From crime fighters to crime writers – a new batch of female authors brings stories that are closer to home


Lili Pâquet, University of New England

In Dervla McTiernan’s book, The Scholar, published earlier this year, women are consistently used as the “fall guys” for men with high aspirations. Two young women are killed when they uncover fraud. Another female colleague is then framed for the murders.

Before writing crime fiction, McTiernan worked as a lawyer for 12 years, for international companies like the one in The Scholar. Her background lends her book authority, even though it’s fiction.

McTiernan joins a batch of crime writing women bringing professional clout to their books. Others are Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Marcia Clark, Alafair Burke, Anne Holt, and Lisa Scottoline. This list is a tiny fraction of the trailblazing authors.

Crimes close to home

Last week, Elizabeth Farrelly wrote that “crime fiction is the morality drama of our time” that can “heighten and dissect the battle of good against evil enacted daily in our living rooms, cities and streets”. She compared crime books about violence against women with Australia’s deplorable record on domestic violence and rape.


Macmillan

In books written by ex-justice professionals, we are asked to examine our cultural and moral compasses. These authors don’t just write about serial killers – who are thankfully more common in the pages of crime books than in real life – they more often focus on murders by spouses, family members or colleagues of the victim. Some push for changes to how rape trials are prosecuted. They focus on the justice system problems that women face, as victims and as professionals.

The stories also ask us to question how we perceive professional women. These authors’ characters, who often have much in common with their creators, face a barrage of harassment on the job. Lisa Scottoline’s fictional all-women law firm is consistently targeted by abusive prank callers. In her latest book, Feared, the firm is sued for “reverse” sexual discrimination.

What’s the appeal?

Australians are avid readers of crime fiction. In a 2017 study, 48.5% of respondents read crime fiction, making it the most popular genre for enjoyment.

While researching my book on the topic, I had the opportunity to read Dorothy Uhnak’s fan letters, held at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Readers (many of whom were prison inmates) repeatedly told Uhnak that her books touched on inequalities in the justice system that rang true for them, and reading her work was therapeutic.

Cosy vs hardboiled

Female crime writers have historically been pigeonholed as writing “cosy crime” novels as opposed to more graphic masculine representations of “hardboiled” detectives.

We are used to reading about women as amateurs, from Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth, Miss Marple, to Janet Evanovich’s bumbling and untrained bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum. Since the 1970s, more authors have written about women as hardboiled private detectives.

Agatha Christie is acknowledged as the grande dame of crime fiction.
www.shutterstock.com

Now, we are increasingly seeing women characters in professional roles. When the author is also a professional, she has even more authority. She has “insider knowledge.” Priscilla Walton and Manina Jones surveyed women who read feminist crime series and found that readers identify with the struggles of characters who are realistic professional women. Often, the fictional investigations have similarities to real ones the author has worked on. Central Park 5 prosecutor turned crime author Linda Fairstein received pointed criticism about these similarities.

Ruth Rendell and other authors remember being discouraged from writing crime.

The force


Penguin

In Australia, ex-police officer Y.A. Erskine’s debut The Brotherhood tells the story of rookie cop Lucy Howard who is blamed when a senior sergeant is killed on a routine call-out. She can’t join the brotherhood of the Tasmanian police force, because, in her words, she doesn’t have the “standard-issue penis”. She is an outsider inside the system.

In Erskine’s follow-up, The Betrayal, Lucy is raped by a colleague. When she makes a complaint, she is vilified and blamed for tarnishing the reputation of the police. The complaint is briefly investigated before being dropped.

Another Australian ex-cop writing crime is P.M. Newton. Her debut, The Old School (notice the theme in the titles?), follows Australian-Vietnamese officer, Nhu “Ned” Kelly. She deals with the racism and corruption of her male colleagues before being shot by one of them.

Newton’s following book, Beams Falling (a reference to Dashiell Hammett’s Flitcraft parable within The Maltese Falcon), tracks Ned’s struggle with post traumatic stress disorder. While fictional detectives usually bounce back quickly after violence, Ned never fully gets over the trauma, and her work offers little support.

Ex-cop Karen M. Davis, has also created a character damaged by her policing experience. Davis’ Lexie Rogers has been stabbed in the neck, and fears facing her attacker in court – a fear exacerbated by her insider knowledge of the justice system. Davis has spoken about how she retired from the police because of trauma, and began writing as a kind of catharsis. Erskine has spoken out about how the rape of Lucy in her books is based on her own unreported rape by a colleague.

