|Wednesday, April 1st, 2015|
7:07 pm - The Sorceress of the Strand
I am happy to announce a collection of clever tales of chemical mayhem:|
"The Sorceress of the Strand."
By L. T. Meade, 1854-1914 and Robert Eustace, 1854-1943.
First appeared in The Strand Magazine, Volume XXIV ["Madame Sara," "The Blood Red Cross," "The Face of the Abbot"] July-December, 1902;
Volume XXV ["The Talk of the Town", "The Bloodstone," and "The Teeth of the Wolf"] January-June, 1903.
It's terribly awkward to have an evil genius for a best friend. At least, that could be the take-away from "The Sorceress of the Strand", a collection of six short stories which appeared in The Strand Magazine in the early years of the 20th century. It seems as though every young woman that Madame Sarah befriends is the target or the means of extortion or murder -- sometimes both! For Madame Sara is an evil chemical genius. For good or ill, she has the secrets of the chemical world at her elegantly manicured fingertips. She has returned from the wilds of the Amazon and other remote areas of the world with all sorts of arcane chemical knowledge, which she uses to remain stunningly beautiful -- retaining the looks of a women in her 20s or 30s when she must be a generation or two older. Both her appearance and her knowledge enable her to charm London society. Gentlemen and ladies both succumb to her charm, and seek her help to remain young and beautiful themselves. Yet Madame Sara cannot seem to resist the lure of crime, particularly when unique, strange, and priceless treasures are involved. And it seems that she must have a positive delight in destroying fortunes, reputations, and lives, so often does she indulge in such pastimes.
One can't help having some feminist sympathy for her. Here is a women so brilliant that she can quickly deduce, from stolen glimpses at the draft of a technical paper, conclusions that the writer himself has completely failed to draw. An expert chemist who works for the police, who finally reaches similar conclusions after several sleepless nights, at least has the honesty to recognize her brilliance as he enlightens the inventor: "she read your notes, and at a glance saw what you have not grasped at all, and what I have taken days to discover." But however brilliant Madame Sara may be, and whatever secrets she has brought back from exotic places, she is clearly and bluntly put in her place by the male protagonists of the stories. Without credentials, without official diplomas, she cannot be credited as anything but a quack. However marvellous her scientific attainments (and they are acknowledged to be considerable), the very fact that she is a woman raises questions. As one of her opponents states, "The sort of knowledge you allude to, … that scientific knowledge which Madame possesses, and which is not a smattering, but a real thing, makes a woman at times – dangerous." Surely, a little reflection must suggest that knowledge can make either men or women dangerous? The authors, however, make it clear that the "official" detective "would be sure to suspect any very clever woman."
Honestly, what's a brilliant woman to do but become an evil genius?
Slightly less facetiously, it's always interesting to see how women are portrayed and not portrayed, and Madame Sara gives the attentive reader much to think about. From the viewpoint of the somewhat stuffed-shirt male protagonists, women are predominantly valued for their beauty and their integrity. Intellectual intelligence is not required; indeed most of the young women that the heroes attempt to protect are more than a bit gullible. Admittedly, they are usually pointed out to be quite young, and Madame Sara is both much older than she looks, and much cannier, giving her the advantage in any battle of wits. The male protagonists do seem to prefer their women young and stupid: it quite upsets them that Madame Sara combines the appearance of youth with keen intelligence. The authors, on the other hand, may well have different views. How tongue-in-cheek were L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace when they wrote sentences like: "No," I answered, boldly, "I cannot understand any circumstances in which a wife could rightly have a trouble apart from her husband." Now I ask you, does that sentence suggest that she should share her troubles with her husband? or that he is most likely to be the cause of them?
Whether you cheer on the heroes, Dixon Druce and his friend the mildly Holmesian Vandeleur, or confess to a sneaking sympathy for the evil Madame Sara, you cannot help but enjoy these clever tales of chemically-inspired mayhem. After all, how often does the denouement of a thriller occur at a Royal Society lecture?
|Sunday, March 1st, 2015|
5:04 pm - "A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia"
Happy Women's History Month! In celebration of which, for your reading pleasure, I release:|
"A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia: Wherein is handled The Loves of Amphialus and Helena Queen of Corinth, Prince Plangus and Erona. With the Historie of the Loves of Old Claius and Young Strephon to Urania."
By Anna Weamys, ca. 1630-.
London: Printed by William Bentley, and are to be sold by Thomas Heath, 1651.
Little is known about the life of English author Anna Weamys (fl. 1651). The original (and only extant) printing of 1651 of "A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia" identifies the author as "a Young Gentle-woman, Mistress A. W." An entry in Edward Arber's "The Term Catalogues" (1690) advertises a proposed second edition as being "Written by a Young Gentlewoman, Mrs. A[nna] W[eamys]."
Historian Patrick Colborn Cullen suggests that the source of this attribution may be a letter from poet and essayist James Howell, who wrote one of the dedicatory poems to the volume, as "JAM. HOWEL." Howell's "Epistolae Ho-elianae" (IV.xx) includes a letter which accompanied a commendatory poem for the continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's "Arcadia". The letter congratulates "Dr. Weames" for being "father to a daughter that Europe hath not many of her equals." Both in the letter and in the introductory poems in praise of her book, Mistress Weamys is mentioned repeatedly as being a very young woman, "so young a spirit", who should be cherished. It is also clear from the commendatory poems that she is unmarried.
Patrick Cullen situates Weamys as part of a network of royalist sympathizers, including aristocratic patron Henry Pierrepont and his daughters Anne and Grace, writer James Howell, printer William Bentley, bookseller Thomas Heath, and possibly poet Frances Vaughan (nee Altham), the wife of James Howell's friends, Richard Vaughan, second earl of Carberry. Her father, presumably, was a doctor of divinity in the Church of England, making her a member of an educated family. That she is identified as a "Gentlewoman" suggests that it was not not a titled one.
The book itself is predominantly a romance, a form followed generally by royalists. In writing "A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia" (1651), Anna Weamys is following an accepted form, that of continuing and responding to another writers' work. The source upon which Weamys builds is an unfinished fragment, the "New Arcadia" section of Sydney's 1593 edition, "Arcadia". By continuing and reworking Sydney's story, Weamys is "placing herself on the same stage" as the "learned Sydney". Her work, like his, is a mix of literary genres, the most dominant part of her conversation with him being romance, the second pastoral.
The ending of Sydney's "Arcadia" leaves open the fates of many of his characters, and indeed invites their continuation: "The strange stories of Artaxia and Plexirtus, Erona and Plangus, Helen and Amphialus, with the wonderful chances that befell them; … the poor hopes of the poor Philisides in the pursuit of his affections; the strange continuance of Claius' and Strephon's desire; … may awake some other spirit to exercise his pen in that wherewith mine is already dulled."
That Anna Weamys has taken up this challenge, to further the romance, is hailed by her auditors as a most suitable transformation of Sydney's work, indeed his "gallant generous spirit" is described as defying death "with a timely Metempsychosis" to breath "through female Organs". F. Vaughan goes even further, charging other women to "Lay by your Needles Ladies, take the Pen, The onely difference 'twixt you and Men." Weamys not only furthers the romances hinted at in Sydney's account, but takes them in new directions, reshaping them with wit, energy and humour.
Weamys herself was writing during a time of upheaval, during or soon after the English civil wars. Perhaps because of this, she avoids political complications in her account. However, a desire for not just personal, but also political, stability, is explicitly included in the happy ending she describes at the end of her book:
"Then after all Ceremonies accomplished, they retired severally to their flourishing Kingdoms of Thessalia and Macedon, and Armenia, with Corinth, where they increased in riches, and were fruitfull in their renowned Families. And when they had sufficiently participated of the pleasures of this world, they resigned their Crowns to their lawfull Successours, and ended their days in Peace and Quietness."
Whether Anna Weamys herself found a happy ending, with either political or personal stability, we do not know.
|Friday, February 13th, 2015|
10:08 pm - "The Convent of Pleasure", Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle
Happy Valentine's Day! I am delighted to announce:|
Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of, 1624?-1674
"The Convent of Pleasure", as first published in "Plays, never before printed." London: Printed by A. Maxwell, 1668.
I admit that I cannot resist a February title that plays upon the questions of gender, sexual attraction, and what is natural and unnatural. We have Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, to thank for a rolicking play that I would love to see staged. "The Convent of Pleasure" never graced the boards during Cavendish's life -- or indeed, for several hundred years after her death. Its first known performance was by Gweno Williams and students at the University of Ripon and York in 1995. Depending on the director, widely varying interpretations could be presented of this clever, enjoyable, and witty script.
"Retiredness bars the life from nothing else but Men."
-- So saith Lady Happy, whose father has just died, leaving her young, beautiful, wealthy -- and independent. She gathers friends and followers and creates a world apart, one consisting solely of women. Of course, one must be fabulously wealthy and upper class to live, like Lady Happy, a life "incloister'd with all the delights and pleasures that are allowable and lawful."
