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July 19th, 2019

05:37 pm - Caroline Norton, The Separation of Mother and Child by the Law of 'Custody of Infants' Considered, 1
Caroline Norton, The Separation of Mother and Child by the Law of 'Custody of Infants' Considered, 1838

This little pamphlet was produced to encourage the passing of legislation to allow women to have access to their children in the event of separation from the father. Under the law that existed until the time of this debate, women who were separated from their husbands had no right to visit the children if their husbands did not agree. The father had sole custody and could make decisions about whether the mother was allowed to even see the child.

This is what happened to Caroline Norton. She was a dashing young woman, a wit, a poet and a penniless grand-daughter of Sheridan. She married a guy who turned out to be a drip, and was named as possibly having a liaison with Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister. After a very public court case, it was found that there was no evidence of her wrong-doing. Nonetheless her husband cast her out without a penny and then denied her access to her children for the remainder of their childhoods.

Married women were subsumed into their husband’s identities. Married women could not own property, control money they earned, enter into contracts, go to the courts in civil cases or have custody of children. They were subject to coverture, literally ‘covered’ by their husband’s legal identity. In Caroline Norton’s case this meant that her husband had no obligation to support her but that anything she earned was legally his property. She left the house and came back to find the doors barred against her – from then on she spent only hours with her children (all aged under ten) until the two who survived to adulthood returned to her company.

I’d like to say her story had a happy ending. It almost did – After her husband finally died she remarried, but then died 14 weeks later.

However, she did produce a large quantity of popular Victorian poetry and a few leaflets dealing with the pivotal issue of her life – access to children. I am happy to say that changes to the law were made in 1839 that allowed contact between mothers and children. This was part of the gradual disentangling of married women from their husbands in the 19th century, with later acts vastly improving the status of married women.

As she wrote in this snappy pamphlet, the key issue was ‘the general feature of all the laws respecting women (namely, the non-admission of their separate legal existence when married)’. Her husband was a magistrate (a job she got for him through her connections and that he did not give up despite it being the gift of Melbourne) but not capable of batting in this league.

Norton was careful not to claim too much or to personalise the debate. Indeed, the pamphlet was originally released anonymously. She kowtowed appropriately to the rule of the fathers. ‘Doubtless the claim of a father is sacred and indisputable…’

You can feel the but coming; she continued: ‘ but when the mother's claim clashes with it, surely something should be accorded to her. There are other laws besides those in made by men —what says the holier law, the law of nature?

Does nature say that the woman, who endures for nearly a year a tedious suffering, ending in an agony which perils her life, has no claim to the children she bears ? Does nature say that the woman, who after that year of suffering is over provides from her own bosom the nourishment which preserves the very existence of her offspring, has no claim to the children she has nursed? Does nature say that the woman who has watched patiently through the very many feverish and anxious nights which occur even in the healthiest infancy, has no claim to the children she has tended ?’

She follows up the pamphlet with an overview of the most relevant precedents, including a woman whose child was ‘’cruelly tak[en]… from the breast’ and fulminations against the men who wronged women.

Norton was a society beauty, who was immortalised as the figure of Justice in the Halls of the House of Lords The painter chose her specifically as a beautiful woman who had been wronged by the law.


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June 25th, 2019

05:26 pm - dutton
I feel disgruntled. What I wanted for Mother’s Day was a change of Government. What I got is Peter Dutton.

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June 21st, 2019

06:46 pm - Ruth Herbert, The St James Cookery Book 1894
Ruth Herbert, The St James Cookery Book 1894

The St. James's Cookery Book (1894) is an odd book, in that it takes a position of utmost respectability and snobbishness but was written by Louisa Ruth Herbert, a well known stage actress and model (which, by Victorian standards, was to say a well known loose woman).
Herbert was born in 1831, daughter of a brass founder. She married but separated and became an actress under the name Ruth Crabbe. She worked at the St James theatre. She specialised in comedy and burlesque, and was known as a beauty.

She modelled for Rossetti in the late 1850s. He wrote:

‘I am in the stunning position this morning of expecting the actual visit at 1/2 past 11 of a model whom I have been longing to paint for years – Miss Herbert of the Olympic Theatre – who has the most varied and highest expression I ever saw in a woman's face, besides abundant beauty, golden hair, etc.’