These authors have seen the inside of the criminal justice system, its flaws and the experience of women within it. They bring this cachet of lived experiences to their crime fiction. Bestsellers by Marcia Clark or Anne Holt could spark moral reflection, validate women’s experiences, and be part of the cultural shift needed to end violence against women.The Conversation

Lili Pâquet, Lecturer in Writing, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I looked at 100 best-selling picture books: female protagonists were largely invisible



Despite a rise in feminist-themed books for children, picture books remain highly gendered overall.
Shutterstock

Sarah Mokrzycki, Victoria University

In recent years, there has been a surge in “female empowerment” stories in the Australian picture book market. This long-overdue movement was largely inspired by the success of the crowdfunded book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, spawning many imitations since its publication in 2016.

In April 2019, I examined the 100 bestselling picture books at Australian book retailer Dymocks: an almost 50/50 mix of modern and classic stories (the majority being published in the past five years). I discovered that despite the promising evolution of the rebel girl trend, the numbers tell us that picture books as a whole remain highly gendered and highly sexist. Worse – female protagonists remain largely invisible.

Ballerinas and princesses

In the Dymocks bestsellers list, 46% of books had male protagonists, while only 17% had female protagonists (in 32% of books there was no lead character). There were only seven female led books in the top 50, compared to 26 male led books.

Sixteen books in the list showed characters in specific occupations (outside of parenthood). In the female-led stories, protagonists only showed ambition for traditional feminine pursuits. There were three ballerinas, three princesses and one fashion designer – Claris, a mouse, who “dreamed about clothes” and “read about handbags in Vanity Fair”. (In this story, a misbehaving girl is also chastised for being “neither proper nor prim!”)

In comparison, the male-led stories showed protagonists in roles ranging from farmers and chefs to zookeepers and scientists.

Not much has changed in the past 20 years. A 1998 study found there were four primary occupations for female characters in picture books – scullery maid, daughter, princess and mother, while there were ten for males – which included detective, aircraft inventor and knight.


Goodreads

Zog and the Flying Doctors (2016), one of the books from the Dymock’s bestsellers list, attempts to rectify this gender imbalance, but doesn’t quite manage it.

Consider the first line: “Meet the flying doctors – a dragon, knight and girl, their names are Gadabout the Great, and Zog, and Princess Pearl.” Both Zog (the dragon) and the knight are male characters. The human characters are both doctors, and it is later shown that Pearl bemoans traditional princess duties. However, the male lead is a “great” knight, while our female lead is first introduced as a “girl” and then identified as a princess.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with ballerinas and princesses, nor with celebrating femininity. What is problematic, however, is the lack of other roles presented to young girls. When there is little variety in female-led stories, and female ambition is restricted, picture books become part of a bigger problem.




Read more:
Friday essay: the feminist picture book revolution


Mothers and fathers

Parental roles are also represented in largely conventional ways in picture books. In a 2005 study of 200 picture books not a single father was shown kissing or feeding a baby. While mothers were always shown as active parents (feeding, holding and caring for baby), fathers were rarely shown performing parenting duties.

In my study, mothers were similarly shown as much more active parents, but also much more cautious and serious than fathers. No One Likes a Fart (2017) is a good example of this: a mother sits daintily on the couch next to a stack of books, drinking tea. The father stands with the remote control in his hand when he farts. “Do you have to?” the mother asks crossly, as he laughs.

Fathers are portrayed as sillier and more easy-going than mothers – but fathers are also often shown to be less engaged with raising their children. For example, in the classic Australian picture book Edwina the Emu, part of the comedy is meant to come from Edwina’s partner Edward’s reluctance to be a parent (“You must be joking!”) and subsequent difficulty and annoyance in caring for his eggs (“‘You’re late,’ muttered Edward, ‘and I need a rest’”).


Goodreads

Where are the girls?

Perhaps most worrying of all is how little female characters are represented – male protagonists are far more common. A recent study showed that of the top 100 Australian picture books published in 2017, it was more common for a book to have no lead character than a female lead character. Characters with speaking parts were also much more likely to be male, and 31 of the books had all male characters while only six had all female characters.

