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Jan 2011

5th January

My final hate is people who start sentences: I ALWAYS THINK... Always since when? Since they were twenty? Fourteen? Six? It either means we're simply getting the thoughts they had as teenagers, or it means nothing at all, except that they've said the same thing fifty times without getting contradicted or lynched. To which I would reply with another cliche: that there has to be a first time for everything.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Words Fail Me' in View from a Column (1981)

'It was magical. It changed the whole world. All the colors got brighter. Literally.' A dark cloud passed over Dawn's face. 'Don't you see it's scary for someone to have that much power over you? Especially a woman? And a woman can have it more easily...in the way I'm talking about.'

Judith Rossner, August (1983)

19th January

[A] choice of subject is not... a matter of luck. We are lucky only in that each of us carries a sort of water-diviner's twig; this invisible twig we move slowly over the whole available mass of buried material until suddenly it quivers and leaps and almost twitches itself from our hands. But for this twig's talent for selection and rejection, the author, far from having to create bricks without straw, might well die from straw-suffocation.

G B Stern, Another Part of the Forest (1941)

26th January

Messianic intellectuals raving about how they had burst the chains of their bourgeois inhibitions and found the key to the universe: they could be very useful, if correctly handled, but they would never be completely reliable.

Neal Ascherson, 'Raging towards Utopia', London Review of Books, 22 April 2010, review of Michael Scammell, Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual (2010)

Feb 2011

2nd February

What I mean is, when I look at other people, other girls in school, and see what they like and what they're happy with and what they want, I don't feel as if I'm part of their species.

Jo Walton, Among Others (2010)

9th February

Men were always rather a nuisance, in Seraphina's opinion; one liked them around, of course, and they were lambs and it would be a dull world without them, but really, they were always either trying to make love to you or upsetting you by making love to somebody else, and the best thing to do was just to be nice to them and not take them too seriously.

Stella Gibbons, Westwood, or The Gentle Powers (1946)

16th February

A man will call a woman a bitch when he can't control her, when she won't do his bidding, when she's not compliant to his needs. I like this in a word.

Cynthia Heimel, Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye (1993)

23rd February

[T]he liberated woman is free to be available; the liberated man is free to reject false gentility and euphemistic romanticism and express his erotic fantasies frankly and openly; by extension, the liberated entrepreneur is free to cater to those fantasies on a mass scale.

Understandably, women are not thrilled with this conception of sexual freedom.

Ellen Willis, 'Hard to Swallow'. The New York Review of Books, 25 Jan 1973

Mar 2011

2nd March

The reason I propose we have for so long lacked a term for this particular erotic attraction is that unlike sexual interest in children, a sexual interest in virgins is something our culture considers normal, acceptable, and ideologically correct.

Hanne Blank, Virgin: The Untouched History (2007)

9th March

We must recognise what the past suggests: women are well beyond youth when they begin, often unconsciously, to create another story. Not even then do they recognise it as another story. Usually they believe that the obvious reasons for what they are doing are the only ones: only in hindsight, or through a biographer's imaginative eyes, can the concealed story be surmised.

Carolyn G Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life (1988)

16th March

Do not let us delude ourselves; the old forces still have the power; they are not any longer dressed up as kings and barons with gold on their necks and swords in their hands; they are dressed respectably, and their gold is in banks, and they pay other people to do the killing. And because, deep down, they have no faith in the future, and instead of loving mankind they despise and distrust it, they are becoming more vile and brutal.

Naomi Mitchison, Vienna Diary 1934 (1934)

23rd March

[C]onsider how much easier it is to reconcile with a charming friend who has wronged you once (if seriously) than to get along with someone who aggravates you three times an hour every single hour you spend with him.

Laura Miller, The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia (2009)

30th March

[U]topian movements are basically alike: there's the falling away of the convoluted layers of embattlement and mutual paranoia that stand in the way of simple human contact; the melting of the psychic fortress; the freedom from a loneliness more terrible than you knew; the knowledge that it's okay, really okay, to relax....