While she and her friends enjoy a life of ease, lower class women do the work of all the servants and farmers needed to support the elaborate household. Yet Lady Happy considers poor women too to benefit from a separation of the sexes, which frees them from an oppressor: A set of plays-within-a-play graphically illustrates the dangers and abuses that women of all classes may experience in relationships with men.
"Men are the only troublers of Women; for they only cross and oppose their sweet delights, and peaceable life; they cause their pains, but not their pleasures. Wherefore those Women that are poor, ... are only fit for Men; for having not means to please themselves, they must serve only to please others; but those Women, where Fortune, Nature, and the gods are joined to make them happy, were mad to live with Men, who make the Female sex their slaves; but I will not be so inslaved, but will live retired from their Company."
Of course, the men are quite put out :-) so to speak, about their exclusion from feminine bliss, and in particular that feminine bliss that comes with possession of a WEALTHY wife. Various plots are proposed to regain access to the women, but only one man, the Prince, is willing (or able) to pass as female in order to enter the precincts of the women's cloister. Presenting himself as a Princess desirous of engaging in the women's cross-gendered exploration of sex roles, a man pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man, he seriously disturbs the Lady Happy's contentment, causing her to reflect that:
"My Name is Happy, and so was my Condition, before I saw this Princess;
but now I am like to be the most unhappy Maid alive:
But why may not I love a Woman with the same affection I could a Man?"
What is the nature of gender? Throughout the play Newcastle delights in teasing her characters, and her audience, with this question. She concludes, perhaps somewhat ambiguously still, that
"No, no, Nature is Nature, and still will be
The same she was from all Eternity."
I hope you will enjoy this valentine (of sorts), with all its clever wit, as much as I did.
Mary Mark Ockerbloom
|Thursday, January 1st, 2015|
7:38 pm - One thousand dollars a day: Studies in practical economics (1894)
It seems particularly suitable to release a utopia on New Year's Day.|
"One thousand dollars a day: Studies in practical economics."
By Adeline Knapp, 1860-1909.
Boston: The Arena Publishing Company, 1894.
Adeline Knapp's fundamental concern is the economics of modern society and labor. This collection of stories, however, is more imaginative than the title of the book might suggest, mixing utopian, scientific and evolutionary speculations with economic concerns to address the problems of individuals and societies. Although the title story is most often identified as a utopia, many of the other short stories explore similar ideas.
"One Thousand Dollars a Day" explores possible economics of Utopia, and their potential impact on society.
What would be the practical impact of economic reforms, and could they result in a positive transformation of society? "The Sick Man" and "The Earth Slept" are both biological analogies for societies and their functioning.
In "The Sick Man", a single individual represents the body of society. In "The Earth Slept", a parable of uplift, societies evolve along with species, ultimately aspiring to Utopian ideals.
It's interesting to see how scientific progress is related to a benevolent society. Many advances that we now take for granted were still new enough to spark wonder. "The Discontented Machine" includes a paeon to scientific endeavor:
"There is nothing more magnificent than a great machine or engine at work. The locomotive, pulling its long trains up grades and across levels, – the great ocean steamer, walking steadily across the expanse of seas, the mighty press, turning off a thousand complete newspapers a minute, – all these evidences of human power and ingenuity are enough to make one proud of the age in which he lives, and the race to which he belongs."
All is not easy in this mechanical paradise, however, for Knapp raises the question of what will happen if a sentient machine demands pay for its work.
"Really, upon my word," exclaimed Mr. Hyde, impatiently, indignation at the injustice of the charges preferred getting the better of his fear of the strange complainant. "It seems to me that you are a most unreasonable machine. Of course our fortunes depend upon you, to a great extent, though, as you know, the market is full of machines, all willing to do your work if you refuse. But do we not maintain you? What more would you have us do?"
"Getting Ahead" is the least imaginative of the stories, a bitter account of an emigrant's experience of life in the land of "plenty and freedom". Knapp leaves hanging the question of how women and children manage to survive in a society with rigid gender roles, when the breadwinner of a family is no longer available. Another sour note is the racism shown by the emigrant towards Asian workers, who are castigated as not living in San Francisco, and not helping to build up the country - a particularly ironic charge, given that the laws of the time prevented Asians from bringing their families to California, and created the conditions under which their labor, as well as others, was exploited.
Read and enjoy in 2015! Mary Mark Ockerbloom
|Saturday, December 6th, 2014|
7:07 pm - The Snow Baby: A True Story with True Pictures
I'm extra happy to announce Celebration Edition #400!|
"The Snow Baby: A True Story with True Pictures."
By Josephine Diebitsch Peary, 1863-1955.
New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1901.
It seems suitable to release a book about living in the Artic for December :-)
In 1888, Arctic explorer Robert Peary married Josephine Diebitsch, the daughter of a linguist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. As Peary's wife, Josephine accompanied her husband on three voyages to the Polar regions, as well as making two trips to Greenland to meet him on his return from additional expeditions. In June of 1891 Josephine accompanied her husband and the small crew of the Kite to northern Greenland. They wintered in McCormick Bay, approximately midway between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole. Josephine was a full partner in the expedition, tending strings of traps and hunting deer, ptarmigan, rabbit and walrus with the men, cooking for six men under primitive conditions, enduring the long, dark, frozen winters, and keeping morale high with grace and good humor. During her second expedition, September 1901, she gave birth to a daughter, Marie Ahnighito Peary. Marie's middle name honored the Eskimo woman who made the child's first fur suit. Known as the "Snow Baby", she was the most northerly born Caucasian child up to that time, born within 13-degrees of the Pole, high above the Arctic Circle and less than 800 miles from the Pole.
Josephine and baby Marie spent the winter in a two-room "house" on Bowdoin Bay. Josephine recorded the story of her daughter's birth in the high Arctic in photographs and anecdotes in "The Snow Baby: A True Story with True Pictures." The book is intended to be accessible to children, mostly likely to be read to them by a parent. For all the serious detail it contains, it is written in a fairy-tale tone that can seem patronizing. Underneath, one can occasionally glimpse the serious challenges that the writer experienced:
"Such a funny house it was where she was found. It was only one story high, the outside was covered with thick, black tarred paper, the walls were more than a foot thick, and there were lots of windows for such a small house, one wide one running right across the top of the house, just like a hot-house. This was to enable the inmates to enjoy the sunshine just as long as it lasted. All round the house was a close veranda, the walls of which were built of boxes of food, biscuits, sugar, coffee, and tea; for none of these things, in fact, nothing but meat could be bought in the country."
Nonetheless, the visual record of life in the north that is revealed in the photographs and text is interesting and informative. Read and enjoy the snow!
|Friday, October 31st, 2014|
4:56 pm - The Undying Monster ; A New Constitution for the United States of the World
Happy Halloween! I am happy to announce two new titles! For thrills and chills, see Celebration edition # 398:|
"The Undying Monster: A Tale of the Fifth Dimension."
By Jessie Douglas Kerruish, 1884-1949.
London: Heath Cranton Limited, 1922.
If Charles Stross had had a sweet, charming great-aunt, nearly 100 years ago, she might have written "The Undying Monster".
If Bob Howard, the main character of Stross's Laundry series, had had a sweet, charming great-aunt, she might well have been a protagonist of "The Undying Monster"! Jessie Douglas Kerruish's fictional world is simpler and kinder than Stross's tend to be,
but by the time I finished Kerruish's book, I couldn't help imaging how Stross might have rewritten it.
When horrific tragedy strikes, "supersensitive" Luna Bartendale is appealed to to investigate. Luna is determined to find the answer to the puzzle of the Hammand Horror, whether its cause is to be found in the material world, or some dimension beyond.
Luna, however, is rather surprising from the first. She applies the methodicalness of Sherlock Holmes to the evidence collected
using her psychic abilities, using both to discover aspects of a problem that has previously defeated Madame Blavatsky and Sir William Crookes.
She asserts, "I'm testing every tradition, searching every Dimension." The traditions tested clearly include those of popular mediumship and occultism, both of which are snappily criticized by Miss Bartendale, along with the popular press.
'Junior reporters put in a spare hour in the nearest Reference Library, and amassed enough information during it to publish authoritative articles on Black Masses, Magic, Elementals, Family Banes, and the like, and sign them: "By a Well Known Occultist," or "By a Distinguished Psychic Expert."'
Part of the fun is listening to Luna politely suppress the uncritical suggestions of her clients, as they try to anticipate what she will do to solve the case. For example,
"Reincarnation, as an explanation of mental phenomena, is as easy and unprovable as Spiritualism," she replied, with a laugh. "I don't deal in easy and unprovable theories."
Luna herself believes strongly in a world of both science and spirit: "We human beings are threefold. One part is hereditary, the result of what our ancestors did and thought, one the result of the circumstances in which our lives are spent, and the third the spark of Himself God puts in us all–the personality. The Personality through which, by God's grace and our own effort, we can either rule Heredity and Circumstance, or else rise superior to them."
Perceptive readers may quickly suspect the cause of the Hammand Horror, as does Luna Bartendale. More challenging is tracing occurrences of the horror over time, understanding its genesis, and, if Luna can manage it, finding a way to overcome it and avert future disaster. (Modern readers who scoff at Luna's "scientific" theories, should remember that the state of scientific knowledge has changed substantially in the past 100 years.)