Male protagonists have long been the default in picture books. Consider favourite protagonists like Max from Where the Wild Things Are, Spot the Dog, Peter Rabbit and Hairy MacLary – even the Very Hungry Caterpillar is a “he”. This is common throughout picture books: a character may be an animal or creature and not even have a name, but will most likely be referred to as a “he”.

Even the Very Hungry Caterpillar is a ‘he’.

Of the books in the Dymocks bestseller list, 24.6% had either all male characters or used all male pronouns – even when characters weren’t human and had no discernible gender. Conversely, only one used all female pronouns and there were no books with all female characters.

How we tackle gender in picture books is important, as they help inform children’s understanding of the world and themselves.

Courageous girls and loving fathers should not be radical concepts, nor do we need to continue dividing gender so severely: girls can be sweet and brave with scientific minds, boys can be adventurous and kind with a penchant for tea parties.

None of these traits are defined by gender. It’s time we stopped limiting the things that kids can be.The Conversation

Sarah Mokrzycki, PhD Candidate, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Did a censored female writer inspire Hemingway’s famous style?



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A photograph of Ellen N. La Motte soon after completing ‘The Backwash of War’ in 1916.
Courtesy of the National Archives, College Park, Maryland, Author provided

Cynthia Wachtell, Yeshiva University

Virtually everyone has heard of Ernest Hemingway. But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows of Ellen N. La Motte.

People should.

She is the extraordinary World War I nurse who wrote like Hemingway before Hemingway. She was arguably the originator of his famous style – the first to write about World War I using spare, understated, declarative prose.

Long before Hemingway published “A Farewell to Arms” in 1929 – long before he even graduated high school and left home to volunteer as an ambulance driver in Italy – La Motte wrote a collection of interrelated stories titled “The Backwash of War.”

Published in the fall of 1916, as the war advanced into its third year, the book is based upon La Motte’s experience working at a French field hospital on the Western Front.

“There are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war,” she wrote. “I must write you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash.”

“The Backwash of War” was immediately banned in England and France for its criticism of the ongoing war. Two years and multiple printings later – after being hailed as “immortal” and America’s greatest work of war writing – it was deemed damaging to morale and also censored in wartime America.

For nearly a century, it languished in obscurity. But now, an expanded version of this lost classic that I’ve edited has just been published. Featuring the first biography of La Motte, it will hopefully give La Motte the attention she deserves.

Horrors, not heroes

In its time, “The Backwash of War” was, simply put, incendiary.

As one admiring reader explained in July 1918, “There is a corner of my book-shelves which I call my ‘T N T’ library. Here are all the literary high explosives I can lay my hands on. So far there are only five of them.” “The Backwash of War” was the only one by a woman and also the only one by an American.

In most of the era’s wartime works, men willingly fought and died for their cause. The characters were brave, the combat romanticized.

Not so in La Motte’s stories. Rather than focus on World War I’s heroes, she emphasized its horrors. And the wounded soldiers and civilians she presents in “The Backwash of War” are fearful of death and fretful in life.

Filling the beds of the field hospital, they are at once grotesque and pathetic. There is a soldier slowly dying from gas gangrene. Another suffers from syphilis, while one patient sobs and sobs because he does not want to die. A 10-year-old Belgian boy is fatally shot through the abdomen by a fragment of German artillery shell and bawls for his mother.

War, to La Motte, is repugnant, repulsive and nonsensical.

The volume’s first story immediately sets the tone: “When he could stand it no longer,” it begins, “he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it.” The soldier is transported, “cursing and screaming,” to the field hospital. There, through surgery, his life is saved but only so that he can later be court-martialed for his suicide attempt and killed by a firing squad.

A postcard of the French field hospital where La Motte worked.
Cynthia Wachtell

After “The Backwash of War” was published, readers quickly recognized that La Motte had invented a bold new way of writing about war and its horrors. The New York Times reported that her stories were “told in sharp, quick sentences” that bore no resemblance to conventional “literary style” and delivered a “stern, strong preachment against war.”

The Detroit Journal noted she was the first to draw “the real portrait of the ravaging beast.” And the Los Angeles Times gushed, “Nothing like [it] has been written: it is the first realistic glimpse behind the battle lines… Miss La Motte has described war – not merely war in France – but war itself.”

