Now that I have finally finished The Essay, I can get back to some kind of normality – and start blogging properly again. I really don’t want to read anything else about Victorian clergymen for a long time.
Of my proposed Christmas reading I have actually only managed two of the four books: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, and The Beacon by Susan Hill. Thoughts on those to follow. I am now reading Bedlam: London and its Mad by Catharine Arnold, which Boyfriend kindly bought me for Christmas. It’s easy to read, and has already thrown up some brilliant little pieces of trivia and historical anecdotes, such as the fact that in medieval England it was believed by some that ‘a rosted Mous, eaten, doth heale Frankticke persons.’
I have also made a much-needed start on the reading for next term as classes start tomorrow. First up on my Fin-de-Siecle module (yum) is The Time Machine, which I confess I haven’t been able to bring myself to re-read. I read it in 2007 and really, really didn’t like it. I can see why he is important, and I can understand why he is discussed and studied, but actually reading his novels have always been a real chore for me. I have three under my belt (The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Sleeper Awakes) and I have been utterly frustrated with each one. I realise a certain amount of it was because of the prevailing opinions of society at the end of the nineteenth century, but his racism and sexism make his work really very difficult for me to digest. Give me a nice New Woman any day of the week.
…Which is why I am delighting in my other current read (for next week): George Egerton’s Keynotes and Discords. They are two collections of short stories which deal with ideas about maternity and about female sexuality. Elaine Showalter, amongst others, have disregarded her as a feminist writer saying that she has a rather too essentialist view of feminity, especially in regard to maternity; that women are built to want children automatically. I think this is a touch unfair from the first half of the book that I have read so far. One story in particular – ‘The Spell of the White Elf’ – shows non-biological motherhood to be just as fulfilling as biological motherhood (perhaps even more so), which I think quite goes against an essentialist view of female biology. In this, it reminded me of another late Victorian novel which I read last year, The Daughters of Danaus by Mona Caird, which portrays a woman much more attached to her informally-adopted child than her own two biological sons.
The idea of maternity in Victorian literature is something I’m thinking a lot about at the moment, as it’s what I would quite like to do for my MA dissertation… the proposal for which is due in in less than a month. Yipes! Better press on.