February’s favourite blog(s)

I had trouble choosing just one favourite blog this month, as there were some really excellent posts on a number of blogs that I regularly follow.

Firstly, Jem Bloomfield had some good posts on current issues in academia: an excellent response to the debate ‘University isn’t for Men’ (I’ll write more about this in my monthly roundup), and some interesting data about the representation of women as speakers at Christian conferences in recent years.

One of my favourite blogs for a while now has been The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates’ Researcher Blog, and this month it had a really great post by Clare Walker Gore (‘The Love that Dare not Speak its Name’) about the links between Victorian same-sex desire and disability in mid-Victorian novels, such as those by Dinah Mulock Craik. I enjoyed working on Craik’s shorter novels about governesses for my PhD thesis. I was especially struck by how many forms of love her writing explores – love between mothers/daughters, governesses/students, sisters/brothers… She even finds a way to reconcile women’s unrequited love with the religious culture of the time (it was frowned upon for women to experience desire except reciprocally). Clare’s blog post focuses on the intimacy between male characters in Craik’s John Halifax, and makes a link with the relationship in Wilkie Collins’s Moonstone between two disabled women (one of them wonderfully called ‘Limping Lucy’).

Another nineteenth-century blog that I’ve been enjoying is Mimi Matthews’s collection of posts about nineteenth-century fashion, marriage, and animals(!). This blog is a treasure trove of detailed information on nineteenth-century life. The 14 February post about Victorian Valentines was especially enjoyable.

But possibly my favourite reads this month were from William G. Pooley. Not one, but two fascinatingly thoughtful pieces about history, which really spoke to me. First came a piece drawing out how playing the lottery can perfectly express the wonder of how the momentous and dramatic can enter the lives of ordinary people – and can be found in our study of such ordinary people by historians. Then there were thoughts on the radicalism of understanding the traditions we live in – the legacies of Marx, Freud, Darwin, Einstein, Mandela.

When it came to Marx, I had to agree with his statement:

What the man asking if I was a ‘Marxist’ didn’t realize is that in a sense it is very hard not to be a Marxist in 2016.

Though I might agree for different reasons. These days, every time we discuss the UK Conservative government, my husband and I are struck by Marx’s perspicacity, in that our only explanation for many of their actions is: ‘the rich consolidate their power in the economic superstructure’ (we call this Marxist catechism. Try it – next time you’re asking how on earth they can abolish student maintenance grants/money from the disabled/tax credits for families…).

Of course his main point is nothing really to do with this, but is rather concerned with how there is a tendency to purify the past: reducing Freud to the Oedipus Complex; selectively reading Darwin, Huxley and Einstein to champion the ideal of the rational scientist and ignore the religious, spiritual, or occult elements of their thought; simplifying the complexity of Mandela and Pankhurst’s actions as unproblematic ‘heroism’. (I thought about this last night actually, while watching Ken Burns’s documentary about Theodore Roosevelt, in which historians endeavoured to go beyond the usual hagiography to speak about his imperialism and blood-lust ‘with dry eyes’.)

It isn’t normally considered a very radical thing to be called a ‘traditionalist’, but I suppose what I am saying is that it can in fact be quite radical indeed to think about the traditions we inhabit. In fact, that is the kind of radicalism that has long been the preserve of the folklorists, who seek to understand, rather than condemn the traditions we live within.

I don’t know that much about folklorists, but I’m certainly learning from this blog.

One thing I do know, is that I absolutely share this desire to understand the traditions we live within. This might in fact be at the heart of my project to explore the religious underpinnings of early feminism and how this has affected our thinking about, and as, women up to today.

So those were my favourite blogs of the month – what did I miss? What blogs did you find enjoyable/thought-provoking this month?

 

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