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Jan 2020

1st January

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,--
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene,--one step enough for me.

John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light (1833)

8th January

He said that, by God, D.H. Lawrence was right when had said that there must be a dumb, dark, dull, bitter belly-tension between a man and a woman, and how else could this be achieved save in the long monotony of marriage? As for Rennet, she accepted him at once and was perfectly happy choosing saucepans.

Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm (1932)

15th January

It's infuriating to think how coming-of-age-novels about the feminine experience are read and dismissed as chick-lit or school-girl books or YA, etc.... As if the female coming -of-age experience is somehow more frivolous or less rending than the male one. And how these works are seldom read as existential novels about girls who want to realize themselves, who want to be artists, and the desire not to have their future decided for them.

Kate Zambreno, Heroines (2012)

22nd January

Dorinda, like so many vital women, had been full of beans as a girl, had then gone into a dreaming sleep for many years, disguised as sex object, mother, hostess, housewife, and had only now resurrected herself. Kate believed in born-again women, and Dorinda was a rare and wonderful example.

Amanda Cross, The Players Come Again (1990)

29th January

Theoretically, Laura was perfectly well aware that her husband loved her, and was solicitous for her welfare, but actually, he said so little about it, and that little so very seldom, that she was apt to receive any demonstration from him in touched astonishment.

EM Delafield, The Way Things Are (1927)

Feb 2020

5th February

[W]hen the interdependence of women is perceived as a threat to the dependence of women on men and the childbearing, child-rearing, family-serving, man-serving role assigned to women, it's easy to declare that it simply doesn't exist.... The idea of female independence and interdependence is met with scoffing hatred by both men and women who see themselves as benefitting from male dominance.

Ursula K Le Guin, 'A Band of Brothers, a Stream of Sisters' (November 2010), in No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters (2017)

12th February

I was young. I thought in terms of abstract principle. I hadn't learned that there are times, crucial times, when you find yourself doing in good faith something you have scorned in others on principle. The act sneaks into your life like an infiltrator, confounding, unnerving you: how did it manage to get past the border guards?

Lynne Sharon Schwartz, 'Help', in Face to Face: A Reader in the World (2000)

19th February

[A]ge, I'm afraid, matters. Having been there matters. This is not to dismiss or devalue young people's opinions. None of us understand something they way people who lived it do.... I'm sorry to sound like your gran, but it's just an immutable temporal fact. I was around and you were not. I have been your age, while you have not yet been mine.

Alex Andreou, Schofield coming out revealed a generational gulf in the gay community, 10 February 2020

26th February

[T]he disclosure that heterosexuality is in trouble never fails to arrive freshly as the diagnosis of a particularly contemporary crisis, its signature sex act failing to deliver the reciprocal sexual satisfactions it nevertheless emblematizes.

Annemarie Jagose, Orgasmology (2013)

Mar 2020

4th March

Urban woodland is always weird, because you only have to walk a few meters from the street to feel like youíre in the middle of nowhere. There was this sense of being caught between a primal, magical world on one side and a main road through Loughton on the other.

Alexis Hall, Fire and Water (2020)

11th March

I wasnít really interested in men and Iím still not - Iím not interested in their souls, because very few men have souls. When you find one that has, itís worth it. Most of them are just so trivial. And if youíre not sexually interested in men, theyíre unbearably trivial.

Miriam Margolyes, Interview: 'I like men - I just don't feel groin excitement'. The Guardian, 3 March 2020

18th March

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade;
All things to end are made;
The plague full swift goes by.

Thomas Nashe, In Time of Pestilence (1593)

25th March

ĎYou cannot be - you that are - young again. You cannot unroll that snowball which is you: There is no 'you' except your life - lived.

