Victorian women poets of WW1: capturing the reverberations of loss



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Nettie Palmer’s ’s 1916 poem, Birds, was a love song from a wife to a soldier-husband.
photographer unknown. State Library of Victoria

Kevin Brophy, University of Melbourne

Just as fiction’s George Smiley made sense of the world – and even made his baffling way about a world at war through knowing the works of minor German poets – our own very real Michael Sharkey (who has an equally resonant and unlikely name) has found that his passion for a certain strain of minor poets also intersects with history, war, intrigue, political resistance and troubling nationalism.

His remarkable new anthology, Many Such as She: Victorian Australian Women Poets of World War One, arose from Sharkey’s interest in civilian poets’ responses to the war that produced those soldier poets still gracing school and university curriculums a century on.

But why civilian poets, and why women? In the spirit of redress, Sharkey has uncovered expressions of how the war felt, how it was imagined, and how it was negotiated as a moral, political and deeply personal though socially shared phenomenon by those who were doubly separated from the conflict — through being so far away in Australia, and by the fact of being women.

Paradoxically, such a project, he suggests, makes a lot more sense and is closer to home for Australians than reading anthologies of poems by British soldier-poets. Like the best writers and researchers, Sharkey went about producing the book that he wanted to read.

We know that difficult times and extreme events can take us to poetry, and perhaps this impulse was embraced in the early 20th century with more grace, confidence and a deeper conviction of what is fitting than could have been the case earlier or later, especially among women.

A natural expression of thought and emotion

As an anthology of largely unrecognised minor poets, the reader’s interest is inevitably drawn to the limitations of the works selected, and to their representative significance. It seems that many women were not only capable of turning to poetry, but that there was something natural, even expected about this avenue to public expressions of thought and emotion. Sharkey notes in his introduction that the 24 women poets included, and the many others whose poetry was not, were consistently eloquent and technically competent, a testimony to the high standards of education early in the 20th century.

Universal education though, brings with it inevitable nudging towards “prevailing tastes” and narrowing of the imagination. These poets, working with readers’ and editors’ expectations, were themselves heirs to 19th century English traditions in poetry. Hence, as Sharkey observes, much of this minor poetry tends to read to us now as “lilting or lolloping”.

Against this observation (and taking a lesson from it), the current vogue for a colloquial, free verse in English language poetry might read in the future as a sign of how far contemporary poetry has drifted from song and lyric.

Some lines that might suffice as an example of the skill and musicality in this poetry come from Nettie Palmer’s 1916 poem, Birds, a love song from a wife to a soldier-husband, written when Nettie lived at Emerald in the Dandenongs.

The rhyming on a falling meter at the moment of each stanza’s inserted couplet, together with the dramatically long line following a two-beat line, work to bring both delicacy and the sense of a faltering, yearning spirit to lines that can’t help but touch our hearts:

At morning, when white clouds like leaves drop down
Filling the hollows,
And make vast, milk-white lakes and silence follows,
There on a stump some laughing jackass clown
Stiller than wood thought all the world his own.
But all the world was ours! The birds were ours,
Because we knew them,
The trees were ours, because our love passed through them,
And every dome of cloud and all the flowers
And mountain mists that built our silent bowers.
Enough, we had been jubilant too long,
The gods have judged us,
Such vital joy their tranquil eyes begrudged us.
You fight in France: here when the thrushes throng
How can I bear alone to hear their song.

The poetry in the anthology ranges, as we would expect, from imperialistic nationalism rife with improving sentiments and sentimentality all the way to poetry of open protest against the war. In the many nuances of reaction between these extremes, Sharkey perceives that the sheer quantity of poetry by women in response to that war “pointed to a catastrophic intellectual and emotional crisis experienced by the poets.”

There was so much of this poetry that any plan to publish it would be not only grandiose, but uneconomic. Hence, the interestingly narrowed state focus of this anthology: Victorian Australian women poets: presented in alphabetical order, with each poet introduced by several pages of historical context and life history (each one meticulously referenced).

Wit and sympathy

Beatrice Vale Bevan.
Photographer unknown. State Library of Victoria.

Beatrice Vale Bevan (1876-1945) is one of those whose poetry might lilt and lollop through its paces, but nevertheless what shines through is her wit, her sympathy and her plainly human reaching towards a language that might come somewhere near sensing and expressing how deplorable death had become.

