Lewis Carroll, Photographer

Anne, in comments below, reminds me that this weekend is, apparently, Alice Weekend here in Oxford. That would explain why there’s a rather good picture of the Mock Turtle just inside the Bodleian Library this week.

Lewis Carroll didn’t just write the Alice books, of course. He also liked to take photographs of young girls–a subject on which Kate Middleton, curiously enough, is an authority, as it was the subject of her undergraduate dissertation at St Andrews. Here’s one of them:

And these are three of my great-great aunts: Honor, Evelyn, and Olive Brooke. (Photo reproduced from over here.)

Honor, the oldest girl here, is the one I’m interested in. She first crossed my radar screen when I came across a footnote in Yvonne Kapp’s classic life of Eleanor Marx, reporting that Brooke, Marx and Edith Lees (later Mrs Havelock Ellis) addressed a rally to support the strike in Silvertown on 29 November 1889. I don’t know anything else about any connection she had to Marx, outside of the information reported in this post, but she was for a time very close to Lees, with Havelock Ellis writing that, “I do not know how they met, but I know that Miss Brooke, with a self-sacrificing devotion and skill that called out Edith’s deep love, nursed her back to health” after a nervous breakdown. And she features in a passage by Lees that is occasionally reprinted in studies of late ninteenth-century feminism:

How well I remember, after the first performance of Ibsen’s drama [A Doll’s House] in London, with Janet Achurch as Nora, when a few of us collected outside the theater breathless with excitement. Olive Schreiner was there and Dolly Radford the poetess, Dr. Alice Corthorn, Honor Brooke (Stopford Brooke’s eldest daughter,) Mrs. Holman Hunt and Eleanor Marx. We were restive and impetuous and almost savage in our arguments. This was either the end of the world or the beginning of a new world for women. What did it mean? Was there hope or despair in the banging of that door? Was it life or death for women? Was it joy or sorrow for men? Was it revelation or disaster? We almost cantered home. I remember that I was literally prostrate with excitement because of the new revelation.

Edith Lees / Ellis later wrote a novel, Attainment, with a lightly fictionalised account of the Brooke family in it, ‘Stanley Evans’ a barely disguised Stopford Brooke–who, I have now come to realise, was basically the Rev. Giles Fraser of his day (though he doesn’t come out of the novel especially well).

It’s not, however, a terribly good novel, all things considered. Here is a typical passage, from one of the heroine’s letters home, after she has recently fallen in with ‘Robert Dane’, i.e., William Morris:

I came to Stanley Evans to help to reform the masses. I must be on the verge of delirium, for I feel that the masses are reforming me. I am ashamed to go and offer my patronage any more to these desperately tired people. I try to shake myself free from the convictions that are creeping over me, but they won’t go. Who is Karl Marx, Daddy? What does he know about the poor?

Bonus Kate Middleton-themed bit of trivia (since this has ended up being a post about Victorian feminist aunts): she’s Harriet Martineau’s great-great-great-great-great niece. (Ah–I see in fact that the Daily Telegraph has covered this already, reporting that there is ‘more than a passing resemblance’, apparently.)

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

One of my minor scholarly ambitions is one day to write a short history of big-haired lady Classicists, from the seventeenth century onwards. But one of the reasons that this may be a more challenging exercise that it sounds is that it is sometimes hard to tell whether lady Classicists have big hair or not, given their fondness for being painted wearing large military helmets in the style of the Roman goddess Minerva.

I mentioned this to someone in Celtic Studies the other day, and she observed that lady Celticists in centuries gone by also liked to pose for portraits in flowing Celtic costumes. So there may be a significant comparative dimension to make the project a bit more complicated and interesting than I’d initially anticipated.

But I was interested in the remark about lady Celticists for another reason, which is that I’m a first cousin, six times removed, of Charlotte Brooke–not the international fetish model, but the distinguished eighteenth-century lady Celticist. And so the question immediately poses itself: did she have big hair?

