Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Back to the Future, Part 5: The "Sit Down and Shut Up" Edition

"She Was Warned. She Was Given an Explanation. Nevertheless, She Persisted" (8 February 2017)

And so, last night, Mitch McConnell told Senator Elizabeth Warren to sit down and shut up.

There are now well over 400 posts on my site--most of these are biographical essays detailing the lives of both historical and contemporary women, a true "monstrous regiment." They represent queens and commoners, artists and musicians, writers and activists, the famous and the infamous. Some of these women prevailed while others lost. All of them endured.

But I am absolutely sure each and every one of them heard, at some point in her life, a version of what we all heard directed at Elizabeth Warren last night: "Be quiet, missy. And don't you dare use that tone of voice with me." 

Thank god for all the women--throughout history--who have PERSISTED!

Join with the women who persist: #Neverthelessshepersisted and #shepersisted.

Image posted by Carol Henderson,
at #Neverthelessshepersisted:
"For all the women they tried to silence."

For other posts in my "Back to the Future Series": Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ann Radcliffe, "the Mighty Enchantress," and the Gothic Novel

Ann Ward Radcliffe, Novelist (died 7 February 1823)

A week or so ago, in writing about Caroline Lamb, I once again referred to the novelist Ann Radcliffe--and it was only then that I realized I'd never devoted an entire post to her! So today, on the anniversary of her death, I thought I'd write about her life.

The elusive Ann Radcliffe
In an earlier reference to Radcliffe, I noted that, along with a couple of other novelists, she'd saved me while I was studying for my Ph.D. exams. As a medievalist, I knew I was weak on a couple of the "later" periods I'd have to cover in my exams, especially the nineteenth century, and on genres that developed later, like the novel. 

While I'd always been a big reader, I'll admit to being bored to tears by Dickens. Well, not all of Dickens, but the novels that were then on the Ph.D. reading list--David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Honestly! I'd first read Great Expectations in high school, then it was required in a college class, and there it was again on the reading list . . .

In my reading for the exams, I figured I'd "covered" Dickens, to my satisfaction at any rate, with the Pickwick Papers, which I'd enjoyed enormously, and Bleak House, with its endless Jarndyce v. Jarndyce Chancery case. (And I have a soft spot for the horrible Grandfather Smallwood, decayed and sunken into his chair, always needing to be "shaken up" into position on his cushion!) 

Also on the list were Thackeray and Hardy, of course, and Austen, the Bront√ęs, and Eliot, but, still. And so, avoiding the required--or, rather, expected reading--I found my way to what were then non-canonical choices. It was, after all, 1975, so writers like Fanny Burney and Anthony Trollope weren't on my list of mandated writers.

Among many other delights that distracted me, I "discovered' Gothic novels--in the eighteenth century, I preferred Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) and Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796) to the work of "fathers of the novel" like Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Moving on, I read Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) for the first time, which sent me back a few decades to John William Polidori's novella, "The Vampyre" (1819). 

But my favorite writer-I-wasn't-supposed-to-be-reading was Ann Radcliffe, whom I "discovered" during my Gothic-novel-reading phase. I didn't know much about her--well, to be honest, I didn't know anything about her, and I can't even remember now how I found my way to her novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, on the shelves of the University of Washington's Suzzallo Library. 

As I have since learned, there isn't all that much known about the life of Ann Ward Radcliffe. In its notice of her death, the Edinburgh Review commented, "She never appeared in public, nor mingled in private society, but kept herself apart, like the sweet bird that sings its solitary notes, shrouded and unseen."

She lived so much out of the public eye, in fact, that, as Lilia Melani writes, her contemporaries filled in the gaps: "Little was or is known about Radcliffe's life, so not surprisingly apocryphal stories sprang up about her: it was reported that she had gone mad as a result of her dreadful imagination and been confined to an asylum, that she had been captured as a spy in Paris, or that she ate rare pork chops before retiring to stimulate nightmares for her novels; several times she was falsely rumored to be dead."

The facts are few: Ann Ward was born in London in 1764, the daughter of William Ward and Ann Oates. Her father was in trade, selling buttons, thread, and ribbon, later moving to Bath, where he opened a porcelain shop. At some point Ann lived with a relative, Thomas Bentley, in Chelsea, a porcelain manufacturer who joined in partnership with Josiah Wedgewood, the maker of Wedgewood china. Wedgewood's daughter, Susannah, was the young Ann's one known friend. In Bentley's home, Ann also met the diarist Hester Thrale and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

In 1787, when she was twenty-three, Ann Ward married William Radcliffe, a journalist and editor of a London newspaper, The English Chronicle. Their marriage was happy--and, most important, Radcliffe supported his wife's writing career, which she began as a way of occupying the time while he was working outside the home.

