Ah, Victorian England: prim, proper and also touched by the occasionally horribly gruesome murder of a three year old, as detailed in Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which I just finished and highly recommend.

But first, a bit of a rant: throughout the internet and on other forums, I keep coming across the insistent myth that the labor force greatly changed in the 1960s when women started to work outside the home and/or in professional jobs for the first time.

And then I read books like this one, discussing events in 1860 and the later 19th century, where nearly every woman discussed or mentioned in the book at one point or another held down full time jobs – most for their entire lives.

These included, I need to add, middle class women. And a woman convicted of murdering a child.

The jobs varied. The second Mrs. Kent worked full time as a governess and housekeeper before marrying her employer. Once married, she employed three young women in their 20s as full time servants: a cook, a housemaid and a nursemaid, and also hired a fourteen year old girl to come in and assist the nursemaid on a daily basis and a charwoman to handle the heaviest cleaning. Even with these servants, and with sending the laundry out on a weekly basis, the evidence given at the trial shows that her two oldest step-daughters, technically members of the middle class, continued to do significant amounts of physical labor with household chores – preparing food, running errands, carrying the laundry, cleaning, helping to supervise their younger siblings, doing the household sewing (apparently no small task) and other jobs. They later worked full time as governesses and nurses.

It is possible that these servants were slow, lazy, inefficient workers, which is why the household (a three story home described as "comfortable") needed so many of them and still needed the oldest girls to help out? Maybe, but Mr. Kent never hesitated to fire unsatisfactory servants, and even in the midst of a murder investigation, no one accused the cook and the housemaid of not staying busy and working. The same went for the oldest two girls. The nursemaid was accused of sleeping around and not immediately reporting a missing child – but one reason she didn't report the kid's absence was that she had so many tasks to do in the morning.

Outside the household, we see women working as bakers, as novelists, as skilled, professional naturalists and watercolorists focused on creating scientific books, actresses, singers, nurses, artists, schoolmistresses, laundresses, governesses, innkeepers, boarding house managers, and seamstresses.

Even the convicted murderer worked as a skilled artist in mosaics – her work is still displayed – and later as a highly skilled, trained and greatly respected nurse.

The exceptions? A wife who seems to have been too sick to work, the first Mrs. Kent, and various thieves and prostitutes. If we put "prostitution" under "job," the percentage of women working full time increases.

Look, I don't want to sugarcoat things. The types of jobs available to women were clearly limited. At no point does anyone suggest that one of the Kent girls can go and study marine biology with William Saville-Kent at the British Museum or Brighton Aquaria, for instance (although both of his wives later helped him with his work). The detectives and police are all men; the lawyers, judges, and members of the jury are all men; the doctors are all men; the government employees are all men; the major religious figures (with the exception of one Anglican nun) are all men; the journalists are all men; the politicians are all men. And so on. The women who did manage to work as novelists, scientists and artists on their own were clearly limited in their options – Constance Kent eventually gave up mosaic art for the more lucrative nursing profession which based on her possessions when she died was not all that lucrative. (She may also have had other reasons for giving up mosaic art beyond money.) It is also clear that most of these jobs were very badly paid: at one point, people point out that one of these working women, a seamstress, is near starvation because her job pays so little money. It's very clear from contemporary reports that working as a nursemaid – or at least Mrs. Kent's nursemaid – was a thankless job even if you didn't end up getting suspected of murder. But it was work, paid work, and it is fully documented in the historical records.

And of course, the history of women is not particularly linear – at any given decade in history, women might be doing very well in one place, and not at all well in another place. Louisa May Alcott made some pointed observations on the roles of married women in the 19th century United States, comparing them, not all that kindly, to women in 19th century France. It gets even more complicated when we look at other eras where the historical record is more scanty, or non-European cultures where some of the underlying principles differed. And even in those cases we see variation: the roles and rights enjoyed by women seem to have varied from city to city in the ancient Roman Empire, for example, if the documents we have are any guide – including documents often very hostile to women.

But what I do want to counter is the idea that women just began to enter the labor force in the 1960s, since this is not borne out by the historical records.

What makes this particularly notable is that this is not even a focus of this book, which is interested in how Victorians viewed detectives, not women's labor. The jobs are mentioned casually – in part because they were taken for granted by contemporaries. Victorians did worry about governesses and servants and allowing these outsiders into the inner sphere, and worried about whether or not they were effective (since most of the first Mrs. Kent's children died young, and since the second Mrs. Kent lost a child to murder despite having two servants specifically directed to care for her children, this worry apparently had a pretty valid basis). But for all of the mythology that the Victorians believed that a woman's place was in the home, they also accepted that women could and did work.

Ok. Rant over. Back to the book, which is actually a lot more interesting than I just made it sound since it's about murder not Victorian employment options. Summerscale uses the evidence given at the various trials and investigations and newspaper interviews to reconstruct what happened in the home of the Kents on Friday, June 29. Or at least the agreed upon details, since by the following morning, Saville Kent, the three year son of the household, a cute if occasionally mischievous child, was found brutally murdered, throat sliced through, stuffed into an outdoor privy.

Suspicions immediately fell on the nursemaid, who did not immediately report that the child was missing. The nursemaid countered that she had assumed the kid had gone to his mother (another child did sleep in the parents' bedroom). Many assumed that Mr. Kent was sleeping with the nursemaid – he had, after all, married the governess of his oldest child. Rumors ran rampant. Scotland Yard sent one of its first detectives, a Mr. Whicher, to investigate. Mr. Whicher had another theory: the murderer was the young teenage Constance Kent.

As I noted, Summerscale's main interest here is in murder, and in the development of the detective in both a literary and real life sense. The Kent murder mesmerized the British press and many readers, who all turned themselves into amateur detectives, much like the Casey Anthony trial would years later. It also helped to inspire a number of mystery and sensation novels, eventually leading to the great Golden Age of detective fiction.