At the end of her poem debating William Locke’s statement, “Human nature is only capable of a certain amount of deploring”, in the poem that offers the book its surtitle (Many Such as She), Bevan reflects upon the flowers on the twin graves of a soldier in France and his young widow at home who, it seems, had suicided: the final stanza goes:

And he and Margaret, now above,
(since heaven’s above?) no loss deplore,
But love each other more and more!
Why say we ‘dead?’ ‘Immortal dead!’
‘Immortal living!’ some have said,
When was this violet in my hand,
When summer scorched and dried the land?

Martha Coxhead, photo by J. Ward Symons Studio, Footscray, 1916.
Courtesy of Maxwell Coxhead.

As the wife of a high ranking Congregational minister and school headmaster, Beatrice’s climactic questions, and even her asides, are hard won and bravely spoken, and do go some considerable way towards expressing a vision of widening circles of deplorable grief that a war leaves in its wake.

Among those whose poetry sees death and life as equally noble when offered to the cause of the empire, are Marion Bray (1885-1947) who offers in a short poem a simple pair of knitted socks to a soldier far away, Muriel Beverley Cole, Martha Coxhead, Violet Cramer and others.

War sprung sprightly into tripping verse

Mary Bright, a deeply committed poet and spiritualist with many publications in her lifetime, and like several of the women here, one who had lost her husband and a nephew and cousins to the war, was unafraid of imagining herself into the maddened, bewildered and patriotic minds of soldiers being killed and maimed on the battle fronts:

… we couldn’t find our mates.
They were all scattered far and wide
Through death’s untimely gates.
…. We didn’t want to die—for fame
Nor for glory did we care.
We had to go, our country called—
We did but do our share.

-From Pozières

‘E’ — Mary E. Fullerton, photo by Marietta Studio, Melbourne. Australasian, 3 July 1925, p. 14.
State Library of Victoria.

It can be difficult to know what to make of such verse. It can be a chilling experience to find that war sprung so sprightly into tripping verses. But this would be, perhaps, to mistake the tone of public literary activity in these years.

The poetry does not pretend to more than papering over what is beyond the deplorable and nearly beyond meaning. We do read tragedy between the lines here, and there is no reason this would not have been the case in 1916, perhaps especially through the prism of awareness regarding imposed and self-dictated censorship in public utterances.

Outspokenness

This situation makes the poetry of Mary Fullerton (1868-1946) remarkable for its outspokenness:

In many a cot the woman,
With the babe on her shelt’ring breast,
Is nursing his limbs for battle
A-crooning her son to rest.
All over the world the women
Give service and love and life;
While over the world the tyrants
Are brewing the brew of strife.

-From The Targets

Among the bereft was Phyllis Lewis (1894-1986), a gifted teacher and briefly fiancée to a certain Robert Menzies.

Lieutenant Raymond Lade and Phyllis Lewis (wedding photo), 20 April 1920. Photograph by David Livingston Muntz, Glenferrie Road, Malvern.
Courtesy of Penny Lade.

Her one published poem, 1918, was a eulogy to her brother Owen, killed in a plane accident near Amiens: “Oh lawless howling wind—/Oh darkness none can lift—Oh hopeless night—/Oh gibbering shadows making heavy flight—/Oh soundless gloom of mind!” her long four-part poem goes when she must face what the war took from her and her family.

Recently my father died and I have inherited some boxes of papers that detail a kind of family history. Among these papers is the telegram informing my grandmother that her son, my father’s brother, died in action in New Guinea in the last week of WWII on that island.

This loss hung over my grandmother and over the whole of her family, for that war really could not stop reverberating until they died with this loss still in them. Such reverberations are the true subject matter of this anthology, and giving them our attention might be more important than we could ever suppose.

Sharkey is to be thanked for finding a way to present these 24 poets to Victorians and to Australians, and for giving us another way to understand and hear our own history. Walleah Press have done a fine job of packaging the anthology as a sturdy paperback.

Many such as She: Victorian Australian Women Poets of World War One, is edited by Michael Sharkey and published by Walleah Press.The Conversation

Kevin Brophy, Emeritus Professor of Creative writing, University of Melbourne

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

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A brief history of science writing shows the rise of the female voice



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Women played a role as both readers and authors in the history of science writing.
Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Robyn Arianrhod, Monash University

Three centuries ago, when modern science was in its infancy, the gender disparity in education was not a gap but an abyss: few girls had any decent schooling at all.