Her first novels, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789) and A Sicilian Romance (1790), were published anonymously, but Radcliffe achieved some recognition with the publication of her third novel, The Romance of the Forest (1791), which sold well and earned a strong profit for her publisher. 

Ann Radclife's most famous works, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797) were as captivating to her contemporaries as they were to me, reading them nearly two hundred years later. While critics condemned Gothic fiction, as the style came to be known, as the "trash of circulating libraries," Radcliffe herself was wildly popular--and avoided critical trashing.

It was her contemporary, the essayist Thomas de Quincey, who called her "the great enchantress." For some critics, she was "the Shakespeare of Romance writers"; for others, including Sir Walter Scott, she was "the mighty magician." Not a mighty magician, but the mighty magician.

According to Dale Townsend,* writing about Radcliffe for the British Library online guide to her and her work,
Radcliffe became the most highly paid professional writer of the 1790s: in an age in which the average amount earned by an author upon receipt of a manuscript was £10, her publishers, G G and J Robinson bought the copyright for The Mysteries of Udolpho for £500, while The Italian garnered from Cadell and Davies a staggering £800. She was also the most emulated, copied and plagiarised author of the period.
A book of verse, published in 1816, did not sell as well. Radcliffe's final novel, Gaston de Blondeville; and St. Alban's Abbey, with Some Poetical Pieces (1826) was published after her death, as was Thomas Noon Talfourd's Memoir of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Radcliffe, published at the same time as her final, posthumous novel. 

Like so many other writers--not just women--Radcliffe fell into obscurity late in the nineteenth century. I linked above to Richard Garnett's late nineteenth-century essay on Radcliffe, published in the Dictionary of National Biography--there, he writes, "Mrs. Radcliffe's novels may not be much read, either now or in the future. . . . "

But interest in Radcliffe's work has been revived; according to Townsend, "it was really only with the reawakened interest in the Gothic aesthetic initiated by the publication of David Punter’s The Literature of Terror in 1980 that Radcliffe and those of her school came to be regarded as a serious and legitimate object of academic enquiry."

Academic interest or not, Radcliffe is enormously engaging. Townsend's essay on the British Library site offers excellent information on Radcliffe and provides an amazing array of links to connect you to articles on the Gothic and on other Gothic writers and novels. Melani's discussion is excellent for its thematic analysis. And, hey!!!! There's even a brief article in my favorite source-to-be-pissed-off-at, The Encyclopedia Britannica!

But, the novels themselves!!! Many are available in well-edited, affordable Penguin and World's Classic editions, but you can also access her work at Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive.

*Update, 18 January 2024: Unfortunately, this resource is no longer available at the BL website, so the link takes you to the page as it is preserved on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Back to the Future, Part 4: If Only They Were Making America Great Again for Women . . .

Guys Just Wanna Have Fun--Regulating Women's Bodies

Thirteen years before he ran for president with a strong anti-abortion position, the God-Emperor for conservative Republicans, Ronald Reagan, approved an act liberalizing abortion law. On 15 June 1967, just six weeks into his term, Governor Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Law. The optics were what you would expect for politics in 1967:

Reagan's Legislative Secretary is behind him;
on the far left is Republican assemblyman Craig Biddle,
looking over his shoulder is the Democratic Senator Anthony Bellenson

Yeah, it was four white guys happy to be in charge of what women could do with their bodies, but, hey!, it was FIFTY YEARS AGO! (And, afterwards, when he realized what he'd done, Reagan was really, really, really sorry about that bill . . . )

But, not to be outdone in the we're-the-boss-of-you department, here is George Bush signing the "partial birth" abortion ban in 2003:

There is a Democrat in this photo--or at least his head is there;
Senator Jim Oberstar was a pro-life Democrat

More smiling white guys! (And, yes, that's the paragon of virtue, Dennis Hastert, just to Bush's right--so nice to know he's thrilled with the prospect of regulating what women can do with their bodies and lives.) This picture was notorious for its masculine line-up FOURTEEN YEARS AGO!

But here we are, back to the future, in 2017, reinstating the so-called global gag order, from 1984 (yes, you read that correctly, Nineteen Eight-Four!): 

THE MORE THE MERRIER! From the left: Vice President Mike Pence,
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus,
 National Trade Council adviser Peter Navarro,
 Senior Adviser Jared Kushner,
policy adviser Stephen Miller,
and chief strategist Steve Bannon--
nobody seems to  know who the guy between Miller and Bannon is . . . 
is it Don McGahn? (the forehead and hair look distinctive)

Do these guys never learn? Surely they could have rounded up a female body or two to stand in the frame? (By the way, the policy Trump was reinstating was originally put in place by Ronald Reagan in 1984--Clinton rescinded it in 1993, GW Bush reinstated it in 2001, Obama rescinded it in 2009. I'm tired.)

