudru in Mons (Hainault).

Her brother, Walter, was probably born between 1338-40; he served Margaret, countess of Hainault, and fought under Edward, the "Black Prince," probably at the battle of Poitiers in 1356.

Katherine's younger sister Philippa, likely born in the 1350s, was a member of Queen Philippa's household and would later marry the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. 

At some point before 24 January 1365, when she is referred to by her married name in the register of Lincoln Cathedral, Katherine de Roet was married to Sir Hugh Swynford, of Kettlethorpe. She bore him at least three children, though their order of birth is not clear: Blanche (b. 1363?), Margaret, and Thomas (b. 24 February 1367). Sir Hugh was killed in 1371, fighting with John of Gaunt in Aquitaine.

And at some point after Gaunt's marriage to the heiress Blanche of Lancaster in 1359, Katherine had joined her court. (Katherine's daughter Blanche was likely named after the duchess.) Also at some point, again we don't know when, Katherine became the governess of Blanche and Gaunt's daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth. And at some point, too, she became Gaunt's mistress. 

Blanche of Lancaster died in 1369, when she was just twenty-three years old; on 21 September 1371, John of Gaunt married Constance of Castile (Constance's younger sister, Isabella, married Gaunt's younger brother). While married to Constance, and having children with her (a daughter, Constance of Lancaster, born in 1373, and a son, John, born in 1374), Gaunt had four children with Katherine: John (b. 1373), Henry (b.1375), Thomas (b.1377) and Joan (b.1379). The children were given the surname Beaufort. 

After Constance of Castile died in March of 1394, on 13 January 1396, Gaunt married Katherine Swynford. Their four children were legitimized by Pope Boniface IX and the English king, Richard II. Gaunt died just three years later, in 1399. 

The relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford was widely condemned by contemporaries, who called her an "abominable strumpet" and an "unspeakable concubine." Gaunt himself was condemned for being "blinded by desire" and a "doting fool."

While Seton and Weir are anxious not only to defend Katherine but to tell the story of a great "love affair," I'm not sure that Gaunt and Swynford's relationship was what Weir calls, quoting Shakespeare, "A marriage of true minds," nor that Katherine was "the love of his heart, and the sole focus of his desire" (particularly since Gaunt is known to have had sexual relationships with other women--other than his wife, that is--during the time of his relationship to Katherine Swynford--"sole focus of his desire"??????).

Part of what makes me so hesitant, I think, is that clearly Katherine was in a position that made her vulnerable--vulnerable in terms of her sex (as a woman to a man), vulnerable in terms of her social status (as a woman of a somewhat ambiguous social class in relationship to one of the most powerful men in England), vulnerable in terms of her marital status (as a widow, probably, at the time her relationship with Gaunt began). She was certainly financially dependent. Her children's futures were also at risk--the children that she had with Swynford as well as her children with Gaunt. 

Rather than reduce (and I do mean reduce) Katherine to a romanticized object of desire or a woman driven by passion, I guess I'd rather focus on her rather limited options as a woman. Her sister's husband, Geoffrey Chaucer, could rise in service to John of Gaunt, Richard II, and Henry IV, by means of his wits through a series of royal grants and appointments.

As a woman, perhaps equally gifted and ambitious, Katherine Swynford's options were more limited. But she certainly accomplished a great deal within the limited scope offered women. Unlike Chaucer, the upwardly mobile son of a merchant, she couldn't dedicate graceful dream visions to royal patrons or secure increasingly important bureaucratic posts. But she could become a governess to aristocratic children--which she did--she could marry reasonably well--which she did--and whether she courted a sexual relationship that could advance her position and offer her security or agreed to one because she was madly in love or accepted one because she had little choice in the matter, she certainly advanced her Beaufort children.

It was exceptional for a man--especially a royal duke, the son of a king--to marry a woman who had been his mistress, certainly. But was the marriage to Katherine Swynford the culmination of a long love affair? Or was it, as the chronicler Froissart suggested, because of his "affection" for the children he had with her? Or, perhaps, because if legitimized, his Beaufort children could prove the source of consolidating yet more power and influence?