The emerging new science was clearly a male enterprise.

But it arose from a sense of curiosity, and women, too, are curious. If you look closely enough, it’s clear women played an important role, as both readers and authors, in the history of science writing.

New vs old ideas

Both science and science writing were up for grabs in the 17th century. Technology was rudimentary and researchers struggled to obtain even the simplest observational evidence, and then searched for ways to make sense of it.




Read more:
How not to write about science


You can see this struggle in the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei’s famous Dialogues of 1632 and 1638. He painstakingly and somewhat tortuously tries to justify his arguments for heliocentrism – in which the planets go around the Sun – and the nature of motion and gravity.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Engraved by R Hart and published in The Gallery Of Portraits With Memoirs encyclopedia, United Kingdom, 1833.
Shutterstock/Georgios Kollidas

Tortuously, not only because he was bending over backwards to please the censors – heliocentrism was held to defy scripture – but especially because most of the experiments, methods, and even the mathematical symbolism of modern science did not yet exist.

So although yesteryear’s scientific content was simple compared with today’s overwhelming complexity, Galileo’s Dialogues show that the lack of data, methods and scientific language presented its own problems for science communication.

Conversation in science

Galileo resorted to the Socratic device of a conversation, in which he debated his ideas in a long dialogue between an innovative philosopher, Salviati, and two (male) friends.

In trying to convince even the least scientifically learned of his interlocutors, Galileo was writing what we might call popular science (although the more complex parts of the 1638 Dialogue read more like a textbook).

There were no scientific journals then, and there wasn’t quite the same distinction between the announcement of scientific discoveries to colleagues and the communication of those ideas to a wider public.

Perhaps the first mass-market popular science book was another dialogue related to heliocentrism, Frenchman Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle’s 1686 Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds.

It was a runaway success that helped non-specialists accept the Copernican system – a Sun-centred solar system – rather than the time-honoured, seemingly self-evident geocentric one with Earth at the centre.

The hero of Fontenelle’s story, too, is a male philosopher – but this time he is conversing with a pretty marquise, who is spirited and quick to grasp new facts. Although its style was flirtatious, Fontenelle’s book was a significant recognition that women are curious and intelligent.

Science gets complex

Then, the very next year, everything changed. The English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton published his monumental Principia Mathematica. Suddenly science became a whole lot more complex.

Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Engraved by E Scriven and published in The Gallery Of Portraits With Memoirs encyclopedia, United Kingdom, 1837.
Shutterstock/Georgios Kollidas

For instance, Fontenelle’s explanation of the cause of heliocentrism had been based on Frenchman René Descartes’ notion that the planets were swept around the Sun by gargantuan cosmic ethereal vortices.

Newton replaced this influential but unproven idea with his predictive theory of gravity, and of motion in general, which he developed in 500 dense pages of axioms, observational evidence, and a heap of mathematics.

Principia provided the modern blueprint for experimentally based, quantitative, testable theories – and it showed the fundamental role of mathematics in the language of physics.

The trouble was that only the best mathematicians could understand it. It was so innovative (and tortuous in its own way) that some of the greatest of Newton’s peers were sceptical, and it took many decades for his theory of gravity to become universally accepted in Europe.

Science writers played a key role in this process.

Something ‘for ladies’

The earliest popularisations of Newton’s work were short or semi-technical, such as that by the French mathematician Pierre-Louis Moreau Maupertuis.

In the 1730s, Maupertuis tutored a real-life marquise, Émilie du Châtelet, but she was of a very different calibre from Fontenelle’s fictional student – or indeed the curious but rather flighty marquise in another mass market popularisation: the Italian Francesco Algarotti’s Newtonianism for “the ladies”.

Translated from the original French: l newtonianismo per le dame ovvero dialoghi sopra la luce e i colori.
Google Books

Newtonianism here referred not just to Newton’s theory of gravity. As its somewhat patronising title might suggest, it focused mostly on his more accessible 1704 work, Opticks, which explains his experiments on the behaviour of light and the nature of colour. But these, too, were controversial, and Algarotti was an expert in optics.