Jane Harrison(1850-1928), quoted in Francesca Wade, Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars (2020)

Apr 2020

1st April

No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation 17: Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624)

8th April

These, in the days when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and the earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

AE Housman, Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries (1917)

15th April

All of them had supremely good minds, as well as the physiological luck that makes a man able to go on through the seventies into the eighties doing what he has done all his life better and better, even though he may not be able to address himself to new tasks or work continously,

Rebecca West, The Meaning of Treason (1949)

22nd April

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains -- but the best is lost.

Edna St Vincent Millay, Dirge Without Music from The Buck in the Snow and Other Poems (1928)

29th April

Shall we blow a bubble, boys, glittering to distend,
Hiding from our trouble, boys, waiting for the end?
When you build on rubble, boys, Nature will append
Double and re-double, boys, waiting for the end.

Shall we make a tale, boys, that things are sure to mend,
Playing bluff and hale, boys, waiting for the end?
It will be born stale, boys, stinking to offend,
Dying ere it fail, boys, waiting for the end.

William Empson, Just a Smack at Auden (1938)

May 2020

6th May

The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.

Louis MacNeice, Bagpipe Music (1938)

13th May

Do they give you the same pleasure to write as they did....Iím afraid they do... I have rather mixed feelings about this. Thereís something slightly disgraceful about old folks having fun, when they should, as Russians used to say, be making their souls in preparation for the long funlessness of eternity.

Observer New Review Q&A Michael Frayn, 3 May 2020

20th May

[I]n a pandemic lockdown, when your family has become your social life, the world is literally too small and enclosed for feeling shame about things which arenít shameful. Weird is not the same as wrong, and we all need to find our joy where we can. If I find mine in a nugget of cold, cheap sausage I think thatís OK.

Jay Rayner, What we need now is friendship and understanding. And a bit of sausage, 16 April 2020

27th May

Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.

Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God's help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.

I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.

Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!

Oliver Cromwell, 'In the name of God, go!' speech dismissing Rump Parliament , 20 April 1653

Jun 2020

3rd June

And Anarchy, the Skeleton,
Bowed and grinned to every one,
As well as if his education
Had cost ten millions to the nation.

For he knew the Palaces
Of our Kings were rightly his ;
His the sceptre, crown, and globe,
And the gold-inwoven robe.

So he sent his slaves before
To seize upon the Bank and Tower,
And was proceeding with intent
To meet his pensioned Parliament.

ĎRise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.í

Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy: Written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester, 1819

10th June

Cities aflame in the summer time, and oh the beat goes on
Eve of destruction, tax deduction,
City inspectors, bill collectors,
Evolution, revolution, gun control, the sound of soul,
Shootin' rockets to the moon, kids growin' up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will solve ev'rything, and the band played on.

Norman Whitfield / Barrett Strong, Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today), 1970: Tina Turner version

17th June

"O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!

"We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
'I know not which I am!'

"The wicked people have annexed
The verses on the good;
A roaring drunkard sports the text
Teetotal Tommy should!

"Where we are huddled none can trace,
And if our names remain,
They pave some path or p-ing place
Where we have never lain!

Thomas Hardy, The Levelled Churchyard, c. 1881

24th June

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the dayís journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

Christina Rossetti, Up-Hill, 1861

Ju1 2020

1st July

[L]earning to tolerate the discomfort of doing things imperfectly becomes a kind of self-improvement project in itself. From this viewpoint, a defining quality of the successful activist (or exerciser, declutterer, or anything else) is precisely that she cultivates the ability to resist demanding perfection of herself - to relish every small accomplishment as vastly preferable to the only real alternative, which is doing nothing at all.

Oliver Burkeman, This column will change your life: Struggling to achieve perfection? This nautical metaphor might help, The Guardian, 26 June 2020

8th July

[H]ere is the single most virulent false categorizing ever invented: the moving art object X from the category of 'serious art' to the category of 'not serious'.

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

15th July

And then I read this liberating sentence:

It's really a question of arranging matters so that the dough suits your timetable rather than the other way around.