Whatever the case, Gaunt's children with Katherine Swynford, legitimized in 1399, proved themselves to be extraordinary. John Beaufort, first earl of Somerset, was the grandfather of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII of England. Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, became a Cardinal in 1426, and presided over the trial of Joan of Arc after her capture in 1431. He served as Lord Chancellor of England on several occasions and was part of the regency council for Henry VI. (And he had an illegitimate daughter--oops.) Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, held a variety of military commands and also served as Lord Chancellor of England. Joan Beaufort, countess of Westmoreland, married into the powerful Neville family--her daughter was a woman we have met before, Cecily Neville, and thus Joan Beaufort was the grandmother not only of Edward IV and Richard III, but also of Elizabeth of York, who married Henry Tudor. 

Gaunt's son by Blanche of Lancaster, Henry, ultimately became king of England, and when he did so, he referred to Katherine as "the king's mother," even after Gaunt's death, a tribute to this remarkable woman. 

Not a bad outcome for Katherine de Roet, the daughter of an unremarkable knight from a small county on the continent.

I've already linked you, above, to Weir's biography, though I will warn you that much of the book is really about John of Gaunt, since there is so little information, really, about Katherine Swynford. There is also a biography by Jeanette Lucraft, Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress

I have not read Lucraft's biography, but certainly her essay, "Missing from History: Jeanette Lucraft Recovers the Identity and Reputation of the Remarkable Katherine Swynford," published in History Today, is excellent, and I'll link to it here.

(By the way, this is another great example of the reason "traditional" marriage isn't quite what people think it is!)





Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lucrezia Borgia, a "Pearl among Women"

Lucrezia Borgia (death of her mother, Vannozza dei Cattanei on 24 November 1518)


Very few women have the kind of notoriety that attaches to the name of Lucrezia Borgia--I remember throwing around her name when I was just a girl and a friend accused me of having been mean to her: "Oh, yeah, I'm Lucrezia Borgia," I snarled. Of course I had no idea who Lucrezia Borgia was--just that she was somehow awful and evil.

Lucrezia Borgia, c. 1510,
portrait by Veneziano
But, while she was accused of poisoning her husband and of incest with both father and brother, Cesare, Lucrezia Borgia was probably guilty of neither. 

As the year nears its end and I'm scrambling to include women in the few remaining posts left in my daybook, I've had to explain more frequently about why I've selected to write about certain women on certain dates, and that is the case here as well. So, although we do know the days on which Lucrezia was born and when she died, I am posting about her on the date of her mother's death, 24 November. 

Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Giovanna dei Cattanei, known as "Vannozza."* Born on 18 April 1480, Lucrezia was raised in Rome, spending much of her girlhood in the household of Adriana del Mila, her father's cousin. 

She was noted for her educational achievements--a contemporary reported that she spoke Spanish, Greek, Italian, French, and Latin and that she could compose poetry in these languages as well. The household was joined by Giulia Farnese, who had married Adriana del Mila's son, Orso Orsini, in 1489; Giulia became Lucrezia's friend and companion, but she also became Rodrigo Borgia's mistress.

A portrait said to represent
Vanozza Cattanei,
mother of Lucrezia Borgia
Rodrigo looked to his native Spain for Lucrezia's future (and his own political needs), arranging her betrothal in 1491 to Don Juan de Centelles, lord of Val D'Agora in Valencia, and then, when the first contract was annulled, to Don Gaspare d'Aversa, who was also living in Valencia. But that betrothal was also broken when, after his election as pope in 1492, her father arranged for her marriage to Giovanni Sforza; their marriage was celebrated on 12 June 1493.

Unsettled by Charles VIII's threatened invasion of Italy and by "Vatican intrigues," the bridegroom left Rome after his marriage and returned, without his bride, to Pesaro for the summer and fall.

But Giovanni returned to Rome in November, no doubt to ensure his receipt of his thirteen-year-old bride's dowry. In 1494 Lucrezia finally left Rome for Pesaro, where she was living when Charles VIII's threatened invasion became a reality. 

She returned to Rome in the autumn of 1495, acting as hostess for her father at the papal court. But in the changed world of Italian politics, Alexander VI no longer had need of a Sforza alliance, and he decided that Lucrezia's marriage should be annulled on the basis of nonconsummation.