If you're thinking about the upcoming U.S. elections, consider reading Celebration edition # 399: Deeply involved in the women's rights movement, Victoria Claflin Woodhull reinvisioned the workings of a constitution. See what she had to say, and be sure to vote on Nov 4!
"A New Constitution for the United States of the World,
Proposed for the Consideration of the Constructors of Our Future Government"
by Victoria C. (Victoria Claflin Woodhull, 1838-1927.
"Constitution of the United States of the World: An Address by Victoria C. Woodhull",
speech, New York: Washington's Lincoln Hall, 1870;
Printed as A New Constitution for the World by Victoria Woodhull,
vt. A New Constitution for the United States of the World,
Proposed for the Consideration of the Constructors of Our Future Government.
New York: Woodhull, Claflin & Co., 1872; Reprinted in
Alternative constitutions for the United States:
a documentary history, edited by Steven R. Boyd. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.
Read and enjoy! Mary Mark Ockerbloom
|Thursday, October 9th, 2014|
1:25 pm - Some African Highways
I am happy to announce Celebration Edition #397:|
"Some African Highways: A Journey of Two American Women to Uganda and the Transvaal"
By Caroline Kirkland, 1865-1930.
Boston: Dana Estes & Company, 1908.
Threading through Caroline Kirkland's journey through Africa there is a faint tone of regret. Although they spent some very uncomfortable nights on shipboard, packed on deck like wet sardines, she and her mother were not eaten by lions, or attacked by savage natives. Their trip to visit a sister (in Entebbe) and brother (in Johannesburg) was wonderful and she had "the inestimable delight of visiting these regions before the extraordinary panorama has changed" but… it was not, perhaps, quite as exciting as she had hoped (until the very end!)
For travelling in Africa, Kirkland recommends "certain things you must have. First and foremost, good health – secondly, an open mind, free from prejudices – thirdly, a willingness to make light of trifles and to put up with small discomforts. "
Be warned, however, that Kirkland herself is not "free from prejudices", by modern standards, about Africans, Chinese, and Jews. Her responses to the native population reflect her race, class and time. Admiration for "human life in its most primitive, elemental forms" balances uneasily against the awareness that "willing, cheerful, obedient and not unskilful" servants still have "savage potentialities". Though Europeans may introduce "the hours and customs of the West End of London into the heart of Darkest Africa", "The sombre power of Africa to remain African in spite of European invasion is unmistakable. The white intruders … continue to be aliens." Kirkland herself is one of those aliens. Nonetheless, there are many interesting and enjoyable passages in her account of her travels.
She devotes an entire chapter to "Sleeping-Sickness", a devastating epidemic that was destroying entire districts of Africa, the Ebola of its time. "The natives of Uganda have paid its most shocking toll. Out of a population of about three hundred thousand in 1900, two hundred thousand died of sleeping-sickness between that date and 1906 in the Protectorate alone. " At the time she wrote, scientists had determined that the disease was communicated by a species of tsetse fly, the glossina palpalis, and had detected trypanosomes multiplying in patients' blood. But it would be years until a cure was found -- by Louise Pearce (1885-1959) and Wade Hampton Brown, pathologists from the Rockefeller Institute, who developed tryparsamide in 1919.
There are also moments of sheer delight, as in this description of playing bridge while travelling by railway : "Our table was a box built for a monkey, but which at that moment held only two giant sleeping tortoises, while the monkey sat on the professor's shoulder. The little lemur I mentioned as being on the boat was curled up inside the hat of madame, which she was wearing, while a gray parrot jabbered at us from a perch above. Outside the sun was declining in a golden haze when suddenly we saw five or six giraffes sidling off through some low trees."
On the final leg of their journey home, however, all Caroline's hopes for excitement were surpassed: Mount Etna began to erupt on April 4, 1906 during their stay at Naples. While wandering crowds of refugees staggered into the city, Kirkland joined the crowds of sight-seers heading toward the mountain. From Resina, she was afforded an uninterrupted view of the mountain "from its base to its terrible summit", while the ground shook under her. Most tourists soon left the city, but Kirkland stayed, daring showers of mud and ash to visit the active volcano. "Any personal emotion like fear was lost in a certain awful ecstasy inspired by the spectacle."
|Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014|
6:53 pm - The Emperor of the Moon
I am happy to announce:
Celebration Edition #396:The Emperor of the Moon:
A Farce. As it is Acted by Their Majesties Servants, At the Queens Theatre.
By Aphra Behn, 1640-1689.
London: Printed by R. Holt, for Joseph Knight, and Francis Saunders, at the Blew-Anchor in the lower Walk of the New Exchange, 1688. The second Edition.
I've been spending some time this summer in expanding my bibliography of early utopias and science fiction by women,
now more appropriately titled "Pre-1950 Utopias and Science Fiction by Women". The newest version can be seen at:
I've added considerably to the list of writings after 1923, with information about their first publications, when I could find it, and their probable copyright status in the United States. I'm using that information to identify editions which are in the public domain, for release on the Celebration website, so you can expect to see a number of utopias and science fiction works appearing here in the coming months.
The first such addition is:
"The Emperor of the Moon: A Farce. As it is Acted by Their Majesties Servants, At the Queens Theatre."
By Aphra Behn, 1640-1689.
London: Printed by R. Holt, for Joseph Knight, and Francis Saunders, at the Blew-Anchor in the lower Walk of the New Exchange, 1688. The second Edition.
The play "The Emperor of the Moon" is a delightful romp by Aphra Behn, who mocks the early scientists of her time. "Doctor Baliardo" is fixated on the moon, using an array of "his Microscope, his Horoscope, his Telescope, and all his Scopes" in an attempt to divine the secrets of a utopian moon world. He is totally blind to the earthly world, where his daughter and niece are being courted by two noblemen. Other than an occasional glimpse of each other at church, the lovers can only pass notes through the stratagems of their servants. The servants, in their turn, are farcical competitors for the women's governante (who is rich), repeatedly promising to act nobly and generously towards each other, and immediately breaking their promises and trying to gain unfair advantage. Much hilarity ensues as the men concoct an outrageous plan to trick the moon-mad scientist and gain access to the ladies. I would love to see this staged.
In addition to Behn's play, I've added a number of short stories to the Utopias and bibliographies list:
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851
"Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman". Submitted in 1826 to the New Monthly Magazine, first published in Yesterday and to-day by Cyrus Redding. London, T. C. Newby, 1863, pp. 150-165.
Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, 1844-1911
"A Dream within a Dream" in The Independent, Vol. 26, No. 1, February 19, 1874.
Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888
"Transcendental Wild Oats" first published in The Independent, Vol. 25, No. 1307, 18 December 1873, pp. 1569-71; reprinted in Silver Pitchers: and Independence, a Centennial Love Story by Lousa M. Alcott. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876, pp. 79-101.
"The Automaton Ear" in The automaton ear, and other sketches. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg and Co., 1876, pp. 7-43.
Fuller, Alice W.
"A Wife Manufactured to Order" in The Arena [Boston], 13 (July 1895): pp. 305-312.
Nesbit, E. (Edith), 1858-1924
"The Five Senses" first published in London Magazine, December 1909.
Anyone with an interest in utopias must read Alcott's "Transcendental Wild Oats", a bitingly funny (and heartbreakingly personal) account of her family's experience of life in a Utopian colony. The gender politics of utopian life in her account are fascinating, if painfully infuriating: the men undertake to do whatever they are inspired to, according to their talent and inclination, while the women are expected to feed the family (on what?), do the laundry, look after the children... The clash of day-to-day necessity with high-flown idealism has rarely been better portrayed.
Have lots of fun reading! Mary Mark Ockerbloom
|Wednesday, August 6th, 2014|
7:13 am - Thomas Eakins, who painted
I'm happy to announce Celebration Edition #395:|
"Thomas Eakins, who painted."
By Margaret McHenry.
[Oreland, Pa]: Printed privately for the author, 1946.
Copyright not renewed. Illustrations of paintings by Thomas Eakins added using public domain images from Wikimedia Commons.
This week my son is taking classes at PAFA, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. One of the things he'll be doing is drawing from the academy's Cast Hall collection. The academy's collection was commissioned from Paris in July of 1805, before the Academy even had a building. Originally on public view, by 1880 the casts had been moved from the gallery spaces into the studio space, where they continue to be used for teaching today.
One of the famous (indeed, notorious) teachers at PAFA was Thomas Eakins (1844-1916). Eakins began teaching at the Academy in 1876 and by 1882 was Director of the Schools. He and the Academy later parted company. You can read about Eakins, and see images of many of his works, in "Thomas Eakins, who painted" by Margaret McHenry.
McHenry had the advantage of interviewing many of Eakins' contemporaries and students. Her account of his life draws heavily on this anecdotal material, as well as quoting from his early letters and papers. She also focuses on Eakins paintings, mentioning many of his significant works. I've taken advantage of the availability of public domain images of Eakins paintings, to illustrate the book with images from Wikimedia Commons. My thanks to all of the people who have contributed there!
