And some linkspam in a peartree

Bah humbug

Dept of of, gender and sexuality, ORL B MOAR COMPLYK8D: Guillaume Gallienne was different from his three athletic brothers – he liked to dance and dress up as a woman. His mother treated him like a girl and told him he was gay. The thing is, he was actually heterosexual

Dept of, there are reasons for this: Home is where the greatest accident risk is, warns top A&E doctor. No shit, Sherlock... surely this simple fact is well-known because a) people spend a lot of time in the home b) they probably have unrealistic perceptions that Home is Safe and c) a lot of the Health and Safety regulations that places to which the public have access or in which they work are obliged to put in place, at the very least for fear of lawsuits, are not applicable to Ye Olde Homestead, or The Englishperson's Castle.

Dept of, wish one could say that this was surprising, rather than shocking: They were never asked for their consent – but symphysiotomy caused the Irish mothers subjected to it catastrophic long-term health problems. A compensation scheme has now begun, but the question remains: did religious dogma trump the women’s best interests?.

Dept of Awwwww, and Nye Bevan doing the opposite of turning in his grave: A heartfelt thank you to our wonderful NHS.

Dept of, oh dear that this is still an issue: I’m getting married: should I change my surname?. There is a character in Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs who, on marriage wishes to change her name for family reasons, but instead of taking her husband's name, changes her surname to March, in honour of Jo.

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No, really, Wednesday? Again?


What I read

Wendy Pollard, Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times (2014). A good readable biography by somebody who seems to hold PHJ in rather higher esteem as a neglected mid-C20th writer than I do, and in an attempt to get people to turn to the novels (a number of which are now available as ebooks), does rather coy things leaving stuff out when describing what they're about. I found this a bit maddening, as although back in the day I read a good swathe of PHJ's work I didn't have that good memory of plot twists and final revelations.

But oh dear, CP Snow strikes me as bad news. One gets the distinct impression that he decided that PHJ (out of the several women he was involved with) was a suitable consort for Literary Power Coupledom, and it doesn't sound as though he made her particularly happy though she occasionally protested in her diaries that although this and that [domestic life FAIL, lack of sexual activity, etc] it was LOVE and they were HAPPY. Nor does he sound like a writer I wish to reconsider: on the one hand he transcribed the lives of friends into his novels so closely that he got into legal difficulties, on the other he makes the series narrator rather more sympathetic - ill-advised first marriage rather than loads of affairs, until becoming Literary Power Couple (+ continued affairs) - than he sounds. Terribly determined to be AN IMPORTANT WRITER, which is not really endearing.

Anyway, as a result, I thought I would reread one of the two tatty old Penguin editions of novels by PHJ that happen to be on my shelves: A Summer to Decide (1954). This is not actually bad: the writing is very readable if occasionally sententious: as that is something I noted on my last PHJ re-read it can't just be attributed to the first-person narrator. Who is, it must be said, a bit of an aimless drip, havering about committing to both a relationship and a proper career (spoiler: finally does commit, under both headings), against a plot involving his sister's marriage and her horrid husband turning out to be involved in a car-theft racket. All a bit humourless - she did write a trilogy of what are touted as comic novels but I am not sure I remember them as exactly hilarious.

Also read: Agatha Christie, Endless Night (1967) - I wonder how many murder stories have taken the plot of The Wings of the Dove that one step further, and if the rich young woman doesn't already have a fatal disease, make sure she dies anyway? (There's one by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, but I can't recall if murder actually happens.) Also, Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (1976) - the detective dunnit. Simon Brett, The Hanging in the Hotel (2004).

Plus some Sekkrit Projekt reading.

On the go

Actually, pretty much nothing unless you count occasional dips into Reassessing John Buchan, and the various things that have been on my part-way through list for yonks.

Up next

Well, I now have Jane Smiley, Some Luck, and a new study of Storm Jameson by Elizabeth Maslin, so probably one of those. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. View comment count unavailable comments.

Linkspam is Love

Bah humbug

And today's Guardian is all over the tender passion in the Weekend Magazine as well as a supplement on romance blossoming for people who did the Blind Dates feature.

Long-term love and various lit figures on the loved and lost - props to Margaret Drabble for this being a female friendship, which are what I tend to look back on with regret. Whereas with romantic partners, so often the feeling is 'whoa, lucky escape!'

However, and perhaps with a touch of irony, the review section has Sarah Waters talking about F Tennyson Jesse's A Pin to See the Peepshow and the Thompson/Bywaters case.

No, really, is it the case that the use of (animal) pet names for one's lovers is a distancing strategy? Philip Larkin appears to have been quite a lot about the distancing, but I'm not sure that one can make any universal point there.

Am sending an anonymous text to the Ponceyness Police to go and introduce Andrew O'Hagan to Mr Codfish: 'Not since James Joyce's Molly Bloom has a woman in literature spoken up for the true properties of her sex.' Oh, but he is a MAN and therefore must know...

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I have expressed, here and there, the possibility that the Victorian male was not a happy bunny as regarded his sex life and the enjoyment of ye conjugalz, owing to all the fear and horror-mongering going on about LUST and PASSION.

And whaddayaknow, a sociologist has discovered that young men who are brought up in evangelical religion and under pressure to save themselves for the marriage bed, have problems:
What happens when evangelical virgin men get married?