Giovanni angrily rejected the annullment, implying as it did his impotence, and appealed to his uncle Ludovico Sforza for aid. Ludovico was in need of papal support as he fought against Charles VIII, and, fearful that he could lose Milan to the French, proposed a test for Giovanni--he could prove the validity of his marriage if he consummated it, publicly, in the presence of members of both the Borgia and Sforza families.

After Giovanni rejected this proposal, Ludovico then suggested that Giovanni prove his virility in front of just one person, but again the proposal was angrily refused. Giovanni, for his part, reminded the pope and his uncle that his first wife, Maddalena Gonzaga, had died in childbirth; under those circumstances, he argued, there could be little question of his ability to consummate a marriage. He charged that Alexander wanted to dissolve the marriage because Alexander wanted his daughter for himself.

Giovanni's angry charge of incest was almost certainly untrue, but it has become an indelible part of the Lucrezia's unsavory reputation nonetheless. It is also interesting to note, here, that accusations of incest form a regular part of attacks on powerful women as a way of discrediting them--Eleanor of Aquitaine was accused of having such a relationship with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, for example, and Margaret Beaufort's intense emotional connection with her son drew criticism and suspicion as well. Marguerite of Navarre was also accused of incest with her brother, Francis I, again because of their emotional connections. (The frequency of such claims about women made by their political enemies puts such accusations against Anne Boleyn in an interesting context, doesn't it?)

If a woman failed to show her emotional connection to members of her family, a woman like Caterina Sforza could be constructed as an unwomanly monster, but intimate and loving demonstrations of affection could also be used against a woman, raising the suggestion of "neurotic" and "obsessive" attachment (in the case of Margaret Beaufort) or, as with Lucrezia Borgia, incest. 

Alexander, instead of expressing outrage at his son-in-law's accusations, replied to Giovanni with concern for the young man's "honorable" reputation: Giovanni could "admit" his impotence, even while everyone acknowledged it was just a temporary condition, perhaps one caused by an evil spell of some sort, or he could agree to an annulment wimply by claiming that his marriage was invalid because of Lucrezia's previous betrothals. 

Giovanni agreed to have the legality of his marriage examined, but a commission charged with the investigation found no irregularities, despite Alexander VI's obvious desire to have them found. The only remaining argument was nonconsummation, and under pressure from his uncle Ludovico and with financial inducements from the pope, Giovanni Sforza finally agreed. On 18 November 1497 he signed a "confession" of impotence, and on 22 December Lucrezia Borgia's first marriage was formally annulled. She was declared to be intacta, that is, a virgin. (Another good example of "traditional marriage," huh?)

Several new alliances were immediately suggested for her, including one with Ottaviano Sforza, Caterina Sorza's son. But on 29 June 1498 she was married by proxy to Alfonso of Aragon, the illegitimate son of Alfonso II, king of Naples, who made his son duke of Bisceglie. The formal ceremony took place in Rome in July. When Alexander VI and his son allied themselves with the French, who planned to invade Naples, Alfonso left Rome without his wife. Shortly thereafter, Alexander VI appointed his daughter governor of Spoleto and Foligno.

Just nineteen years old, Lucrezia took on the administrative tasks her new role demanded. Apparently reassured of his father-in-law's intentions, Alfonso reclaimed his wife, and the two returned to Rome, where Lucrezia gave birth to a son, whom she named Rodrigo after her father. In July of 1500 Alfonso was attacked by assassins in Rome. As he did not die (Lucrezia's ministrations are credited with his recovery), on 18 August he was strangled in his bed, probably under Cesare Borgia's orders. Lucrezia was dismissed from Rome, her letters from this period signed La Infelicissima--"the most unhappy of ladies."