He had been inspired to address “the ladies” by two outstanding female contemporaries: his French mathematical friend Émilie du Châtelet, and the Italian physicist Laura Bassi. But both women disliked his book’s flirtatious style.

An oil painting of Madame Du Châtelet at her desk.
Wikimedia

Du Châtelet and her lover Voltaire were writing their own more serious (and non-gendered) popularisation of Newton’s work. Du Châtelet later wrote a very successful popular synthesis of the scientific ideas of Newton and his German rival Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – Bassi used the Italian translation of it in her own teaching.

Du Châtelet then went on to produce the first translation of Principia outside Britain – an insightful work that is also interesting in the context of popular science writing. She appended a 110-page commentary, summarising Newton’s method in everyday language, and explaining more recent applications of his theory.

The self-taught science writers

Nearly a century later, the Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville felt the same compulsion to reach out to the non-specialist reader – male and female – in the introduction to her book explaining the latest developments of Newton’s theory, Mechanism of the Heavens.

Oil painting of Mary Somerville who was a largely self-taught in science.
National Galleries of Scotland

It is worth celebrating the fact that Somerville’s Mechanism was used at Cambridge as an advanced textbook in celestial mechanics – and at a time when women were not allowed to attend university.

Like Du Châtelet, Somerville was mostly self-taught. She understood the importance of science writing in educating the public, especially those denied formal education, and went on to write two best-selling popular science books: On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences and Physical Geography.

Another successful British female science writer in the early 19th century was Jane Marcet. Unlike those of Du Châtelet and Somerville, Marcet’s two books – Conversations on Chemistry and Conversations on Natural Philosophy – were aimed particularly at women.

They were built around conversations between two teenage girls and their female teacher. Unlike Fontenelle’s and Algarotti’s works for “the ladies”, these books were down-to-earth, non-patronising attempts to educate women in practical chemistry and physics.

But like those of Fontenelle and Algarotti, Marcet’s books proved popular with male lay readers, too – including the self-taught British physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, who went on to become co-discoverer of electromagnetism.




Read more:
Let there be light! Celebrating the theory of electromagnetism


Biology was also progressing in the 19th century, but this had a downside for women. The discovery that women had smaller brains was used to reinforce the stereotype that women were incapable of intellectual study.

Somerville wrote movingly on how this affected her life. She would have been thrilled to read this year’s book by female neuroscientist Gina Rippon, The Gendered Brain, which asserts that brain plasticity and connectivity should displace old notions of gendered brains.

Do women and men have different brains? An interview with Gina Rippon.

Rippon’s is one of a growing number of female-authored popular science books on all aspects of science, and it is also an example of how women can contribute important new perspectives to scientific topics.

Another example is the ecological perspective of pioneering biologist and science writer Rachel Carson, whose 1962 Silent Spring played a leading role in launching the modern environmental movement.

Scientific understanding is often driven initially by a reductionist approach, and Carson was the first to clearly point out the role of artificial pesticides on the whole food chain.




Read more:
Who writes science and technology stories? More men than women


Then there’s the question of ethics in science. Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the little-known story of the 1951 illegal harvesting and selling of cells from poor black farmer Henrietta Lacks.

Having diverse voices of all kinds in science and science writing is a good thing for science, as even a brief look at history shows. As far as women’s participation goes, we’ve come a long way.

But we still need more women to help shape and tell the story of science.The Conversation

Robyn Arianrhod, Adjunct Associate , School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University

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

PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award


The link below is to an article reporting on the awarding of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award to a group of persecuted Saudi women.

For more visit:
https://pen.org/press-release/imprisoned-saudi-writer-activists-womens-rights-champions-receive-freedom-to-write-award-2019-gala/

Books and Relationships


The link below is to an article that reports on books, women and relationships. It is one of those articles I regard as nonsense, still, make up your own mind.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2019/feb/11/shelf-policing-how-books-and-cacti-make-women-too-spiky-for-men

Four women poets who will take you on an alternative journey through Welsh history



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Alexander Gold/Shutterstock

Rhea Seren Phillips, Swansea University

Poetry has played an important role in the history of Wales. From the medieval courts, to the ongoing National Eisteddfod (the largest music and poetry festival in Europe), writers have used verse to document the land’s culture. But while male writers, such as the 12th century poets of the princes and more recently Dylan Thomas, have presented one perspective of Welsh history and culture, female poets have documented a very different take on Wales through the centuries. Here are four who bring a different perspective.