La Motte and Gertrude Stein

Together with the famous avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, La Motte seems to have influenced what we now think of as Hemingway’s signature style – his spare, “masculine” prose.

Gertrude Stein – who would go on to mentor Hemingway – was close friends with La Motte.
Library of Congress

La Motte and Stein – both middle-aged American women, writers and lesbians – were already friends at the start of the war. Their friendship deepened during the first winter of the conflict, when they were both living in Paris.

Despite the fact that they each had a romantic partner, Stein seems to have fallen for La Motte. She even wrote a “little novelette” in early 1915 about La Motte, titled “How Could They Marry Her?” It repeatedly mentions La Motte’s plan to be a war nurse, possibly in Serbia, and includes revealing lines such as “Seeing her makes passion plain.”

Without a doubt Stein read her beloved friend’s book; in fact, her personal copy of “The Backwash of War” is presently archived at Yale University.

Hemingway writes war

Ernest Hemingway wouldn’t meet Stein until after the war. But he, like La Motte, found a way to make it to the front lines.

In 1918, Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver and shortly before his 19th birthday was seriously injured by a mortar explosion. He spent five days in a field hospital and then many months in a Red Cross hospital, where he fell in love with an American nurse.

After the war, Hemingway worked as a journalist in Canada and America. Then, determined to become a serious writer, he moved to Paris in late 1921.

In the early 1920s Gertrude Stein’s literary salon attracted many of the emerging postwar writers, whom she famously labeled the “Lost Generation.”

Among those who most eagerly sought Stein’s advice was Hemingway, whose style she significantly influenced.

“Gertrude Stein was always right,” Hemingway once told a friend. She served as his mentor and became godmother to his son.

Much of Hemingway’s early writing focused on the recent war.

“Cut out words. Cut everything out,” Stein counseled him, “except what you saw, what happened.”

Very likely, Stein showed Hemingway her copy of “The Backwash of War” as an example of admirable war writing. At the very least, she passed along what she had learned from reading La Motte’s work.

Whatever the case, the similarity between La Motte’s and Hemingway’s styles is plainly evident. Consider the following passage from the story “Alone,” in which La Motte strings together declarative sentences, neutral in tone, and lets the underlying horror speak for itself.

“They could not operate on Rochard and amputate his leg, as they wanted to do. The infection was so high, into the hip, it could not be done. Moreover, Rochard had a fractured skull as well. Another piece of shell had pierced his ear, and broken into his brain, and lodged there. Either wound would have been fatal, but it was the gas gangrene in his torn-out thigh that would kill him first. The wound stank. It was foul.”

Now consider these opening lines from a chapter of Hemingway’s 1925 collection “In Our Time”:

“Nick sat against the wall of the church where they had dragged him to be clear of machine-gun fire in the street. Both legs stuck out awkwardly. He had been hit in the spine. His face was sweaty and dirty. The sun shone on his face. The day was very hot. Rinaldi, big backed, his equipment sprawling, lay face downward against the wall. Nick looked straight ahead brilliantly…. Two Austrian dead lay in the rubble in the shade of the house. Up the street were other dead.”

Hemingway’s declarative sentences and emotionally uninflected style strikingly resemble La Motte’s.

So why did Hemingway receive all of the accolades, culminating in a Nobel Prize in 1954 for the “influence he exerted on contemporary style,” while La Motte was lost to literary oblivion?

Was it the lasting impact of wartime censorship? Was it the prevalent sexism of the postwar era, which viewed war writing as the purview of men?

Whether due to censorship, sexism or a toxic combination of the two, La Motte was silenced and forgotten. It’s time to return “The Backwash of War” to its proper perch as a seminal example of war writing.

Cynthia Wachtell is the editor of a new edition of:

The Backwash of War: An Extraordinary American Nurse in World War IThe Conversation

Johns Hopkins University Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Cynthia Wachtell, Research Associate Professor of American Studies & Director of the S. Daniel Abrham Honors Program, Yeshiva University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Plight of Women Librarians in the Victorian Era


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the health implications of being a female librarian in the Victorian era.

For more visit:
https://daily.jstor.org/being-librarian-dangerous/

Everything you need to know about ‘femoir’ – the bestselling books that celebrate female success



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How the female memoir helps to celebrates women’s voices.
Pexles

Anne-Marie Evans, York St John University

The reviews have not always been kind. The texts are rarely perceived as “literary” or even particularly important – so they don’t get taken seriously. But the celebrity “femoir” – a memoir authored by a well-known female actor or comedian – has become a staple of the publishing trade over the last few years.