And it also offers a mystery for contemporary readers to solve. After all, someone did eventually confess to doing the murder – but did she? Or was she covering for someone else, or deciding to sacrifice her life to save an otherwise innocent person under suspicion?

Summerscale doesn't say, since it's impossible to tell, which may leave readers somewhat unsatisfied – but there's enough here for anyone to create a theory, not to mention a variety of other tidbits.

Bonus: a sidenote here is the biography of early marine biologist William Saville-Kent, who studied, drew, painted and categorized numerous species in Australia's Great Barrier Reef for the first time. His work The Great Barrier Reef was a standard reference book for years; you can still find it in many research libraries. (I've seen a copy although Pacific corals, not my field/thing.) He also liked owls. Those with an interest in this sort of thing, or in the history of cultured pearls, might want to check this book out just for this (I'll be honest, that's why I picked up the book) even though, as said, it's sidelined.
Last night we watched His Girl Friday, the classic film of fast banter and slimy journalism featuring Cary Grant speaking at high speed and Rosalind Russell, who really, but really knows how to wear hats. A few points that struck me while watching:

1. Everyone, but everyone, smokes like a chimney -- except for the murderer. And Ralph Bellamy, who loses the girl. Hero? Smokes. Journalists? Smoke. Evil politicians? Smoke. Cops? Smoke. Rosalind Russell? Is for all intents and purposes growing cigarettes out of her fingers.

We're so accustomed these days to the "only bad guys smoke" in films that even though I knew how the film ended I was half expecting Rosalind Russell to end up with the non-smoking murderer or Ralph Bellamy. How the hell did actors in the 1940s not all simultaneously come down with lung cancer?

2. All of the casual and not casual sexism: the reporter who is constantly looking up women's skirts and positions himself on staircases to do so; the way the journalists treat the murderer's sorta-girlfriend (she calls them on it, as does Rosalind Russell's character a few seconds later, and most of them look faintly ashamed and it ends their poker game); Walter insulting a random woman on the telephone (she hangs up on him); the way Ralph Bellamy's mother is casually picked up, tossed over a man's shoulder and carried out of the room (she's in her 60s.) Interestingly, this woman is the only woman who is actually manhandled -- and she's the only woman onscreen who doesn't have a job.

And yet, against this, the film also insists that the main character, Hildy, played by Rosalind Russell, doesn't really want a traditional marriage and children and to be taken care of and romance. Instead, the film says, what she really wants is a career. To the point where despite her protests, despite her valid irritation that her first honeymoon was interrupted by work, pretty much every character, including Ralph Bellamy who is offering the alternative, assumes that she will want to continue working. The film completely approves of Walter's various manipulations to get Rosalind back on the job and away from a traditional, normal role. The journalists are all betting that this will succeed -- and even has to succeed; they accept Hildy as a full time professional journalist and their equal, and immediately guess that she's hiding a major story from them (she is) and that she's capable of doing so (she is.) One of the journalist's gives Hildy's planned marriage about three to six months, noting that she can't be happy away from the job. As it turns out, he's dead on.

Which in turn is undercut by the film's gleeful insistence that Walter is absolutely within his rights to con and emotionally manipulate his ex-wife into doing something that she insists she doesn't want to do because, well, he knows what she really wants. As it turns out, he's right; she is mostly happy at the end of the film, if frustrated at getting cheated out of a honeymoon again, and the journalists are right too: Hildy is a great writer, and that's what she's meant to do.

3. Technically, this is a point that struck my brother, not me, but wow some voices are extremely distinctive: he recognized Ralph Bellamy as the same guy from Trading Places on voice alone. Granted Ralph Bellamy appeared in about a hundred movies, more or less, so generally speaking if you're trying to figure out if Bellamy was in anything prior to 1990 the answer is probably yes, but still.
1. My brother, while we were driving back to the house on Sunday: There's a scary clown behind us.

Me: Yeah, I guess it will rain soon. Again.

Pause.

My brother: CLOWN. SCARY CLOWN.

Me: Well, it's not raining yet.

My brother: CLOWN.

A few confused moments.

My brother: SEE! SCARY CLOWN.

And indeed, to our left was an official Scary Clown, with a white face and green hair and green scarf, on a black and green motorcycle.

I can only assume this was an escapee from some part of Universal Studios who needed to speed home before removing his makeup, or someone who just wanted to ride around on a motorcycle sending the fear of CLOWNS and RAIN into innocent drivers everywhere. We may never know.

(In my defense in the conversation above I was a) kinda exhausted and b) not anticipating clowns of any emotional persuasion whatsoever.)

2. And this sums up exactly why I will not be going to Comic Con any time soon. I'm all about movies. I'm seriously all about superhero movies (chatter about Man of Steel will be forthcoming as soon as that's out on DVD, so I can watch it without getting sick). But even I have my limitations.

Also, interesting discussion of the ongoing sexism in genre.
Voyagers of the Titanic, by Richard Davenport-Hines, published in 2012, contains this gem of a statement* about second class passengers on the Titanic:

Women sat there opening their hearts to novels with salutary moral purposes**; men reached to the shelves for formulaic detective stories or books that were heavy with solid, reliable facts.
This statement is unsourced; the majority of men in second class on the Titanic did not survive, because the evacuation from the ship was largely conducted on gendered lines, with women and children going first on the lifeboats with the exception of the lifeboat boarded by Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, Lady Duff Gordon (who were highly criticized for leaving in a not completely filled lifeboat, although both stated that women and children were not around that particular lifeboat when they boarded. It is entirely possible, if unlikely, that the 8% of surviving men filled their memoirs of the Titanic sinking with observations about the types of novels checked out by both genders in the second glass.

Interestingly enough, I just happened to be reading this otherwise interesting book because I was looking for solid, reliable facts.

* May not actually be a gem.