Also included are a couple of paintings and drawings by Susan Hannah Macdowell, Eakins wife, who was also a gifted painter. Initially a student of Eakins, Susan Hannah largely gave up her own career in support of her husband's during his lifetime. Throughout their marriage, she kept minutely detailed diaries of the details of daily life, and after Eakins' death she carefully preserved his paintings, drawings, and papers.
Eakins was lucky to have the ongoing support of not only his wife, but also his father, with whom Eakins and his wife lived for much of his life. McHenry quotes a formal agreement, drawn up between Eakins and his father not long after Eakins returned from studying painting in France. For Twenty dollars per month to be paid to Benjamin Eakins, "Thomas Eakins receives his board, lodging, and the exclusive use of the 4th story studio. Thomas Eakins will have the right to bring to his studio his models, his pupils, his sitters, and whomsoever he will, and both Benjamin Eakins and Thomas Eakins recognizing the necessity and usage in a figure painter of professional secrecy, it is understood that the coming of persons to the studio is not to be the subject of comment or question by the family."
McHenry's account of Eakins' life and work is somewhat uneven, but it does give vivid images of the man and his contemporaries, warts and all. I was impressed by the extent of his interests, and intrigued by the glimpses McHenry gives us of life in Philadelphia in the 1800's.
Eakins was fascinated with musculature, and actively studied muscles and movement with the intent of more effectively portraying them. He attended the Jefferson Medical School to study anatomy, dissecting human and animal bodies to examine the muscles and tendons. McHenry describes some of his early experiments with horses: 'He constructed an entire leg from flat pieces of pine board half an inch thick cut in the exact outlines of the bones. These pieces he pivoted together and using catgut for tendons and for ligaments, rubber bands for muscles, he had "all attached to their places and properly restrained."'
Eakins even presented a report on his work to the Academy of Natural Sciences: "The Differential Action of Animal Locomotion of Certain Muscles passing more than one Joint." His address strikes an uncharacteristically humble note: "It is not without diffidence that I, a painter, venture to communicate with a scientific body upon a scientific subject; yet I am encouraged by thinking that Nature is so many sided that the humblest observer may, from his point of view, offer suggestions worthy of attention."
Eakins' fascination with the human body was integral to his approach to teaching. The course of study at PAFA during his tenure is described as follows: "The students' work is through casts, which are almost universally of the nude human figure; they then enter the life class and continue to work from the nude human figure, usually in simple poses, and then they work in the dissecting room, also from the human figure." A circular for classes notes: "The accurate knowledge of the anatomy obtained through lectures, and dissections, forms a strong basis for the intelligent rendering of these qualities. An accurate representation of the model in all its peculiarities is insisted upon."
Eakins seems more real to me as I imagine my son drawing the same casts that Eakins and his students saw and used at PAFA.
|Tuesday, July 1st, 2014|
7:03 pm - Sister Simon's Murder Case
If you're thinking of going to the shore this summer to relax, you may particularly enjoy this murder mystery, set in a small seaside town.|
"Sister Simon's Murder Case."
By Margaret Ann Hubbard, 1909-.
Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1959. Copyright not renewed.
Sister Simon is a nun, a supervisor in the pediatrics section of a convent hospital. Young, inexperienced and overworked, she struggles to manage the demands of double shifts, demanding parents, and student nurses only a little younger than herself. In frustration, she resolves "One thing after another kept cropping up to break down discipline.... A rule was a rule and every single one would be kept."
Her determination to enforce the rules closes the hospital's doors to a woman in danger. "It would be a good deal later that she would remember her irritation at Evvie's infringement of the rules – remember and wonder whether she herself had actually measured out for someone the difference between life and death."
The question of rules and obedience challenges both Sister Simon and student nurse Lizette Carter. Sister Simon is deeply committed to being a nun: her religious vocation is the certainty underlying her life. She believes that obeying the Rule -- perhaps all the rules -- is essential to living as she ought. But the world is not ordered according to the rule; actions have effects that can spiral out of control beyond anything thought of or intended. Each of us acts unaware of the variety of motives and emotions that drive others around us.
Emotions are harder to control than rules. Student nurse Lizette Carter is driven strongly by her emotions. Yet her impulsiveness, like Sister Simon's care in following the rules, can endanger them as they try to unravel a dangerous mystery. The question of right action -- of when to act and when not to act, of sins of omission as well as of commission -- returns throughout the novel.
What do you do when none of the rules apply?
Hubbard is a master at describing the varied reactions of her characters to events. People are not the same. Some are driven by guilt, by regret, by fear, others by curiosity, by protectiveness. But no one is left unchanged. Hubbard recognizes the deep impact of violence: "That was the worst of murder, it wasn't inflicted upon the victim alone but upon every mortal and thing around it."
Read and enjoy! Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Editor, A Celebration of Women Writers
|Sunday, June 8th, 2014|
3:01 pm - The Hurricane Mystery
"The Hurricane Mystery"|
By Sarah Lindsay Schmidt, fl. 1934.
New York: Random House, 1943. Copyright not renewed.
"Tungsten had been mined in neighboring hills. Who knew but traces of other strategics – antimony, beryllium, possibly mercury and chrome and feldspar and mica, and, far less likely, nickel – were there to be discovered … It was the alloys that gave flexibility, strength, hardness, endurance, and lightness to the steel used in machine tools, tanks, vehicles, instruments, machines and weapons of warfare."
Sarah Schmidt's book is set in America, during the second world war, and dedicated to her son's wartime bride Walmar Dean. It is packed with scientific detail about the discovery of strategic metals and their importance to the war effort. However, while the concerns of World War II provide a structure for the book, it is another war -- the gender war -- that permeates its every page. The book's heroine, Victoria Tyrrell, is the only woman in her graduating class at the Colorado College of Mines. Her entree into this area of scientific research is, as it was for many women, built upon her relationships to men. Her deceased father and her guardian, Professor Weldon, both studied and prospected for metals. Her chief rival is Hosmer Leeds, another protege of Professor Weldon.
Victoria has earned a dual degree in both geological and a metallurgical engineering, and is the honor student of her class. Yet, her guardian suggests that she become a secretary for a mining company rather than trying to find the "real job" that she craves as an engineer. Her boyfriend notes dismissively, when they discuss introducing her to his parents: "when they see what a darn good-looking bit of femininity you are, they'll understand how little your brains really matter." Victoria, from the very beginning of the book, constantly fights to prove her equality with men. It is no coincidence that the book begins with a life-threatening physical challenge: "All her effort was centered upon keeping up with the tireless [male] figure in front of her. "
Everyone around Victoria assumes that women are weaker than men. Vic's sister Imogen, who is in poor health, is in many ways the image of what Vic is expected to be: shy, sweet, gentle, her creative interests consistent with "domesticity". When mysterious events occur, Vic is asked to keep her eyes open, under cover of looking after her convalescent sister. She is determined to put her scientific training to use and discover mineral wealth for the war effort, as well as discovering the truth surrounding a woman's death. Even more, she is determined to prove to the irritatingly patronizing men she loves that she is capable of doing work of value.
"Nothing could have added more strength to her desire to prove she did have professional worth than the way those two men were treating her. But it must be conclusive proof. She would make no attempt to impress them unless and until she had such proof." As Victoria becomes able to assert her own worth, she also becomes able to assert the worth of her decisions, and her right to make them, whether or not the men in her life agree with them.
Schmidt's description of a young woman attempting to make a career in science vividly portrays the difficulties she faces from friends as well as foes. The mystery is interesting background to a deeper story, about the difficulty of a woman achieving recognition for her abilities and achievements.
|Sunday, May 11th, 2014|
9:45 am - Meditations from the pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart; Emma Sansom, an Alabama heroine
While preparing for the University of Delaware's recent "Colored Conventions" edit-a-thon, I came across quite a number of African Americans whose work I wasn't familiar with. One of them was Maria Stewart.|
"Meditations from the pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart."
By Maria W. Stewart, 1803-1879.
Washington: Enterprise Publishing Company, 1879.
Maria W. Stewart, nee Miss Miller, was a free black woman who gained an education, endured poverty and hardship, and taught schools for African Americans in the Baltimore and Washington areas in the early 1800s. Not long after her husband died, William Lloyd Garrison who published the first edition of her book of meditations. Years later, introducing this reprint, he wrote:
"Your whole adult life has been devoted to the noble task of educating and elevating your people, sympathizing with them in their affliction, and assisting them in their needs".
Stewart identified education, both intellectual and moral, as an essential step in the uplift of her race, and forcefully exhorted both men and women to improve themselves "and contend for the cause of God and the rights of man."
"It is of no use for us to sit with our hands folded, hanging our heads like bulrushes, lamenting our wretched condition; but let us make a mighty effort, and arise; and if no one will promote or respect us, let us promote and respect ourselves. "
"O ye sons of Africa, when will your voices be heard in our legislative halls, in defiance of your enemies, contending for equal rights and liberty?"
Many of her passages could be read now as poetry:
"Shall I, for fear of scoffs and frowns, refrain my tongue?
Ah, no! I speak as one that must give an account at the awful bar of God;
I speak as a dying mortal, to dying mortals.
O ye daughters of Africa, awake! awake! arise!
no longer sleep nor slumber, but distinguish yourselves.
Show forth to the world that ye are endowed with noble and exalted faculties."
A few weeks earlier, I was checking an article on Wikipedia about a very different woman from roughly the same time period.
'Emma Sansom, an Alabama heroine:
An address delivered before the sixth annual convention of the Alabama Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Demopolis, May 14, 1902.'
By Thomas McAdory Owen, 1866-1920.
Birmingham, Ala: [s.n.], 1904.
Emma Sansom, in contrast, is remembered for her physical bravery in helping the Confederate army. General Forrest came to her farm and asked for directions to find a ford, so that he and his Confederate troops could pursue the Union troops of Colonel Streight. Emma mounted behind on the general's horse, ignoring both her mother's disapproving gaze and the threat of Yankee sharpshooters, and showed him the way. As a result, Forrest was able to capture Streight and his men. In openly aiding the Confederate forces as she did, Emma risked dangerous retaliation from the Union Army for herself and her family. Emma was later awarded a section of land and a gold medal by the General Assembly of Alabama.
How appalled would Maria and Emma have been, had they met each other? Yet both claim their moment in history. I find it ironic, and somewhat hopeful, that Emma Sansom's name now graces the Emma Sansom middle school, whose policy is "to provide on a nondiscriminatory basis educational opportunities for children. No person shall be denied the benefits of any educational program or activity on the basis of race, color, disability, creed, national origin, age or sex." Assuming that they support what they say, Maria Stewart would have approved. I also find it exciting that events like the University of Delaware edit-a-thon help to redress cultural imbalance, reclaiming a history that has been largely invisible and could all too easily have been lost because it was not part of the dominant culture of its time.
|Tuesday, April 1st, 2014|
6:57 am - Days and Nights in the East
I am happy to announce|
Celebration Edition #390:
"Days and Nights in the East:
from the original notes of a recent traveller through Egypt, Arabia-Petra, Syria, Turkey and Greece."
By a Recent [Male] Traveller,
Edited by Matilda Plumley, fl. 1845.
London: T. C. Newby, 1845.
It seems particularly fitting to release an edition of "Days and Nights in the East" for April Fool's Day. Despite the fact that Matilda Plumley states in both title and preface that the book is based on someone else's notes, people persist in believing that she herself was the traveller in question. One can only assume that they have not read the book, or not paid attention.
The title itself states clearly that the book is "from the original notes of a recent traveller". The preface reiterates that "For the notes, from which the facts in the following volume are drawn, I am indebted to another; but, for the remarks, reflections, or opinions, arising out of the subject, I alone am responsible". Where the original notes end, and her remarks begin, we generally have no way of knowing. But in one location, introducing the lone poem in the book, she states "description of this particular evening suggested the above lines to the Authoress" (i.e. she only heard it described; she herself did not see it.)
It seems unlikely that Matilda Plumley lounged in the men's bathhouses of Egypt, or plunged into various local rivers and lakes to bathe while travelling. But the clearest indication of the traveller's gender, in the action of the text, comes from a visit to a bazaar: "I bought some otto of roes of an old fellow, who applied the cork of the bottle to my whiskers and mustachios with such a liberal hand, that I carried a violently perceptible sweet odour with me." The traveller's interest in attar of roses might suggest a woman, but the "whiskers and mustachios" most certainly contradict that interpretation.
Beyond the book itself, I've found little or no information about Matilda Plumley and her unknown correspondent. A letter from Matilda Plumley of 42 Elbury Street, Eaton Square, London to Samuel Stutchbury of Bristol "Requests sale of fifty copies of a journal not yet 'published by subscription' outlined in enclosed prospectus." ca. 1841. But there is nothing to confirm that "Days and Nights" is the book in question.
I'm happy to include Matilda Plumley in the Celebration of Women Writers nonetheless. She deserves credit, if not for participating in the adventures described, then for editing them and getting them published so that we can share them.
The traveller too remains mysterious. There are faint hints in the book: he tells the locals at one point that he is not a military man, however he toasts the "great captain" on the anniversary of Waterloo, and displays considerable interest and knowledge in ships, fleets, etc. He also displays considerable knowledge of architecture. His interest in religious sites, and his liking for shooting things (crocodiles, birds, etc.) are not unusual for an Englishman of his time. One could wish he was a little more aware of cause and effect in that regard:
"we observed a party of crocodiles, to the number of 8 or 10 on a bank, and regretted that we could not have a shot at them, … they were the first we had seen; indeed, they are now never met with lower than Mineyeh, though ancient historians speak of them at the river's mouth."
On tomb-exploring, he notes: "We passed through a great many passages and small chambers filled with the remains of human mummies and sarcophaghi, many of the latter quite perfect." He also recommends "I would advise all persons exploring places like these, to provide themselves with more than one candle; for the prospect of groping our way out was anything but cheering, and our success I thought somewhat problematical."
The appeal of spectacle, whether of the slave-markets or of a fire in the Jewish quarter, is strong. "The alarm of fire was given, which proved to be raging in the Jews' quarter; we ran down to the Golden Horn, and getting into a caique, rowed in that direction, and a more splendid sight could not be imagined than the queenly city illuminated by the raging flame, and reflected in the smooth still sea."
Though not, perhaps, particularly sympathetic to the plight of people or animals, he is moved by stone and building: "At 7 A.M., I started before breakfast, attended by only one of the tribe, to take a last long look at El Khasné. I gazed on it with extreme delight, heightened, perhaps, by the knowledge that I should never have another opportunity; it appeared more lovely and brilliant than ever. Of the local colour of the stone I have more than once spoken: it is no exaggeration to call it rosy; it is literally of a pink rose tint, varying only in its hue, which is in some places deep, in others, only a faint blush: fancy this material wrought into a temple of exquisite beauty, and garlanded with the verdant gifts with which nature loves to decorate the ruin: fancy this, and beyond this, temple, tomb, and heaped rock, glowing in the light of an eastern sun, and you may have some idea of the spot on which I now looked an adieu, which I doubt not is eternal."
I myself feel the appeal of imagining Matilda Plumley to have been an intrepid woman traveller rather than a man: exploring Egyptian tombs with a single candle, lurching on a camel across the sands with fierce desert tribesmen, and riding neck-or-nothing to the river Jordan with thousands of pilgrims in Easter week.
But I draw the line at the mustachios.
|Saturday, March 1st, 2014|
11:02 am - Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel
Happy Women's History Month! I am happy to announce|
Celebration Edition #389:
"Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel"
By Caroline Lucretia Herschel, 1750-1848.
Edited by Mrs. John Herschel, -1876.
London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1876.
Caroline Lucretia Herschel's memoir and letters, and the letters of others to her, give us a fascinating though sometimes melancholy view into her life. Born at Hanover on the 16th of March, 1750, she was the eighth child and fourth daughter of Isaac Herschel and his wife Anna Ilse Moritzen. She received a minimal and haphazard education: her father wished her to instruct her as well as her brothers, but her mother opposed this. Caroline felt herself unvalued and uncared-for. Her father and her brother William were the family members to whom she felt most attached. Her account of their return from England is illustrative:
"My mother being very busy preparing dinner, had suffered me to go all alone to the parade to meet my father, but I could not find him anywhere, nor anybody whom I knew; so at last, when nearly frozen to death, I came home and found them all at table. My dear brother William threw down his knife and fork, and ran to welcome and crouched down to me, which made me forget all my grievances. The rest were so happy... at seeing one another again, that my absence had never been perceived."
Caroline was painfully aware of her patchy education and the uncertainty of her future. Following her father's death, her brother William proposed that she join him in Bath, England, "to make the trial if by his instruction I might not become a useful singer for his winter concerts and oratorios". Caroline left Hanover on August 16th, 1772, and accompanied her brother William back to England. There she took on the responsibilities of running his household, and training as an oratorio performer. When William became increasingly interested in astronomy, transforming himself from a musician to an astronomer, Caroline supported his efforts. She became a significant astronomer in her own right as a result of her collaboration with him. She discovered numerous comets, including the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which bears her name. She was the first woman to be paid for her contribution to science, to be awarded a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville).
In spite of her successes, first as a singer and then as an astronomer, she deprecated her own abilities and achievements. The extent to which her professional opportunities were defined by the choices of others, rather than herself, were a source of bitterness. She says in her Memoir, "I did nothing for my brother but what a well-trained puppy dog would have done, that is to say, I did what he commanded me." It is clear, however, from the independent work she did during William's lifetime, from her work after William's death, and from the interest in astronomy displayed in her letters throughout her life, that Caroline herself became deeply interested and engaged in astronomy.
Thankfully, others recognized her accomplishments and the significance of what she achieved. When the Royal Astronomical Society presented her with their Gold Medal in 1828, J. South said of her, in his address:
"Miss Herschel it was who by night acted as his [William Herschel's] amanuensis: she it was whose pen conveyed to paper his observations as they issued from his lips; she it was who noted the right ascensions and polar distances of the objects observed; she it was who, having passed the night near the instrument, took the rough manuscripts to her cottage at the dawn of day and produced a fair copy of the night's work on the following morning; she it was who planned the labour of each succeeding night; she it was who reduced every observation, made every calculation; she it was who arranged everything in systematic order; and she it was who helped him to obtain his imperishable name."