1. Gwerful Mechain (est.1462-1500)

Gwerful Mechain is one of the few Welsh medieval poets from whom a substantial body of work has survived to this day. One of the loudest voices speaking up for women of the time, Mechain was also one of the first poets in Wales to write about domestic abuse. To Her Husband for Beating Her is a poignant and powerful poem full of enraged language and energetic imagery.

Born into a noble family, Mechain was free to explore her own poetic interests without the pressure of securing patronage, unlike many of her male contemporaries. She became a prolific writer who was not restricted to one style. Her work includes religious, humorous and socially conscious poetry. One of her most well-known works, To the Vagina, chastises her male counterparts for praising a woman’s body from her hair to her feet but ignoring one hidden feature. She was bold and did not shy away from what some may consider crude imagery, as in her poem, To the Maid as she Shits.

This extract, in Welsh then English, is from Cywydd y cedor (The Female Genitals):

Pob rhyw brydydd, dydd dioed,
Mul frwysg, wladiadd rwysg erioed,
Noethi moliant, nis gwarantwyf,
Anfeidrol reiol, yr wyf

Every poet, drunken fool,
Thinks he is just the king of cool,
(Everyone is such a boor,
He makes me so sick, I’m so demure)

2. Katherine Philips (c.1632 – c.1664)

Born in London, Katherine Philips – who later wrote under the moniker “The Matchless Orinda” – moved to Wales when she was around 15 years old. From her home in Cardigan she became a significant female British poet, as well as the first woman to have a commercial play staged, Pompey.

Despite the stigma against women publishing their work, Philips succeeded by circulating handwritten letters and volumes, as her male contemporaries did, while upholding supposedly feminine virtues such as humility and chastity in her works.

Though she was married with two sons, much discussion around Philips’ poetry and life concentrates on whether she was or was not a lesbian. The emotional focus of her poetry was often on women and the passionate relationships she had with them. Regardless of Philips’ own sexual orientation, her work was the first British poetry to express same-sex love between women.

3. Sarah Jane Rees (“Cranogwen”) (1839–1916)

Sarah Jane Rees (also known by the bardic name Cranogwen) is perhaps one of the most pioneering poets in this list. Born in Llangrannog, west Wales, she spurned all attempts to enforce gender stereotypes – her family wanted her to work as a dressmaker – and instead joined her father on board his ship for two years after leaving school. She continued her education, eventually gaining her master mariner certificate. Returning home by the age of 21, Cranogwen fought against opposition to run her old school, and taught children as well as providing navigation and seamanship education to young men.

In 1865 she entered the Eisteddfod festival as Cranogwen with
Y Fodrwy Briodasal (The Wedding Ring), a satirical poem about a married woman’s destiny. When she was announced as the first woman to win the prize, there was disgust from the established and renowned male writers who had been competing. Cranogwen became famous overnight and a collection of her poems was released in 1870.

The following lines are taken from My Friend:

Ah! Annwyl chwaer, ‘r wyt ti i mi,
Fel lloer I’r lli, yn gyson;
Dy ddilyn heb orphwyso wna
Serchiadau pura’m calon

Oh! My dear sister, you to me
As the moon to the sea, constantly,
Following you restlessly are
My heart’s pure affections

4. Lynette Roberts (1909-1995)

Lynette Roberts was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to parents of Welsh origin. A friend of Dylan Thomas, during World War II Roberts moved to Carmarthenshire with her then husband, journalist and poet Keidrych Rhys, and stayed in Wales for the rest of her life.

Although now her work is seeing a resurgence, for a long time Roberts has been overlooked. She was a poet ahead of her time and her use of language is refreshing. Roberts was influenced by the rich colours and landscape of her childhood, which she entwined with the rural landscape and culture of Wales during a time of upheaval – World War II.

Roberts’s poem Swansea Raid is perhaps one of her most powerful and insightful works. It depicts a snapshot of a relationship between herself and fellow villager Rosie and the tension between war and home. The changing technological world of war brought out warm, colourful language in her work, setting the colloquialisms of quiet, rural Wales against the starkness of bombing and constant threat of loss. Her most influential work has to be the heroic poem Gods with Stainless Ears, on the war’s disruption of domestic life.