As I explain in a recent book chapter, the femoir occupies an important place in contemporary women’s writing because they promote female empowerment. The books also embrace body positivity, and address the importance of having a supportive female community of friends.

These women writers already have hugely successful careers before they begin to write their femoirs. Lena Dunham, for example, was the creator, writer, star, and sometimes director of the hit HBO series Girls – which received a range of Emmy awards and nominations. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are both veterans of Saturday Night Live, and Fey was the creator, writer, and star of 30 Rock, while Poehler starred in the hugely popular Parks and Recreation. Mindy Kaling, on the other hand, was the first Indian American woman to both star in and produce her own show, The Mindy Project. So why this sudden need to tell their story in print?

Brand woman

One reason might be that writing, and autobiography in particular, is a great way for women to develop their public brand. Suzanne Ferris, who has researched and published on popular women’s writing, compares the femoir to chick lit – as this new style of memoir often follow the traditional structure of a female protagonist overcoming various personal and professional obstacles.

The reader might hear about one of Kaling’s bad dates, or about Fey’s struggles to balance being a mother and being a professional working woman. But within the genre, each writer also emphasises professional advancement over personal success.

None of these books ever offer any real details about the women’s personal lives beyond a few anecdotes that could be shared on a late night talk show. But the femoir offers the reader the illusion they are being told highly privileged information, and this is hugely important part of the genre’s appeal.

Speaking out

For Dunham, Fey, Poehler and Kaling, writing has always been an important part of their career. Although they are famous for performing, most of them started out as writers. Kaling, for example, got her break as a one of the writers for the US version of The Office.

Writing for The Guardian Hadley Freeman suggests that the main difference between memoir and femoir is the construction of the narrative voice. A memoir is usually published because the story is special or unique, but the very appeal of the femoir is that its writer is – apparently – just like the imagined (female) reader.

From top left, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah SilverMan, Mindy Kaling and Amy Schumer.
Shutterstock

As a narrative voice, the author of the femoir must be funny and relatable. She must be every woman to every reader, or her book will not be successful. This is a hugely important part of the brand. A femoir is not meant to be a weighty autobiography but instead is designed to be a fun and entertaining read.

As well as a life story, a femoir nearly always features some kind of interactive element. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please is broken up with collages and photos, and there are even several sections where the reader can make her own notes, suggesting an even closer imagined affinity between celebrity narrative voice and the reader.

Female communities

Men, of course, are rarely asked to account for their professional achievement. But for these authors, telling their story becomes a useful way for female comedians to explain their brand and recount their successes.

One of the most striking features of the femoirs is how much the writers tend to reference other female writers in the genre. There is a lot of emphasis on how important it is to have the support of other women. Fey, for example, writes several “love letters” to her friend and frequent collaborator, Poehler, encouraging the idea that female community is central to individual female accomplishment.

Feminist novels don’t always have to be heavyweight.
Pexels

There are, of course, a lot of criticisms to be made of the femoir. They are highly performative types of writing, they are designed to be commercial, and some of them have clearly been helped along by ghost writers. But the genre is still hugely popular and several UK performers – Caitlin Moran, Sara Pascoe, Sarah Millican – have joined the ranks in recent years.

The ConversationAlthough femoirs are often dismissed as celebrity memoir (which is undeniably what they are) it is sometimes forgotten that many of these women all wrote their own material for the stage and screen long before they began to write a version of their autobiographies. The femoir is just their latest medium.

Anne-Marie Evans, Subject Director: English Literature, York St John University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wicked witches and evil queens: why children’s books need more female villains



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Still from DIsney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Anna Cermakova, University of Birmingham and Michaela Mahlberg, University of Birmingham

This year, women’s history month follows what seems an unprecented upsurge of events that revealed the widespread abuse of women in both professional and private life. So it is not surprising to also see an increased interest in the representation of gender in literature – or rather, as a recently published big data study shows, a significant under-representation of women in literature.

Both female writers as well as female protagonists have been lagging behind their male counterparts for centuries. Gender inequality has naturally become a contemporary topic that has also made it into schools. To mark World Book Day, which we celebrated on the first day of women’s history month, Votes For Schools, a voting platform for schools, in collaboration with Let Toys Be Toys, a campaign promoting gender equality in the toy and publishing industries, published a lesson plan for primary schools asking the question “Do bestselling books encourage sexism?”