They believed that sex was sacred, but they also talked about sex as beastly, as something that needed to be controlled. The “beastly” elements of sex, for them, are things like masturbation, pornography, lust and same-sex desire.
They believe that men are highly sexual beings and they have “natural urges” that need to be controlled, but they don’t believe that women have that natural desire to be sexually active. Women are the providers of sexual activity for their husbands.
Rather than saying, “I’m a man because I engage in a variety of sexual activity,” they’re saying, “I’m a man because I can avoid that temptation; I can control these things.”
When you spend the first twenty-plus years of your life thinking of sex as something beastly that needs to be controlled, it’s very difficult to make that transition to married life and viewing sex as sacred. And once these men are married, the church pulls away the support group. The idea is that once you’re married, it’s all good – you’re supposed to be enjoying sex with your wife.
But as one of the guys said, once you get married, the “beastly” doesn’t disappear.

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Although some bread is in the making

No cooking

For reasons which are perhaps obvious, there has not really been any culinary activity this weekend, although there was pheasant and lentil soup for Friday supper and I have just popped a 3 Malts and Sunflower Seed loaf into the oven.

Did my other panel today - not sure how it went because it's hard to tell when you're actually on one, also the way it was framed was not quite in tune with My Thorts on the panel topic. However, I got in my obligatory Mitchison plug.

I then failed to get into the following panel of my first choice, as by the time I had got out of mine and got myself organised the queue was massive and I was several behind the last person they squeezed in. I did get into my second choice but found the room acoustics unhelpful particularly as there was apparently a film being shown in the adjacent room.

I then did a little final wander about before dragging myself home (actually this was less painful than might have been as I was v lucky with DLR & Tube connections).

Annoying history of feminism FAIL in passing comment in a review in the Observer on that programme about women in WWI: 'What Ms Adie failed to tackle, and only because it's such a gargantuan question, was why it was that feminism took a good 50 years to be reborn.', which is thoroughly AAAAARGH I don't even, because does Euan Ferguson think that equalisation of divorce law (1923), the 'flapper vote' (1928), various legislation relating to the rights of mothers and children, birth control, the abolition of marriage bars, etc, simply dropped as the gentle dew from heaven???

I find this creepy, because as a child I had statue-related nightmares: Statues of the great and good across the capital and Manchester will be able to chat to passers-by thanks to smartphone technology.

And I may return to this when able to brain more effectively: are such 'bibliomemoirs' a sign of an increasingly superficial literary culture or vital guides for a public swamped by choice? Or, can you say 'false dichotomy' and 'it's all more complicated'?

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No way this could possibly go wrong?

Don't Mock

I heard today about a young man who took his girlfriend on a romantic trip abroad, and when they were in a particularly romantic location, proposed in full formal style* -

In a public place, with people passing to and fro.

This is perhaps not so bad as the chap who set up a surprise party to propose, since, as this was a romantic foreign spot, they were presumably at least strangers who didn't know either of the couple rather than their entire social circle.

Is this public performative proposing becoming a thing?

What this actually reminded me of - 'I will orchestrate a SURPRISE for my beloved, of course she will be thrilled and delighted' - was a query addressed to Dr Petra Boynton's agony aunt column in the Daily Telegraph:
'Shall I surprise my girlfriend with an escort so we can have a threesome?'

An exquisitely tactful codfish was applied.

*Perhaps, with all this down on one knee proferring a ring retro-behaviour , the appropriate response would be 'Sensible as I am of the honour you do me, you must ask dear papa for his blessing first.'? (Rushes round corner, texts dear papa to say NO! NO! BLESSING NO CAN HAZ.)

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Reading! Wednesday!


What I finished

Finished my re-read of Loyalty in Death.

Read Claire Langhamer, The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution, which is very good, very readable, and okay, there are probably other stories to tell but I thought this did make a convincing case about the changes over the course of C20th (I'm just not entirely persuaded that It Was All About The Second World War, or at least, she puts perhaps greater weight on the rupture this created than I might).

I then discovered my copy of Kathleen Hale's A Slender Reputation (1994), which someone recommended to me some while ago, possibly in connection with that book about the Garman sisters? - and it was lovely, I gulped it down. Lots of good stuff about boho circles in early C20th London, and namechecks several people (not all of them ones I would have expected) who are part of my current sphere of interest, and generally utterly charming. Also, whatever the tensions in her marriage, which were clearly considerable, her husband seems to have been quite okay with her continuing her artistic career and not expecting her to fit it in around domestic duties (not to mention, with her going off and having a therapeutic affair with a bisexual artist friend).

And on domestic service, have just finished Lucy Delap, Knowing Their Place: Domestic Service in Twentieth-Century Britain (2011), which is immensely All More Complicated in its analysis of this, from the minutiae of social history and statistics and the legal position of servants to the inner meanings (and changes over time) in pornographic representations of domestic service. It's perhaps a rather heavier read than Langhamer (not that that isn't perfectly scholarly too).

On a lighter note, I read Lia Silver's Prisoner (Echo's Wolf, # 1) (Werewolf Marines #2) on the e-reader - this is set in the same world as Laura's Wolf but isn't a direct sequel, dealing with a different set of characters from those foregrounded in LW. It's a rattling good enjoyable read. It struck me as paranormal thriller with romance elements rather than paranormal romance, but that's the way I like it, uhhuh.