** These books are not identified, so alas, I cannot tell you what novels Davenport-Hines classifies as "salutary" and "moral" although clearly the category does not include anything featuring Sherlock Holmes.***

*** I don't actually know if the Titanic's libraries contained any Sherlock Holmes novels/collections, but it's ok if not because those stories are clearly formulaic anyway.****

**** I just thought about this, but the Titanic sailed and sunk before the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, which means that most detective novels would have been those by Poe, Collins, Doyle and the other innovators and creators of detective fiction; the field had barely had time to become formulaic. (Not arguing that it didn't eventually, but if you are going to criticize detective fiction for being formulaic, you might want to wait a couple decades.)
So it's the last day of the year, the traditional day for rounding up all of the good and bad things that happened in 2012. At the moment I'm not even feeling up to rounding up all of the good and bad things that happened over the holidays, so instead I'll just be trying to chat a bit about some of the movies my brother and I have been watching on the new TV.

For the most part, as a compromise, this has meant action films: Thor, Captain America: the First Avenger, Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and the completely appalling The Expendables. All silly fun, except, to repeat, The Expendables.

(We also watched Tora! Tora! Tora! but although that has a lot of things blowing up that's not exactly in the same category as the rest of these films, so I won't discuss it much below.)

Cut for a long discussion of gender and The Expendables. )
Woman gets restraining order against violent ex; he kills her and a coworker and injures her friend the following day.

This is getting a large amount of local press primarily because it happened in a tourist area, and both the local news and all businesses on International Drive are eager to assure everyone that no, no, this doesn't usually happen to tourists and this is a domestic violence issue only. (If you watch the video you will see the obligatory shot of a typical tourist assuring visitors she didn't see anything.) But the family of the victim is quite right. This woman was trying to do everything right: she got a job, she made plans to get more education and become a nurse, and, yes, she informed the police that her ex was violent and dangerous, and yet even in one of the most heavily policed local areas (Orlando: keeping International Drive safe for you!) she was still murdered.

What a horrible, horrible thing for those kids to live with. I do hope they'll be able to heal.

#

In other news I got an excessively annoying bill from Florida Hospital today which has me raging. I don't understand why they can't set up a NORMAL billing process that keeps track of, just at random, THE AMOUNTS PATIENTS HAVE ALREADY PAID. While they are at it it would be helpful not to change prices AFTER billing for the same procedure. I checked my receipt and checked with my online account just in case this was a Chase Bank screwup, and it isn't. I foresee annoying telephone calls ahead.

But, before that, a friend I haven't seen in more than a year is stopping by, so, friendship first. Better than any hospital for blood pressure issues.
Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: the Private Diary of a Victorian Lady, by Kate Summerscale

In 1858, Victorian courts finally made it a little easier and a little less expensive for unhappy couples to obtain a divorce – if only a little. Rather than requiring an Act of Parliament, petitioners could instead have their cases heard by a panel of judges, or even a jury. Divorce still remained difficult to obtain: men had to prove that their wives had committed adultery, or at least been seen to enter a room with another man and stay within that room for some time. Women had to prove not merely adultery, but also at least one additional problem: severe physical abuse, incest, sodomy, bestiality, bigamy or cruelty. Cruelty and physical abuse, then as now, was a matter of opinion; sodomy and incest difficult to prove. Bigamy rarely came up. Nonetheless, this double standard at least gave women the right to try to obtain a divorce – and the new law also made it slightly easier for men to prove adultery, and thus leave their marriages, to the shock and horror of many Victorians, who recognized the frequent perils of marriage, particularly those marriages made for economic reasons (many of them) but worried about the effects on society should the bonds of marriage collapse.

The well to do Mrs. Isabella Robinson was one of the women deeply affected by the new laws. This was her second marriage. Her first, to a considerably older man, had ended with his death. Her husband left her a child but no money, and although she had some potential money from a potential inheritance, she was for all intents and purposes left as a dependent on her parents. This perhaps helps to explain her second marriage, to Henry Robinson, a successful and well to do civil engineer. Mr. Robinson, in turn, was probably attracted in part by Isabella's wealthy family and her extensive connections – one cousin had married a son of William Wordsworth, for instance, connecting her to the intellectual set, and other relatives mingled in high society. Mrs. Robinson's family settled some bonds upon her to help her financially; Henry Robinson, following the law, was able to claim the bonds and the rest of her money as his own.

The marriage ran into difficulties shortly thereafter, partly thanks to a lack of shared interests, partly because, as Mrs. Robinson discovered, her husband was not exactly the faithful sort, and ended up fathering at least two illegitimate daughters, and partly because, reading through the lines of Mrs. Robinson's diaries, their sex life sucked. They had two sons, and then apparently stopped sleeping together, or stopped sleeping together very much. Mrs. Robinson had a vague diagnosis of a "uterine disorder." The unhappy Mrs. Robinson soon began developing severe crushes on other men – in some cases, they might be called fixations – despite knowing that this was against the codes of her society. She enjoyed "exciting caresses" with at least one, a popular, married doctor who ran a health spa visited by many, including Darwin, and may possibly have slept with this doctor or with others. (In classic overwrought Victorian style Mrs. Robinson drew a veil over the damning details.) That was scandalous enough. But the real scandal was that she wrote the details down in her diary.

When her husband found the diary, he was furious and decided to obtain a divorce, however expensive, using the diary as a witness to her adultery, which should have been grounds for a divorce under the new law. Unfortunately for him, his case ran into two slight snags. First, the doctor denied everything, claiming that Mrs. Robinson's diary entries were nothing more than delusions. Second, no one, but no one, could believe that a woman would admit to adultery, much less write it down. Only two explanations were possible: Mrs. Robinson was insane, or, she had made it all up. Possibly as a draft for a popular novel. In any case, the very fact that she had written down the details of her adultery and her longing for the embraces of other men and her obsession with said other men was very proof that it hadn't happened. The divorce petition was denied.