Anyway, I've been posting under the "Back to the Future" headline sarcastically--under the impression that Trump's desire to turn back the clock would be uniformly bad for women. But looking at this line-up, I'm  pretty sure we're way past sarcasm now . . . 

For previous "Back to the Future" posts: click for Part 1, for Part 2, for Part 3.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Jane Wilde, "Speranza": Poet, Intellectual, Activist

Jane Frances Agnes, Lady Wilde (died 3 February 1896)

Early in December, the New York Times published a review of Emer O'Sullivan's new book about the family of Oscar Wilde, The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family.

Jane Frances Agnes as a young woman
The review introduced me to Oscar Wilde's mother, Jane Frances Agnes, who became lady Wilde after her husband was knighted in 1864. I knew nothing about her--to be absolutely honest, I never thought about Oscar Wilde even having a mother! 

(In my defense, as I've written often in this blog, I am primarily a medievalist who spends much of her time reading and writing early-modern history, so if something happened after 1600 or so, it's not generally in my field of vision!)

In the review, Deborah Lutz refers to Jane Wilde as "wildly erudite," a woman whose own writing and reading greatly influenced her children. As she quotes O'Sullivan, “Listening to their mother’s reading and embellishing the lyrics” of Whitman, for example, “would have created in the boys a visceral bond between the maternal and the word, a place of storied memories of desire, loss and sensual pleasure.”

However significant her influence on her famous son, Jane Wilde was herself a notable woman. Born in 1821, she became a political activist on behalf of the Young Ireland movement of the mid-nineteenth century, writing and publishing poetry and prose in the Irish national weekly, The Nation, under the pseudonym "Speranza" ("Hope"). Her most significant piece for The Nation may be "The Stricken Land," published in 1847, under the pseudonym John Fanshaw Ellis, during the worst of the Irish Famine. In 1864, a collection of her poems from The Nation was published as Poems by Speranza. (To view this book, made available through the Internet Archive, click here.)

She also published translations from French and German novels. Her translations are described by Irish Writers Online: *
A gifted linguist, she published several translations of French and German works, including Wilhelm Meinhold’s gothic horror novel Sidonia the Sorcess, in 1849, which was reprinted in America; a philosophical novel from the German, The First Temptation, or Eritia sient Deus (in three volumes); Lamartine’s History of the Girondins, as Pictures of the First French Revolution (1850); Lamartine’s Nouvelles Confidences, as The Wanderer and his Home (1851); and Alexander Dumas’s Impression de Voyage en Suisse, as The Glacier Land (1852). Her first volume of poetry also contained translations from several European languages.
In addition to supporting the cause of Ireland, Wilde campaigned for and wrote to defend women's rights and their need for access to education. In an 1850 essay in The Nation, she wrote, "Women truly need much to be done for them. At present they have neither dignity nor position. All avenues to wealth and rank are closed to them. The state takes no notice of their existence except to injure them by its laws." 
In 1883, in "A New Era in English and Irish Social Life," published after the passage of the 1882 Married Women's Property Act, she praised the change, noting that the institution of marriage would no longer treat a woman as "a bonded slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune."

In 1893's Social Studies, she recognized that, despite progress, the status of women--and their prospects for advancement--remained dismal: "For six thousand years," she began, "the history of women has been a mournful record of helpless resignation to social prejudice and legal tyranny." But, she concluded, :
Genius never yet unsexed a woman, or learning or culture ever so extended; but the meanness of her ordinary social routine life, with all its petty duties and claims, and ritual of small observances, degrades and humiliates her, for it deprives her of all dignity, and leaves her without any meaning in God’s great universe.
Even so, she remained optimistic about the future:
Now, for the first time in the history of the world, a path is opening to female intellect, energy and talent, and, henceforth, women, perhaps, may lead in the learned professions, take their part in home government, form ministries to organise the code of female rights, and claim the highest university honours in rivalry with men.
In addition to the works noted above, her publications include: Poems (1871); Memoir Of Gabriel Beranger (with her husband, Sir William Wilde, 1880); Driftwood From Scandinavia (1884); Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland. With Sketches of the Irish Past… to which is added a chapter on “The Ancient Race of Ireland” by the late Sir William Wilde (1888); and Notes On Men, Women, And Books (1891).

When Jane Wilde died in 1896, her son, Oscar, was in prison after his conviction for gross indecency. Her request to see him before she died was denied.

Many of Lady Wilde's books are available at the Internet Archive--you can reach a list of her publications by clicking here.

*Update, 2022: Sadly, this online resource now seems to have disappeared. The link now takes you to the page as it is preserved on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.