On the go

Catherynne Valente, Six Gun Snow White (2013), which was in my Hugo voting packet and already on my must-read list.

Just started, Katherine Holden, Nanny Knows Best: The History of the British Nanny (2013), which I anticipate is going to be excellent (I've heard several papers based on this research and had conversations on the subject). As readers may recall, I raved about Holden's The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England, 1914-60 (2007).

Up next

Well, there are those other Hugo things I ought to look at.

On the SRS social history side, there is that book on the Working Class in the C20th and the one on siblings.

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Wednesday (re)reading


What I (re)read

Because revisiting stuff I have not read for (probably) well over a decade or even two is almost but not quite like new reading!

I've inhaled J D Robb's [---] In Death series from Naked to Rapture (1995-1996) (because what happens when you end up having to restack books is things coming to light and turning into the front of the pile rather than the back). It's quite odd going back to the beginning of a long series like this to what it was like at the start, and the backstories that are still to come and the characters who haven't yet emerged and so on. I daresay some people actually read these for the Dallas/Roarke extremely-oft stated sexual tension/activity, but for me I have to say that these obligatory episodes are the equivalent of the bit in Marx Bros movies where Chico tickles the ivories or Harpo twangs the strings and Groucho suggests this is a good time to nip out to the lobby for a smoke. Otherwise they're holding up pretty well as candyfloss reading though I am still surprised by the instances where Dallas overlooks the character who is parading round with the 'look at me I'm way dodgy' teeshirt until the 11th hour.

E M Delafield. Tension (1921) so lives up to its name and fulfills the meta in the text about stories that don't have Dramatic Events but depend on Atmosphere. Mark Easter is totally one of EMD's spineless, or at least, emotionally obtuse and ultimately fairly useless, charming blokes. Okay, his children are monsters, but I think one could make a case (not that I'm sure EMD actually does) that a) their mother is a dipsomaniac currently in an institution b) even before her incarceration, domestic life appears to have been pretty unstable c) their father seems totally emotionally disengaged and leaves them pretty much to the servant, and that they are acting out in a fairly traumatic situation. NB this is also a father who married his wife largely out of pity and because they both 'rather wanted kiddies'. Also, we note that his affairs as land-agent are sufficiently in a mess that they really need Pauline Marchrose working above and beyond her daytime job to help him out. This is the one that also has a woman who thinks of herself as Living For Others and the entire rest of the cast (except for Easter's infants) wears a hunted expression.

Mrs Harter (1924) has a rather similar plot - dropping a new person of somewhat equivocal antecedents into a small community - and also has the 'cynicism concealing the sensitive heart' male figure, this time as narrator. His wife Claire is not quite such a monster as Lady Rossiter in Tension but a similar type - she married Miles in a fit of dramatic self-sacrifice when he was injured in a flying accident (which sort of inverts Pauline Marchrose's backstory of exiting from her engagement when her fiance - about whom she was already Having Qualms - was injured in a hunting accident). The ending, however, invokes actual melodramatic incident rather than the pressure of unspoken/whispered atmospherics.

The Way Things Are (1927) - or, Not Quite Such A Downer as Consequences or Thank Heaven Fasting but not very cheery, even if a) her husband is Not All That Bad (sort of Robert in Provincial Lady without so much of the comedy) and b) we are not sure that Duke would wear all that well over the long term. I would like to think that this deep if tragic emotional experience will make her an even better writer of short stories and win her greater critical acclaim. But she thinks of her children more than this, when taking her decision.

On the Go

Ceremony in Death (1997). Also, still ploughing through An Englishwomen's Love Letters and wondering at the extent to which our lovers, who are pretty much neighbours, don't seem to be meeting much. It's not as though he's Serving The Empire, he's just down the road.

Up Next

Probably Vengeance in Death and another Delafield, not sure at the moment which. Incidentally quite a lot of her works are now available at 77p the pop for Kindle, put out by a weird publishing firm (Timeless Wisdom Collection) which mostly seems to publish out-of-print (and probably well past its sell-by date) Inspirational Works. Go figure.

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The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith

Bah humbug

I was alerted to this production at a London fringe venue of a revival of Pinero's The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith (1895) by robot_mel to whom many thanks (missing What's Happening In Fringe Theatre is one of those things for which I will never forgive Time Out for going free-sheet + website, because the free-sheet coverage is highly selective and the website is crap if you want to skim-browse What's On. And as we have not been looking for Things to Do On Saturday for several weeks because of Reasons, might well have missed it altogether.)

Amazing play. Not quite Ibsen, but pretty good.

Woman-centred critique of marriage!

Women of different kinds being supportive of one another! (I have been trying to think of any Shaw play in which there are actually positive relationships between women, and so far have only come up with Hesione being a bit condescendingly maternal to Ellie in Heartbreak House. Not sure GBS gets a Bechdel pass).

The male protag is Manic Dream Pixie Boy, even if he did have a promising political career ahead of him.

Can quite imagine that 10 years later Agnes and Gertrude are devoted female couple chucking bricks through shop windows for Mrs Pankhurst, and meet Sybil doing exactly the same thing...