She clearly had smarts as well as beauty, as she managed the St James from 1864 to 1868, and then married again. She published the St James Cookery Book under her married name. All the hints on home management are uncompromisingly pro-management.

‘Do not feel, as too many mistresses do, that you are intruding when you go into the kitchen. Never forget that the house is yours, and that you are responsible for the disposition
of the stores bought with your or your husband’s money.’

One hard and fast rule should be made in every house, and
that is, that whatever comes into a house belongs to the
master and mistress ; and I hold that a servant looking
upon dripping and other things that have cost her mistress
money as her “ perquisites ” is dishonest, and has nothing
to recommend it but custom, and that custom should be

Servants at this time earned very little but were meant to get their board and traditionally had certain perquisites such as being able to sell off coffee grounds or ends of candles. You’d have thought someone who started off at the bottom end of the ladder would have had more sympathy.

The recipes certainly show the changes industrialisation had wrought in cooking in the half century from Eliza Acton to Ruth Herbert. The first step in Acton’s jelly calls for dismembering calves’ feet. The first step in Herbert’s is to take ‘half of a sixpenny packet of Nelson’s Gelatine’. Her cooking is a lot closer to our own, with its reliance on ready made conveniences.

I wonder if she had some kind of marketing arrangement with Nelsons as the 1903 edition I read contained advertising for the company in the inside cover.

In short, Herbert was a very attractive woman who did well for herself. But you would not want to have worked for her.

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June 9th, 2019

06:36 pm - Andromeda 2.8
Season 2.8 Home Fires

First aired 19 November 2001

Andromeda discovers a planet of Commonwealth survivors and descendants gathered together by Dylan's former fiancé after the Commonwealth fell, including the genetic reincarnation of Dylan's first officer Rhade, but when the election to rejoin the Commonwealth goes against Andromeda's crew, an apparent Magog attack raises several questions.

I like that this episode wraps up the last of Dylan’s links to his old life, his relationship with his fiancé. But once again the writers went hard on the Rhade/Dylan ship, going to the extent of reincarnating his former first officer.

Immediately after this Dylan abandons the idea of restoring the Commonwealth and just focuses on a defence pact, so it actually holds together quite well psychologically.

NB: The 18 month break in reviews was due to selling my house, moving house and various health issues for my kids and for me.

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06:20 pm - Mrs Oliphaunt, Phoebe Junior, 1876
Mrs Oliphaunt wrote a huge number of novels – she churned out too many to be classed as a ‘great’ novelist. But she also has her moments.

*Phoebe* was the last of her Carlingford novels, which, like Trollope’s contemporary series, tracked life in the middle classes in small towns. The plot is essentially romantic – who will Phoebe marry? Either the young man with a sinecure who loves her but will never amount to much, or the dim witted, enormously rich youth who she can shape for greatness. She decides on the one she can shape, who will be, as she says ‘a career’ for her.

He was not very wise, nor a man to be enthusiastic about, but he would be a career to Phoebe. She did not think of it humbly like this, but with a big capital--a Career. Yes; she could put him into parliament, and keep him there. She could thrust him forward (she believed) to the front of affairs. He would be as good as a profession, a position, a great work to Phoebe. He meant wealth (which she dismissed in its superficial aspect as something meaningless and vulgar, but accepted in its higher aspect as an almost necessary condition of influence), and he meant all the possibilities of future power. Who can say that she was not as romantic as any girl of twenty could be? only her romance took an unusual form. It was her head that was full of throbbings and pulses, not her heart.

Oliphaunt was sometimes accused of heartlessness, but my sympathies are with Phoebe. The only career open to her is marriage and yet it provides a limited scope to a girl of her abilities. Marrying money will allow her to push her husband into the parliamentary career that Phoebe is so suited to. As the novel writes…..

And Clarence got into Parliament, and the reader, perhaps (if Parliament is sitting), may have had the luck to read a speech in the morning paper of Phoebe's composition, and if he ever got the secret of her style would know it again, and might trace the course of a public character for years to come by that means. But this secret is one which no bribe nor worldly inducement will ever tempt our lips to betray.