Why, you could have knocked me over with a pastry brush! This meant that I could mix up the bread in the morning, leave it to rise, and actually go away! I could come home when I wanted, punch the dough down and let it rise all afternoon if I needed to.... The idea that bread baking was something that would accommodate itself to me was downright thrilling.

Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (1988)

22nd July

Sophia Garfield had a clear mental picture of what the outbreak of war was going to be like. There would be a loud bang, succeeded by inky darkness and a cold wind. Stumbling over heaps of rubble and dead bodies, Sophia would search with industry, but without hope, for her husband, her lover and her dog.... [F]or more than two years now she had been steeling herself to bear with fortitude the hardships, both mental and physical, which must accompany this cataclysm.

However, nothing in life happens as we expect.... There was no loud bang, but Mr Chamberlain said on the wireless what a bitter blow it had been for him, and then did his best to relieve the tension by letting off air-raid sirens

Nancy Mitford, Pigeon Pie (1940)

29th July

A favourite track coming up on shuffle is the roulette ball landing on the correct number - but as if someone else had chosen it for you.
[T]urning on shuffle is worth the risk: to hear the opening thrum of a classic that makes the heart beat faster, your smile grow wider and a shiver run down the spine.

Hannah Jane Parkinson, The joy of small things: Take a chance, turn on shuffle: you might hit the jackpot Guardian Weekend, 25 July 2020

Aug 2020

5th August

High time, therefore, that my emergency, air-raid bag should...be demobilized[....] [T]he sides burst gladly apart, gaping wide, reminding me how difficult it was in 1940 to thrust inside every single thing that might be needed....
Alter the tense: That might have been needed.
Month after month and year after year, until April, 1945, as though watching a slow-motion film, we had to possess our souls in patience. To possess one's soul in anything is not so easy as it sounds.

GB Stern, Benefits Forgot (1949)

12th August

[W]hat male writer has been transformed by critics into The Sad, Reclusive, Timid Bachelor [solely by reason of not being married] or The Devoted and Submissive Husband [seen as an exemplary figure]?

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

19th August

'I read', I added with a sudden inspiration, 'such an interesting book called Europe Must Unite. The motto of the New League is to be, In necessariis unitas, in dubiis, libertas, in omnibus caritas. I suppose that charity is the most important of all.' (Long, long ago I discovered the value of any quotation in any foreign language in a stormy debate. While people are translating, or not translating it, to themselves, one can change the subject, and I tried to do so rapidly in the little pause.)

Winifred Peck, Bewildering Cares (1940)

26th August

[T]hese texts, like temples and cathedrals that have become museums, will have failed in their essential purpose if life's questions are not, daily, brought to them. What we must recognize about feminist criticism is that it is not destructive. It seeks not to assault literature, but to reinterpret literature[.]

Carolyn G Heilbrun, 'Feminist Criticism in Departments of Literature' (1983), in Hamlet's Mother and Other Women (1990)

Sep 2020

2nd September

A minority have superficially learned a formula for being 'friends of women', and want to explain what you have to do to save yourself, but as soon as you make it clear that you need to save yourself by yourself, the civilised patina cracks and the old, intolerable little man emerges.

Elena Ferrante, ĎWe donít have to fear change, what is other shouldnít frighten us', Guardian Saturday Review, 29 August 2020

9th September

Remember: the reason you canít hear other peopleís inner monologues of self-doubt isnít that they donít have them. Itís that you only have access to your own mind.

Oliver Burkeman, Oliver Burkeman's last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life, Guardian Weekend, 5 September 2020

16th September

she misses the people they used to be, when they were all discovering themselves with no idea how much they might change in the years to come

Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other (2019)

23rd September

He belonged to that pathetic order of minor historical characters who say "Evil, be thou my good," but receive from evil only a tart toss of the head, since Mephistopheles makes it a rule to put back all Fausts under a certain size.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942)

30th September

[H]e said to me that humiliation, however it was produced, was a necessary stage in exploration. The confident and equable would never be the greatest explorers.