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Subversive male

Suffering from insomnia in the stilly watches of the night, my mind went to an article I read recently (?by that woman who just produced a whole book on her life with Middlemarch, or possibly by someone inspired by/reviewing it?) which said something like 'though Eliot was not as good on men as women' -

To which I was


(And 'But why always Dorothea?' - verb. sap.)

It adduced Will Ladislaw, and personally I have never been on board with the Ladislaw-hate (he is charming talented hot young man who is not an alpha-male type and has already undergone a significant maturation process, who is crazeee about her, what is not to like?) and Dorothea/Lydgate as OTP. Because it is our considered opinion that to a significant degree Dr Tertius deserved Rosamund because of his unthinking masculinist assumptions about marriage and what help and comfort between spouses actually meant. We are not at all persuaded that even with a less egocentric helpmeet he would be The Ideal Husband, even without the 'dissecting things is a fun way to spend evenings by the conjugal fireside' hobby.

Either Dorothea would turn into doing for him what Casaubon hoped she would be for him, only for SCIENCE rather than musty old mythologies, like those Victorian spouses to scientists who learnt German to translate relevant texts, catalogued their specimens, edited their articles and monographs for stylistic coherence, took up watercolours in order to illustrate these, and got no credit for their contributions: i.e. unpaid research assistant/secretary/PA/editor.

Or, I have just thought of an AU sequel in which Dorothea does marry Lydgate but conflict arises between his desire to Do Research and her belief that he should use his medical gifts for the benefit of the suffering poor; and that's before they find themselves at odds over the Contagious Diseases Act, 1864.

But, anyway, how can you possibly say that Ms Evans Couldn't Depict Men. Pray what gender are Mr Casaubon, Mr Brooke, Lydgate, Fred, Bulstrode, Rev Farebrother, Sir James, not to mention the plethora of vividly depicted peripheral characters from Rev Cadwallader to Raffles and the seedy low-lifes who sell Fred the vicious nag? They are just as convincing as Rosamund, Celia, Mary, Mrs Cadwallader, the landlady of the Green Dragon, etc etc.

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Linkspam loves awesome women

Bah humbug

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 'Don't we all write about love? When men do it, it's a political comment. When women do it, it's just a love story'. I'd suggest that in fact it's when men do it, it is about the deep chords of the human heart, when women do it it's soppy wish-fulfillment, but her formulation works as well.

Photographer Nan Goldin burst on to the art scene in 1986 with The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, hugely influential images that chronicled the druggy New York demi-monde she and her friends inhabited.:

Initially, because of her subject matter alone, she was compared to Diane Arbus, who had made her name with photographs of so-called freaks and outsiders in the 1960s. Goldin, though, says she knew nothing about art photography or documentary when she saw Arbus's work for the first time. "What I remember most is that all the queens I knew hated her. Violently. In her portraits of drag queens, she stripped them and showed them as men. To me, the queens were not men. My work was much more respectful to them.

Mary Midgley: a late stand for a philosopher with soul (is there a subtext that you only get taken seriously as a female philosopher if you are very, very, old? - note her comments about certain male philosophers as youthful firecracker prodigies). Some great quotes:

She was one of an extraordinary group of female philosophers at Oxford during the war that comprised Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe and Mary Warnock, all of whom went on to work in moral philosophy or ethics. Was that a coincidence, I ask, or was it a female response to the male world of logical positivism that dominated British philosophy at that time?

"Well some chaps did as well," she replies. "The fact that we were all women, as I keep saying, [is because] in the war there were so few men around, and the men who were around tended to be conscientious objectors or disabled, so there simply wasn't the sort of fighting and squabbling that there was later."

In a recent letter to the Guardian, explaining why she thought there was a shortfall in women philosophers, she wrote: "The trouble is not, of course, men as such – men have done good enough philosophy in the past. What is wrong is a particular style of philosophising that results from encouraging a lot of clever young men to compete in winning arguments. These people then quickly build up a set of games out of simple oppositions and elaborate them until, in the end, nobody else can see what they are talking about."


Rachel Cooke meets Jacqueline Wilson to talk about growing up, girls' comics and why, despite illness, she has no intention of slowing down.

Emma Thompson: the A-lister who sets her own rules. I am not sure whether yearning or shuddering is my emotion re the Effie movie.

Golden Dawn: courage of two women stems the rise of Greece's neo-Nazis: Under armed guard, the judges investigating the far-right party's criminal activities have brought it down: but it is far from out.


And in other business:

Working on the subjects I do, I've always had a lot of time for Roy Jenkins: I may even read this biography and I am so not a reading bios of politicians person. But what with 'gay at Oxford' and 'open marriage' I may have to.

It may be a good swing at the topic, but does the world really need another book on the Maybrick mystery?

Why almost everything you've been told about unhealthy foods is wrong. Though I'm not entirely sure what '"avoid processed food"' means? a lot of perfectly healthy comestibles are processed; cooking is processing.

On that 'revolutionary' new speed-reading app:

Like so many technological fixes, Spritz and the like seem to be answering a question nobody asked. And if you do ask, you'll find that speed-reading experts say you can do better by running your finger along the page – but nobody wants to be seen doing that.

Ten best poems about spring (in English...): houndz ov spring b saying wot no Louis MacNeice, 'Spring Voices', woez, glass b falling down & down.

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Please to clone Leonard Woolf...