Well, it seems that it’s quite a tricky question. I can’t find any images of her in any of the places you might expect to find one–in the catalogue of the National Portrait Gallery, on her Wikipedia page, in the ODNB, or in the front matter of reprints of her major work. And I’m told that although there was a likeness made of her in the eighteenth century, no-one seems to know what happened to it, whether it survived–or, crucially, whether it recorded a lady Celticist with big hair or not. So the mystery persists.

Anyway: all that is really just a long and frivolous introduction to say that while I was scratching around looking for Charlotte Brooke-related material on the web–and finding along the way that she has her own roundabout in Co. Longford!–I learned that there’s a gorgeous new-ish edition of her major work, Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789), edited by Lesa Ni Mhunghaile, and a copy arrived in the post the other day. And it’s very good indeed: really well done, and I’m going to learn a lot from it.


Twenty four years ago today, Edwina Currie wrote to John Major to break off their relationship.

I wrote to B on Thursday night saying that’s it, no more; posted it Friday morning, so he won’t have seen it yet, maybe not till Tuesday. Because it isn’t quite the fun it was — he has changed… [Diaries, 20.3.1988]

But what fun it once had been!

I wish my flat was filled with one big man in his blue underpants — I wish I was warm and sticky and laughing… [24.1.1991]

Apologies in advance for the mental images this post may conjure up.

All Henry Sidgwick All The Time

So I’ve been spending too much time recently reading things by and about Henry Sidgwick:

Most of Sidgwick’s close friends were gay; the best known is John Addington Symonds. This involved Sidgwick in a great deal of delicate counseling about publicity — what studies and poems to publish (or how to modify them to admit safer construals), what risks in private life to take, and, in the case of Symonds’s posthumous biography, based on his frank memoirs, what (massive) excisions to make so that emotional turmoil appears as religious doubt. At one point, the editor of the biography wrote to Sidgwick that “if I came to this book as an outsider I should only gather from the Davos pages indications of a man who made warm friendships with many people not of his own class”…


If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind / And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined / Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared — Be prepared!

There’s nothing new about Scouts getting sex education; Baden Powell wanted to include a passage on “continence” in the first edition of Scouting for Boys, but it was removed on the advice of the publisher. I’ve transcribed it from the appendix to Elleke Boehmer’s edition over the fold.

Continue reading “If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind / And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined / Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared — Be prepared!”

Dogging (Again)

I was first told about dogging in 2002, when I was visiting Josephine in Rome, where she was living at the time. One of her archaeologist colleagues there — someone who has also, as it happens, told a lie to the Queen — explained the phenomenon to me. But I didn’t fully absorb what I was being told, so for quite a while afterwards I mistakenly thought that dogging was something that Italians did in autostrada lay-bys, even though dogging is, when you think about it, clearly a deeply, deeply English activity.

(So no good for Gordon Brown’s Britishness crusade. On the other hand, I see that googling “dogging Scotland” gets me 200,000 hits, and “dogging Wales” gets me 150,000, so perhaps a case could be made for “British values” teaching in schools to include a how-to module on dogging. I’d have thought it was far too cold and wet in Scotland and Wales. “Dogging Northern Ireland” nets you a mere 37,000 pages, so perhaps it never really took hold over there, or perhaps the internet hasn’t yet reached Ulster, or something.)

Anyway, for reasons I never began to understand, by about 2003 the Virtual Stoa had made it onto at least one list of “UK dogging websites”, and a surprising number of people would show up in the stats as coming to the Stoa in search of “dogging in Bedfordshire” and the like. (Also puzzling, since the VS isn’t known for its coverage of Life in Bedfordshire, but there we go.) And, over the years, I’ve kept half an eye on dogging in our national life, although I think the only sustained discussion we’ve had here at the Stoa was this one last year.

Fast forward now to 2008, and in February I was surprised to see in the site referral stats that someone had visited the Stoa looking for “daniel davies dogging”. (Back then it was the fourth hit; now it’s dropped to sixteenth.) I dropped blogland’s Daniel Davies (aka dsquared) a note to tell him that someone was onto him, and he said that he thought it might be something to do with this guy, “or at least I profoundly hope that’s what they were looking for”. And, yes, it turns out that another chap called Daniel Davies has written a state-of-the-nation novel about dogging, hence the title, The Isle of Dogs, which was published not so long ago. (And just as the person who came to the Stoa was presumably looking for the novelist but found the blogger, so over here there’s someone down in the comments who’s looking for the blogger on a page about the novelist.)