Summerscale does an admirable job of presenting Mrs. Robinson's story evenhandedly, setting it in the context of changing Victorian views of gender relations, sexuality, and masturbation. She hints that part of Mrs. Robinson's problem may have been that she was unable, thanks to her class and gender, to seek fulfilling employment, although since Mrs. Robinson was also able to publish the occasional poem and essay, I'm not sure how valid this is in her case. I'd say it's more than Mrs. Robinson did have the opportunity to pursue a writing career, but for various reasons, was not successful at it. How much this troubled her is difficult to say, but she did know several successful women novelists of the period, and blamed herself for accomplishing so little. An added problem was Mrs. Robinson's sex drive, which did not vanish just because her husband lost interest in her. Masturbation was regarded as a danger at the time, leaving adultery, or at least hoped for adultery, as one of her only options. The result: a diary so shocking to her contemporaries (not particularly shocking now) that ladies were not allowed to hear it in court and newspapers reporting the story had to resort to careful euphemisms.

Summerscale places Mrs. Robinson's diaries in a literary context, noting, as did others at the time, their relationship to many of the scandalous books of the period, some of which used diary entries as a literary device. (This was one argument for believing that the diaries were complete fiction.) Summerscale also includes several stories of other people of both genders who found themselves trapped by Victorian gender expectations – or confused by how much these expectations were changing. It's a fascinating read, especially for those still wanting to cling to the delightful fantasy of happy, blissful Victorian marriages filled with plenty of children. Those certainly existed – Summerscale details more than one – but even a woman who had certainly enjoyed one – Queen Victoria – could recognize that marriages in the 19th century had their dangers, and that wedding day expectations of happiness were not always fulfilled. Well written and enthralling, and a recommended read.
I've been doing some research into Beauty and the Beast, which meant picking up Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve's long version, The Story of Beauty and the Beast (1740), which unlike the more familiar tale, does not end with the transformation of the beast into a human, but instead goes on and on and on, and then on and on and on, and then, just to not change, goes on and on for a bit more, as nearly every character explains, at length, just how they got there and how everything happened and why fairies sometimes need to turn into serpents and so on.

It's not all bad – Andrew Lang, for one, used details from Villeneuve's version to supplement Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's better known version, largely because so many of those details both fill the tale with magic and root it in reality. For instance, Beauty has a little room with windows that can show her different parts of the world, allowing her to watch entertaining fairs, operas, and – in an unexpected touch – palace revolutions in Istanbul. Unexpected because this is about the only real-life political event she does view, in a story filled with political events—wars, marriages in powerful kingdoms, questionable laws and so on.

And other details: The way all of the wealthy, noble characters sip chocolate, not coffee or tea, for breakfast and sometimes at night. (Needless to say, I approve.) The way that the arrogant, "My son can't POSSIBLY marry a merchant's daughter! He's TOO NOBLE! But I'll foist her off on one of my nobles to show my gratitude!" queen, absolutely obsessed with rank, is also a warrior queen, successfully leading armies in the field. And that near obsession with rank – Beauty and her prince only get her happy ending because as it turns out (in this version) Beauty is not really a merchant's daughter, but the daughter of a fairy and a king, a stunt that can only be pulled off because the merchant's family decided to wet-nurse their real child, and didn't know that child well enough to recognize when she had been replaced. Absolutely no one blinks at this tale – or the really horrible moment when the fairy tells the merchant that Beauty isn't his daughter and therefore he has no right to treat her so – or caress her. (This is non-incestuous caressing, although some of the other caresses mentioned are slightly more questionable.) They don't blink because that part of the story sounds all too plausible.

Several other themes weave in and out of the work. This is very much the story of working women – every woman except Beauty and her evil not-really-her-sisters sisters works, despite their upper and noble class status, and even Beauty and the unsisters are forced to do some farm chores, before Beauty sits down at her harpsichord (this is unintentionally hilarious, and no, I have no idea why, after the family of 12 children has supposedly lost everything, they chose to lug various expensive musical instruments out to what is called "the saddest abode in the world" where everyone, gasp, has to do chores. It's very sad, but you'd think that if they could save the harpsichord they could save a scullery maid or two.)

But Villeneuve is not really interested in the difficulties of the peasant life. (She also appears to have no idea of what peasants actually do, but that's ok.) What she is interested in is the tug between work and motherhood. Her women are faced with horrific choices: do your job and abandon your child, or, stay with the child – and risk losing your life, freedom and job.

The human queen chooses her job – running her kingdom and leading armies. As a result, her son is transformed into the Beast. The fairy queen chooses her child. As a result, she is imprisoned, forced to change back and forth into a serpent (I'll skip over the reasons for this) and thus loses the child – becoming so depressed her sister is terrified that she will commit fairy suicide or go completely insane.

When Beauty and the Beast hear these stories (at, as I mentioned, GREAT LENGTH), they not surprisingly decide that they'd rather avoid both work and children and instead focus on just being happy in their enchanted castle. The fairies are not in favor of this, forcing them to come out and rule from time to time. They remain happy only by taking several vacations.

Far too often we hear the claim that the struggle between work and motherhood is some sort of new thing, a consequence of women entering the workforce. It isn't, as Villeneuve graphically shows. Even in 18th century fairy tales.
H.G. Wells (1866-1946) is probably best known these days for the science fiction classics The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau and The War of the Worlds, the last probably best known for terrifying various people who happened to listen to it getting broadcast on the radio. But as Wells' biographer Sherborne notes, Wells wrote more than this -- lots more than this -- continuing to churn out tedious novels for most of his lifetime, along with various nonfiction books. When not writing, he hobnobbed with the great (Winston Churchill, Henry James, Joseph Stalin, Virginia Woolf) and the distinctly not so great (too many names to mention), and had sex. A lot of sex.