Neither a doormat nor a prostitute

I've just started a bio of Margery Allingham, and have not got very far yet, but have already been chewing on some nuggets in the forewords (to the first edition and the revised edition).

I'm not sure I entirely buy the idea that her ideal of marriage was an upstanding and somewhat dominant man cherishing a lovely woman whose main desire was to be cossetted. I wouldn't say that the examples cited are the main pairings in the books in question, to begin with, or at least, are only one element within a broader tapestry of relationship possibilities. (Amanda is never going to hang up her spanner, really, and I would like a whole book about the musical comedy actress Eve from Coroner's Pidgin.)

What I could quite believe is that like many women writers of her era (or indeed, economically active women), Allingham had profound if not necessarily conscious resentments around her position as the person who was bringing in the bacon to the domestic household but did not get the kind of deferential consideration accorded the trad male breadwinner, while still being expected to do invisible womanly emotional work.

GB Stern is just so good on this, both in her thoughts in her ragbag chronicles and in her fiction, where women who think they must do the expected womanly thing and give up their careers on marriage, if only for the benefit of husband's manly self-esteem, discover that this is a Really Bad Idea. (The extreme version of this comes in The Woman in the Hall, in which the con-woman protag, having made what appears to be an excellent marriage, is so bored and frustrated that she sends herself poison-pen letters as an explanation for why she disappears into the night.)

I just love what she wrote in Monogram:

To any one who has ever shouldered responsibility for any length of time, the most beautiful words in the language will always be: 'Don't worry. Leave it to me,' if said with a ring of truth behind them, a ring of efficiency.

Cannot help feeling that this was what the female breadwinner wanted, rather than being patted on the head and giving up her entire life for A Man (who usually turns out, in the fictional versions, to be not worth it).

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A soupcon of linkspam

Bah humbug

Dept of, reviewers clearly don't read:
- Review of The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot in which reviewer describes Fred Vincy as a marginal character. That would be, a marginal character whose trajectory from feckless waiting for something to turn up to responsibility and marriage is a major strand within the novel.
- review of a book about Belgium which invokes the following comparison: 'whose narratorial persona seems to evaporate out of his foggy books like the figure of Krook in Dickens'. I do not think of spontaneous human combustion as an elusive evaporation from the plotline, does anyone else?

Dept of (yet again) Go, Prof Sir Richard Evans!, taking a mighty codslap to the war and diplomacy equivalent of diagnosing guessing what diseases people in history suffered from: Counterfactual history is misguided and outdated.

Dept of, Cultural cringe - going in both directions?:
AS Byatt:

"Ever since I started writing, people have been asserting that the Americans were better – I don't think they were necessarily – the cultural cringe does exist and must be resisted."

Junot Diaz suggests
"Certainly white American writers have the cultural force of their empire behind them," he said, "but more ambition and talent? Please allow me to laugh["]
Dept of, does this sound a bit creepy, even possibly warning bells, to anyone else?
Why does she want to be seen as an old-fashioned wife? "He needs to feel that he is equal to me. If we go out to a party and he asks someone a question, and they reply to me because they assume that he doesn't work, that he's a househusband, that really bothers him.

Could not help being reminded of article I read somewhere during the week about domestic abuse of successful professional women by their less successful husbands.

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It came upon a linkspam clear

Bah humbug

The Ponceyness Police wish to speak to Philip Hoare and give him a warning:

Lying on the pavement, it stared up at me, reproachfully, out of the late December morning. A perfect starling, its eyes still wide open as if at the shock of its death. So ordinary a bird, so utterly beautiful, a mosaic of shimmering iridescent green flashes on its wings, claws and beak sharp and gothic. It's a common, almost ignored component of the winter landscape, swooping in vast numbers in its twilight murmurations, but seen singly, in close-up detail, an exquisite corpse. It was already a ghost of itself.

Like all dead animals, it spoke of its own beauty, dumb yet eloquent. It seemed a dark emissary of these few days' grace, caught in the wavering light between the end and the beginning of the years.

Dept of, You don't say: Tax exemption for public access to treasured artworks is 'a racket'.

Dept of, Save Our Heritage more generally: East Anglian rood screens decaying as churches struggle for funds and threat to St Pancras Old Church (featured among my 100 London Things).

Dept of Race Matters: Britain's black power movement is at risk of being forgotten, say historians and How a Kenyan upbringing helped Njambi McGrath become a standup.

Dept of, Revisionism doesn't mean just inverting villain/victim: Kathryn Hughes on new book on the Ruskin marriage.

Dept of, Revisionism should mean It's All More Complicated: Amanda Vickery on new book on the impact of the Industrial Revolution.

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(Spurious) seasonal Victorian factoids.

queen victoria is not amused

The reason why everybody in depictions of Victorian Christmas festivities looks so jovial? - Christmas was considered one of the approved times for the respectable and restrained Victorian middle class couple to engage in ye conjugalz. (The other day was Papa's birthday, but health warnings were issued to men with birthdays in Dec or Jan about the potentially harmful drain on their vital fluids, recommending 'an official birthday' in some other month.)


There was a London charity, supported by Angela Burdett-Coutts, Charles Dickens, Mr Gladstone and many more of the great and good, which provided a Christmas dinner for prostitutes, along with a goody bag containing: a tastefully-bound copy of A Christmas Carol; an improving tract; and information about schemes for assisted emigration to The Colonies.


