Since I’ve got another book in the bag, this summer is all about readin’ and reflectin’. I’ve never had a summer in which I was not engaged in writing a monograph for more than twenty years: first it was a dissertation, then it was Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England (which was not a revision of my dissertation, oh well. . . ), and then it was my forthcoming The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. And that about covers the previous 24 summers!
So what the heck am I doing with myself?
I’m giving myself the gift of just reading and dreaming about what might be an interesting project that will bring together my interest in women’s and gender history, sexuality, fashion, the body, and material culture. I’ll be reporting here and there about what I’ve read and who else might be interested in reading what I’ve read too.
For example, I finally have had the chance to look over The First Book of Fashion: The Book of Clothes of Matthäus & Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), edited, translated, and with essays by Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward. It’s nearly a coffee-table kind of book in terms of its size and production values. I first heard about this book last winter via Twitter, which led me to Rachel Herrmann’s fascinating interview with Hayward about fashions in the courts of Henry VIII and Charles II of England. Continue reading
I have a new obsession. If it were a man, my husband would be jealous (or so I would hope.) All weekend and much of this week so far, I’ve been listening to the You Must Remember This podcast, which is written and voiced by Karina Longworth. Its tagline is “exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of 20th Century Hollywood.”
Why do I love it? It’s like eating a bag of potato chips, or a box of candy, but they’re really smart potato chips, and really nutritious candy. I think I’ve shared here before that on the rare occasions I read history books for pleasure, I read twentieth-century U.S. history. Longworth’s research and writing are all that, plus celebrity gossip, and more!
But by far, the best thing about You Must Remember This is the clear feminist through-line of Longworth’s analysis of the careers of women artists. I burned through the entire 12-part series she did last summer on “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” while washing my windows on Sunday afternoon, and this almost made window-washing a pleasure. This series includes a riveting analysis of Manson Family murder victim Sharon Tate’s short acting career along with a consideration of the not-very-revolutionary aspects of the Sexual Revolution for most women, even (or especially) women in the industry. Since then I’ve heard her fascinating reconsiderations of the careers of Marion Davies and Mia Farrow. Continue reading
Tonight’s the night! Set your DVRs for TLC tonight at 9 Eastern/8 Central for Who Do You Think You Are. (Be sure to check your local listings–I told people here the show would be on at 8 p. Mountain time, but it turns out that cable here conforms to the Eastern show times!) You’ll see me join Tom Bergeron in Québec towards the end of his quest to learn about his 10th and ninth great-grandparents.
I don’t know all the details and will be eager to learn them tonight, but from what I learned on our shoot last month, it’s a story that spans France and early Canada. The stories we’ll see are emblematic of the age of religious wars and migration to the New World. Join us and let me know what you think! Continue reading
My beach reading this week is Joan Didion: her famous essays on the 1960s collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album (1979), and her novel from that era as well, Play it As it Lays. I’ve completed the essay collections, and came across this 1976 article about Georgia O’Keeffe that reminded me about the conversation a few days ago about women writers and artistic creativity and confidence: Continue reading
The title of this post refers to a 1998 essay by Francine Prose, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are Women Writers Really Inferior?” Nearly twenty years later, the results aren’t encouraging for women. Over at Jezebel, Catherine Nichols writes about sending out queries to agents for the same novel, with the same cover letter and writing sample, under both her real name and in the name of a male alter ego. The results are even more depressing than you’d imagine (h/t Megan Kate Nelson for the RT that alerted me to this article):
The plan made me feel dishonest and creepy, so it took me a long time to send my novel out under a man’s name. But each time I read a study about unconscious bias, I got a little closer to trying it.
I set up a new e-mail address under a name—let’s say it was George Leyer, though it wasn’t—and left it empty. Weeks went by without word from the agents who had my work. I read another study about how people rate job applicants they believe are female and how much better they like those they believe are male.
Her hit ratio as Catherine was two requests to see the whole manuscript out of fifty queries, so 1:25 positive requests. As George, her hit ratio was 17:50. Nichols concludes that he is “eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.”
Who was is brilliant new writer, George Leyer, and when can we read his brilliant novel? Continue reading
I’m taking advantage of the rare treat of being left out a family camping trip this weekend to work on my book revisions, but I came across this delicious review of National Review and its 60-year-long tic of calling everyone on the Left a “Nazi” and everything on the Left “fascist.” Fish, as they say, rot from the head on down:
As John Judis documents in his 1988 biography of [William F.] Buckley, [Jr., founder of National Review] the conservative pundit’s father and namesake, William F. Buckley Sr., was an anti-Semite and fascist sympathizer who tried his best to pass along his ideas to his large brood. In 1937, four of the Buckley kids burned a cross outside a Jewish resort. The eleven-year-old William Buckley Jr. didn’t participate in the cross burning but only because he was deemed too young to participate and by his own account “wept tears of frustration” at being left out of the hate crime. At this point the young Buckley agreed with his father’s worldview, and would argue, in the words of a childhood friend, that “Bolshevik Russia was an infinitely greater threat than Nazi Germany.” The Spanish fascist leader Francisco Franco was a hero in the Buckley household, celebrated as a bulwark against the red menace.
Mary with Laura holding Susan. Illustration by Garth Williams, Little House in the Big Woods, 1932
Today’s post is an unanticipated part III in my series Crossing Over, on writing and publishing an academic book that aims to be a “crossover” title with a popular audience. Part I can be found here, “What is my book about?”, and Part II here, “Will I ever publish this book?” Many thanks to those of you in the comments on those posts who encouraged me to write a Part III. I hope to hear from the rest of you as to the writers and titles you see as your historical and literary models.
One of the challenges in writing The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2016) was the fact that her life is very eventful early in childhood and adolescence, and then again in old age–a reversal of most biographies, which tend to focus on the adult years of a subject’s life, and offer only scant attention to their youths and their decline in old age. But while her childhood was very eventful–taken captive at age 7, brought to New France at age 12, and announced her intention to become a nun at age 14–most of it before she enters the Ursuline convent as a student at age 12 is only very lightly documented.
How does one write the history of an eighteenth-century childhood, especially one almost entirely undocumented? Although I was powerfully influenced by the historians I’ve been reading all my professional life, especially those who have focused on telling the story of a single life, I saw this as more of a literary problem than a historical one. That is, I knew what I could do as a historian–I just didn’t know how I could bring it all together. Or, as I wrote in part I of the Crossing Over series a few weeks ago: Continue reading