She was recognized for more than just the work she had done with her brother. "Her claims to our gratitude end not here; as an original observer she demands, and I am sure she has, our unfeigned thanks.… A sweeper planted on the lawn became her object of amusement; but her amusements were of the higher order, and to them we stand indebted for the discovery of the comet of 1786, of the comet of 1788, of the comet of 1791, of the comet of 1793, and of the comet of 1795, since rendered familiar to us by the remarkable discovery of Encke. Many also of the nebulae contained in Sir W. Herschel's catalogues were detected by her during these hours of enjoyment. Indeed, in looking at the joint labours of these extraordinary personages, we scarcely know whether most to admire the intellectual power of the brother, or the unconquerable industry of the sister."
Moreover, her accomplishments were such that the Astronomical Society felt, in 1835, that they justified the unprecedented step of according an honorary membership to a female: "Your Council is of opinion that the time is gone by where either feeling or prejudice, by whichever name it may be proper to call it, should be allowed to interfere with the payment of a well-earned tribute of respect… while the tests of astronomical merit should in no case be applied to the works of a woman less severely than to those of a man, the sex of the former should no longer be an obstacle to her receiving any acknowledgment which might be held due to the latter."
For all that her work began in submission to her brother's interest, it became her work. Her interest in the stars never diminished. In 1832, when her astronomer nephew proposed to travel to the southern hemisphere to observe the stars, she felt the appeal of his great endeavor, and wrote: "Ja! if I was thirty or forty years younger, and could go too?"
|Monday, February 3rd, 2014|
7:45 am - The Englishwoman in Russia
I am happy to announce|
Celebration Edition #388:
"The Englishwoman in Russia: Impressions of the Society and Manners of the Russians at Home." By a Lady, Ten Years Resident in that Country.
[Variously attributed to Mrs. Andrew Neilson and to Sophia Lane Poole.]
London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1855.
The identity of the "Englishwoman in Russia" is not definitely known. She says in her 1854 introduction that "circumstances induced me to reside for more than ten years in Russia, which I have only recently quitted", and explains that she left as a result of the Crimean war (1853-1856):
"As soon as the Declaration of War was known, there was a marked and very disagreeable change in the manners of even my oldest and most attached friends: it seemed that those few words were sufficient to sever the bonds of amity… This intolerant feeling… reached so great a height, that it became almost impossible for any one to remain in the country who was obliged to come into daily contact with them."
"The absurd falsehoods daily published for the amusement of the Russians, and the abuse of our nation, we can well afford to laugh at in England; but it is widely different to one standing alone in a foreign land, and among the enemies of one's country. None but those who have been placed in such a position can have any idea of the grief and heartburning it causes, nor how very difficult it is to remain silent…"
Similarity in titles seems to have been the main reason for attributing authorship of "The Englishwoman in Russia" to Sophia Lane Poole (1804–1891). Poole was the author of "The Englishwoman in Egypt" (1845). She and her sons joined her brother, orientalist Edward William Lane, in Egypt in 1842 and lived there until 1949. Poole's known residence in Egypt therefore overlaps with the Englishwoman's stay in Russia.
Mrs. Andrew Neilson seems a more likely candidate as author of "The Englishwoman in Russia". Her husband Andrew Neilson of Edinburgh (1811-1885) was a son of James Neilson, Esq., of Millbank (1753-1821) and his wife Anne Stuart (1777-1856), and a brother of Anne Neilson (1801-1855). Anne Neilson married Alexander Ivanovitch, Sultan Katte Ghery Krim Ghery on 26 April 1820 at the St. Cuthbert Church in Edinburgh and went with him to the Crimea, residing in Akmescit and on various estates. Kattı Geray died in 1847, but the Sultana lived at Akmescit until the Crimean War, dying at Simpheropol in 1855. Mrs. Andrew Neilson was known to have written "The Crimea: its towns, inhabitants, and social customs / By a lady, resident near the Alma" (1855). The preface of "The Crimea" was written in London in February 1855. It states "during a period of nine years the author resided in different parts of the Crimea, and travelled repeatedly over almost the whole of the Peninsula".
Mrs. Andrew Neilson therefore lived in the right area, at the right time, to have written "The Englishwoman in Russia" as well as "The Crimea". The justification for publishing is similar in both books but not unusual: she writes at "the earnest request of a large circle of friends" (Crimea) who have "recommended her to present these written observations to the public" (Russia). It is suggestive that both books display knowledge of local antiquities and of local plant life. Her authorship is plausible but not definitively proven.
The "Englishwoman in Russia" travelled widely both in rural areas and in cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow. She has an eye for color and detail, whether she is describing a river bank or a cathedral.
"I looked around on the banks of the broad but shallow river; they were flat and marshy, abounding in brushwood and stunted firs, small birch-trees, with here and there an ash, the coral berries of which served to enliven the mass of green foliage."
Describing winter travel by sledge, pulled by reindeer, she notes: "the clicking of the reindeer's hoofs formed a kind of castanet accompaniment. Nature has provided them with widely-spreading feet, which prevent them from sinking in the snow, and which open and shut with a smart snapping noise at every step they take." On one memorable occasion, "our yemstchick drove us so near to the edge of the road that he turned us both out into the midst of an enormous snow-drift. I really thought we should be smothered, for the kabitka rolled right over upon us; being half-buried in the snow was disagreeable enough, but to have pillows, mattress, portmanteaux, and a whole shower of small etcetera with which our sledge was filled, upon our backs, rendering it impossible for us to move, was even worse."
Lodgings were difficult to find, and frequently unappealing: "Even on the great chaussées it is better to travel day and night and remain in the carriage, for he must be a bold man who would be willing to face the vermin of all kinds, even for a single night, in a way-side hotel. The better class of Russian travellers know well how they are peopled, and avoid them accordingly. As for the lower class, they are too much accustomed to such company to care in the least."
Our Englishwoman is aware of inequalities of class and gender, and very aware of the differences between the public and private faces of those around her. "The lady who would be shocked to say a petulant word to an acquaintance, would not hesitate to strike her maid; and though she would be overwhelmed with grief at the distress she could see, she would, by her reckless extravagance, cause the severest sufferings to her serfs, and reduce them to the extremity of want, without feeling remorse." "The vice of the lower classes can only be equalled by that of the upper: in the former it proceeds from their unhappy position and ignorance; in the latter from idleness and corruption."
Looking forward, she predicted the difficult days of the Russian revolution of 1917: "Could we but see the oppression of the land-stewards and the ill-treatment they meet with, we should soon discover how many clouds cast a shadow on their daily course. Men and women in name, and children in their thoughts and ideas, they are now governed like so many infants; but when the day comes on which they will awaken to their true condition, how fearful will be the retribution on the heads of those who have thus oppressed them. 'We all look forward to a revolution,' said a gentleman of great talent one day; 'we all look forward to a revolution; and when it does break out, the French tragedy will be but a game of play in comparison to it.' I often thought of his words when I saw the peasantry with their axes stuck into their girdle."
You can identify the locations she visited on a google map which I've created. It's worth zooming in on St. Petersburg and Moscow, where she describes various sites within the cities. I hope you will read and enjoy!
|Wednesday, January 1st, 2014|
4:36 pm - Picturesque Alaska
I am happy to announce|
Celebration Edition #387:
I've long desired to travel up the west coast of North America. Abby Johnson Woodman made just such a trip by steamer in 1888. You can read her account, and explore an attached google map marking her route. It's worth switching over to the sky-view, especially when comparing her descriptions of where the glaciers were in 1888 to today's images in 2014. See:
"Picturesque Alaska: A journal of a tour among the mountains, seas and islands of the northwest, from San Francisco to Sitka."
By Abby Johnson Woodman, 1828-1921.
Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company 1889.
Abby Johnson Woodman, 1828-1921, was born in Weare, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, USA on January 10, 1828. She was one of three daughters of Colonel Edmund Johnson and Phebe Whittier. Her sisters were Mary E. (May) Johnson and Caroline (Carolyn) Cartland Johnson. Abby graduated from Charlestown Female Seminary in 1846. She married Henry Hill Woodman on July 21, 1864, but the marriage was brief: Woodman apparently passed away July 21, 1869 in Warner, New Hampshire. Abby's daughter Phebe was adopted: a list of names changed by reason of adoption shows that in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, June 22, 1874 Nellie May Eaton's name was changed to Phebe Johnson Woodman, Boston. Who's Who in England (1915) indicates that Abby Woodman removed from Boston to Oak Knoll, Danvers, Massachusetts, as of 1876.
The Johnson sisters were cousins of the Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892). Whittier stayed with them during the last few winters of his life, from 1876 to 1892, at Oak Knoll. Whittier wrote a brief introduction to Abby Johnson Woodman's travel book, "Picturesque Alaska". In his will, he left the sisters his "furniture, books and pictures at Oak Knoll not otherwise disposed of". Phebe J. Woodman was given $3000 outright, and a share in the income from some of his copyrights. After Whittier's death in 1892, Abby Woodman also wrote "Reminiscences of John Greenleaf Whittier's life at Oak Knoll, Danvers, Mass." Salem, Mass: The Essex institute, 1908. Abby herself passed away in 1921.