Modesty forbids an account of some of the 'Christmas games' traditional in certain men's clubs.

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Stereotyping much?


Okay, I am pretty sure that, were I to be given the choice, Stuart Jeffries is not the man I'd pick to write a piece on 75 years of the Marriage Guidance Council, now known as Relate, because he has form over replicating boring old stereotypes and downright historical canards.

Even if he is quoting somebody in the present-day association: I think they both need to interrogate their assumptions:

Our counsellors were originally middle-class women of a certain age, probably in twin set and pearls – the kind of person who might well have squirmed if you told them about your sexual problems.

I think that should be, 'middle aged women in twin sets and pearls who were remarkably unfazed by the discussions of sexual problems, because the MGC had a pretty rigorous training course designed to ensure that counsellors would be able to deal with the potentially blush-making when it came up in a session'.

I'm not sure if either Dr Helena Wright or Dr Joan Malleson actually wore twinsets and pearls, but they were women doctors associated with the North Kensington Women's Welfare Clinic and the Family Planning Association who were working out forms of sex therapy from the 1930s, and writing books on the subject.

The FPA ran on (besides the actual doctors and nurses) women volunteers who were, probably, pretty much middle-class: and given that many early clinics ran on a pop-up basis in draughty church halls, twinsets sound like eminently practical wear.

Also, when talking about OMG increase in numbers of divorces, please to consider that the divorce law finally changed to enable no-fault divorce in 1970, including divorce from a partner who had been blocking the dissolution of the marriage, and this would account for the sudden boom in 1971 and the years following as people took advantage of a change that had been argued for during the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce of 1909. We might also point out that it is not a coincidence that 1938, date of the foundation of the MGC, was a year after the 1937 Herbert Divorce Act which, although it kept the whole innocent/guilty concept, did greatly extend the grounds for divorce.

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bonking hedgehogs

My attention has, as they say, been drawn to the Wikipedia article on Sexless Marriage, which makes this rather startling statement:

The definition of a nonsexual marriage is often broadened to include those where sexual intimacy occurs less than ten times per year, in which case 20 percent of the couples in the National Health and Social Life Survey would be in the category. Newsweek magazine estimates that 15 to 20 percent of couples are in a sexless relationship.

No, really, if people are having sex more than zero times, I don't think you can classify their relationship as sexless. They may even be having utterly amazing, if infrequent, sex because it is this rare and special thing rather routine humping.

It's not necessarily the case that more is better and that couples with a lower frequency of ye conjugalz should be making

a conscious decision to step up the frequency of sex and even to schedule times for sex, to kindly communicate with another in and outside of sex, or to play role-play games, and even use toys, practice "dirty talk", have "candle-lit dinners", look for unusual sex locations, watch erotic films, arrange weekends away, share fantasies and much more.

Am reminded of a certain demographic historian whose definition of 'sexual abstinence' would have been regarded as gross sexual indulgence by many Victorian authorities. (Actually, 10x a year would probably have been regarded as wantonly excessive by some Victorian authorities.)

Providing the situation is not one in which one partner feels deprived or the other feels put-upon ('honestly, we had sex only a month ago, what is wrong with them') I don't see this as A Problem.

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Reading comprehension fail

kepler codfish

In a listserv discussion of the trope of spinster as crazy cat lady:

Someone cites Kipling's 'The Cat Who Walked By Himself' from The Just-So Stories as an exemplar.

(They also consider this carefully crafted piece of narration 'accidentally hilarious'.)

Characterising the Woman as a spinster.

Er: did they not notice that one of the ways Cat beguiles Woman is by soothing the fractious baby? Woman may not be married as such, but she is certainly cohabiting in the cave with Man.

This goes rather further than the just 'not reading the question asked' thing that I have surely previously moaned about, a recent example of which was, in response to a request for recent historiography on early modern witchcraft, a recommendation of Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon. I yield to no-one in my admiration for that work, but it is very specifically about the rise of modern paganism since the late C19th and goes the distance in arguing against the idea that there were long-standing folk traditions and practices at the root of this.

I'm not sure I would attribute this entirely to the pernicious influence of Teh Internetz, having been irked, many years ago, by some distinguished literary scholar who made an absolutely balls-up of explaining what Hardy meant, in the preface to Jude the Obscure, when he wrote of

the intellectualized, emancipated bundle of nerves that modern conditions were producing, mainly in cities as yet; who do not recognize the necessity for most of her sex to follow marriage as a profession, and boast themselves as superior people because they are licensed to be loved on the premises.

'Licensed to be loved on the premises' (an expression Sue uses in the text to refer to marriage and her revulsion from it) means having one's marriage lines; and the argument is that these 'intellectualized, emancipated' creatures do not see the value of boasting oneself a superior person because one has them. This he got entirely wrong-end on.

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5 thinggies make a thinggy


Reading Lucy Mangan on the latest spa treatment where other treatments do not go, I R Hysterian of Medzin, and on reading that 'pampering your pudenda is basically a matter of squatting over a mugful of herbal infusion', I am all, 'No! No! that is what you do to get that pesky wandering womb back where it should be!' Don't these people no enything?


Someone else who no nuffin was holding forth in The Guardian on Laws Against W*nking Worldwide, and quite apart from the being taken in by a spoof report on Texas thing, we have seldom come across quite such a creative misreading of what the Labouchere Amendment was actually about. I may just possibly have been tempted, rather late in the day, to take my little nitcomb in my hand and venture into the Comments section.


