Frock Consciousness

Rosemary Hill entertains and informs in her lecture about women and clothes, Frock Consciousness. The phrase is Virginia Wolf’s who wrote:

‘My love of clothes interests me profoundly, only it is not love; and what it is I must discover.’

Hill reflects that this diary entry was written in the year that:

Woolf published Mrs Dalloway, which brought her to literary prominence; the previous year she had sat for her photograph in Vogue. For that she chose to wear a dress of her mother’s, which was too big for her and long out of fashion. To plant it in the most famous fashion magazine in Europe was to make a statement, however ambiguous. And the experience of the sitting prompted a further thought: ‘My present reflection is that people have any number of states of consciousness: & I should like to investigate the party consciousness, the frock consciousness etc. These states are very difficult … I’m always coming back to it … Still I cannot get at what I mean

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Hill adds,

I don’t suppose that I shall get at it either, but I will revolve the question again and apply the advantage of nearly a century of hindsight to the idea of frock consciousness, an idea that I think was not born but at least much heightened in that period between the world wars just as Woolf was trying to put her finger on it.

It’s fascinating. It answered questions a brother always puzzled about when he saw his sisters getting dressed (why on earth should girls’ buttons be on the opposite side?) and makes a case for the revolutionary importance of the pullover.

Worth reading in full here. The linked page contains a recording of the lecture, if you prefer to listen rather than read.

Frock Consciousness

The best ever courtship scene

“she pictures Mom in a gym suit. The gym suit is shiny and blue, and Mom’s feet move swiftly; she’s the star of the team. She can do a kick split and spin like a top. She’s so stunning that Dad can’t take his eyes of her. No way he’d ever get enough of watching a girl like that. Dad takes a running start, he takes a running start and streaks through the gym, his big hands stretching out before him. He wants to get over to where Mom is and he does. He comes within reach of the girl in the shining outfit. She looks like a kingfisher, he thinks, and kingfishers are rare. They screech as they fly through the air like arrow shafts, and Mom screeches too when Dad’s red hands grasp her about the waist. Then she sinks down; he is gravity itself. “You’ve got strong arms,” she tells him.”From Dorte Nors wonderful novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal


There’s a good review of it (and more about Dorte Nors) here

The best ever courtship scene

I am a person…The story of Gertrude Bell

If you think of those early years of Arab nationalism and middle-east peace settlements, you might think of Sykes/Piquot, possibly of Lawrence and his disillusion when wartime promises to Arab leaders were disavowed after the war.

Before tonight though, I wouldn’t have thought of Gertrude Bell.

I knew she was around the Middle East at the time, but in my mind I had her down as one of that tribe of English gentlewomen, dressed improbably in full Edwardian splendour, who spent their lives in foreign parts, writing the occasional travel book.

Yet Bell was a much more significant figure than that. She was a true adventurer, exploring parts of the Arab world where almost no European had been before. She became expert in language, customs and tribal relations before the first world war and was then able to offer insights and strategic advice to soldiers and statesmen both while the fighting was going on and through the post war settlements.

She was Al-Khatun – the woman who advises the ruler. She was pretty much the architect of the new country of Iraq, fighting for the right of Arabs to govern the new state.

Her story is told vividly in a recent documentary C and I watched last night, called Letters From Baghdad. Based on letters and reports, some of them secret, it revealed a clever, warm and passionate woman who was able to face down so much official (and male) resistance to the very idea of a woman playing any sort of role in politics. The mix of modern and archive footage managed to give a real immediacy to the story. Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

The credits are fascinating too – the film has clearly been funded and made on a very different model to most. Lists of supporters – almost all of them women – scroll past and, if you go to the film’s website, you can see that it is the first fruit of a project to make different a sort of film. Worth exploring in its own right. 

The website is here.

I am a person…The story of Gertrude Bell

Still 83:17 in the London review of Books

Telling letter in a recent LRB from Sarah Walker, describing the proportion of women reviewers, writers and poets in the paper as well as the numbers of books reviewed. She’s counting them all and says that, in 2017 :

In the five issues of Volume 39 to date, men have made up 78 per cent of the reviewers and used 83 per cent of the total word count dedicated to reviews; 78 per cent of the authors reviewed have been male, with 73 per cent of the books reviewed being written by men. Reviews of books by women average 80 per cent of the length devoted to reviews of books by men. All of the Short Cuts and At the Movies features have been by men; 87 per cent of the letters published have been from men, using 88 per cent of the total word count for letters; 75 per cent of the poets are men and they have supplied 83 per cent of the poems published.

As she wonders, perhaps the preponderance arises because:

 women are just that much less interesting, less significant, less likely to publish review-worthy books, less likely to submit work to you, less likely to write to your standards, less likely to write you letters, more terse overall in their expenditure of words. Possibly. But the ratios that appear – 78:22; 73:27; 70:30; 87:13; 67:33; 85:15; 83:17 and so on – are eerily familiar. Research suggests that people perceive men and women – whether in zombie movies, panel games, crowd scenes or business meetings – as equally represented when the male-to-female ratio they are looking at actually hovers around 83:17. They start to regard situations as unduly female-dominated when women approach 30 per cent of those present.

I like the LRB, but it does feel like a bit of a men’s club sometimes. Inexcusable these days.

You can read the whole letter here

Still 83:17 in the London review of Books