This verse is from Roberts’ 1944 Poem from Llanybri:

Then I’ll do the lights, fill the lamp with oil,
Get coal from the shed, water from the well;
Pluck and draw pigeon, with crop of green foil
This your good supper from the lime-tree fell.The Conversation

Rhea Seren Phillips, PhD Researcher in Welsh Poetry, Swansea University

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

A must-read list: The enduring contributions of African American women writers



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Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen are on this short list of enduring must-read writers.
Left to right: Nobel Prize, U.S. Library of Congress, Yale archive

Nancy Kang, University of Manitoba

In Mules and Men (1935), anthropologist, creative writer and Harlem Renaissance upstart Zora Neale Hurston relays the evocative folktale “Why the Sister in Black Works Hardest.” Fatigued after the work of Creation, God casts a massive bundle onto the earth. Intrigued by the mysterious object, a white Southern woman during the antebellum era asks her husband to retrieve it. Reluctant to tote the load himself, the master instructs a slave to fetch it.

Soon wearied of the task, the slave then commands his wife to shoulder the burden. She does so, excited at the prospect of exploring the contents. When she opens the package, however, what leaps out at her and Black women for all posterity is none other than hard work.

Ann Petry (right) was interviewed after she won a fiction award for ‘The Street.’
All-American news 4 / All American news IV / All-American news reel no. 4/Library of Congress

African American women writers have tackled the hard work of representing a diverse spectrum of lived and imagined experiences, including and especially their own. This labour occurs against the backdrop of centuries-long struggles with racist oppression and gender-based violence, including — but not limited to — slavery’s culture of endemic rape, forced or interrupted motherhood, infanticide, concubinage, fractured families and egregious physical and mental abuse.

Hard work as groundwork

Renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass recalls in his 1845 slave narrative how witnessing the serial whippings of his Aunt Hester impacted him “with awful force.” He explains, “it was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle.”

These ordeals also emerge in slave narratives by women. Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) emphasizes such travails. A target of relentless sexual harassment by her much-older master, Jacobs laments, “When they told me my new-born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women.”

Once emancipated, African American women still faced staggering impediments when pursuing educational, entrepreneurial and employment opportunities. Political participation meant restrictions on voting rights both as women and as people of colour. Racist caricatures impugned everything from a woman’s intelligence and moral capacity to her skin color, texture of hair and body shape. Stereotypes like the docile Mammy, the Tragic Mulatta, the clownish Topsy, the oversexed Jezebel, the greedy Welfare Queen, the amoral Hoodrat and the Mad Black Woman (still prevalent today) remain testaments to a history of disrespect and erasure.

Hurston’s tale symbolizes the enduring social struggles Black women have faced living in what feminist critic bell hooks has termed white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In addition to influential autobiographers like Maya Angelou, dramatists like Lorraine Hansberry and poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, fiction writers have consistently demonstrated how imaginative art can simultaneously inform, persuade, entertain, catalyze social change and address individual as well as collective concerns.

Here is a short list of pivotal texts by African American women from the past century. These writers are but a small sample of the artists and intellectuals whose output resisted the force of what contemporary feminist critic Moya Bailey has termed misogynoir, or the corrosive fusion of anti-Blackness and misogyny prevalent in popular culture today. These women have completed the groundwork — and hard work — of envisioning a more just, inclusive society going forward.

Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) by Nella Larsen

These novellas follow mixed-race women whose uneasy status on the colour line (including the lure of passing as white) complicates their lives in dangerous, even fatal ways. Passing is revolutionary for its depiction of homoerotic tension between two upper-middle-class Black women. Quicksand offers insight into the exoticization of African American women abroad and the contest between art and domesticity as viable avenues for a fulfilling life.


Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston

This story is the lyrical account of thrice-married Janie Crawford who finds a mature vision of love and fulfillment amid incessant gossip and a difficult family history. The all-Black township of Eatonville, Fla., and the rich “muck” of the Everglades contribute to a portrait of community health, daily striving and resolute self-awareness.


The Street (1946) by Ann Petry

This social realist novel follows single mother Lutie Johnson as she attempts to make a life for her young son in a predatory urban space. Weathering sexism, racism, classism, poverty and intense personal frustration, Lutie attempts to resist the brutality of the environment that gives the novel its loaded name.