But utopian movements have something else in common - transience. Insofar as they challenge cynicism and encourage the faith that it's possible to live differently, to be different, they do change people, but not in any predictable direction.

Ellen Willis, Don't Think, Smile! Notes on a Decade of Denial (1999)

Apr 2011

6th April

When anything comes unstuck, when the static turns fluid, when not the sun but a question-mark sails up over the horizon one day; then this undertone of excitement - distinguishably pleasurable even if what one largely faces is calamity - represents simply the wholesome knowledge that one isn't dead, that one has powers to call up and perhaps even quite surprising possibilities to explore.

J I M Stewart, A Use of Riches (1957)

13th April

If you are a woman, and wish to become pre-eminent in a field, it's a good idea to (a) invent it and (b) locate it in an area either so badly paid or or such low status that men don't want it.

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983)

20th April

But without that understanding people think there are dangerous things that can kill you, and everything else is safe. That's just not the way it works. We were past the dangerous bit that we knew could kill us and just crossing the road.

Jo Walton, Among Others (2010)

27th April

When men write books on women, they generally invoke a being called Nature: a ministering angel who apparently has little to do with insects, droughts or epidemics, but who exists solely to see that women cultivate all those little charms considered appropiate to them.

When these same writers approach the natural functions of women which do not directly answer to the needs of men, their old friend Nature is likely to drop out of the account entirely, or put on a face more appropriate to the Grim Reaper. Menstruation and the menopause cannot by any stretch of masculine logic be regarded as evolution's answer to man's immediate pleasure. These two natural phenomena have therefore assumed an exaggerated role of tragedy in sex literature.

Ruth Herschberger, Adam's Rib (1948)

May 2011

4th May

Deprived of tradition, accused for everything from impropriety to ridiculousness to abnormality, assured at best of unlovableness, misery, madness, and (lately) suicide, criticized for being feminine, criticized for not being feminine, working with the wrong experiences if their content is recognizably female, 'Mandarin' or imitative if it isn't, doomed in any event to secondrateness or (at best) anomalousness, women still go on writing.

But how can they? How do they?

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983)
R.I.P. Joanna Russ (1937-2011)

11th May

[T]here was an ineradicable discord in life, a jarring something that must shatter all her dreams of a way of living for women that would enable them to be free and spacious and friendly with men, and that was the passionate predisposition of men to believe that the love of women can be earned and won and controlled and compelled.

H G Wells, Ann Veronica: a modern love story (1909)

18th May

Possibly the ultimate charity is to give up even the beautiful image of oneself as a giver, and simply agitate for more taxation to provide more complete welfare services. For the vicious circle is that while private charity exists the Government can get away with underfinanced welfare; and while the welfare is incomplete, the charities are as necessary as ever.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'The Greatest of These' in Roundabout (1962)

[No quotation for 25th May]

Jun 2011

[No quotations for 1st and 8th June]

15th June

Because we know it takes two to tango. One person is never insane and the other other lovely and sweet.... There is nothing more dangerous than someone who thinks of himself as a victim. Victims feel it's within their rights to fuck over everyone.

Cynthia Heimel, If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too? (1995)

22nd June

As well as being long, the history of the Empire is complex: it's not a simple tale in which one thing happens after another and the causes explain the effects and the effects are in proportion to the causes. Nothing of the kind. The history of the Empire is strewn with surprises, contradictions, abysses, deaths, resurrections.

Angelica Gorodischer (translated by Ursula K Le Guin), Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was (2003)

29th June

Equality for women, like equality in general, is at its core a universalist ideal. The subordination of women in some form cuts across all known cultures and everywhere seems connected to a view of women as a natural resource, existing for the benefit of others, rather than as a subject of the human enterprise.

Ellen Willis, Parity Begins at Home (2000)

Ju1 2011

6th July

'Ruskin was a beast too,' I said. 'Sesame and Lilies has made this term disgusting. It's all about how every woman ought to behave like a queen. Why should she, when there are such lots of exciting things to do?'

Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows (1957)

13th July

Women and fame have a peculiar relationship. Women believe themselves undervalued and ignored and powerless, and indeed most of them are, but a consequence of this... is that those who achieve eminence are more visible than men of the same rank, and are subjected to a more prurient curiosity.

Margaret Drabble, 'The Caves of God' (1999) in A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: The Collected Stories (2011)

20th July

When some person or social services director talks piously of people being 'cared for in the community,' you know that what he really means is 'some middle-aged woman with too much to do already.'

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Words Fail Me' in View from a Column (1981)

27th July

Either the blood easily hammered in Mrs Bedworth's own temples, or she was the sort of woman who is fated, through no particular volition of her own and upon principles inviolably arcane, herself to set it hammering in a high proportion of any male temples coming her way. She carried around with her, whether she liked it or not, the mysterious power to generate acute sexual awareness.

J I M Stewart, The Gaudy (1974)

Aug 2011

3rd August

I do not feel compelled to talk about my personal experiences with the mental health profession in every article I write, nor turn every story into an opportunity to talk about them. In fact, I try to avoid talking about them altogether, mainly because I hope that I have something more to offer than my history. After working so hard to recover, I'd rather not spend the rest of my life being seen through the prism of my past, permanently labelled "ex-anorexic". Talking about oneself in a newspaper is, to my mind, a little like chattering loudly at the cinema: you are not the show the audience came to see.

Hadley Freeman, What is the link between the media and eating disorders?, The Guardian G2, 3 Aug 2011

10th August

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1874)

17th August

It is so beautiful that I have always wished I could steal it and get a miracle worked to turn it into a piano concerto. But of course God Himself could not do that. The essence of a violin concerto lies in the conversation the violin carries on with the orchestra, in something much nearer the orchestra's own voice than a piano. When the violin solos it brings its cadenzas out of the chords played by the orchestra and returns them to it, it is as if a part had spoken for the whole but never been detached from it; whereas the piano part in a piano concerto is a detached comment, it is almost as separate as consciousness is from the rest of our minds.

Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows (1957)

24th August

A hundred years ago, medical experts, social reformers, intellectuals, engineers, and architects worked together, inspired by a sense of civil pride and social responsibility to equip Victorian and Edwardian cities with public toilets, along with libraries, hospitals, and public parks. In our time, such amenities are likely to be viewed by local government auditors as money-wasting and low-status matters.

Clara Greed, 'The Role of the Public Toilet in Civic Life, in Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner (eds) Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (2009)

31st August

I began to be very worried about Desdemona. We are given to understand that Othello's courtship of her consisted almost entirely of stories beginning 'When I was stationed among the Anthropopagi--' or 'I must tell you about a funny thing that happened during the siege of Rhodes'. The dramatist Shakespeare would have us believe that she not only put up with this but actually enjoyed it: can that great connoisseur of the human heart really have thought it possible?

Sarah Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered (1981)

Sep 2011

7th September

But it is true that although people are responsible for their actions, they are not responsible for the social context in which they must act or the social resources available to them. All of us must perforce accept large chunks of our culture ready-made; there is not enough energy and time to do otherwise. Even so, the results of such non-thought can be appalling.

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983)

14th September

The fact that 'feminism'... is thought today to be outmoded, is a means of dodging the problems it raised, which are still very far from being solved

Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries (Les Petroleuses, 1963, translated by J and S Atkinson and R Greaves) (1967)

Kindhearted is what emotional people... really never are. They're always so busy playing with their own feelings they haven't any time for your feelings - or, at least, they haven't unless they want to use yours to build up theirs.

James Gould Cozzens, By Love Possessed (1957)

28th September

Dorothea—but why always Dorothea? Was her point of view the only possible one with regard to this marriage? I protest against all our interest, all our effort at understanding being given to the young skins that look blooming in spite of trouble; for these too will get faded, and will know the older and more eating griefs which we are helping to neglect.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1874)

Oct 2011

5th October

The rotten thing about this idea – the idea that men must be coddled while their wives get things done – is that it looks a little bit like feminism. It has all the harmonies of feminism, but none of the tune – it shows women as capable, powerful, successful, strong. But the focus of the relationship remains the man.... There's no hint of equality; it's been bypassed by faux maternalism.