There is a sub-plot where a Minister embezzles a small amount of money, but the entire matter is capably dealt with by Phoebe. There is, though, a great deal of careful observation in Oliphaunt’s description of the temptations of money.

A momentary disappointment when he saw how little James's draft was--then a sense of that semi-intoxication which comes upon a poor man when a sum of money falls into his hands--gradually invaded his soul.

Oliphaunt herself spent her life always in debt, writing to pay off money already spent, so she was well aware of the allure of money.

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May 13th, 2019

05:28 pm
Last Monday:

Hot water bottle burst on Pearl, giving her mild burns on her hip.
Put her in a cold bath while I swapped mattresses and got her a quilt.
While getting the quilt discovered that the linen cupboard had a leak.
Tried phoning my Mum for advice – landline had broken and mobile was not charged.
Ruby was annoyed that Pearl was getting all the attention. Very cross with Ruby.

Honestly, one thing goes wrong and then it is a series of others. Phone and plumbing now repaired. Hip healed. Mattress dried and replaced.

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May 8th, 2019

05:29 pm - Poems on Mischellaneous Subjects
I was bored by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s *Poems on Miscelleneous Subjects* (1854) when I first read them. They seemed mandarin, guarded, obsessively obedient to literary conventions.

Then I read about her life – this is a woman who was anything but obedient to conventions. She was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer.

Born free in 1825 (but in a slave State), she had a long and prolific career. At 14, Frances found work as a seamstress. During her early twenties, she published poems and articles in the local newspaper and published her first volume of poetry at 20 (extant as a single, recently discovered volume). At 25, the Watkins family fled north after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. She started publishing pieces in antislavery journals in 1839.

Harper's second book, Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), was extremely popular and was reprinted numerous times.

In 1850, Watkins moved to Ohio, where she worked as the first female teacher at Union Seminary and then Wilberforce University, the first black-owned and operated college. In 1853, Watkins joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and became a travelling lecturer for the group. In 1858 she refused to give up her seat or ride in the coloured section of a segregated trolley car in Philadelphia (100 years before Rosa Parks).

After the Civil War ended she moved south to teach newly freed black people during the Reconstruction. She was a strong supporter of abolitionism, prohibition and woman's suffrage. From 1883 to 1890, she helped organise events and programs for the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union and helped organise the National Association of Coloured Women in 1894, and was elected vice president in 1897.

Such an exciting life. Such conventional poetry. Take for example the stulitifying rhythms of ‘The Dying Christian’.

The light was faintly streaming
Within a darkened room,
Where a woman, faint and feeble,
Was sinking to the tomb.

I assume that Watkins was keenly aware that if she wrote with passion, she would be a hysterical woman. If she ignored classical conventions, she would be an uneducated uppity person who was incapable of understanding western culture. Hence the iron control.

There are some poems with a bit more oomph. *Bury Me in a Free Land* was written when she was seriously ill on an anti-slavery tour before the war, so presumably came from the heart.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

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April 9th, 2019

05:25 pm
Little Women - a review at the time

‘We cannot commend this book. It is without Christ, and hence perilous in proportion to its assimilation to Christian forms. Don’t put in the Sunday School library.’ Zion’s Herald

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April 1st, 2019

07:47 pm - March books
The Sheik and the Dustbin and Other McAuslan Stories George MacDonald Fraser 1988
The New York Review of Book 2018
Rise of the Isle of the Lost Melissa de la Cruz 2017
The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett 1983
The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher Debby Applegate 2006
New York Review of Books 2018
Christopher's diary: Echose of Dollanganger Virginia Andrews 2015
Interesting Times Terry Pratchett 1994
Return to the Isle of the Lost Melissa de la Cruz 2016
Unnatural Death Dorothy L Sayers 1927
Enlightenment Now: The case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress Steven Pinker 2018
Guards! Guards! Terry Pratchett 1989
Mutinies, Rebellion and Refusal of Combat in English Speaking Armed Forces 1906-2006 James Wolfe 2009
Your Accomplishments are Suspiciously Hard to Verify Scott Adams 2011
Snuff Terry Pratchett 2011
Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope Katie Herrington and Rebecca Milner 2018

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March 25th, 2019

05:25 pm
After a search of 1 hour and 20 minutes and the offering of a $5 bounty, Ruby’s shoes were located. By me.

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