Votes For Schools then put this question to primary school pupils and got an interesting result: 79% of students said “No” and only 21% said “Yes”. But another vote on “Do we need more female villains in books?” tells a bit of a different story: the result is 67.5% “Yes” and 32.5% “No”. The response further revealed that 80% of female pupils wanted more female villains in books compared to 54% of male voters.

Books for boys and books for girls

Stories in which male heroes go through all sorts of adventures before they come to the rescue of the beautiful, but passive, princesses are all too familiar. The Observer newspaper collaborated with Nielsen research on a large market study which found that lead characters were 50% more likely to be male than female, and male villains were eight times more likely to appear compared to female villains. This kind of gender stereotyping is, however, just a continuation of a tradition established in children’s literature much earlier than that.

It was in the latter half of the 19th century that booksellers and book reviewers – “the cultural gate-keepers” as the American literary critic Anne Lundin calls them – started to distinguish between reading suitable for boys and that for girls. At the beginning of the 19th century, the book market was much more general, it did not even clearly delineate between adult and child readers.

From the 1880s, The Times newspaper started to devote separate review essays to literature for boys and for girls. Lundin notes it was rather critical particularly of the books addressed at girls – and it was not the quality of writing that was criticised so much as the subject matter: “Writing for girls … lacked the dynamism of boys’ books.”

Good girls and brave boys

Research at the University of Birmingham looks at gender in children’s literature with the help of corpus linguistic methods. As part of the GLARE project, which explores gender in children’s literature from a cognitive corpus stylistic perspective, a specialised corpus of 19th-century children’s books has been collected. This collection of 71 books was selected to represent what has been called the “Golden Age” of English children’s literature and contains classics such as Alice in Wonderland and The Water Babies.

A quick look in the GLARE corpus confirms observations on bias of gender representation. Among the books written by female authors, there are only seven where the word “girl” is used much more frequently than “boy”. Among the books by male authors, there are only two where “girl” is used more frequently than “boy”.

The highest relative frequency of “girl” is in the 1886 book A World of Girls: The Story of a School by the female author L. T. Meade. The book was greeted by The Academy review journal on publication (November 20, 1886) as “light and pleasant reading” with “many a quiet, useful hint about the education and general training of young girls”. The highest relative frequency of the occurrence of “boy” can be found in the 1858 cautionary tale Eric, Or, Little by Little: A Tale of Roslyn School by Frederic William Farrar.

But women who wrote books for children also often dealt with male worlds – the relative frequency of “boy” is similarly high in the 1883 novel Jackanapes by the female writer Juliana Horatia Ewing. A review described it as: “The wistful tale of heroic sacrifice in which the orphaned son of a Waterloo cavalry officer … dies saving the life of his childhood friend on the field of battle.”

These books are good examples of reading expectations of boys and girls at the time – and the following selection from the corpus provides us with some insights.

Examples of ‘girl’ in the GLARE corpus retrieved with CLiC.
Birmingham University, Author provided

In these examples, girls are well behaved and beautiful – and they certainly appear inferior to boys. Boys are strong and brave and ready for the adventures ahead of them. But boys are also trouble sometimes. In many respects, this has not changed much.

Examples of ‘boy’ in the GLARE corpus retrieved with CLiC.
Birmingham University, Author provided

Wicked witches and evil queens

Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.
John Tenniel

Male villains in children’s books outnumber their female counterparts. In fact, not everyone might easily come up with a top ten list like that of the British author MG Leonard. Her list features the likes of Mrs Wormwood in Matilda, Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter, Cruella de Vil in The Hundred and One Dalmatians or Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials.

The female villain is usually represented as a witch – as the White Witch from Narnia – or a queen, as the wicked queen in Snow White or the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Witches embody an unattractive (often old), powerful female figure who is turned to for advice or help when everything else fails – as with the witch in the Little Mermaid fairy tale. Witches are feared and excluded from society, as illustrated in this example from The Book of Dragons (1899) by Edith Nesbit quoted from the GLARE corpus:

And besides a King he was an enchanter, and considered to be quite at the top of his profession, so he was very wise, and he knew that when Kings and Queens want children, the Queen always goes to see a witch. So he gave the Queen the witch’s address, and the Queen called on her, though she was very frightened and did not like it at all. The witch was sitting by a fire of sticks, stirring something bubbly in a shiny copper cauldron.