Wells generally was both married and keeping at least one mistress plus having assorted one night stands and longer affairs at any given time, which is why despite his insistence on using condoms, he ended up fathering two children in his second marriage and two children decidedly outside of that marriage. His lovers were generally fascinating women: novelists, aristocrats, scandalous journalists, probable Soviet spies, women who slashed their wrists in front of him bleeding all over the carpet (well, this was just one) and so on. His involvement with various socialist movements and insistence on free speech earned him the hatred of the Nazis, who burned his books, but he could also, to the confusion of all, pen anti-Semitic and other racist statements, even while otherwise arguing for complete racial equality. (He expelled Germany from the international P.E.N. writers group when that chapter stopped accepting non-Aryan members.) And this is without getting into his shifting religious beliefs.

All of this makes for fascinating reading, and Sherborne does an excellent job of providing a smooth narrative, from Wells' early life as the son of a servant (which gave him a continued awareness of the struggles of the working class) to his exhausted death, deeply depressed by World War II. He explores Wells' often contradictory statements on race in depth, noting that Wells later retreated from and even repudiated his earlier, racist statements – although those statements tend to be the ones most quoted, and the ones which have deservedly lowered his reputation. He looks carefully, too, at Wells' politics, widely criticized by contemporaries as being astonishingly naïve (Lenin added that Wells was narrow minded and petty), and too easily used by Stalin, who was trying to establish an alliance against the Nazis and had no compunction against using Wells, who despised fascism and its leaders, in doing so. If Wells remained generally unaware of the human costs of collectivization (to be fair, not something the Soviets were publicizing at the time), he did have the courage to tell Stalin to his face about the importance of free speech and the press (Stalin ignored this). Sherborne also, sometimes tediously, discusses each and every one of Wells' books, no matter how dull, and does not hesitate to point out the many flaws in the later books.

(I am admittedly mostly taking Sherborne's word on these later books, which I haven't read, but the brief descriptions just do not sound enticing at all.)

But for general readers probably the most intriguing parts are all of the various love affairs and romances. Truthfully this at times, despite Sherborne's best efforts, becomes a little difficult to follow, and Sherborne also has problems with some of the lovers and Wells' two wives, who generally did not leave documents discussing what they thought about the situation. We don't know, for instance, how much Jane, Wells' second wife (and more than occasional secretary) really knew about his affairs, or if she had merrily agreed to an open marriage (not unknown in their social circles) or if she suffered as Sherborne suggests she did. Wells did, after all, manage to secure one divorce; if Jane was as miserable as Sherborne believes she must have been, it seems that Wells could have secured a second, especially since at least two of his mistresses were urging him to marry them. But Jane and Wells did not divorce, and we have no documents saying that she was unhappy at all. Perhaps she was fine. Perhaps she was not.

This does lead to one groan out loud moment, when Sherborne dryly notes that "For once, Wells failed to rise to the occasion" when confronted with a lover demanding sex. But overall, I'd highly recommend the book, with one more caveat that hit me mostly as a woman who occasionally writes the odd bit of science fiction here and there. Which is Sherborne's insistence on seeing Wells in a literary context as almost entirely influenced by and influencing men. Sherborne's list of prominent science fiction authors influenced by Wells is exhaustive, and seems fair enough, but not a single woman appears on it.

I'm not for the moment doubting that Wells influenced, say, Philip Dick, or that Dick has not been an enormously influential science fiction author. But Wells also influenced, at the very least, C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett, who in turn influenced Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCaffrey and Joanna Russ and Ursula Le Guin and Lois McMaster Bujold, who in turn influenced still more women writers, to name only a few of the more famous names. (Also, Ruth Plumly Thompson had evidently read The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, using them as inspiration in a couple of Oz books.) Over on the fantasy side, Edith Nesbit fully acknowledged her debt to Wells; she in turn was a major influence on C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Walter Brooks (more about him coming very soon) and several others.

What makes this particularly odd is that so much of the rest of the biography focuses on Wells' interactions with women. And using the word "interactions" really understates the case: Wells not only interacted with several major women authors, he slept with them (or, in the case of Edith Nesbit, their daughters). He had a passionate affair with Elizabeth von Armin, author of the popular and influential Elizabeth and her German Garden (L.M. Montgomery, among others, found powerful inspiration in this work), and had a ten year affair with the novelist Rebecca West (their child was the later deeply resentful Anthony West). And these are just two of the longer relationships; Wells had casual affairs with many other women writers and essayists. And Wells frequently collaborated with his wife Jane, who helped type and edit his manuscripts, and was herself a fiction writer.

(Gossipy tidbit irrelevant to my central point here: if you ever doubt the interconnectedness of the 20th century literary world, remember this: H.G. Wells and Ernest Hemingway both slept with the same woman, who also may have helped murder Maxim Gorky although this last may be unkind gossip.)

This was also the man who warned his daughter about giving up her career for a man, however clumsily and condescendingly, a man who frequently advocated for women to enter the workforce and who encouraged his lovers in their writing and journalism careers, if less so their careers as possible Soviet spies (Moura Benckendorf), and who supported contraception partly for ecological and environmental purposes, partly because he occasionally slept with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, but also because he believed that contraception freed women. So it's a rather grating omission, even beyond my desire to shriek AUUUGH whenever I encounter yet another "women don't read/write" science fiction bit. It feels, as I've noted before, like a personal dismissal.

But this aside, it's a nice gossipy book, and a good introduction to the influences on early science fiction, particularly the social and economic forces that helped spark it.
I interrupt a much happier post about Tarpon Springs, Florida, and some work on two upcoming novellas, to alert you to yes, still more wrong from the New York Times, in a review of A Wrinkle in Time.

I hardly know where to begin. Let's see:

1. It's Mrs. Whatsit, not Mrs. Whastis. Right there on the blurb, even. (This might have been a typo but I am not inclined to give the New York Times much credit here.)

2. Charles Wallace, Asperger's? Seriously?

3. Having just read through pretty much every one of L'Engle's novels, I can assure you that good absolutely does not always triumph over evil in L'Engle's fiction, and indeed, her issue was attempting to reconcile her belief in a divine god of love and goodness with her realization that evil absolutely exists in the world, and that sometimes, evil wins. Her argument is not that good always triumphs, but that even in a world filled with evil and horror, we still need forgiveness and love, and we still need to fight against the darkness. As troubled as I have been by some of her moral judgments in some books, this is a message that resonates with me.

