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Showing posts from 2012

Suffragettes and the Old Brown Dog

When Mrs Pankhurst spoke at a suffrage meeting in Battersea Town Hall with local suffragette Charlotte Despard, she was puzzled by hecklers' calls for “the old brown dog”. Who was the old brown dog, and what connection did it have with the campaign for female suffrage? The old brown dog was the victim of vivisection at the hands of Professor William Bayliss (1860–1924) at University College London in 1903. Two female students witnessed   the procedure: Louise Lind-af-Hageby (1878–1963) and Liesa Schartau. Louise Lind-af-Hageby was born in Sweden but settled in England in 1902. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College before going on to study medicine with her friend Liesa Schartau.   The women noticed that the dog had already been subjected to one procedure. The law at that time forbade the use of an animal for more than one experiment; it had to be destroyed. They reported the incident to Stephen Coleridge (1854–1936) of the Anti-vivisection Society, who publicly accused

Late an Officer in the British Navy

One of the voyage accounts I read while writing my novel  To the Fair Land was The Adventures of Mark Moore: late an officer in the British Navy (1795).* Moore combined a naval career in British, American, Tuscan, Portuguese and Swedish services with a career in the theatre as an actor manager, touring Britain, France and Flanders. His was a rackety, wandering life which zigzagged between the sea and the stage, and from prosperity to bankruptcy. Moore was born in Boston, America in 1739. His father had emigrated from Ireland and was a wine merchant. He died when Moore was three. When the boy was thirteen he was sent to near-by Cambridge to study. “I did not waste much of the midnight oil,” he confessed. He was much more interested in spending time with Hallam’s theatrical company which was touring in Rhodes Island. Stage-struck, Moore ran away to join the company when they went to Barbados. Hallam’s company, founded by Lewis Hallam (1714-1756) and his wife (?-1773), was the first

Festive October in Bristol, Bath and Cheltenham

So the Bristol Literature Festival 2012 is over – and I almost wish it could have gone on for ever! (Though I’m sure the hard-working volunteer organisers must be glad they can have a well-deserved rest now.) It was a fantastic week of events with some great authors giving talks and readings – Helen Dunmore, Emylia Hall, Iain M Banks and many others. The programme was a mix of poetry, short stories, readings, sessions for writers, events for readers, activities for children and more. This was the second Festival and I’m already looking forward to the third.   My particular interest is in historical fiction so I thoroughly enjoyed the two events I attended. The first was Mich รจ le Roberts, Georgina Harding and Patricia Ferguson who read from their books and discussed their work afterwards. Many themes were touched on, especially war and its impact on non-combatants. A couple of nights later I saw Andrew Miller and Clare Clark, who answered questions about their work and its relatio

Strange Carryings On

I’ve just read The Weekes Family Letters, the correspondence between Hampton Weekes (1780-1855) during his time as a student at St Thomas’s Hospital in 1801-2, to his family at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex. Hampton Weekes came from a medical family: his father and younger brother Dick were both doctors (surgeon-apothecaries). His Father Richard had studied at St Thomas’s before him, and Dick was due to study there when Hampton had finished. His mother was dead and his step-mother Elizabeth died in 1802. She brought with her a daughter, Fanny. Hampton also had two sisters, Mary Ann and Grace, who with their step-sister helped run the family’s medical practice. Besides being illuminating about the practice of medicine and the attitudes and beliefs of eighteenth-century practitioners and patients, the letters give a vivid insight into the life of a close and affectionate family. (The exception is the step-mother, who the Weekes children were not particularly fond of.)   They share advice o

Wild Oats

I went to see Wild Oats by John O’Keefe at Bristol Old Vic last night (17 September 2012). It was a real treat to be back in the Old Vic after its refurbishment. It now has a “pit” instead of stalls, but the seats are new and much more comfortable than the old ones, and in place of the dusty carpet there's an oak floor. The painted and gilded theatre looks lovely, and the names of many great actors and playwrights lettered on the walls – Cibber, Vanbrugh, Shakespeare, Steele – evokes its great heritage. The design is based on the eighteenth-century configuration of the theatre – balconies, colours, stage – but is fully modern too. So its inaugural production is a modern reworking of the 1791 play by John O’Keefe. Wild Oats was written by Irish playwright John O’Keefe (1747 – 1833). Originally an artist, O’Keefe became a writer when his eye sight began to fail. He was blind by 1781. He left Ireland and his unfaithful wife in 1781, and during his writing career produced farces,

A Crude and Cruel Age

I’ve been reading the Newfoundland Journal of Aaron Thomas, Able Seaman in HMS Boston. The voyage, which Thomas embarked on at the age of 32, lasted from 1794 to 1795. The Journal is a fascinating insight into life on board ship from an ordinary sailor’s viewpoint, especially as Thomas is good company for a reader. He’s lively and funny, takes a keen interest in everything about him, and has a good eye for an anecdote. He’s just the sort of eighteenth-century seaman I could make a hero of in a novel. So I thought until I was reminded with a shock that Thomas was, indeed, of the eighteenth century. It happened that he was staying in a public house in Portugal Cove in Newfoundland. Here, seeing a pile of live lobsters, he hit on a trick to give him and the company “recreation and mirth”. With the landlady’s help he and his companions began “the frolic” by hanging live lobsters on a horse’s tail and mane. They then put four live lobsters on a cat’s tail: “The moment the Claws embrac’d h

Save the Women's Library

Friends of the Women's Library received an email today updating them on the position with regard to London Metropolitan University's announcement on Wednesday 14 March that they will be seeking a new home, custodian or sponsor of The Women’s Library’s collections. For the announcement see The Women’s Library is now seeking a new home. If it does not find one by December 2012 it will have to drastically cut its opening hours to one day a week for three years, with a review of the situation thereafter. The email, from the Executive Secretary of the Women’s Library, states that, “The position of the Library is very serious indeed”. The Women’s Library is a vital resource for anyone interested in women’s history. Arguments in support of why it should be saved can be found at the Save the Women’s Library blog by the London Metropolitan University Branch of Unison - What we can do:- Sign

Madness in the margins

I have a copy of Sir Almroth E Wright’s 1913 The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage in which an early or the original reader has pencilled copious notes. I don’t know the reader’s name, as I can’t read his (from the comments it certainly is “his”) signature. I am fascinated by the reader’s jottings for the light they shed on attitudes and beliefs of the time, and also for the more intriguing personal hints they give of a man whose relationships with women were, to say the least, troubled. What’s also interesting is that there are two sets of notes, the first dated 1913, and the second 1922, when a partial female franchise had been granted. The subject mattered so much to the reader that he revisited it four years after the first female franchise! Here are some excerpts from the dialogue between these two anti-suffragists:- Sir A: The grateful woman will practically always be an anti-suffragist. Reader (R): (grateful woman underlined). Are there any? Certainly not amongst

A Savage End

I’ve just read two fascinating works by Cicely Hamilton, actress, writer and suffragette and one of my feminist heroes. Hamilton (1872–1952) wrote the words to the suffragette anthem, The March of the Women , as well as a number of sharp, funny suffragette plays. She also wrote Diana of Dobson’s , a play about a shop girl who comes into some money, and Marriage as a Trade which railed against the Edwardian women’s enforced inability to support themselves in any other way but marriage. The books are Theodore Savage , a novel published in 1922, and a play, The Old Adam , which had its first performance (as The Human Factor ) at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1924, and later played at Kingsway, London. Like her 1919 novel, William: an Englishman both are concerned with war and man’s destructive, violent nature. Both could also be described as science fiction for the prominent role of technology in them. In The Old Adam , two neighbouring fictional states are on the brink of war. De