The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 27th February

No birthday girl today so another one from yesterday Mabel Dodge Luhan

February 26, 1879 – August 13, 1962.

Much married New York Salonist, her memoir (so we are told, I’ve not read it) Intimate Memories (1933) details relationships with several women. She knew Natalie Barney and was a friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas.

A fellow traveller rather than really one of us, I think. Apparently she knew how to throw a party, and was great at mixing people together, so maybe I’ll wait for an invitation from her, rather than the other way round…

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 26th February

Mary TayorLet’s light the candles on the cake for

Mary Taylor 1817-1893

Mary and her  sister, Martha, went to  school at Roe Head, Mirfield, where in 1831 Mary met Ellen Nussey and Charlotte Brontë and they became great friends. Mary and Charlotte both stayed in each others homes regularly. Charlotte used the Taylor family as the model for the Yorke family in her novel Shirley, describing them as ‘peculiar, racy, vigorous; of good blood and strong brain; turbulent somewhat in the pride of their strength, and intractable in the force of their native powers’.

Mary seems to have been an independent, blunt, hard-headed, clear thinking person, and very much Charlotte’s intellectual equal. However, financial difficulties meant that Mary put her energy into working, and developed a very clear understanding of the importance of work to any woman, regardless of financial need, something that she and Charlotte did not quite agree on.

Charlotte wrote of Mary that she had

more energy and power in her nature than any ten men.

When her father died, Mary considered  emigrating to New Zealand, and told Charlotte that ‘she cannot and will not be a governess, a teacher, a milliner, a bonnet-maker nor housemaid’.despite this plan, she in fact travelled Europe,  studying music, languages, and teaching. In 1845 she left for New Zealand. Charlotte described her going as

To me it is something as if a great planet fell out of the sky.

They never saw each other again, although they corresponded until Charlotte’s death.

Mary  built a house which she let out, and taught piano. Charlotte was anxious about Mary’s financial situation and sent her £10, which Mary used to buy a cow. She bought other cattle with money from her brothers, and started writing, although nothing seems to have been published until many years later.

In  1849 Mary was joined by her cousin Ellen Taylor and together they built a house and opened a draper’s shop.  Mary, by all accounts, loved everything about keeping shop, from the manual labour to the financial independence.

Ellen wrote to Charlotte in 1850:

Mary and I are settled together now. I cant do without Mary and she couldn’t get on by herself

Ellen  died of tuberculosis in 1851. Mary threw her energies into the shop and it was a great success, until trade fell off in 1858 at which point Mary decided to return to Yorkshire.

Between 1865 and 1870 she published a series of feminist articles in the Victoria Magazine,  In 1870 the articles were collected and published  as a book, The first duty of women.

The first duty – is for every woman to protect herself from the danger of being forced to marry.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 25th February

theodoraNo birthday alloted today, so a random choice:

Theodora Bosanquet OBE 1881-1961 (no idea what day she was born, history and the internet refuses to relate)

Now. Theodora is best known for being Henry James’ secretary. Not a good start, but remarkable that anyone could get known for being anyone’s secretary really. James described her as boyish.

Apart from typing up James’ manuscripts Theodora also published a memoir Henry James at Work and studies on Harriet Martineau and Paul Valéry.

Theodora later became Executive Secretary of the International Federation of University Women and was a committed feminist. From 1935 she was literary editor and then director of feminist journal Time and Tide, mouthpiece of the women’s movement in the UK from the 1920’s, which published just about anyone worth thinking about in that milieu; which is a lot more interesting in my opinion!

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 24th February

No birthday for today, so guess where we are headed. Yep!

Eliza Fowler Haywood, born around 1693 died 25 February 1756, so it seems appropriate to give her a February party.
Eliza was an actress, and a prolific novelist, playwright, poet, translator and editor – and made quite a success of all of them. She wrote rather racy material, and often showed sympathy for ‘fallen’ women. This led to her writing being overlooked until relatively recently, as indelicate.

A few of her books have been made available for free via the excellent Project Gutenberg.