Eva Wiseman, Manland: Ikea's new creche for mollycoddling men Observer Magazine, 2 Oct 2011

[No quotation for 12th October]

19th October

[I]t matters far more than I can prove in an hour’s discourse that women generally, and not merely the lonely aristocrat shut up in her country house among her folios and her flatterers, took to writing. Without those forerunners, Jane Austen and the Brontës and George Eliot could no more have written than Shakespeare could have written without Marlowe, or Marlowe without Chaucer, or Chaucer without those forgotten poets who paved the ways and tamed the natural savagery of the tongue. For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1928)

26th October

When embarking on a social project that concerns other people, how do you decide what your actions will be? Do you choose what is most rewarding to you personally? Do you try to find out what the objects of your help actually want? How do you accomplish that? What do you do if you find out that you cannot realistically provide what they desire? Or if you don't like it?

Laura Maria Agustin, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (2007)

Nov 2011

2nd November

"I love things to be taken out of my hands," said Mrs. Wilkins.

"But we found San Salvatore," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, "and it is rather silly that Mrs. Fisher should behave as if it belonged only to her."

"What is rather silly," said Mrs. Wilkins with much serenity, "is to mind. I can't see the least point in being in authority at the price of one's liberty."

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April (1922)

9th November

[S]he represented pain, failure, tedium, though not in her own person: somehow, magically, she managed to transfer these attributes to those with whom she conversed, while herself remaining poised and indeed complacent, secure of admiration.

Margaret Drabble, The Radiant Way (1987)

16th November

Reaching the Public Record Office not much after ten, I soon secured the papers needed for my research and settled in my place, I became, as is the way of the scholar, so deeply absorbed as to lose all consciousness of my surroundings or the passage of time. When at last I came to myself, it was almost eleven and I was quite exhausted.

Sarah Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered (1981)

This woman, while positively littered with symbols of sexuality, promises to be inaccessible to any thoughts carnal, rational or humanistic. It is possible that men, in some cases, find this impregnability reassuring.

Ruth Herschberger, Adam's Rib (1948)

30th November

But already that image of a lover that a woman is offered by society, and carries with her so long, had divorced itself from Douglas, like the painted picture of a stencil floating off paper in water. Because that image remained intact and unhurt, it was possible to be good-natured. It is that image which keeps so many marriages peaceable and friendly.

Doris Lessing, A Proper Marriage (1964)

Dec 2011

7th December

[H]uman beings are pattern-recognising apes. It's the secret of our success; we recognise patterns. So we induce patterns; we have an unbelievably inductive imagination, and we say to ourselves, if the sun rose in the east for the last 365 days it must rise in the east tomorrow. So we typically indulge in inductive rather than deductive reasoning. It's very successful. But the problem with pattern recognition... is that it can become flawed.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, 'A positive attitude does not cure cancer, any more than a negative one causes it', The Guardian, 5 Dec 2011

14th December

[A] good superhero comic is better than a bad literary novel

Michel Faber, review of 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett, The Guardian Review, 10 Dec 2011

21st December

Such a project, as all those who have embarked upon one will recognize, gathers its own potentially fatal momentum. Questions not asked become unaskable. Hesitations are swallowed up in the challenge of the plot. The satisfactions of each step taken obliterate the craziness or obscurity of the destination. A point arrives at which it is more impossible not to go than to go.

Margaret Drabble, The Gates of Ivory (1991)

28th December

He replied that all around me lay misery, sin, and suffering, and that every person not absolutely blinded by selfishness must be aware of it and must realise the seriousness and tragedy of existence. I asked him whether my being miserable and discontented would help any one or make him less wretched; and he said that we all had to take up our burdens.

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Solitary Summer (1899)>


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History of Sexuality Women's History Stella Browne Archival matters Books
Interwar Progressives Science Fiction and Fantasy Random Links of Interest
Victoriana Quirky Stuff