The ConversationChildren’s books are not only fiction. They provide vital opportunities for children to make sense of their own world. How many more women’s history months will it take to see a greater variety of fictional female characters, not just beautiful princesses, good girls and evil queens?

Anna Cermakova, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Centre for Corpus Research, University of Birmingham and Michaela Mahlberg, Professor of Corpus Linguistics, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Book inscriptions reveal the forgotten stories of female war heroes



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Librakv/Shuttestock

Lauren O’ Hagan, Cardiff University

Open up a book from the late 19th or early 20th century and chances are that you will find an inscription inside the front cover. Often, they are nothing more than handwritten names that state who owned the book, though some are a little more elaborate, with personalised designs used to denote hobbies and interests, tell jokes or even warn against theft of the book.

While seemingly insignificant markers of ownership, book inscriptions offer important material evidence of the various institutions, structures and tastes of Edwardian society, and act as tangible indicators of class and social mobility in early 20th century Britain. They can also reveal vast amounts of information on how both attitudes of ownership and readership varied according to geographical location, gender, age and occupation at this time.

My research involves collecting these inscriptions from secondhand books and working with archives to delve into the human stories behind these ownership marks. I am particularly interested in “everyday” Edwardians – the miner, the servant, the clerk – who are so often forgotten by time, yet played an essential role in ensuring Britain ran smoothly during the war years.

My latest work has focused on the stories of the female heroes of World War I. They weren’t fighting on the battlefield but their contributions at home and abroad were nothing short of incredible. Using the inscription marks they left in books, censuses, local history, and Imperial War Museum archives, I have tracked several untold tales, two of which I’ve written about here.

Elizabeth Veronica Nisbet

Elizabeth Veronica Nisbet’s inscription inside her copy of George Du Maurier’s book.
Author provided

Elizabeth Veronica Nisbet was born in 1886 in Newcastle. The daughter of a colliery secretary, Nisbet was part of the lower-middle class that emerged in Britain at the end of the Victorian era. She studied art at Gateshead College before serving as a nurse with St John Ambulance and the Royal Victoria Infirmary.

In 1913, Nisbet’s father gave her a copy of the biography of cartoonist George Du Maurier, and inscribed it “with dear love”. Du Maurier was well-known for his cartoons in the satirical magazine Punch, which inspired Nisbet’s own artwork. Just one year after receiving the book, World War I broke out and Nisbet headed to France to aid wounded soldiers at St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples. This hospital was the largest to serve the British Expeditionary Force in France and treated over 35,000 casualties.

Throughout these troubled times, Nisbet’s passion for art was her salvation: she kept a scrapbook of cartoons, sketches and photos, which provide an insight into wartime Étaples and the vital work of the female nurses. Looking at her artwork, it is clear that she was strongly influenced by the cartoon style of Du Maurier, suggesting that the book remained a treasured artefact to her while she was serving in France.

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Today Nisbet’s work is kept at the Museum of the Order of St John in London. After the war, she returned to Newcastle and worked again as a nurse until the 1920s when she became a full-time artist, travelling regularly to the US and Canada to showcase her work. She died in 1979 at the age of 93.

Gabrielle de Montgeon

Born in France in 1876, Gabrielle de Montgeon moved to England in 1901 and lived in Eastington Hall in Upton-on-Severn throughout her adult life. She was the daughter of a count of Normandy and part of the upper class of Edwardian society.

Gabrielle De Montgeon’s bookplate.
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Her affluence is showcased in the privately-commissioned bookplate found inside her copy of the 1901 Print Collector’s Handbook. The use of floral wreaths and decorative banderoles in her plate – both features of the fashionable art nouveau style of the period – mimic the style of many of the prints in her book. This demonstrates the close relationship that Edwardians had between reading and inscribing.

Stepping out of her upper class life, during World War I, de Montgeon served in the all-female Hackett-Lowther Ambulance Unit as an assistant director to Toupie Lowther – the famous British tennis player who had established the unit. The unit consisted of 20 cars and 25-30 women drivers, who operated close to the front lines of battles in Compiegne, France. De Montgeon donated ambulances and was responsible for the deployment of drivers. After the war, she returned to Eastington Hall and led a quiet life, taking up farming, before passing away in 1944, aged 68.

