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The 1790’s – a Fascination

28 May

As a history buff I am interested in particular eras and periods in history, more specifically society, culture, politics, and fashion from these different eras. I am rather fascinated by the 1790’s, primarily the years between 1790 and 1795, but also reaching to 1799 and to the early 1800’s.

Events / philosophies / fashions / socio-cultural aspects

The French Revolution
– The politics
– The concept of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality
– The concept of a republic
– Revolutionary and Republic symbolism – red, white and blue tricolor flag & cockade, Phrygian cap, Liberty, nature etc
– Removing the importance of the church and Christian beliefs and replacing these with more classical and nature based beliefs and forms of worship
– The role of women in the revolution including female revolutionaries advocating the rights of women and women actively fighting in the revolution
– The revolutionary calendar
– Revolutionary fashion, including the use of red, white and blue ribbons (showing support for the revolution / republic) and the rejection of symbols of the ancien regime such as elaborate dress and hairstyles and emphasis on more classical and natural lines and hairstyles,

Feminism / Feminist Thought / Advocacy of the Rights of Women

Cross Dressing Women / Female Soldiers

Lesbian Sexuality / Romantic Friendships

Female Novelists
I am interested in the female novelists of the time, and the fact that writing and publishing novels was an accepted (if marginally) pursuit for women
– Female Writers & Novelists – Mary Wollenstencraft, Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Anne Radcliffe
– Gothic novels and the gothic / horror / heroines that characterised this gene – almost contrasting to the image of gentility and domestic worlds written about by Jane Austen (except in Northanger Abbey which is a sort of parody of gothic novels)

European Women in India

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18th & 19th Century Historical & Fictional Women – Inspiration for My Novel Characters

28 May

Eliza de Feuillide – Jane Austen’s cousin / sister in law, raised in India, married to French aristocrat murdered in the French Revolution

Philadelphia Austen – Jane Austen’s aunt – I know very little of her life, but the anecdote (from a book on Jane Austen) that she was sent to India as a young woman to find a husband struck a cord with me – the practise of sending young women to find a husband to a far away exotic land seemed exotic, exciting and indeed comodifying of women

Anne Lister – English gentlewoman and diarist – famous for her coded diaries depicting her affairs with women

Olympe de Gorges – French Revolutionary and advocate for the rights of women. Executed in the Reign of Terror

Theroigne de Mericourt – French Revolutionary, female militant and advocate for the rights of women. She was known for wearing a man’s riding habit and a belt of pistols at her waist

Mary Wollstonecraft – English philosopher, advocate for the rights of women and novelist. Famous for response to the French Revolution’s Declaration of the the Rights of Man, her radical beliefs, unconventional love life (she passionately loved a female friend, had an affair with a married man and bore a child outside of marriage) and being Mary Shelley’s mother

Martinette de Beauvais from the novel Ormond by Charles Brockden Brown – A soldier, Republican who fought in both the American and French Revolution who wears men’s clothes and enjoys the life and freedom of a soldier. The subject of same sex feelings

Marguerite St Just / Blakeney from the Scarlet Pimpernel series by Baroness Orcy – French Republican and actress married to the Scarlet Pimpernel (the saviour of aristocrats and royalists from the guillotine). Passionate, loyal, sassy

Charlotte Corday – French Revolutionary who stabbed radical revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat in his bath tub. She was executed during the Reign of Terror

20130528-180614.jpg Marguerite Blakeney

A Talk with Merle Thornton – An Australian Feminist Legend!

23 May

As part of Diversity Week (a celebration of different cultures, art and issues) at the large university I work at, I had a wonderful opportunity to listen to a talk given by a famous Australian feminist and activist, Merle Thornton.

Merle came along to discuss her involvement in the establishment of the gender studies (at the time ‘women’s studies’) major at the university in 1973, the first of its kind in Australia. She also spoke about her life story, particularly her early career in the male dominated public service in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and significantly her famous and influential activist activities. Merle and Rosalie Bogner changed themselves to the public bar in the Regatta Hotel (a famous historic pub in Brisbane, Queensland) in 1965 in protest of the law banning women from public bars. As Merle said today, these were not men’s bars or private bars, these were public bars, and women were not allowed in these areas, let alone have a drink. Following this Merle was appointed president of a newly established feminist group and tackled another massive issue, a law requiring female public servants to resign when they married. Merle said it took eighteen months, but they won with a law passed in parliament amending the act and also introducing maternity leave.

She is such an inspirational female activist and I feel privileged that I had a chance to hear her talk in person. The protest at the Regatta Hotel basically started the women’s liberation movement in Brisbane (Trove – National Library of Australia). As the National Library describes it, a defining moment in the feminist movement in Australia.