4. Girls read science fiction.

I shouldn't have to say it. It's even in the article, which admits that although the science fiction readership is dominated by men, women do read it. We even write it.

And yet here we have the New York Times trotting out, yet again, this canard that girls and women don't read science fiction. We do. We even write it. And for the record, the seminal science fiction work for me as a kid was not A Wrinkle in Time: it was Star Trek, which had a girl exploring space and talking to aliens. It was Lester Del Rey's A Runaway Robot,* the book that introduced me to robots and which at the time I thought was the best book ever written.** Those were the works that let me find A Wrinkle in Time. And robots.

Enough, New York Times. Enough.

* Which according to Wikipedia wasn't even written by Del Rey? Huh. Who knew?

** I was six. I also loved the Bobbsey Twin books and since we'd just moved to Italy, was about to start on loving Enid Blyton. Be kind.
One of the reasons I stick around Livejournal (aside from pure laziness) despite its myriad issues and the ongoing spamming is the Great
Poets
community, where members post various poems that have inspired or amused them. I'm familiar with most of the poems and poets, but not all, and every once in awhile, the community introduces me to someone I have inexplicably completely overlooked. As in this week, where someone posted this poem from poet Alice Duer Miller:

What Every Woman Must Not Say

“I don’t pretend I’m clever,” he remarked, “or very wise,”
And at this she murmured, “Really,” with the right polite surprise.

“But women,” he continued, “I must own I understand;
Women are a contradiction—honorable and underhand—

Constant as the star Polaris, yet as changeable as Fate,
Always flying what they long for, always seeking what they hate.”

“Don’t you think,” began the lady, but he cut her short: “I see
That you take it personally—women always do,” said he.

“You will pardon me for saying every woman is the same,
Always greedy for approval, always sensitive to blame;

Sweet and passionate are women; weak in mind, though strong in soul;
Even you admit, I fancy, that they have no self-control?”

No, I don’t admit they haven’t,” said the patient lady then,
“Or they could not sit and listen to the nonsense talked by men.”
The poem cracked me up, so I did a bit of internet hunting and discovered that Guterberg had posted an entire book of her satirical poems on women, voting, and elections. The great -- or depressing -- part of this is just how much of these poems, published, if Wikipedia is correct, in 1915, still ring true nearly one hundred years later, but many of them still made me laugh out loud, so I thought I'd pass the link along.

In other news still feeling exhausted this week, which in turn seems to be slowing down all of my words and turning what I want to say into mush, quite unlike Miller's crisp satire.
Gary Kates, Monsieur d'Eon Is a Woman: a tale of political intrigue and sexual masquerade (1995).

Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste Andre Timothee Eon de Beaumont, 1728-1810, lived one hell of a life as a French diplomat to the courts of Russia and England, a spy, soldier, and occasional scholar, and, at the age of 46, at the insistence of and with the backing of the French king, as someone who changed public genders from male to female, wearing female clothing and living as a woman until her death. A contemporary examination of her body at her death stated that although d'Eon claimed to have been born a girl forced to live as a boy and then a man, and lacked certain male secondary sexual characteristics, d'Eon also had male sexual genitalia (everyone was very discreet about what this meant, so I can't tell you). And since d'Eon met everyone and everybody, this created delightful scandal for everyone.

So I was thrilled to discover that someone had taken the time to write a biography of d'Eon, figuring it would make for fascinating reading. And I'm still certain that a biography of d'Eon would make for fascinating reading. Just not this one, which manages to combine poor organization, tedious writing, problematic sourcing and factual errors with some….shall we say questionable assertions about transgendered people in general and d'Eon in particular.

The disorganized nature of the book forced me to write a rambling review. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. )
One of the good things about these Tor.com rereads is that some of them aren't actually rereads, but more a forcing me to head out and track down some of the more obscure writings of favorite authors, as in today's post about The Red House, which is not a fantasy or a children's book, but a deliberately charming look at what makes a successful modern marriage -- which includes, Nesbit argued, all the way in the early 20th century, independent careers for married women. Nesbit herself could speak with experience on this: she worked as a writer and lecturer during both of her marriages, becoming the chief financial support of her household, and working jointly with her husband on papers and lectures was an important part of her first marriage. Yet another reminder (and apparently we keep needing more) that women did not suddenly enter the workplace, or even the professional workplace, in the 1960s.
Ok, since LJ seems to be back, let's try to celebrate with a long post that's been waiting on my computer for a bit. Sure, I know that most of you would rather celebrate with chocolate and booze, but this is what I have.

EditOk, LJ is NOT back. Not only is this not crossposting but when I tried to manually post this in LJ I kept getting an internal service error. THUNK. THUNK. Damn you, DDOS attack, go away. What did I ever do to you???

Chasing Aphrodite: the Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

Art museums generally fascinate me. Not just the collection of beauty, but the why behind it, with the explicit attempts of some modern art museums to stretch the definition of what most of us would call art and many of us would call seriously ugly, to the less explicit political agendas behind many museums and displays.

This is particularly true at some of the world's great art museums, all of which were formed with the ostensible purpose of showcasing beauty and the development of art, but many of which also had the political purpose of showcasing just how great and wealthy the museum's host country was – the Lourve, in particular, had a theme for awhile that "all great art leads to France," (considerably softened these days), while the British Museum showcased, in the great phrase of someone else, "the spoils of empire," and the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcased "the spoils of money."

Cut for a lengthy discussion of the Getty Museum, classical art, Roman plunder, sexism and tax fraud. )
Jehanne Wake, Sisters of Fortune: America's Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad

Edited for clarification after some helpful hints from [profile] tcherynobyelo.

Apparently I can't resist big gossipy biographies about American aristocrats, either. But this one is not only big and gossipy, but also a solid, engrossing read, and one of the few biographies that I've read recently where I have almost no complaints.