It seems likely that Abby's travelling companion to Alaska, "C.C.J.", was her sister Caroline Cartland Johnson. She notes that "M. and P.", Mary and Phebe, did not accompany them. Mrs. Woodman says little of her reasons for travelling. Clearly, the beauty of the west coast and Alaska was of paramount appeal, but she also expresses interest in the economic and cultural development of the U.S.'s "new" territory. Alaska had been purchased from Russia in 1867, through the efforts of William H. Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, and Senator Sumner.
"Mrs. Woodman gives, in an amusing way, her experiences on a recent visit to Alaska. The book contains much information which will be useful to people intending to make the Alaska trip, and gives some clear idea of this wonderful land, which every year attracts an increasing tide of travel." (The Dial, May 1889)
The sisters started from San Francisco on April 5, 1888, travelling northward by train. They took a steamer, the Olympian, from Tacoma, Washington to Victoria, B.C. There, the ladies were lucky in obtaining staterooms on the steamship George W. Elder. The Elder with her freight drew seventeen feet of water: it was the first ship of that size to attempt to traverse Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. On their outward voyage, there was only one other "female fellow-passenger", but the boat was well-filled, including among its passengers "one hundred and fifty Chinamen, about sixty cabin passengers, miners, adventurers, etc.," and "thirty-seven bright Indian boys" travelling with Dr. Sheldon Jackson, U. S. School Commissioner in Alaska.
Mrs. Woodman's account engagingly combines her admiration for the beautiful scenery through which she travelled, her interest in her fellow passengers and others she meets, and her observations of the conditions around her, both physical and cultural. Abby is deeply attracted to the natural beauty of the areas through which she travels. She also appreciates the craftsmanship of the Indian and Alaskan weavers and carvers whose work she sees, though she acknowledges that she finds their symbolism strange and fantastic. "All have significance to these native artists": it is not the Indians' understanding which is at fault, but hers.
She is less appreciative of the poverty and dirt which she sees in coastal villages. Her account is fascinating for capturing glimpses of the region at a point of change. It was still possible to see a "storybook scene" of "Indians in the wild woods" at an Indian fishing camp upon the shore of Kuprianoff. Many of the traditional skills of Indian and Alaskan culture were still being practised, but younger people were learning "the arts and customs of civilization". Totem poles still stood in villages along the shore, but a passing boat carried two totem poles to the Museum of ancient Indian relics at Sitka. "The days of totem poles are over."
Her careful descriptions also make us aware of the physical changes that have occurred since she wrote. "We sighted twelve of these glaciers on our passage up Lynn Channel; the Eagle, Rainbow, and Davidson's being the three largest… Davidson's Glacier comes down to the channel like an immense river of ice, two or three miles in width, and seamed and cut by huge chasms, the edges of which glisten and deepen into an intensely deep blue." Davidson's Glacier has since receded: now tourists must hike inland to reach its glacial lake.
Abby Woodman is relatively complacent about the cultural changes she sees, and only slightly less so about unsightly physical ones. "We observed large tracts of stump land, where the lumbermen had cut, and then devastated by fire, the stately trees and forest lands. It looks very wasteful to our Eastern eyes to see such lavish waste of these noble forests as met our observation upon all sides in our journey from San Francisco to Tacoma. Time will rectify this extravagance, no doubt."
Although signs of carelessness and waste give her pause, her faith in American progress remains unchallenged. "A little below the fountain comes a wide area of several acres, where the waste stones and gravel of the excavated ledges and tunnels on the road above have been dumped by the laborers into an ugly gulch. On this area is Chinatown. The tents of the Chinamen, without whom these feats of engineering would never have been realized, stand close and thick, like the wigwams of an Indian village. Behind them, on the edge of their acres, overlooking the ravine, are all the various implements of their labor, save the broken and dismantled ones, of all descriptions, which lie heaped in indiscriminate confusion at the bottom of the ravine."
Technology and mechanization are Abby's allies in her travels. Descending the Rogue River, she waxes lyrical: "Coming nearer to the level of the valley, our train halted at a water tank. We have a sense of relief that the fearful tension upon our nerves is almost over for the day, and a feeling of thankfulness and grateful appreciation toward our two faithful engines comes into my heart… They have proved so responsive to command, so worthy of trust and confidence, that they almost seem to be sentient creatures."
Whether crossing perilous bridges by rail, or facing serious storms on board ship, Mrs. Woodman was a staunch traveller. Returning along the coast, "We came into Queen Charlotte Sound, where we received the full force of the ocean swells, and for three hours there was nothing for us to do but to patiently suffer and endure. Nearly every one retired during the passage, but I braced myself and kept my eyes upon the sea and the mountains on the coast. The rain sometimes hid them from my sight, but I looked where I knew they were still standing behind the mist, and kept my head level with will-power, while I swayed with the rolling and the plunging of the ship."
One captures only a few such glimpses of Abby Johnson Woodman's personality. I cannot help but be curious about the rest of her life, and wonder what other trials she faced with "her head level with will-power".
And who knows, maybe in 2014 I'll finally take that trip up the coast that I've been imagining.
|Tuesday, December 24th, 2013|
5:07 pm - The Heavenly Tenants
I'm happy to announce Celebration edition # 386:|
"The Heavenly Tenants"
By William Maxwell, 1908-2000.
Illustrations by Ilonka Karasz, 1896-1981.
New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1946. Copyright not renewed.
When "The Heavenly Tenants" was named a 1947 Newbery Honor Book, it owed its success at least as much to Ilonka Karasz' wonderful illustrations as it did to William Maxwell's text. His whimsical story of stars that come down to earth to look after a farm while its owners are away on holiday is delightfully illustrated by her images of the farm and the zodiac. I decided that her illustrations deserved a place in the Celebration of Women Writers. Because the copyright was not renewed, the book is now in the public domain. I hope you'll find some time to relax and enjoy reading it this Christmas! Happy Holidays!
|Monday, November 4th, 2013|
7:44 am - Bessy Conway: or, The Irish Girl in America
I am happy to announce Celebration Edition #385:|
"Bessy Conway: or, The Irish Girl in America"
By Mrs. J. Sadlier, 1820-1903.
New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1861.
A number of authors in the 1800s saw the value of writing advice books for immigrants. Whether isolated "in the backwoods" of Canada, or thrown into the "chaotic mass" of America's cities, immigrants had to adapt to socially diverse and unfamiliar environments. Novels were popular, both entertaining and meeting a need for information.
Authors like Irishwoman Mary Anne Sadlier (December 30, 1820—April 5, 1903) were interested in both the temporal and spiritual welfare of their readers. Sadlier's books illustrate the dangers of the new world, while advising her readers to keep on the right path: Attend Sunday mass. Avoid public dances, drink, and Protestants. Work hard and obey your employer cheerfully (unless doing so will endanger your soul). Save your money and use it to support your family. But, if you can survive at home, her heroine advises, don't come to America at all.
Sadlier didn't (entirely) follow her own advice: Born in Cootehill, county Cavan, Ireland to Francis Madden, a prosperous merchant, Mary Madden contributed to the London magazine La Bell Assemblee at the age of eighteen. She emigrated to Sainte-Marthe, Quebec in 1844, after her father's death. In 1846, she married publisher James Sadlier. The Sadlier family owned a weekly paper ("The Tablet"), in which many of Mary Anne Sadlier's works first appeared. She enjoyed a successful public career as an editor, publisher, writer, and translator, writing more than 60 books. The Sadliers moved to New York in the 1860s, and their Manhattan home become a gathering place for Irish writers and politicians. She continued to live in New York for some years after her husband's death in 1869, but eventually moved back to Canada, where she died in 1903.
"Bessy Conway: or, the Irish Girl in America" contrasts the fates of a number of immigrants, both male and female, who heroine Bessy Conway meets in her travels. Both on shipboard and in service, Sadlier depicts real tensions between her characters, due to differences in sex, race, class, and religion. The landlords' son is identified early on as a transgressive love interest, due to both class and religion. In America, many servants openly express resentment towards their well-to-do employers. Others are intolerant towards fellow servants of different race or religion. One woman is fired because she refuses to mend the clothing of a negro servant in the household.
The morals of a servant are closely linked to the morals of the mistress of the house. Sadlier asserts that 'a good servant makes a good mistress'. In this view, an exemplary servant (one who is both skilled and biddable) will consider herself to have a good mistress, because the mistress will have no need to reproach or criticize her. A bad servant (unskilled or willful) will complain of even a saint as a "bad mistress".
On the other hand, a careless or morally irresponsible mistress cannot be a good influence on her servants. A Protestant mistress exposes Catholic servants to additional dangers: if she is not observant, then she is an example of immorality; if she is observant, she may even more dangerously attempt to prevent her servants from actively engaging in their faith, or coerce her servants from proper (Catholic) observance into participation in Protestant religious practice. One of the gravest dangers in coming to America, in Sadlier's view, is exposure to people who do not share one's religious views.