References –
http://trove.nla.gov.au/people/765073?c=people
http://www.uq.edu.au/news/?article=22774

20130523-183930.jpg (Source – Queensland Department of Communities – http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/q150-women/1960/index.shtml#item-public-bars)

18th and 19th Century Women who have Inspired Me

15 Apr

Following on from my post – Women in the French Revolution, Cross Dressing Women, Female Soldiers and 18th Century Feminists, here is a list of women (real and fictional) from the 18th and 19th centuries that have inspired me (generally and in creating characters and stories) and that I find rather fascinating –

Historical Figures
– Olympe de Gorges – French Revolutionary and advocate for women’s rights who was guillotined
– Theroigne de Mericourt – French Revolutionary and advocate for women’s rights
– Charlotte Corday – French Republican who stabbed Jacobite Revolutionary, Jean Paul Marat in his bathtub, and was guillotined
– Mary Wollstonecraft – English writer, advocate for women’s rights and radical political philosopher
– Anne Lister – English diarist who wrote about her lesbian desires and her life as an landowner
– Eliza de Feuillide – Jane Austen’s cousin / sister in law, born and raised in India and married a French nobleman who was guillotined in the French Revolution
– Mah Laqa Bai “Chanda” – Islamic Courtesan, poet and landowner from Hyderabad, India

Fictional Characters
– Marguerite St Just / Blakeney from the Scarlet Pimpernel series by Baroness Orcy
– Martinette de Beauvais – Female soldier and revolutionary from the American novel Ormond by Charles Brockden Brown

http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2011/03/11/jane-austens-fascinating-cousin-eliza-de-feuillide/#comment-23366

20130507-071256.jpg (Eliza de Feuillide – source – Wikipedia)

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Women in the French Revolution, Cross Dressing Women, Female Soldiers and 18th Century Feminists

15 Apr

I am currently in the planning stages of a lesbian romance novel set in the 18th century. One of the two main female characters is a soldier and a republican that had fought for the French Revolutionary forces and had championed the rights of women during the revolution. My character pretends to be a male soldier to remain in the army and a few years later while employed as a guard instructor she wears male attire (breeches and riding boots). She wears a tight fitting jacket that does not hide her bosom and wears her hair long. In doing so she presents herself as a woman wearing male attire in a male profession.

During the research for my novel / story, I have read about women actively involved in the French Revolution, campaigners for the rights of women (in addition to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a key Revolutionary document), female writers who wrote about the Revolution (including English women writers such as Mary Wollenstencraft) and female soldiers who fought in the French Revolutionary forces in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and also on the Royalist side against the Revolutionary government.

From early in the Revolution, women were involved in various activities protesting regarding essential items such as food, storming the Bastille, supporting the Revolutionary cause through writings, revolutionary clubs and subtle ways such as incorporating symbols and colours of the Revolution in their dress (such as Tri-colour cockades and ribbons). More radical Revolutionary women advocated for the rights of women in conjunction with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the ability of women to bear arms and fight for the Republic.

I was also inspired by the stories I have read of women over the centuries cross dressing as men to enter the armed forces and experience a life of freedom and adventure not able to be experienced by women from pervious centuries. What an inspiration. I wonder what young women in the 18th century, with an enlightened mind / sense of adventure / feminist leanings thought of these women? Through my reading I discovered that there were some novels written in the 18th and 19th centuries with female revolutionaries and / or soldiers who wear male attire. These include Ormond / The Secret Witness written by the American author Charles Brockden Brown and published in 1799, and The Wanderer by Fanny Burney, published in 1814. I find it hugely fascinating that novels in this period included such inspirational and unconventional female characters. I have a real interest in this period, and am using this period (late 1700’s to early 1800’s) as a setting for my novel, so I am so inspired and reassured of the existence (even if in fiction) of such women during this time.

For me Mary Wollstonecraft is also a great source of inspiration. Her writings and belief in the rights of women, especially to education, equality, her passionate friendship / speculated love for her female friend Fanny Blood, her desire to set up house and share a life with another woman (even if this was in the context of a romantic friendship), her unconventional relationships with men and baring children out of wedlock fascinate me. Such a powerful image and symbol of a woman advocating equality and choice in one’s own love affairs and life in a time when a woman’s role was perceived and “enforced” as being a wife, mother and daughter with little rights (including legal rights) over their lives.

I also must admit that some elements (determination, Republican sympathies, gorgeous gowns, active involvement in adventures) of the character of Marguerite St. Just / Lady Marguerite Blakeney from the Scarlet Pimpernel novels by Baroness Orcy were influential. When I first saw the Scarlet Pimpernel (one of my favourite period / adventure series) I was struck by this strong, French, revolutionary woman. She sets off on adventures, confronts Revolutionary officials, holds to her political beliefs and loves her husband passionately. What a woman! And consequently I also really like the actress Elizabeth McGovern who played Marguerite.

I was inspired by these strong, tough, fighting, revolutionary and feminist women when creating my character.

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