By July of 1501 Louis XII of France and Ferdinand of Aragon had defeated Naples. While her father campaigned in Italy, Lucrezia returned to Rome to administer his affairs. But Lucrezia's remarriage could provide her father another political ally, and so a third husband was found for her, Alfonso d'Este, Isabella d'Este's brother, son and heir to the duke of Ferrara. After initially opposing the alliance, the duke was compelled to agree. Lucrezia and Alfonso d'Este were married on 30 December 1501. 
Lucrezia Borgia, 1518,
portrait by Dossi Dossi

Contemporary accounts of Lucrezia, just twenty-one years old at the time of her third marriage, counter the more salacious and vicious gossip that still surrounds her name. Her new sister-in-law viewed Lucrezia with suspicion; nevertheless, Isabella d'Este's agent reported to her that Lucrezia was "full of charm and grace," and one of Isabella's ladies-in-waiting, too, grudgingly admitted that if Lucrezia "is not noticeably beautiful, she stands out thanks to the sweetness of her expression." A chronicler in Ferrara reported, "She is full of tact, prudent, intelligent, animated, pleasing, very amiable. . . . Her quick mind makes her eyes sparkle."

Despite d'Este fears and Isabella's suspicions, Lucrezia proved to be an excellent wife--she promptly bore her husband four children, including his son and heir Ercole, who succeeded his father as duke of Ferrara in 1534. 

After Alexander VI's death, Lucrezia no longer played a political role in Italy, but she established numerous charitable foundations in Ferrara and, like her sister-in-law's court at Mantua, Ferrara became a center for artists and intellectuals. 

Lucrezia Borgia died on 24 June 1519, just ten days after giving birth to a stillborn daughter. Lucrezia was thirty-nine years old.

There is a great deal about Lucrezia Borgia in popular culture, from historical dramas like The Borgias to novels. But there are good biographies as well. Although it was originally published in Italian in 1939, I still like Maria Bellonci's The Life and Times of Lucrezia Borgia, trans. Bernard and Barbara Wall; it's out of print, but it has been reprinted so many times that there are lots of used copies available. I also recommend Sarah Bradford's 2004 Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy.

*This post has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan).

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hrotsvita of Gandersheim, a "Strong Voice" in the Tenth Century

Hrotsvita of Gandersheim (23 November 912)


First, an explanation of why I am posting today about Hrotsvita and the relevance of 23 November 912.

We don't actually know the birth and death dates for Hrotsvita (or Hrotsvit, Hrotsvitha, or Roswit, among other variant spellings). She may have been born about 935 and she may have died about 975 or as late as 1002. But we do know that she was a canoness at the imperial abbey of Gandersheim and among her works is a life of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, "Otto the Great," who was born on 23 November 912. So there you go.

In his 1501 woodcut, 
Albrecht Dürer imagines Hrostvita,
on her knees, presenting her story 
of his life to the emperor, Otto, with
Abbess Gerberga looking on
We have no real evidence about Hrotsvit's family, although, given her place in Gandersheim, an important imperial family institution, she is likely to have been a member of a noble Saxon family. As her editor Katharina Wilson notes, "only daughters of the aristocracy were admitted to Gandersheim." 

The abbey became an extraordinary center for learning; in Wilson's words, it was "an oasis of intellectual and spiritual activity." It was also something of the all-female space we have seen before, a kind of "city of ladies": Gandersheim was a "free abbey," one in which Otto I "gave the abbess the authority to have her own court of law, keep her own army, coin her own money, and hold a seat in the Imperial Diet." 

In this remarkable setting, Hrotsvita received the kind of education, freedom, and support to produce a body of work, all of it composed in Latin: eight verse legends, six plays, and two epic poems. Several of her letters also survive.  

Hrotsvita organized her work into three books. The first contained her legends, prefaced by an introduction and dedication to her abbess, Gerberga. 

The second book contains the works for which Hrotsvita is best known today, her six comedies modeled on those of the Roman writer Terence. When I studied literature as an undergraduate and graduate, the "history" of drama that I was taught repeated the same story--classical drama was "lost" during the Middle Ages and not recovered until it was "reborn" in the Renaissance.

But Hrotsvita is the exception--not only was classical drama not lost, but here was a writer--a woman writer--composing original plays, based on the model of Terence, in the tenth century. 

The third book contains her two epic poems, the Carmen de gestis Oddonis imperatoris (Poem of the Deeds of the Emperor Otto) and De primordiis et fundatoribus coenobii Gandersheimensis (History of the Foundation of the Community of Gandersheim). There is also a shorter poem on the Apocalypse of St. John in this third book.