Further in Dept of Getting Things Wrong End On: request in community I am on for info on libraries which provide research assistance. As such grants are usually tied to working on some unique strength of the library in question, surely the way to approach this is by finding out whether libraries with relevant holdings do this, rather than going 'three month fellowship? sign me up!'?


I expect entitled behaviour from cyclists in The Netherlands, pretty much, but some London cyclists are pretty bad, like the one this morning who didn't even slow down on approaching a zebra crossing on which at least 2 pedestrians had set foot and just went bombing across. Not to mention the one I saw recently pedalling along, no helmet, doing a turn while looking at their phone.


We observe that once again, Mariella and PSC have been dealing with the same query. Do they pass them between one another, or is the enquirer crowd-sourcing answers and has he sent this to a whole slew of agony aunts and uncles?

And on advice columns: this was the question that I was solicited in respect of last week. Hardly one's sphere of expertise, what?

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urgent phallic

(Insert here riff on how male sexuality tends to be conceptualised as simple, urgent, uncomplicated and Not At All Problematic, they are Always Up For It, compared to the mysterious and fascinating entity that is female sexuality.)

[M]ale, heterosexual, and have always experienced a phobic reaction to penetrative sex.

This one is rather more troubling, because of the chronology given: I got married in June to my girlfriend of four years. We are expecting our first child soon. I love her very much, but I am not sexually attracted to her. For the last year or so I have avoided having sex with her. I.e. this seems to have started well before they actually got married: which would surely be a yellow light, if not a red, for proceeding with wedding plans? In fact, if the timescale given is correct, this was the situation even before she fell pregnant - one wonders if that occurence had some influence on matrimonial decisions. I also cannot help guessing that his wife may already have noticed and been troubled by his withdrawing behaviour, so that his concerns about upsetting her are probably a bit misplaced.

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A dainty plate of linkspam

Bah humbug

Happy centenary, dear, dear Sir Angus Wilson (even if I think Bradbury gets some points wrong - e.g. I don't think he did actually give evidence to Wolfenden). Note that there are recent editions of several of his works and that they are available as ebooks. Bless.

And, on what might be considered a study in Anglo-Saxon Attitudes at a period pretty much covering that of Sir Angus's work, Claire Langhamer's new book The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution is getting very nice reviews.

Rather annoying piece about Woman's Hour (not that I listen to the drama serial myself, but on the occasions where I've found myself overhearing it, it's been less mimsily cosy than she suggests - on at least one, it was one of EF Benson's Lucia novels). Neither do I think it's quite so inoffensively MOR as Sawyer claims.

I just love it when Jay Rayner gets his codfish going:

Sadly, I concluded that shameless bandwagon jumping, grievous bodily harm to an entire culinary tradition and atrocious cooking are not yet criminal offences. Oh, that they were. This country would be so much the better for it.

Mariella has had some serious problems with her problem-answering of recent months, but she's certainly spotted some of what's the matter with this chap. But really, in what universe does some guy whose sexual life revolves around 'a much older woman who works as a professional dominatrix' at £100 per hour have 'all the necessary qualities of being a good partner' in the context of 'a relationship with the aim of raising a family'? This is not the first bloke who's written to her who thinks, evidence to the contrary, that he constitutes A Great Catch for some lucky woman.

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No, really, this is not a new thing

bonking hedgehogs

O, David Mitchell, you are usually better than this. While it may provide a segue into your personal adolescent courtship woes, it's still part of that whole 'never before the internet' trope which is so tiresome.

Honestly, dating/mating services don't need individual punters to create repeat business. It's always there, and satisfied customers are word-of-mouth marketing.

Should I send him a copy of Harry Cocks' Classified: the secret history of the personal column (2009)?

People have been using personal columns, matrimonial agencies and dating services for a long, long time. And using computerised matching since the 60s: I can recall the 'Dateline' ads in magazines and on the Tube; and I see the company is still going.

Those scamsters have been around for just about as long, too: see Cocks, and also relevant chapter in Angus McLaren's The Trials of Masculinity, for all the ways in which people have exploited other peoples' longings for love for well over a century.

I have personal reasons to consider that this sort of thing has long been an entirely reputable way of finding The Right Person.

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I daresay everyone is already aware that Women's viagra' hoped to enhance female libido may be available by 2016.


Usual excellent takedown by Dr Petra Boynton:

What we're seeing is the usual rehearsal of 'pink viagra' stories with the memes of women being complicated, women not being studied, women's needs being neglected, women needing a drug that works on emotions blah blah blah.

Then, after all the woowoo about it improving bed death within marriage* (and, my dearios, I am very sceptical of claims that this is the overwhelming narrative within longterm relationships: or maybe, I surmise out of my sin, living-in, state, perhaps the actual marriage bit is the anaphrodisiac factor?), we discover that researchers worry about creating an orgasm-hungry nympho.

And we do ponder, there, whether although the drug is alleged to have 'improved their chances of reaching orgasm' as well as making women hungry for lurrhrv, there's some concern over the ability of the men in the equation to satisfy that hunger... which was certainly a question I posed to myself. It's all very well to pop a peppermint pill to make a gal horny-horny-horny, but what happens then?

