Autodidact: self-taught

Jan
28
2015

Match Girl & Heiress

by V. L. Craven

Match Girl and the Heiress The Match Girl and the Heiress  by Seth Koven
-001- I cannot say how and when they met, but I do know that Muriel Lester and Nellie Dowel loved one another. That they ever met seems improbable, more the stuff of moralizing fiction than history.
-002- During the first decades of the twentieth century, they were ‘loving mates’ who shared their fears, cares, and hopes.
-003- Convinced that even the smallest gestures–downcast eyes or a deferential nod of the head–perpetuated the burdened histories of class, race, and gender oppression, Nellie and Muriel believed that they could begin to unmake and remake these formations–and hence the world–through how they lived their own lives.
-004- Kingsley Hall, Britain’s first Christian revolutionary ‘People’s House’
-005- Founded in February 1915 in an abandoned hellfire Zion Baptist chapel amid the furies unleashed by the world at war, it was an outpost of pacifism, feminism, and socialism committed to radical social sharing.
-006- Ardent defenders of human freedom, community members imposed on themselves rules about everything from the proper disposition of toothpaste in washbasins to protocols about gossip. Often mistaken for members of a modern monastery, the residents of Kingsley Hall lived as if each minute detail of their intimately regulated lives resonated through the cosmos.
-007- I first began to research this book at the peak of President George W. Bush’s lavish funding of ‘faith-based’ initiatives at the heart of his ‘compassionate conservatism’ in the opening years of the twenty-first century. For readers in the United States, I hope that this history of Muriel and Nellie’s ‘faith-based’ initiates a century ago suggests the potential for deep religious faith to animate a radical critique and redistribution of power and authority between rich and poor, men and women, white and black, colonizer and colonized.
-008- In other chapters, I tease out the implications of love for historical understandings of female friendships, same-sex desire, and cross-class eroticism in the  early twentieth century.
-009- Jane Nassau Senior Britain’s first female civil servant in 1873.
-010- Senior turned to the private voluntary sector and founded the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants (MABYS)
-011- MABYS paired each pauper girl with a ‘lady’ volunteer who befriended and advised her.
-012- Muriel highlights Nellie’s futile resistance to the micro-workings of the school’s disciplinary regime as the staff seeks to eradicate her individuality. Nellie uses all the tools of the weak to resist the powerful: inactivity and aggression.
-013- In the late 1880s and ’90s, the New Woman burst upon the scene, at once the literary invention and a term describing unmarried, educated middleclass women who boldly claimed for themselves new social rights and duties. Abetted by novelists, journalists discovered that the New Woman made good copy and compelling plots. They eagerly chronicled her dangerous defiance of social conventions as she bicycled along country paths and lanes; went to Girton or Newham or Somerville to study Greek, maths and history; smoked cigarettes; ventures into the slums to nurse the poor or live with like-minded women in settlement houses; and dares to earn her own living beyond the authority of husbands, fathers, and brothers.
-014- Coeducational private schools were unusual in the 1890s, being often disdained and dismissed as distinctly ‘American’ and un-English.
-015- For its first three decades, Girton graduates dominated the staff and leadership of St Leonard’s and brought with them their high intellectual standards as well as their intensely homosocial culture of female love and friendship. The first head of St Leonard’s, the Scotswoman Louisa Lumsden, arrived with Constance Maynard, her lover and partner. They served on the staff until their tumultuous relationship deteriorated and both women sought separate venues in which to contiue their work of building new institutions for women’s intellectual advancement. Schools like St Leonard’s cultivated powerful emotional attachments among students as well as between teachers and students articulated through ritualized, erotically charged relationships called ‘raves’ and ‘crushes.’ No evidence suggests that Muriel formed such a relationship, but St Leonard’s offered her ample opportunities to observe them. In her diary, she noted that during a gossipy stroll, her friend Frieda told her all about a fellow student called Joy and ‘a fuss about a certain girl who liked her.’
-016- St Leonard’s was divided into Houses, each with its own mistress, dining room, and study, and its own highly cultivated sense of corporate domesticity and identity. no doubt responding to widespread fears that female scholars’ devotion to studies jeopardized their health, the girls were not allowed to do work before breakfast or after 8.30pm. Academic subjects dominated the morning curriculum from 9.00 to 12.30 pm with a range of less strenuous special subjects in the afternoons. The hour and a half after dinner were given over to games and sports each day.
-017- Clara Balfour rightly observed that it was a ‘great mistake’ to assume that schools and schoolmasters monopolized the education of children. ‘Every place is a school where we learn anything, and every person is a schoolmaster or mistress who teaches us anything.’
-018- Arthur Balfour’s coolly reasonable disquisition, The Foundations of Belief, insisted that “Nature” was “indifferent” to both human happiness and morality. Humands cultivated disinterested virtue and ‘ethical sentiments,’ Balfour argued, ‘merely because they were crucial to ‘our survival.’
-019- King Leopold II of Belgium masquerading as a benevolent Christian monarch, had imposed a regime of terror on the quasi-enslaved African population compelled to harvest rubber to satisfy the insatiable demand of bicycle-crazed Europeans and Americans. Leopold’s overseers executed or maimed the bodies of conscripted Congolese workers who failed to meet their rubber quotas. Overseers literally needed a severed human body part to account for each bullet they had discharged, lest they be punished for wasting precious ammunition in hunting for food. The death toll must be reckoned in tens of thousands.
-020- I wanted all parsons to perform their proper function, to be prophets, to speak out the truth so that no one could go on contentedly talking about Europe as though it were Christian, and honouring crowned heads as though some were not murderers, and priding themselves as carrying the white man’s burden of civilization when we were torturing Africa with out callousness and greed.
-021- Robert Hugh Benson’s queer novel, Richard Raynal, The Solitary (1904) about an androgynously beautiful fifteenth century mystic and ascetic contemplative, who espouses simplicity and silence in making himself a vessel for God’s message.

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