Here is the opening of her "Preface to the Legends":
I offer this little book,
small in stylistic merits, but not small in the efforts it took
to the good will of the wise
for correction and advice
at least to those who don't enjoy to rail
against authors who fail
but, rather, prefer to correct the work's flaws. . . .
However difficult and arduous and complex
metrical composition may appear for the fragile female sex,
I, persisting
with no one assisting
still put together my poems in this little work
not relying on my own powers and talents as a clerk
but always trusting in heavenly grace's aid
for which I prayed. . . . 
There are several excellent critical studies of Hrotsvita, but I recommend starting with her work, available in Wilson's Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: A Florilegium of Her Works.

Oh! One more thing--when Hrotsvita's works were discovered in 1494 and then published in Nuremberg in 1501 (the first edition contained several woodcuts, including the one by Dürer, above), she was praised as, you guessed it, a "tenth muse" and as a Christian Sappho. Sheesh.



Sunday, November 22, 2015

Billie Jean King, Tennis Legend--and Inspiration

Billie Jean King (born 22 November 1943)


During her long career as a tennis player, Billie Jean King won six Wimbledon championships and four U.S. Open titles--to that, she added four Wimbledon doubles titles and a couple of U.S. Championship doubles titles, as well as singles and doubles championships at the French Open, the Australian Open . . . Well, you get the picture.
Billie Jean King forty years ago,
on the occasion of her 1975
Winbledon victory

But for those of us of a certain age, what we will never forget is that day in 1973 (September 20!) when Billie Jean King beat the crap out of Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match in the Astrodome that was billed as "The Battle of the Sexes."

The staging was grandiose and silly (King entered the arena carried on a golden litter by buff and nearly naked men, Riggs pulled by a rickshaw powered by young women dubbed "Bobbie's Bosom Buddies"), but the event itself--just the idea of the event--was thrilling. So much so that even a non-sports-enthusiast like me can remember the match like it was yesterday.

When King won that match, she won a victory for women and gender equality. And then, after she was outed in 1981, she became an important activist for LGBT rights. 

Here's a link to Don Van Natta's extended article, for ESPN, on the Riggs-King match, "The Matchmaker."

And here's a link to Billie Jean King's Makers video, Billie Jean King: Champion and Activist. In this video, she talks about her playing career, her decision to have an abortion, and her (forced) coming out.

Update, September 2017: A new film, Battle of the Sexes, has been released, focusing on the King-Riggs match. As noted by Manohla Dargis in her review for The New York Times, "Every so often an exceptionally capable woman has to prove her worth by competing against a clown."

The film's release has been accompanied by a spate of articles on the match in addition to reviews of the film. I recommend the piece in The Daily Beast, Katie Baker's "The Battle of the Sexes: How Billie Jean King Beat a Misogynist Pig."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Women of Plymouth Colony

The Women of Early Plymouth (Mayflower Compact signed 21 November 1620)


Although forty-one men signed the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony, the "compact," on 21 November 1620, no women did. But that doesn't mean that women weren't among the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower.