Anyway: I read The Isle of Dogs the other day, being generally in favour of the idea that people are writing novels about dogging, but unfortunately it was crap. (This bloke liked it, though. Where I thought it was a largely predictable string of clichés, he thought it was ” a near-flawless analysis of British society”. De gustibus, et cetera.)

Heroine of the Stoa

Coming out of the monkey-house at the ménagerie in the Jardin des Plantes here in Paris yesterday, we read a notice about the orang-utans, which said, among other things, that

“Sa mère Wattana rejoindra prochainement un groupe de femelles élevant leurs petits à  Appeldoorn, en Hollande, afin de compléter l’entraînement qu’elle a suivi à  la Ménagerie pour recouvrer un comportement maternel.”

And what was the matter with her comportement maternel, we wondered?

The internet, as ever, comes to the rescue. This page starts with a disussion of La grande erreur de Rousseau, but eventually gets to the ape in question:

Des observations récentes, en milieu artificiel, suggèrent même que les grands primates sont susceptibles d’apprendre la culture et les comportements d’une espèce voisine, y compris en ce qui concerne des éléments aussi sensibles à  la sélection que les comportements sexuels. L’exemple de Watana, célèbre jeune femelle orang-outan de la ménagerie du Jardin des plantes à  Paris, qui reçut des éléments de culture sexuelle bonobo au zoo de Stuttgart et se retrouva plus tard rejetée brutalement en milieu orang-outan, est à  cet égard particulièrement édifiant!”

Regular readers of Popbitch can probably guess what’s going on here — the giveaway phrase, culture sexuelle bonobo, will be setting off the alarm bells. But there’s also this page which gives a few more details:

“Le second exemple concerne une amie orang- outan, Wattana. Elle appartenait, de naissance, à  cette espèce solitaire dont les comportements sexuels, dans la nature, sont rares, pendant le court oestrus des femelles et plutôt calmes. Les hasards de la gestion des parcs zoologiques l’ont fait élever parmi des bonobos, chimpanzés bien connus pour leurs performances sexuelles permanentes et variées, nombreuses et brèves, entre partenaires de toutes combinaisons de sexes. Eduquée par ce groupe, Wattana fût ensuite “mariée” à  un orang mâle qui, d’abord, prit si mal ses grimaces provocatrices et propositions sexuelles explicites qu’il fallut les séparer ! Dans un deuxième temps, introduite dans un groupe familial, Wattana fût acceptée par son fiancé, dont elle modifia culture et comportements, ainsi que ceux des autres membres du groupe!”

Grimaces provocatrices! Anyway, this seems to be the deep background to help explain why she’s now off in Holland to recover her comportement maternel. The scientists seem to be interested in the case, as it’s a good example of the extent to which sexual behaviour is learned, rather than innate. (There’s also an academic article out there about Wattana’s talents with knots.)

And for more on the culture sexuelle bonobo, you might start here.

Dead Socialist Watch, #276

Edward Carpenter, English socialist and champion of gay sex. A clerical fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Carpenter resigned his holy orders and left for the North, teaching astronomy at Leeds and living from 1880 near Sheffield with his lover, Albert Fearnehough. He published Toward Democracy anonymously in 1883; from 1882 he was a market gardener and helped to popularise sandal-making as a suitable activity for socialists. He wrote a programme for the Sheffield Socialist Society in 1886, as well as “England Arise: a Socialist Marching Song”, and his 1889 Fabian Lecture was published as Civilization: Its Cause and Cure. He began his major works on sex in the 1890s, with Homogenic Love, and its Place in a Free Society later republished as Love’s Coming of Age. His most widely-read work was The Intermediate Sex, published in 1908. A pacifist, he opposed both the Boer War and the First World War. Born in Brighton, 29 August 1844, died in Guildford, 28 June 1929. His grave is here.