It is ironic that Bessy Conway advises women to emigrate under the protection of a father or brother. The men most strongly exhorted to protect Bessy are themselves morally tempted. Exposed to the seductive example of people of other religions, they also face the dangers of poverty and alcoholism. And while poverty may not lead to moral ruin, according to Sadlier, alcohol almost certainly will. Men, supposed to be women's protectors, are portrayed in "Bessy Conway" as both in danger themselves, and dangerous to women.
Cardinal Gibbons, Sadlier's contemporary, described women as "angels of expiation", whose "prayers and mortifications" atoned for the sins of "fathers, husbands, sons and brothers." For the Irish Girl in America, mortifications abound. In illustrating the pitfalls facing Irish girls, Sadlier's female characters are more likely to be led astray themselves than to lead others to salvation.
Bessy herself combines sense with warm-heartedness and is supported by her strong Catholic faith. Although she is biddable, she is also capable of asserting herself. Bessy may not always please modern readers, but she stands up surprisingly well as an admirable character. Her fellow-travellers are not always so wise.
|Sunday, October 6th, 2013|
12:59 pm - Across the Plains in the Donner Party: A Personal Narrative of the Overland Trip to California
I am happy to announce|
Celebration Edition #384:
"Across the Plains in the Donner Party: A Personal Narrative of the Overland Trip to California."
by Virginia Reed Murphy (1833-06-23 - 1921).
As printed in "The Century Magazine", Volume 42, 1891, pp. 409-426.
I've added a new feature to this travel account; a google map showing the locations mentioned in the book.
You can see pictures from the book, and follow links from locations on the map back to the book, to read what Virginia Reed Murphy wrote about those locations.
On the 14th day of April, 1846, a caravan of wagons drove out of Springfield, Illinois, determined to reach California. The Reed family's wagons were particularly well-appointed. James Reed's step-daughter Virginia wrote later that "We were full of hope and did not dream of sorrow."
Their passage through the valley of the Platte was "an ideal pleasure trip. How I enjoyed riding my pony, galloping over the plain, gathering wild flowers! At night the young folks would gather about the camp fire chatting merrily".
As they traveled, more wagons joined theirs, until the group included about 40 wagons. After Fort Laramie, the party split. The majority of the wagons continued on the tried-and-true "Fort Hall" road, safely reaching California. Eighty-seven people, including the Reed and Donner families, chose to try a new route, the "Hastings Cut-off". Misled about the conditions of the road and lacking guides, their choice proved disastrous. As they continued, one error compounded another.
The party was trapped by early snow in the high mountains. The Reeds were lucky enough to be near a cabin built by previous travelers; the Donners created make-shift lean-to's of brush and pine boughs for shelter. Everyone was starving. The hides used to hold up the roof were cut into strips and boiled for food. The Breens, the only Catholic family in the group, took in the Reeds. Their faith was an inspiration to Virginia Reed. One night, "I found myself on my knees with my hands clasped, looking up through the darkness, making a vow that if God would send us relief and let me see my father again I would be a Catholic."
After a small group of survivors on snowshoes reached Sutter's Fort, a rescue expedition set off with food and supplies. They reached Donner Lake on February 19th, 1847, and were appalled at what they found. Everyone was starving. Dead bodies lay in the snow outside the cabins. Those who could walk attempted to return with the rescuers. The rescue parties themselves were near death on several occasions, but continued until all the survivors had been brought out.
"At Donner Lake we seemed especially favored by the Almighty as not one of our family perished, and we were the only family no one member of which was forced to eat of human flesh to keep body and soul together," Virginia Reed wrote years later. In spite of her parents' opposition, she kept her night-time vow to become a Catholic. She married and raised a family in California.
|Sunday, September 1st, 2013|
10:15 am - Sweeper in the Sky: The Life of Maria Mitchell
I am happy to announce|
Celebration Edition #383.
I was inspired this summer to finally put up a book that I've wanted to republish for a long time:
"Sweeper in the Sky: The Life of Maria Mitchell."
By Helen Wright , 1914-1997.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949. Copyright not renewed.
I would have liked to know Maria Mitchell. I hope you will enjoy reading the biography of this inspiring woman.
Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889) grew up in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The environment in which she grew up was essential in forming her personality and her future. Nantucket was a whaling port, in which wives of sailors independently managed the affairs of businesses and households, for months or even years, while their husbands were at sea. Maria's parents, William Mitchell and Lydia Coleman Mitchell, were Quakers who also valued the equality of men and women, as well as inquiry and independence of thought. Her father was a scientist and astronomer who included Maria as an equal partner in his researches.
Maria herself said, of the genesis of her interest in astronomy: "It was, in the first place, a love of mathematics, seconded by my sympathy with my father's love for astronomical observation. But the spirit of the place had also much to do with the early bent of my mind in this direction. In Nantucket people quite generally are in the habit of observing the heavens, and a sextant will be found in almost every house."
In addition to making observations of the skies at night, Maria worked as a teaching assistant with Unitarian minister Cyrus Peirce during the day. In 1835, she opened her own school, controversially accepting African Americans among her students. A year later, she accepted a job as the first librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum, where she worked for twenty years.
Over time, Maria and her father made thousands of observations of meridian altitudes of stars for the determination of time and latitude, of moon culminations and occultations for longitude. They kept meticulous records, requiring patience, persistence, and ingenuity. On October 1, 1847, at 10:30 p.m. Maria Mitchell discovered Comet 1847 VI, which came to be named "Miss Mitchell's Comet" (modern designation C/1847 T1). As the "first discoverer" of this "telescopic comet", she won a gold medal prize, established by King Frederick VI of Denmark and awarded by his son, King Frederick VII of Denmark. On the medal was inscribed "Non Frustra Signorum Obitus Speculamur et Ortus", trans. “Not in vain do we watch the setting and rising of the stars”). With the award, Maria and her astronomical work received world-wide recognition.
As early as 21st of August, 1862, before the buildings of Vassar College were even completed, Maria Mitchell was approached by its trustees. In 1865, she became the first person appointed to the faculty of Vassar College, and Director of the Vassar College Observatory. The very existence of a women's college was criticized and opposed, the appointment of women as professors even more disputed. Maria taught at the college until her retirement in 1888, actively involving students in the observatory. "They shared then that feeling of companionship and mutual understanding which Maria expressed so well when she said, 'We are women studying together.' Beyond the world's chaos, beyond its distractions, they felt then the existence of eternal order."
Maria did much more than teach and study the stars. She advocated actively for the education of women, for their involvement in science, and for their equal appointment and payment in the work force. She saw women's involvement as more than a matter of justice:
"In my younger days when I was pained by the half-educated loose and inaccurate ways which we all had, I used to say, 'How much women need exact science.' But since I have known some workers in science who were not always true to the teachings of nature, who have loved self more than science, I have said, 'How much science needs women.'"
"Until women throw off reverence for authority they will not develop. When they do this, when they come to truth through their own investigations, when doubts lead them to discovery, the truth which they get will be theirs, and their minds will go on and on unfettered."
Her Quaker upbringing had instilled her with a deep-set belief in the value of every person, male or female, and an uncompromising conscience. Her rejection of the more rigid and authoritarian forms of Quakerism in the Nantucket meeting of her youth, resulting in her being read out of meeting, further strengthened her ability to make her own choices and stand up for what she believed. "Hers was the spirit of those others who had followed in his wake [Thomas Macy, an early quaker settler], seeking peace, yet fighting for their individual right to freedom of conscience as well as freedom of thought and speech."
With this, she combined a deep belief in mathematics and science. For Maria, religion and science were not in conflict. She found in science a window into creation, in scientific method, "the study of the works of God."
"To ponder on the infinite, perpetual curiosity, kept alive by imagination, is necessary. "
"The true mathematician joins his mathematics to all science. Of what interest is the discovery of a new curve if no flower winds itself according to its laws, if no bird builds to interpret its sinuous ways, if no planet or star follows its sweeping arches."
"There is something elevating in the study of any of the natural sciences, and especially there must be in the study of other worlds. When we are chafed and fretted by small cares, a look at the stars will show us the littleness of our own interests. I would hold out to you the study of nature for its own sake – to learn the truths it can tend you – to get a faint idea of the grandeur of creation and the wonderful working of celestial mechanism."
For me, it was very moving to read some of Maria Mitchell's comments on one's "sphere of influence". We have likely all had the experience of wondering whether our efforts in some area have had any effect. She writes of the impossibility of assessing our true effect:
"No matter what you are or where you are you are a power. Your influence is inscrutable. Personal influence is always underrated by the person. We are all centres of spheres – we see the portions of the sphere above us and we see how little we affect it. We forget the part of the sphere around and before us."
"A sphere is not made up of one, but of an infinite number of circles; women have diverse gifts, and to say that woman's sphere is the family circle is a mathematical absurdity."
Reading Maria Mitchell's biography gave me a new appreciation of her life and work. I found her a wonderfully hopeful person. I hope you will enjoy it.
Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Editor, A Celebration of Women Writers