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Ignored, patronized and mislabeled: Eliza Haywood and The Female Spectator

I have been reading a selection of articles from The Female Spectator in an edition selected and edited by Mary Priestley and published in 1929. The introduction is by the writer J B Priestley (1894–1984), who was Mary’s brother. Generally, introductions tend to display at least some respect for the author whose work follows. Priestley takes a different approach: he uses his introduction to demolish Haywood’s credibility, deny her talent, and belittle her achievement. The Female Spectator was conceived, written and edited by Eliza Haywood (1693?–1756). It was modelled on the Spectator, a paper run by Richard Steele and Joseph Addison from 1711 to 1712, but it broke new ground in being the first magazine for women written by women. It was, says Priestley, the “ancestress” of modern women’s periodicals, although “like an ancestress, it is of course wildly different from anything we know now.” Eliza Haywood, Priestley tells us, had   “tried her hand at many things” before she bec
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Spotlight On...George Abraham Gibbs (1873–1931)

Tyntesfield, near Wraxall, North Somerset   This is the view from our picnic spot when we had a day out at Tyntesfield just outside Bristol recently. Tyntesfield is now a National Trust property , but was once the home of Bristol MP George Abraham Gibbs.  George Abraham Gibbs (1873–1931) was the Conservative MP for Bristol West between 1906 and 1928. That meant he was in Parliament during the women’s suffrage campaign, and one of Bristol’s MPs at the height of suffragette militancy in the city. Gibbs, though, was opposed to women’s suffrage, and in 1910 voted against the Conciliation Bill which would have enfranchised some women. However, unlike his more unfortunate Liberal counterparts, he did not have to endure heckling and interruptions at his meetings, arson attacks on his homes, or thrashings such as the one suffragette Theresa Garnett gave Liberal MP Winston Churchill in Bristol in 1909. This was because the target of WSPU militancy was the government and its ministers, a

Inventing the Victorians

There’s an idea behind this book which I sympathise with, and that’s the way people too often accept myths about history for truth. The present uses the past to reflect its own ideologies and sensibilities: myths have their uses. Sweet suggests that the purpose of widely-accepted notions such as ‘the Victorians were dreadful prudes’ is “to satisfy our sense of ourselves as liberated Moderns”. There are other motives for devising historical myths, of course, such as the use of certain interpretations of history to uphold a particular political system or ideology. In the same way, how we view history is affected by stereotypes that linger in the present. However, if we are to base our opinions on the rock of what we know rather than the quicksand of what we think we know, it’s important to separate myth from reality. So I’m all for challenging historical myths and the stereotypes that often underpin them. It’s disappointing, then, to discover that the author draws the line at challen