The four Caton sisters – Marianne, Bess, Louisa and Emily – were the granddaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, known to you, if known at all, as the last signer of the Declaration of Independence to die. (He was not selected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention for whatever reason, but his cousin Daniel Carroll, not of Carrollton, was an active member and one of the signers of the Constitution.) But beyond that, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (he always used this full name to prevent confusion with the many other Charles Carrolls not of Carrollton) was also one of the wealthiest men in the thirteen colonies, with extensive tobacco and other estates; served as Maryland's first senator (where he crossed paths and met with one of my ancestors, in one of those oooh! six degrees of separation thing, except considerably more degrees here); and, along with his cousin Daniel Carroll, may have helped inspire the "no establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment, since, as Catholics, Charles and Daniel Carrollton had not been allowed to serve in colonial governments. (I originally heard that on a school field trip, and Wikipedia confirms the legend, but since it's not mentioned in this considerably better researched and heavily footnoted book it may not be true.) When Charles Carroll of Carrollton died, the nation went into official mourning on the orders of President Andrew Jackson, and his body lay in state in Baltimore for some days.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that three – three! – of the Caton sisters married titled nobility of England, one (Marianne) first becoming the sister-in-law of Napoleon's sister-in-law and then becoming the sister-in-law of the Duke of Wellington – yes, that Duke of Wellington – and later Lady Wellesley, Marchioness; one (Louisa) first marrying a nice baronet and then marrying the man who became the Duke of Leeds, eventually becoming a nice Duchess; and the third (Bess) settling for – it does feel like settling, after this – a mere baron.

The fourth sister, Emily, made it all to way to Montreal, hated it, and returned firmly to Maryland, to live out her life there and exercise just a leetle bit of undue influence on her grandfather to suddenly and unexpectedly become his major heiress. Lawsuits ensued. That is all very interesting, as is her social life in Washington's capital, but it kinda pales next to the story of the three sisters in England not to mention all of their investments and speculation in the stock market.

So how did three American women, granddaughters of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, end up in the British nobility? (Other American women, of course, were to marry into the British nobility – quite frequently in the later 19th and 20th centuries – but they were not related, or as directly related, to American revolutionaries.) Two separate factors, it seems. One, the oldest sister, Marianne, happened to marry the brother of one of America's most notorious women (at the time): Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, also known as Betsy Bonaparte, who had married Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, in 1803 at the height of Napoleon's power -- not, it must be said, with the approval of Napoleon.

The young and scandalous Betsy – well known for her habit of walking around with what shocked or delighted observers of the time claimed was excessively inadequate clothing leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination – according to just one quote, "I ought rather say, of her no dress, for if the reports are not much exaggerated, she goes to public assemblies nearly naked." The reports were apparently not much exaggerated. But this was enough to delight Jerome Bonaparte, at least, if not Napoleon, who declared the marriage null and illegal. Betsy, presumably with slightly more clothing, attempted to go to Napoleon to plead her case directly – but was not allowed to step ashore. Jerome married someone else, and Betsy lived in scandal – but the story was enough to gain her some sympathetic British equally unfond of Napoleon friends. Marianne became her sister-in-law, and thus, the sister-in-law of the shamefully mistreated (depending upon who told the story) sister-in-law of Napoleon. It opened doors.

The other factor, of course, money.

Wake does not conceal the unpleasant source of this money: the Carrolls were slaveowners, and the Caton girls grew up on a plantation and estates that made their money, and their inheritances, from slavery. The Caton girls were even given personal slaves who were supposed to be playmates who would grow into personal maids who could be trusted friends since they had grown up together – except, of course, that the slave playmates could be and were severely whipped for even minor offenses. Wake does note and detail that although the sisters lived in a household that supposedly distinguished household slaves from field slaves, supposedly because, as Wake notes, they were still slaves, and even if their status meant that their families would not be separated and sold off, they could still be whipped, lived in considerably lesser quarters, and were tied to the plantation. In a revealing aside that Wake does not explore, one of the white plantation Carrolls complains that the slaves can't be trusted not to drop expensive glass; I can't help but think that some of this breakage was not all that accidental. And in another revealing aside, Wake, who poured through extensive plantation documents, letters and account books, could not find out what happened to those personal slaves. They may have been "just like family," but they did not merit a recording of their deaths.

After a visit home, Marianne took one of these household slaves, a personal servant named Henny, back with her to England. Henny was not one of the original child slaves, but apparently became a friend of sorts; it's not clear if she was freed in United States, but once she reached England, she was free, and Marianne, who brought her to England, knew this quite well.

And yet, as Wake notes, none of the sisters mentioned slavery in their letters at all, even as the Civil War raged on. Marianne died before the start of the Civil War, but the other three lived through it or at least saw its beginnings, and one of them, Emily, still owned slaves. Many of them. They knew, but they stayed silent. And I can't help but wonder if the three older sisters stayed in England precisely because they knew – and did not want to face the truth on a daily basis. I don't know.

Equally fascinating is all of the gossipy stuff when the three sisters reached London and started to mingle with the elite. Parts of this book read exactly, and I do mean exactly, like a Regency novel, complete with trips to Almack's! the vouchers! the Duke of Wellington! Prinny! I had to check and see if Georgette Heyer had written the book, especially after every single one of the grand Patronesses of Almack's were name dropped. (Except that Heyer never really mentions slaves or indeed black people, apart from a couple of random black page boys in early books who were dropped from later books. And she rarely mentions Americans, although with her devotion to the Duke of Wellington, she must have known Marianne's story, at least. I am getting off topic again.)