The Bluest Eye (1970) by Toni Morrison

This book is a searing portrait of a young girl’s coming-of-age and eventual undoing in the years following the Great Depression. Tumultuous family dynamics, psychological trauma and incest, the quest for compassion and self-love, and the toxic myth of Black ugliness coalesce in this first novel by the Nobel Laureate and author of neo-slave narrative Beloved (1987).


Kindred (1979) by Octavia Butler

Oscillating between the 1970s and the early 19th century, this science fiction odyssey (re)connects a contemporary Black woman writer and her white husband with her ancestors on a Maryland plantation. The novel is buoyed up by the dramatic tension of time travel and the juxtaposition of the pre-civil War Antebellum-era with Civil Rights-era racial attitudes, including those about interracial love and allyship.


The Women of Brewster Place (1982) by Gloria Naylor

Structured like a narrative quilt, these interconnected experiences of seven women span different generations, professions, class backgrounds and understandings of their place in the world. The eroded apartment complex that links them is the backdrop for unbearable pain as well as the promise of transformation and reconciliation.


The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker

A tale of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, this novel constellates their love and longing via letters and imagined conversations across the Atlantic. Unsparing in its critique of domestic violence and toxic masculinity, yet tender in its treatment of various human weaknesses, the novel underscores Black women’s need for self-regard and mutual care. Not only are these acts revolutionary, but they also offer a glimpse of the divine.The Conversation

Nancy Kang, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Canada Research Chair in Transnational Feminisms and Gender-Based Violence, University of Manitoba

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

Hidden women of history: Tarpe Mills, 1940s comic writer, and her feisty superhero Miss Fury



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Miss Fury had cat claws, stiletto heels and a killer make-up compact.
Author provided

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

In April 1941, just a few short years after Superman came swooping out of the Manhattan skies, Miss Fury – originally known as Black Fury – became the first major female superhero to go to print. She beat Charles Moulton Marsden’s Wonder Woman to the page by more than six months. More significantly, Miss Fury was the first female superhero to be written and drawn by a woman, Tarpé Mills.

Miss Fury’s creator – whose real name was June – shared much of the gritty ingenuity of her superheroine. Like other female artists of the Golden Age, Mills was obliged to make her name in comics by disguising her gender. As she later told the New York Post, “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.”

Yet, this trailblazing illustrator, squeezed out of the comic world amid a post-WW2 backlash against unconventional images of femininity and a 1950s climate of heightened censorship, has been largely excluded from the pantheon of comic greats – until now.

Comics then and now tend to feature weak-kneed female characters who seem to exist for the sole purpose of being saved by a male hero – or, worse still, are “fridged”, a contemporary comic book colloquialism that refers to the gruesome slaying of an undeveloped female character to deepen the hero’s motivation and propel him on his journey.

But Mills believed there was room in comics for a different kind of female character, one who was able, level-headed and capable, mingling tough-minded complexity with Mills’ own taste for risqué behaviour and haute couture gowns.

Tarpe Mills was obliged to make her name in comics during the 1940s by disguising her gender.
Author provided

Where Wonder Woman’s powers are “marvellous” – that is, not real or attainable – Miss Fury and her alter ego Marla Drake use their collective brains, resourcefulness and the odd stiletto heel in the face to bring the villains to justice.

A WW2 plane featuring an image of Miss Fury.
http://www.tarpemills.com

And for a time they were wildly successful.

Miss Fury ran a full decade from April 1941 to December 1951, was syndicated in 100 different newspapers at the height of her wartime fame, and sold a million copies an issue in reprints released by Timely (now Marvel) comics.

Pilots flew bomber planes with Miss Fury painted on the fuselage. Young girls played with paper doll cut outs featuring her extensive high fashion wardrobe.

An anarchic, ‘gender flipped’ universe

Miss Fury’s “origin story” offers its own coolly ironic commentary on the masculine conventions of the comic genre.

One night a girl called Marla Drake finds out that her friend Carol is wearing an identical gown to a masquerade party. So, at the behest of her maid Francine, she dons a skin tight black cat suit that – in an imperial twist, typical of the period – was once worn as a ceremonial robe by a witch doctor in Africa.

On the way to the ball, Marla takes on a gun-toting killer, using her cat claws, stiletto heels, and – hilariously – a puff of powder blown from her makeup compact to disarm the villain. She leaves him trussed up with a hapless and unconscious police detective by the side of the road.