The ConversationConsidering the testing circumstances of war, the survival of these two books (and their inscriptions) is a remarkable feat. While buildings no longer stand, communities have passed on, and grass on the bloody battlefields grows once more, these books keep the memories of Nisbet and de Montgeon alive. They stand as a testimony of the unsettling victory of material objects over the temporality of the people that once owned them and the places in which they formerly dwelled.

Lauren O’ Hagan, PhD candidate in Language and Communication, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The evolution of female pen-names from Currer Bell to J.K. Rowling


Michelle Smith, Deakin University

Last month author Catherine Nichols went public with her account of sending her novel manuscript to literary agents under a male pseudonym. A writing sample sent to 50 agents in her own name resulted in only two manuscript requests. Seventeen out of 50 agents requested the same materials from “George Leyer”.

Were the agents exhibiting a subconscious gender bias that assumes the superiority of male authors? Or were they responding to the practicalities of a reviewing culture and audience that can overlook or even reject women’s literature?

Women’s fiction is reviewed less often than men’s in major publications. Even though women buy two thirds of all books sold in the UK, they are much less likely to be reviewing books in male-dominated literary magazines.

And some audiences, such as young boys, are presumed to be entirely unwilling to read books written by women. J.K. Rowling’s publisher felt that an obviously female name like “Joanne” would dissuade boys from reading the debut Harry Potter novel.

The unpublished Rowling was simply happy to be published and said in an interview that “they could have called me Enid Snodgrass”. But Enid Snodgrass would have had the same sales handicap as Joanne Rowling—a woman’s name.

Most discussions of contemporary women writers who have adopted male pseudonyms or initials to mask their sex draw connections between these writers and a long line of literary women, such as the Brontë sisters and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), who have published under assumed names.

What is less recognised is that the cultural reasons behind women writers concealing their names have shifted dramatically since the nineteenth century.

Today female names vanish to avoid industry and reader perceptions of what women’s fiction is like. Historically, in the British tradition, female names were hidden because of the perceived inappropriateness of women writing novels.
To understand this difference, it is important to know that the very act of reading novels was heavily policed for girls and women in the nineteenth century.

In The Woman Reader, Kate Flint shows how girls’ and women’s reading, especially of material deemed frivolous or escapist, was a subject of great public concern and debate. Any novel reading that might detract from a woman’s role as a wife and mother within the home was perceived as a threat to the very foundation of society.

Likewise, women authors challenged expectations of women’s domestic and maternal roles. Budding writer Charlotte Brontë received the following comments in a discouraging letter from English poet laureate Robert Southey in 1837:

Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity.

Jane Austen published her first novel in 1811. The four novels that were published during her lifetime appeared anonymously, as were those of many early women writers. Although women who wrote educative or didactic fiction, such as Maria Edgeworth, or less respected genres such as the Gothic romance, as in the case of Ann Radcliffe, were not similarly compelled to hide their gender or identity.

From the twentieth century onwards, women novelists’ use of pseudonyms seems to have acquired a more focused purpose: to avoid pre-judgement of women’s fiction as inferior. V.S. Naipaul has embarrassingly said that no woman writer is his equal and that “within a paragraph or two” he knows whether a work “is by a woman or not”.

Naipaul might have found a friend in Henry Lawson. Lawson read Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career in manuscript form and wrote to Franklin eagerly: “Will you write and tell me what you really are? Man or woman?” When the novel was published in 1901, in his preface Lawson rewrites history: “I hadn’t read three pages when I saw what you will no doubt see at once — that the story had been written by a girl”.

The most enduring fictions of literary history hold that a woman writer’s voice is readily detectable and less perceptive and sophisticated than a man’s. These ideas buttress more recent views about narratives by women about girls’ and women being of interest to female readers only.

The use of a male pseudonym or ambiguous initials removes the gender prejudiced lens through which much women’s fiction is viewed. Yet it does not help to transform that prejudice as it is exhibited in literary magazines and reader “preferences” in certain genres of fiction.

As the majority of books are read by women, there must be a way for us to influence the publishing industry and reviewing practices that shape literary culture.

The Conversation

Michelle Smith is Research fellow in English Literature at Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.