Naomi Mitchison, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962)

Oct 2020

7th October

[F]or him, Beard was now some Captain Bligh or Commodus against whom even the most loyal praetorian officer or first mate might be driven to mutiny.

Angus Wilson, The Old Men At The Zoo (1961)

14th October

'I am tired of women and men of destiny. The idea of a singular hero and a manifest destiny just makes us all lazy. There is no destiny. There is choice, there is action, and any other narrative perpetuates a myth that someone else out there will fix our problems with a magic sword and a blessing from the gods.'

Tade Thompson, Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy 1) (2017)

21st October

If I could ban any phrase, it would be that overused, viscerally irritating, and far-from-innocent term, the Guilty Pleasure. No one should feel guilty about what they eat, or the pleasure they get from eating; the only thing to feel guilty about (and even then I donít recommend it) is the failure to be grateful for that pleasure.

Nigella Lawson, Cook, Eat, Repeat (extract) The Guardian Weekend, 10 Oct 2020

30th October

This essay notes that novels by women and about women are often demeaned by the longform patriarchs and their accomplices, as 'domestic', even today, even when they are not. And even if they are, the domestic sphere is where most of us live out the majority of our lives, so what, exactly, is inferior about it? On the other hand, when male novelists write about the domestic sphere, they are considered to be ruminating on the meaning of life, the 'human condition', the state of the nation, the universe, everything.

Bernardine Evaristo, The longform patriarchs, and their accomplices, The New Statesman, 1 Oct 2020

Nov 2020

4th November

'I think oneís 20s are the hardest time of oneís life. You donít know who you are. You have terrible relationships.'

Claire Wilcox, 'When I look at clothing, Iím thinking about narrativesí, The Observer, 25 Oct 2020

11th November

History doesn't work like a story. It rarely wraps up satisfyingly. It's full of perpetual loose ends and dangling motifs that any writer reading it immediately wants to tug on and tie into bows.

Jo Walton, Or What You Will (2020)

18th November

Someone had once told her that she achieved an exquisite repose, and she was rather given to displaying this achievement.

Dorothy Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh, Thrones, Dominations (1998)

25th November

Being honest now, as generally, meant to Mrs Heyham discovering a way to accept any blame that remained when she had made excuses for everybody else. On this occasion she found it as easy as usual to persuade herself that she was behaving badly

Amber Reeves, A Lady and Her Husband (1914)

Dec 2020

2nd December

Those who were repelled by the manipulative aspects of her daemon often saw her work for the advancement of science as self-advancement. Yet this was the price she was prepared to pay. Her daemon also enlarged, by example, and by her daughter's testimony, the possibilities of female lives.

Carolyn G Heilbrun, 'Margaret Mead and Women's Biography' (1985), in Hamlet's Mother and Other Women (1990)

9th December

So they talked on quietly, sharing things, in a rather pleasant electrical prickle of unactivated sex.

A. S. Byatt, The Children's Book (2009)

16th December

The story is primitive, it reaches back in the origins of literature, before reading was discovered, and it appeals to what is primitive in us. That is why we are so unreasonable over the stories we like, and so ready to bully those who like something else.

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (1927)

23rd December

The novel only exists because of the stories elaborated upon inside its pages. It would otherwise be an empty object of bookended blank paper or a black screen. So when we talk about the novel, we need to talk about the stories it contains; we also need to talk about the context of the novel, because only then can we discover what it really means in our society.

Bernardine Evaristo, The longform patriarchs, and their accomplices, The New Statesman, 1 Oct 2020

30th December

[T]he conviction that these characters were based on life persisted. I came to understand this only with the realization, which was some years in coming, that all pompous, self-satisfied, established male professors have similar characteristics; if you have described one, you have described many.

Carolyn G Heilbrun, 'Memory', in The Last Gift of Time: Life beyond Sixty (1997)


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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