Marianne arrived in London a married woman, so her flirtations had to be, shall we say, discreet. Nonetheless, the Duke of Wellington fell head over heels in love with her, which opened doors. (And then, after the death of her first husband, she married his brother.) The other two had a bit more freedom to flirt, thus allowing Louisa to marry one of Wellington's staff, an ADC who had lost his arm while fighting under Wellington and afterwards was at Wellington's side at Waterloo. (You can almost hear Georgette Heyer telling this story in a nice crisp British accent.) Louisa's first marriage, with her sister's connections, allowed her to marry the heir of the Duke of Leeds after the death of her first husband, eventually becoming the Duchess of Leeds. Bess enjoyed her freedom and the flirtations, deciding not to marry Lord Coke (another historical personage showing up in Heyer novels) and above all, playing in the stock market. Eventually she married a baron.

Which is another strength of this book: Wake details how these women continued to manage their own financial affairs and fortunes, often successfully (if, in Emily's case, by, er, putting a little pressure on her dying wealthy grandfather—just like something out of Jane Austen! [who is quoted in the book]), despite the belief that women in the 19th century did no such thing. (Unless they were the Brontes.) The sisters kept informed, and made careful, prudent and occasionally risky investments – often under assumed names, or under the name of a sister or a friend since, of course, married women lacked certain rights with these things. But Wake does an excellent job of showing just how the four sisters retained their independence, and how many of them became the financial support of their husbands. Which ends up explaining some of their marriages quite well, indeed.
Today's irritation actually started yesterday, when I saw some news outlets reporting * on the arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for alleged sexual assault and attempted rape as a sex case or sex scandal. (Many of these headlines were later altered, but Roger Ebert repeated the term in a tweet, showing that it had entered the consciousness, as it were.

No.

Just, no.

A sex scandal would have been Strauss-Kahn getting caught, say, with a bunch of hookers and a goat doing interesting things with pizza while wearing a bunny suit. Or Strauss-Kahn getting caught with one or two fellow politicians in, as they say, a compromising position. That's scandalous and gossipy and as long as nothing happens to the goat, scandal away and create all the silly headlines you want. I don't care.

But that is not what allegedly happened here. (His lawyers say he has an alibi; the New York Post is reporting that Strauss-Kahn will argue that the sex was consensual.) What allegedly happened included grabbing the victim's breasts, dragging her into a bathroom, assaulting her, and forcing her to perform oral sex, in an assault bad enough for the Sofitel hotel to call New York police and risk offending an extremely well heeled customer who had just happily dropped $3000 a night on a hotel suite.

If this is true, this isn't a scandal. It's a crime. It's an assault. It's attempted rape, and let's make sure we keep referring to it that way.

* On the CNN business blog, drop down below the New York Post/Daily News pictures to "Will IMF Sex Scandal Hit EU bailout?"
To Ginia Bellafonte of the New York Times:

STOP.

Seriously, again, STOP.

I mean, yes, it's great that you took a moment to respond to the overwhelming criticism of your condescending "women don't read fantasy" review. It's not great that your response included this:
:As I wrote in the review, I realize that there are women who love fantasy, but I don’t know any and that is the truth: I don’t know any. At the same time, I am sure that there are fantasy fans out there who may not know a single person who worships at the altar of quietly hewn domestic novels or celebrates the films of Nicole Holofcener or is engrossed by reruns of “House.”
Ms. Bellafonte.

THESE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE INTERESTS.

Not entirely irrelevant sidenote: I was introduced to that rather domestic novel Pride and Prejudice by my grandfather, mostly because he was horrified that I was reading and filling my little head with the very bad Famous Five novels by Enid Blyton. (What can I say? When I was a kid I had no taste.) For Americans unfamiliar with the Famous Five novels, they are an inane, unrealistic, poorly written and mildly racist series of, yes, Ms. Bellafonte, "boy fiction." (What can I say? I had no taste back then and I admit the racism went right over my little head.) Continuing this sidenote, I went to Friends with Money with a straight male friend at his suggestion, and – gasp – we didn't die. Continuing with the continued sidenote, I first watched House at the instigation of a male friend, and one of the most enthusiastic current fans I know is a guy. The loudest anti-fan I know (largely because of the House-Cuddy relationship this season)? A woman.

On the other side, my mother, who likes Star Trek but was bored to tears by The Lord of the Rings ("it just went on and on and on. Did it ever stop?") hates House. With a passion. (She is a registered nurse driven to distraction by the ongoing errors on medical dramas; she also hated ER.) She also thought Friends with Money was annoying.

I can assure you that I have friends of both genders who both read fantasy and are engrossed by reruns of House. I can also assure you that I can and do read both fantasy and quietly hewn domestic novels. And while my friends, admittedly, do tend to be geeks and fantasy readers, I have been known to speak to and even make friends with people who are not. (Not date, though. I have to draw the line somewhere.) You, by your own confession, have never made friends with geeks. (Your loss. We tell better jokes.) And I'll also note that it's more than barely possible that you do have women friends who love this stuff, but are afraid to discuss it with you because of your dismissive attitude.

The real problem here is that despite letters, emails, a loud blog cry, and even a response from George RR Martin, you continue to assume that gender dictates a response to art.

I have no problems with you disliking Game of Thrones. It certainly isn't everybody's cup of tea – I know quite a lot of people who don't particularly want to watch or read a series that contains a lot of violence and sex where beloved characters die. This includes, as I noted before, both men and women, and it includes several fantasy readers who just didn't like the series. That's ok. I've even stayed friends with these people.

But I do have a problem with your continued insistence that I need to respond to art, be this books, movies or television shows in a certain way because I'm a woman, that my likes and dislikes are determined by gender.

No.

I hated this back when I was seven and I was told I had to be Princess Leia because girls couldn't be Jedi or be smugglers with the cool starships, even if Princess Leia had a pretty cool gun and got to order the Wookie around. I hate this now.

So stop. Just. Stop.
Annalee Newitz, taking the correct response of actually thinking, rather than just sputtering in response, asks, really, why would men ever watch the Game of Thrones. Hilarious stuff.

Eat it, New York Times, indeed. (Statement stolen shamelessly from Twitter's Bryan Cogman.)

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