Paging the Supremes?

The Love Bug Done Bit Me
And I'm filled with desire
No, no, I can't stop the fire
Love is a real life wire
Ooh, it's a burning sensation
Far behind imagination

Love is like an itching in my heart
Tearing it all apart
Love is like an itching in my heart
And baby, I can't scratch it.

I am also, um, are women going to take these themselves, or do we envisage a scenario of desperate husbands powdering the pills and putting the result in chocolates, offering them to their spouses some several hours before ye conjugalz are scheduled to occur to give the stuff time to work...

We get the uncritical citation of that 43% of women who at some time in the lives have experienced (I hesitate to say 'suffered from') low sexual desire. Maybe they had other things on their mind or in their lives. While it could be a problem in particular circumstances, it doesn't actually have to be.

*And not that this is necessarily on the side of the woman, either, but we never seem to get it discussed apropos of the male of the species. As I understand it, Viagra enables the gentleman to perform if/when he wants to perform, rather than creating the urge as such? But the trope is that Les Hommes are always up for it...

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Not boding well...

Rebecca's bitch

Now on chapter 1 of the Dangerous Ambition book, which is on my beloved Dame R's childhood and youth.

Oh yeah - her heart belonged to Daddy? she wanted to become him? Reading The Fountain Overflows for clues - okay, she does admit that West changed things, like the age she was when her father left, which is more than the ghastly Anthony Panther West did, who built a whole case, based on TFO, in which all the daughters are more or less adolescent when Piers Aubrey departs, that she had been irretrievably damaged to the point of becoming subconsciously parricidal because her father left during the emotionally fragile years of puberty. Ahem. In rl she was 8.

Also, I hold no brief for HG Wells, but Hertog clearly h8s him with a deep and fiery passion.

Plus, what is it with being RONG about divorce laws? I cannot believe that in any jurisdiction in which divorce was actually possible, a person could get a divorce on the grounds that they were a cheating adulterous cad. WHUT.

While this may have been a misunderstanding at the period in question when divorce was pretty unmentionable - a few years after there had been a Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce which was the subject of significant attention among Edwardian feminists, cf The Young Rebecca, Marie Stopes appeared to be under a delusion that she could commit a single act of adultery in order to get divorced from her horrible first husband. NO WAI, unless this horrid man had actually agreed to petition for divorce on that ground, and on his existing form, pretty sure he would have been uncooperative - if you think about it a little, you will see that, short of a situation in which you have 'irretrievable breakdown' as grounds for dissolving a union (rather than a concept of 'matrimonial offence') and habitual adultery being brought in evidence ('I just can't keep it in my pants, your honour'), this is just not on.

Am pretty sure that claiming one's own inability to stop shagging around with persons who were not one's spouse would not have been grounds for divorce even in the USA, which in the 1900s was regarded, rightly or wrongly, as whatever the matrimonial dissolution equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah would be - Babylon?

I might actually see if I can find a reputable bio of Bert to see if it clarifies this issue. I have a v vague recollection that he bribed his first wife to divorce him, but not at all sure.*

*The one bio I have now been able to check indicates that Isabella brought a petition against him, presumably on the grounds of adultery (with Amy Catherine Robbins, who became 'Jane' Wells) + desertion (because at that date adultery alone was not sufficient for a wife to divorce a husband), and he regarded this as a stain on his character and wrote about the iniquities of the law. I should like to see exactly what the grounds were.

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Same war on a different toe

Performing seals

Am I surprised, or even shocked, to discover that a major figure in the development of 'Glasgow Style' in the late C19th/early C20th, was Margaret Macdonald, along with her sister Frances, and that when she married Charles Rennie Mackintosh his view was that she was the genius, rather than the mere talent, in their partnership?

The fact that it is his name that always figures in the annals of history is not, alas, something that gives one pause.

Partly I'm sure that part of it is that she was not just A Woman but that she was working in fields and with media which somehow Count Much Less in any kind of value hierarchy of Artistic Important.

Though, if A Man dedicates his life to decorative arts in domestic settings and ladies' tearooms, this probably makes them Really Significant, no?

Also note that she was several years older than he and in what probably, in the 1890s, counted as the sere and withered (late 30s). One thing that had the pet peeves restless in the new Rebecca West biography was that the biographer was all how rad and C20th and non-Victorian Rebecca was being when she married a slightly younger man.

Angela Burdett Coutts. Annie Thackeray Ritchie. Marian Evans Cross. Victoria Saxe-Coburg-Gotha crushing on John Brown. Charlotte Carmichael Stopes. And now, yet another.

And those are just wellknown figures, or at least, women Known to History, who did this (in Burdett Coutts and Thackeray Ritchie's cases, the gap ran into decades, moreover). I'm pretty sure it was not that uncommon, even if there was a certain amount of prevarication on the registration certificate.

What have I always told you, children, about looking at literary evidence rather than documented social history?

On another matter, wonder if Rennie Mackintosh had SAD, what with the massive amount of emphasis on LIGHT in the Mackintosh House and the eventual flight to less gloomy climes, as there were various mentions of his depressions.

And on yet another pet peeve: o Hunterian Art Gallery, Y O Y no postcard of the Elizabeth Blackadder portrait of Naomi Mitchison? I am disappoint.

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