Tarpe Mills with her beloved Persian cat.
Author provided

Miss Fury could fly a fighter plane when she had to, jumping out in a parachute dressed in a red satin ball gown and matching shoes. She was also a crack shot.

This was an anarchic, gender flipped, comic book universe in which the protagonist and principle antagonists were women, and in which the supposed tools of patriarchy – high heels, makeup and mermaid bottom ball gowns – were turned against the system. Arch nemesis Erica Von Kampf – a sultry vamp who hides a swastika-branded forehead behind a v-shaped blond fringe – also displayed amazing enterprise in her criminal antics.


Author provided

Invariably the male characters required saving from the crime gangs, the Nazis or merely from themselves. Among the most ingenious panels in the strip were the ones devoted to hapless lovelorn men, endowed with the kind of “thought bubbles” commonly found hovering above the heads of angsty heroines in romance comics.

By contrast, the female characters possessed a gritty ingenuity inspired by Noir as much as by the changed reality of women’s wartime lives. Half way through the series, Marla got a job, and – astonishingly, for a Sunday comic supplement – became a single mother, adopting the son of her arch nemesis, wrestling with snarling dogs and chains to save the toddler from a deadly experiment.

Mills claims to have modelled Miss Fury on herself. She even named Marla’s cat Peri-Purr after her own beloved Persian pet. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Mills grew up in a house headed by a single widowed mother, who supported the family by working in a beauty parlour. Mills worked her way through New York’s Pratt Institute by working as a model and fashion illustrator.

Censorship

In the end, ironically, it was Miss Fury’s high fashion wardrobe that became a major source of controversy.

In 1947, no less than 37 newspapers declined to run a panel that featured one of Mills’ tough-minded heroines, Era – a South American Nazi-Fighter who became a post-war nightclub entertainer – dressed as Eve, replete with snake and apple, in a spangled, two-piece costume.

This was not the only time the comic strip was censored. Earlier in the decade, Timely comics had refused to run a picture of the villainess Erica resplendent in her bath – surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.

Erica in the bath, surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.
Author provided.

But so many frilly negligées, cat fights, and shower scenes had escaped the censor’s eye. It’s not a leap to speculate that behind the ban lay the post-war backlash against powerful and unconventional women.

In wartime, nations had relied on women to fill the production jobs that men had left behind. Just as “Rosie the Riveter” encouraged women to get to work with the slogan “We Can Do It!”, so too the comparative absence of men opened up room for less conventional images of women in the comics.

A Miss Fury paper doll cut out.
Author provided

Once the war was over, women lost their jobs to returning servicemen. Comic creators were no longer encouraged to show women as independent or decisive. Politicians and psychologists attributed juvenile delinquency to the rise of unconventional comic book heroines and by 1954 the Comics Code Authority was policing the representation of women in comics, in line with increasingly conservative ideologies. In the 1950s, female action comics gave way to romance ones, featuring heroines who once again placed men at the centre of their existence.

Miss Fury was dropped from circulation in December 1951, and despite a handful of attempted comebacks, Mills and her anarchic creation slipped from public view.

Mills continued to work as a commercial illustrator on the fringes of a booming advertising industry. In 1971, she turned a hand to romance comics, penning a seven-page story that was published by Marvel, but it wasn’t her forte. In 1979, she began work on a graphic novel Albino Jo, which remains unfinished.

Despite her chronic asthma, Mills – like the reckless Noir heroine she so resembled – chain-smoked to the bitter end. She died of emphysema on December 12, 1988, and is buried in New Jersey under the simple inscription, “Creator of Miss Fury”.

This year Mills’ work will be belatedly recognised. As a recipient of the 2019 Eisner Award, she will finally take her place in the Comics Hall of Fame, alongside the male creators of the Golden Age who have too long dominated the history of the genre. Hopefully this will bring her comic creation the kind of notoriety, readership and big screen adventures she thoroughly deserves.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

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

2018 Women’s Poets’ Prize (United Kingdom)


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2018 Women’s Poets’ Prize, including the shortlist and winners of it.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/10/women-poets-prize-2018-inaugural-shortlist-nine-writers-uk/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/11/uk-inaugural-women-poets-prize-winners-begin-mentored-programs/

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/