Part of Governor William Bradford's
list of Mayflower passengers
The Mayflower left England on 6 September 1620 with 102 passengers aboard. Among that number were eighteen adult women, three of them in the last months of pregnancy:
  • Mary Norris Allerton, who gave birth to a stillborn son in Plymouth Harbor; 
  • Eleanor Billington;
  • Dorothy May Bradford; 
  • Mary Brewster; 
  • Katherine White Leggett Carver; 
  • the wife of James Chilton, whose name is not recorded; 
  • Sarah Eaton, traveling with a nursing infant; 
  • the wife of Edward Fuller, whose name is not recorded;
  • Elizabeth Fisher Hopkins, who bore a son, Oceanus, at sea on board the Mayflower;
  • Mary Prower Martin; 
  • Alice Mullins;
  • Alice Rigsdale;
  • Rose Standish;
  • Agnes Cooper Tilley;
  • Joan Hurst Tilley;
  • the wife of Thomas Tinker, whose name is not recorded;
  • Susannah White, who gave birth to a son, Peregrine, while the Mayflower was anchored off Cape Cod; 
  • and Elizabeth Barker Winslow. 
    The signature of
    Dorothy May,
    later Dorothy Bradford
There were also eleven girls between the ages of one and seventeen who made the voyage, and one young female servant: 
  • four-year-old Mary and six-year-old Remember Allerton; 
  • thirteen-year-old Mary Chilton; 
  • Humility Cooper, an infant traveling in the custody of the Tilleys, her uncle and aunt, and who, after their deaths during the first winter at Plymouth, was returned to England; 
  • Constance (age fourteen) and Damaris (age two) Hopkins; 
  • Ellen (age eight) and Mary (age four) More, two of four children shipped off to Plymouth by their father, who divorced their mother and claimed the children were not his (both girls died the first winter at Plymouth); 
  • Desire Minter (probably a teenager), traveling with the Carver household, who returned to England by 1623; 
  • Priscilla Mullins (age seventeen), whose father, mother, and brother died the first winter at Plymouth; 
  • thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Tilley, whose parents, uncle, and aunt all died the first winter at Plymouth; 
  • and Dorothy, the servant of John Carver (who was probably a teenager at the time of the voyage).
None of the women died during their rigorous sea voyage, but their mortality rate was high once they arrived in Plymouth. Over all, half of the 102 passengers/settlers died during the first winter, but that number included thirteen of the eighteen women. Most of their dates of death are not recorded. The mortality rate for women was the highest among all those who traveled on the Mayflower, at 75%, but the rate of death for girls was the lowest--only two girls died during the first the first winter at Plymouth, a mortality rate of 18%. (About fifty percent of the grown men died, and thirty percent of the boys.)

Constance Hopkins, aged fourteen when the Mayflower
set sail, married Nicholas Snow, who arrived in
Plymouth in 1623; William Bradford would later
report they had twelve children. She died in 1677.
One of the five women who survived that first winter, Katherine Carver, died the following May.

When the 1621 harvest was celebrated, the so-called first Thanksgiving, just four adult women were still living: Eleanor Billington, Mary Brewster, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Susanna White, whose husband had died (she had remarried, becoming the wife of Edward Winslow, whose wife Elizabeth had also died).

Friday, November 20, 2015

Selma Lagerlöf, the First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize in Literature

Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (born 20 November 1858)


Well, I was planning to write just a quick paragraph or so about Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. I didn't know much about her beyond the fact that she had won the Nobel in 1906, and for whatever reason I didn't feel like writing much today. So, I thought, for once, why not just snag a bit of info from Wikipedia, slap together a quick paragraph, and be done with it? 

Selma Lagerlöf at her desk
That was my plan, anyway.

But then I started reading, beginning with the biographical information at the Nobel website and moving on to the extraordinarily long list of novels and short-story collections. I am not qualified to write more, but I know that I definitely want to read more.

So, as an introduction to the writer Selma Lagerlöf and her work, I do recommend starting with the Nobel website. There you will find biographical information, a bibliography, the Presentation Speech delivered on the occasion of the award, the full text of Lagerlöf's acceptance speech (which makes for wonderful reading), and a photo gallery. The "Other Resources" tab links you to a 1926 video of Lagerlöf at her home as well as to the Selma Lagerlöf Society.

There is also excellent information in Ulla Torpe's entry on Lagerlöf at The History of Nordic Women's Literature website. Torpe notes that Lagerlöf's  work "focuses on strategies for young women to survive physically, mentally, and morally in a patriarchal society."

And, although her "official image" portrayed her "as an unmarried author whose sole passion was writing," Torpe indicates that Lagerlöf's correspondence, made widely available only in the 1990s,  reveals her intense and enduring relationships with women, including Valborg Olander, a Swedish suffragist, and with the Swedish-Jewish writer Sophie Elkan. There is now a well-informed literature about Lagerlöf's sexuality; you might start with this essay posted at ArtLark.

Selma Lagerlöf died on 16 March 1940. Shortly before her death, she managed to help secure the release of the German-Jewish writer Nelly Sachs and her mother from Nazi Germany. Sachs would win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966.

English translations of Lagerlöf's work are freely available at sites like the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg, but there is also a handsome Penguin edition of her first great work, The Saga of Gösta Berling, published in 2009, on the centenary of Lagerlöf's Nobel Prize, and a Dover edition of her children's classic, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.

Fun fact: Greta Garbo's first screen role was in the 1924 silent film version of Gösta Berlings saga.