Back with the round-up!

  • scarlet.jpgFifteen years ago, if you wanted to write about the Victorian governess -- all of those formidable women from Mary Wollstonecraft to the steamy romantic heroine to Anna in The King and I -- you had to dig for primary sources, says Kathyrn Hughes. Not many people felt the memoirs of nannies were worth keeping. Now comes a new history of the governess, and nothing new is to be said? And it turns out Anna was a more hard-headed sort than generally thought:
It wasn't just her past that Leonowens faked. Much of her highly spiced account of the years she spent at the "barbarous" court of King Mongkut was later revealed as a work of titillating fancy. Leonowens was determined to find a way of buying herself out of the schoolroom, and if writing passages of barely veiled erotica was the cost, then she was prepared to pay it.

  • The kind of lead sentence in a review that gets a professional journalist/critic's attention:

First the good news. It won't be long before borderline illiterate half-wit blowhards like me, with our fat salaries, expense-account lifestyles and stranglehold on the means of expression, become obsolete. Wikipedia, Second Life, Craigslist, MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Flickr point the way to the lovely future where sharing caring groups of amateurs can connect in ways that will be experientially satisfying, community-boosting and, fingers crossed, democratically revivifying. I and 35,000 other paid journalists in the UK plus lots more worldwide face the knacker's yard.

The bad news is that the if two books under question are right, "most professions will be undermined by web-based social tools in similarly harrowing ways... So don't look so smug."  But what book/daddy wants to know is ... "expense -account lifestyles"? I seem to have missed some serious perks.

  • The National Portrait Gallery in London has opened an exhibition on the "bluestockings," the 18th century female intellectuals who pioneered feminism, and subsequently had the term -- why is this not a surprise? -- turned on them as an insult.

These opulent salons attracted not just women, but also men - among them Dr Johnson, Joshua Reynolds and the actor-manager David Garrick. The term "bluestocking", which had been employed to abuse Cromwell's Puritans a century earlier, was revived in 1756 when the poet and botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet turned up at Montagu's house wearing blue worsted stockings instead of the fashionable white silk.
More...The event is recorded in Boswell's Life of Johnson, in which the author observes that Stilling fleet's conversation was so sparkling that in his absence people declared: "We can do nothing without the blue stockings."

It is a curious origin for a word that came to be so closely associated with intellectual women, but the term's history - quickly becoming a mark of approbation, then one of abuse - is just as singular. During the conservative backlash against the French Revolution, it became associated with women's striving for sexual freedom, personified by Wollstonecraft's unconventional private life - she had a child outside marriage with an American, and then married the atheist philosopher William Godwin after becoming pregnant with his child. Only later did the label acquire connotations of sexlessness and asceticism.

The bluestockings were acceptable, in other words, as long as they clothed their intellectual accomplishments in the trappings of conventional femininity.

March 23, 2008 5:51 PM | | Comments (1)



Fear not, book/daddy! The ranks of critics might have recently been winnowed, but they will not go extinct.

Though social networking sites are new, bright, and shiny (like text messaging), they are inherently shallow and alienating. They are NOT the panacea for our societal ills that some make them out to be. For a time It was thought blogs would replace books--at least until the blog authors realized how much work they were to keep running. Social networking may make artistic expression by amateurs accessible and more democratic and it MAY siphon off some readers that might have otherwise bought books for entertainment or edification, but this steep climb, if we look into recent history for examples, will be book-ended by a plateau. It may be that new forms of professional expression rise up to take the place of free networking sites. I'm interested in seeing what's in store for collaborative online "novels."

Like "reality" TV, people will eventually get bored with the shallowness and be drawn back to more meaningful artistic expression. By that time, the medium and business model will have changed. It's likely the old guard of publishing will either be forced into adapting or be replaced by smaller, leaner, and more agile business models.

But a change in form is not an extinction. So long as critics recognize this, they'll always have a place setting available at the table, as far as I'm concerned.


Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



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This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on March 23, 2008 5:51 PM.

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