When women were so novel
QUESTION Why was literature dominated by women at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries?
By the 1790s, ten of the dozen best- selling authors in Britain were women. they were novelists such as Jane Austen and Frances Burney, who pioneered social satire in her novels evelina, Cecilia and Camilla.
Poets Charlotte Smith, Anna Barbauld, Anna Seward, Mary tighe and Letitia Landon were immensely popular.
Joanna Baillie, hannah More, elizabeth Inchbald and hannah Cowley were among the most successful dramatists of the day.
Improvements in literacy had introduced women to the arts. Circulating libraries made expensive books available to the literate middle classes.
there was also the demand for the education of women, most powerfully articulated in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication Of the Rights Of Woman.
Since women of the middle and upper classes had more time to read, they became the main market for literature. they bought books by women writers since they preferred to read novels, poems, plays and books that mirrored their experience.
the Blue Stockings Society, a literary group and salon run by women, was the heart of intellectual life.
It was organised by three great hostesses, elizabeth Montagu, elizabeth Vesey and hester thrale, the author of a biography on Samuel Johnson.
the name was coined by Montagu after her friend, the eccentric scholar and botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet, insisted on wearing the worsted blue stockings of a working-class man at her social gatherings.
the emergence of blue-stocking women authors caused great anxiety among male writers who went out of their way to denigrate these women.
In an 1813 letter to Charlotte Brent, Samuel taylor Coleridge chastised her grammar and spelling before concluding: ‘the longer I live, the more do I loathe in stomach, and deprecate in Judgement, all, all Bluestockingism.’
William Wordsworth commented sardonically in 1835 that Felicia hemans, his leading competitor as the poet of domesticity, ‘ was totally ignorant of
housewifery, and could as easily have managed the spear of Minerva as a needle’.
Critic William hazlitt wrote: ‘the blue-stocking is the most odious character in society . . . she sinks where she is placed, like the yolk of an egg, to the bottom, and carries the filth with her.’
Cartoons lampooned them and blue-stocking became a pejorative term, in stark contrast to their noble ideals.
Women were shunted into the literary wilderness. ten years before the publication of Jane eyre in 1847, Charlotte Bronte sent a selection of her poems to the Poet Laureate Robert Southey.
he replied: ‘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.’
Small wonder, then, that Charlotte, emily and Anne Bronte published under the male pseudonyms Currer, ellis and Acton Bell, and that the great novelist of the era, Mary Ann evans, used the name George eliot.
Martine French, Guildford, Surrey.
QUESTION There is a plaque in the Bullring for a meteorite that landed in Nantan, China, in 1516 and ‘fell from the skies again’ in Birmingham. How can this be?
CORNELIA PARKER, one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, has used meteorites on several occasions.
Shirt Burnt By A Meteorite used a piece of the Gibeon iron space rock from namibia heated with a blowtorch.
For Meteorite Lands On Buckingham Palace, she warmed space debris on her kitchen stove to scorch locations on a London map.
On March 26, 2000, Parker staged a firework display on top of Birmingham’s Rotunda building. the fireworks included tiny fragments of the nantan meteorite.
the plaque was installed as part of the Bullring and Grand Central Art trail.
Mary Bassett, Kingswinford, W. Mids.
QUESTION Why are there bishops in the House of Lords?
the presence of bishops in the house of Lords goes back to the days when the Church held considerable influence over the government of the country.
Monarchs claimed a divine right to rule, so the bishops played a significant part in government as God’s representatives on earth. the Lords Spiritual were considered to be of the same status as the nobility, the Lords temporal.
Only Church of england bishops have the automatic right to sit in the Lords.
When edward I called his first parliament in 1275, he summoned lords and bishops to attend. he also issued orders (known as writs) for two elected representatives from each county to attend on behalf of the people. they later became MPs.
the role of this Parliament was to listen to the king outline his new laws and approve plans for taxation.
In 1327, edward II was removed from the throne and Parliament was established on the basis of three bodies of representation: Lords, the people and the Church. For this reason, bishops continue to sit in the house of Lords.
Under the 1999 house of Lords Act, their removal was mooted, but it was decided instead to cut the number to 26.
they are the archbishops of york and Canterbury, the bishops of London, Winchester and Durham (the oldest five dioceses) and Worcester, Coventry, Oxford, St Albans, Carlisle, ely, Southwark, Leeds, Gloucester, Chichester, Bristol, Derby, Manchester, Chelmsford, exeter, Guildford, St edmundsbury & Ipswich, Southwell & nottingham, Leicester, Lichfield and Sheffield.
Robert Sutherland, Northampton.
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