Criticks! be dumb tonight – no skill display;
A dangerous Woman-Poet wrote the Play:
One who not fears your fury, tho’ prevailing
More than your Match, in everything, but railing.
Give her fair quarter, and whenever she tries ye
Safe in superior spirit, she defies ye…

(Prologue, A Wife to be Let 1723)

It is enough – in knowing one, I knew the whole deceiving sex – Nor will I be a second time betray’d – I’ll hide me for ever from their Arts, their soothing Flattery, their subtle Insinuations – no more I’ll hear, or see or think of Man – the best is base…

(The Rash Resolve, 1724)

… the Avarice and Self interestedness, which is generally observed in those women who make Sale of their Beauty, is chiefly owing to men.

(The story of The Enchanted Well – Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjascent to the Kingdom of Utopia 1775)

Earthshaker published in Holdfast #2

My (longish)  short story, Earthshaker (based on the Minotaur myth) has just been published in the second issue of Holdfast Magazine online, with a fabulous illustration from Zoe Lee.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 23rd February

Today we celebrate, a day late, Jane Bowles February 22, 1917 – May 4, 1973. Jane was a writer who apart from her husband Paul, (also gay) had relationships exclusively with women. On the whole, these were short-lived. Virgil Thomson said of her

all her life Jane was promiscuous. She didn’t really care too much who she slept with, as long as they were female.

Jane, in a letter to her husband said

I slept in a different bed every night, including Iris Barry’s.

Jane’s life was short and eventful. She developed tuberculosis of the knee in her teens, and spent two years in a sanatorium. perhaps not unsurprisingly she developed a wide range of neuroses making her fearful and insecure. Her sexual relationship with her husband lasted only 18 months, and despite her hatred of travel they travelled widely, which must have been very wearing.When they lived in Paris she spent most evenings at lesbian bars, getting home at three in the morning.

Jane’s writing came almost exclusively from these early years, and she wrote relatively little, a novel Two Serious Ladies some short stories and a play.

Jane met Helvetia Perkins in Mexico in 1940, and they travelled and then lived together in Helvetica’s house in Vermont for a few years, and stayed friends throughout Jane’s life though no longer seeing much of each other.

A peculiar menage developed in the winter 1940-41 when Jane and Paul lived briefly with  W. H. Auden, Chester Kallman, Benjamin Britten  Peter Pears, Carson McCullers, Golo Mann, Richard Wright and his family, and Gypsy Rose Lee in Brooklyn Heights (can you imagine what breakfast was like in that household?)

Jane met  Amina Bakalia known as Cherifa in 1958 when she and Paul were living in Tangiers. Cherifa lived with her until her death. No one has a good thing to say about Cherifa, indeed she was thought to have poisoned Jane and precipitated the stroke that semi blinded her in 1957. Jane’s alcoholism may have had more to do with it. The last few years of Jane’s life were marred by mental instability and she was eventually hospitalised in Malaga, Spain.

I have gone to pieces which is a thing I’ve always wanted to for years but I have my happiness which I guard like a wolf and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring which if you remember  correctly I never had before.

If I’m honest, lesbian though she undoubtedly was, Jane doesn’t pass the cup of tea test. I think I would find her exhausting.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 22nd February


Today’s birthday girl is

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950)

also known as Nancy Boyd when writing prose, and who called herself ‘Vincent’.

Vincent was an American poet and playwright in 1923 she became the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, her first poems were published when she was in her teens, and already a bit of a ladies woman.

She first came to attention when she was passed over for a prize, and (to their credit) the men who had ranked higher than her protested that her poems was better, in one case handing ver the prize money. Nothing like a little controversy to launch a girl’s career, and she needed help the family were living in abject penury, and one of the pluses of the fuss was that Vincent attracted a wealthy patron who paid for her to go to college.

Her poetry was feminist and pacifist (during WWI). She had affairs with both men and women,  notably Edith Wynne Matthison, a British actress.

Edith Wynne Matthison

Edith Wynne Matthison

letter to Edith Wynne Matthison

You wrote me a beautiful letter, – I wonder if you meant it to be as beautiful as it was. – I think you did; for somehow I know that

your feeling for me, however slight it is, is of the nature of love…When you tell me to come, I will come, by the next train, just as I am. This is not meekness, be assured; I do not come naturally by meekness; know that it is a proud surrender to You.

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

But you, you foolish girl, you have gone home to a leaky castle across the sea to lie awake in linen smelling of lavender, and hear the nightingale, and long for me

I do not think there is a woman in whom the roots of passion shoot deeper than in me

One things there’s no getting by,
I’ve been a wicked girl,
Says I…
But, if I can’t be sorry I might as well be glad !

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried