A Brief Look at People of Colour before the 20th Century: Part 2

Horae ad usum Parisiensem, dites Heures de Charles d'Angoulême | Gallica 87v

Image from the Hours of Charles d’Angoulême; courtesy of Gallica.bnf.fr

I am not an expert in Medieval nor Reinassance history, but I do have an appreciation for those who are experts in those fields (and i am being very broad in using tose terms, for which I am quite aware of). But I do also have a penchant for Art and this period in human history was rich in Art. Above is an image cropped from Plate 87 (I believe, my French is a tad rusty at the moment) from the Hours of Charles d’Angoulême, which was complied (that is, drawn and written) around 1475 to 1500 CE in France. The full image depicts Christ and possibly other religious figures, but the focus on this is the the knight (or solider) being shown here. There is a fallacy to assume that artists at this time didn’t know what people of colour looked like. And most art history courses (and I have taken at last 1 or 2 in my day) tend to focus on religious imagery and rarely show anyone who isn’t white. It’s this issue which has led to the belief that there weren’t any non whites in Europe until after the 20th Century. But look at the care, the attention to minute detail that has been rendered here (rendered being a very posh term for drawn and/or illustrated). This man is wearing hose and you can see the folds of his top/surcoat. His hair is curly/kinky with a lovely gold scarf. His skin is darker than the hose and he’s wearing a large gold hoop earring with a ruby in it (yes, it’s hard to see in this picture, but if you go to https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52502694t/f184.item.zoom, you can zoom in on the image and really appreciate all the detail in this one plate). This soldier is also not depicted as ugly, which I think is very important. He’s humble, in awe of Christ (not shown in this image). The artist clearly had seen a person of colour before and did, in my opinion, a decent job drawing them. That’s not to say that every piece of illustration from this period is drawn this well. Because it’s not, BUT the important take about this is clearly to illustrate that there were non whites living in France at this time. They may have been servants or slaves, this is true, BUT they did exist.

The Queen of Sheba, Fresco in a Church in the Lalibela region of Ethiopia (dating from 1100-1200s CE); courtesy of the National Geographic.

The Queen of Sheba is a figure from the OT and most biblical scholars do agree she came from an African country. In Africa, she is from Ethiopia, which is the only Christian country in Africa. She has a long history and presence in that country. However, what I like about this fresco is that they show her being more of a mixed-race person rather than just being dark skinned. Other images from this period, or later, tend to make her look darker but this one has a more Middle Easter feel to it, which seems to fit with who she may have been historically. Again, it’s another figure who isn’t white, but the difference is this time the image hails from a predominately non-white region so I find it interesting to see the Middle Eastern influences. I mainly included it because it’s different from the other images I will be showing and discussing.

Lorenzo Lotto c. 1532 Saint Lucy Altarpiece (detail)

Detail from an Altarpiece depicting St Lucy by Lorenzo Lotto (dates from 1532 CE); Wikipedia Commons Image.

This image from an altarpiece done by Italian Reinassance painter Lorenzo Lotto is an incredible piece (do Google it) which only has one person of colour in it-a servant girl looking after a child. Now, contrast this with the image from the Hours piece and you will notice that she is not as finely dressed, clearly indicating her status as a servant (and she is the only servant in the piece besides being the only other female). Yet she wearing earrings and a veil, meaning she has some status amongst the servants (perhaps). Now, the reason I chose this image was to show the beauty in rendering this female figure, but the care the artist took into detailing her hair and how it contrasts with the child’s hair and that of Saint Lucy. There is a gentle beauty in this figure, which again shows the artist clearly has seen non whites in his area. I am again trying to show that, let’s say the character of the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet could easily have been a woman such as this, yet she is always portrayed by an elderly white dame (and there’s nothing wrong with this), but a case can be made to have the Nurse be non white and back it up with historical evidence. I chose Romeo & Juliet as an example because firstly, I love Shakespeare (the downfall of being both an English & Theatre major I suppose), but I once had a teacher inform me that my looks would always regulate me to the roles of Nurse, except he didn’t believe anyone would cast a non white woman in that role (he was a grade A jerk).

“Portrait of a Moorish Woman” from the School of Paolo Veronese. Made in Italy, ca. 1550.

Portrait of a Moorish Woman attributed to the School of Paolo Veronese, Italy (dates from around 1550); Wikipedia Commons Image.

This is another portrait, done not that far apart from the previous image, but I love it because it’s not associated with religion (which the previous three were) and it’s attributed to a certain style of an artist (so Veronese could have painted this, or started this, and it was finished by one of his apprentices). She is stunning and being referred to as a Moor means she is of Italian and African decent. The Moors, in case anyone doesn’t know, did occupy a large part of Italy at one point (think of the crusades everyone). It’s a very beautiful and powerful portrait. She’s dressed more like someone from Ancient Rome than Italian Renaissance. She’s got large pearl earrings, a pearl necklace and a jeweled turban on her head. Her skin is richly glowing. This could be a young Cleopatra meeting Caesar for the first time. Or the Queen of Sheba. The point I am trying to make is while some of these models may have been servants or slaves, there is also the reality that there were also free people of colour, occupying the same space.

Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Penne and Duke of Florence, who was commonly called "il moro," Italian for "The Moor". In his day, he was officially recognized as the son of the powerful Lorenzo II de Medici (1510-1537) and an unknown African woman. Alessandro was the last Medici to rule Florence, having assumed the throne at the young age of 19.

Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Penne and Florence (dates from 1530s); Wikipedia Common Image.

Alessandro de Medici was the last Medici to rule Florence (he was assainated by his cousin, Lorenzino in 1537). He was nicknamed “il moro” (the moor) for his complexion. His father was Lorezno de Medici, one of the most powerful Medicis and an unknown African (or Moorish) woman. He attained his Dukedoms at the tender age of 19, started construction on massive forts in these areas, then was murdered by a cousin. He ruled for 7 years and was a free person of colour in Italy. Not only free, but a powerful person was well. This is where history has failed us. Most history books that I have read on the Medicis don’t mention why he was called the Moor, but only he was assassinated after ruling a short period of time. Granted, these books were written prior to the 1970s, but remember that popular show on the Medicis? You can find it on Netflix now. Knowing NOW that the de Medicis had illegitimate children with a variety of skin colours, and that there were people of colour in Italy at that time, the show is fairly whitewashed. Which is a pity because the Medicis are a fascinating family. The last Medici to rule Florence deserves his own biopic at this point in time. I’d love a Ken Burns special on the family at this point in time. I highlight this particular figure because most people, if they do acknowledge that there were people of colour in Europe at this time, don’t want to believe or tend to think there was no way any of them were in positions of power. This is inaccurate as it is saddening. Skin colour should not determine one’s ability to rule and so far, we haven’t been shown historically accurate depictions of our past in film, television, and even in books (especially fiction).

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Clipart Image

Part of the reason I started this brief series on people of colour existing in Europe proir to the 20th Century was partly my exasperation at hearing complete nonsensical bullshit reasons why a non white person shouldn’t be cast in the upcoming Dracula, or Dr. Who (people made such a fuss over Bill Potts being a woman of colour and a lesbian). People get upset if you show a person of colour existing in the 19th Century and who wasn’t a slave or a former slave (in the US) and how they don’t believe these people were existing outside of the US and Africa (and Asia). Another is that I have routinely gotten rejection letters from literary agents (up to 35 currently) stating that someone with my name (meaning, not white) has no RIGHT to be writing as well as I do. I’m not kidding. I was asked, in all seriousness, who my translator was because my English was just “too good to be true.” I’ve also gotten rejection letters simply because they inform me that no one will want to buy an Austen type novel from someone with a non-English name. Forgive me, but I didn’t realize that Jane Austen and the Regency were supposed to have been marked WHITES ONLY when it came to writing and appreciating. Austen herself, in all her letters and novels, never mentioned once that her works were to be the domain of only White People. Yes, it’s offensive and it’s wrong. It’s also extremely frustrating as a writer to be told my ethnicity makes me unpublishable. Now, somewhere out there is an agent who will look past my name and actually take the time to read my novel. So far, I haven’t found this person. And in case you think this meant people of colour ONLY existed in Italy, well…

Gerrit Dou Portrait of a Man Netherlands (1635) Oil on Wood, 22.5 x 18 cm. KØBENHAVN, Statens Museum for Kunst. The Image of the Black ...

Portrait of a Man (region, the Netherlands) by Gerrit Dou, from 163 CE. Courtesy of the Statens Museum

Oil on canvas from the school of Francois de Troy in Toulouse, France- Portrait of A “Mulatto” Aristocrat in Armor probably painted between 1680-1730

Unknown Aristocrat (yes, a mixed race one) from the school of Francois de Troy (located in Toulouse, France) from 1680-1730 CE; Wikipedia Commons Image.

ca. 1651 Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemache by Sir Peter Lely (Ham House - London UK)

Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemache by Sir Peter Lely, circa 1650; courtesy of Ham House – London UK. Notice the servant is a man of colour and this was painted in ENGLAND.

Portrait Of Lady Charlotte Fitzroy With Her Indian Page

Portrait Of Lady Charlotte Fitzroy With Her Indian Page Boy by Sir Peter Lely, circa 1673; courtesy of Artfund.org & Wikipedia Commons Image. In case you thought there weren’t any people with my ethnicity floating around…

Portrait of a Gentleman with a Young Servant, possibly Sir George Thomas Bt (c.1695-1774), by Charles Philips Portrait of a Gentleman (possibly Sir George Thomas) with a Young Servant (clearly an Indian) by Charles Philips and possibly from the 1740s-1760s (Sir Thomas lived from 1695-1774); Wikipedia Commons Image.

So yes, when I mean people of colour, I don’t just mean people of African decent. While it’s easier to find those of African decent in art images prior to the 1800s, this doesn’t mean other people (from India, Native Americans, etc) weren’t around as well. Pocahontas famously came to England in the 1616 and died in March 1617 (contracted an illness). So this assumption that if there were people of colour, this means only those were could have been slaves is also a false narrative.

Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe 1616.jpg

Pocahontas was on exhibition when she came in England in 1616. This engraving is the only known portrait of her. Engraving by Simon de Passe, 1616. She was 21 when this was done.

A Brief Look at People of Color before the 20th Century: Part 1

I was very excited at the news that Moffat & Gatiss were doing a modern take on Dracula, but then became disappointed when the cast was revealed and it had no people of color in any of the lead roles. Now, the people cast are good at what they do, but I was hoping at least one lead would be someone who isn’t White. For someone like me, who’s only seen 2 major stars like her in films (Merle Oberon and Sir Ben Kingsley), it’s sometimes hard to believe that with all of the resources out there, all of the talent, casting people of color as leads is still an issue in Western Film and TV. Please don’t get me wrong, I LOVED Sherlock and enjoyed Moffat’s turn writing Dr. Who. I also follow Gatiss on Instagram & Twitter and think him an excellent writer and actor. I believe some of these issues is the lack of knowledge of history. Neither man is at fault here for not knowing much about the history of colored people in Europe. It’s not taught in schools in America and probably isn’t really taught in schools in Europe either.

Nefertem - Goddess of Perfume Also known as she Who is Beautiful and Water Lily of the Sun, was goddess of both healing and beautification

Nefertem, Goddess of Perfume, Healing, and Beautification. Also known as She Who is Beautiful, associated with Water, and is referred to as Lily of the Sun.

I thought I’d start with Ancient Civilizations because there is a bad habit in Hollywood to cast White people in ethnic roles (cough cough Ridley Scott). Now, Egypt is a country on the continent of Africa (yes, I explain this because I know adults who think Egypt is in the Middle East and Africa is a country). Egypt is close to the Middle East, so there are many cross cultural shifts that have been going on for centuries. However, it may come as a shock that Egyptians, both ancient and modern are not 100% African decent, but are a mixture of all the people that have conquered it over the centuries. Cleopatra, perhaps the most infamous female rules (next to Nefertiti), was a Ptolemaic and of Greek decent. Now, she may have had some native Egyptian DNA and ancestry, but her father was Greek. So while people get upset over someone like Elizabeth Taylor being this Queen, in terms of skin tone, it’s probably close to reality than we’d care to admit.

King Tut and his sister-wife

But also keep in mind that some rulers were of African decent. Like King Tut, his father and mother and the man who ended up as Pharaoh and erased Tut and his father from history. While the Greeks came later, the original rules of Egypt were of African decent. There may have been trading and marriage with the Middle East as well during these centuries, which would lead to a diverse population. The Greeks coming would produce even more diversity. Then, of course, the Romans also brought a different culture into this region. Now, if they did a new Cleopatra film and cast someone who looked more Arab or more of a modern Egyptian, I wouldn’t mind. There are many different thoughts on who her mother was, one being an Egyptian concubine, so there is a possibility of Cleopatra being a person of color. I do have an issue with films like ‘Gods of Egypt” which show a primarily white Egypt in terms of the Gods and the populace. It was a slap in the face to Egypt and it’s rich history.

Fayum mummy portrait of a woman,Roman Egypt

Portrait of a Mummy, Roman Egypt., Notice how she resembles women of Middle Eastern in our modern era.

This brings us to Rome. There is a cult of Whiteness when it comes to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome by Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and Proud Boys. They base this beleif that the ancient world was ruled by white people by the statues. Except the statues were originally painted to represent different parts of the population. What we have, because paint chips off, is the raw material (aka, the stone) left to us from those times. Anyone who paints understands the need for a neutral background and all white marble is fairly neutral.

The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture | The New Yorker

Reproduction of what a classical statue would have looked like. Courtesy of the New Yorker.

Head of a Roman Boy, Roman, 150 – 200 CE Marble

Head of a Roman Child (they believe it is  boy) from 100-200CE. Look at how finely detailed this is with the curly hair and roundness of face. Most researchers do think this statue is portraying a person of color.

This doesn’t mean that all the white statues were colored. Some may have been left white and allowed remain in that neutral state. However, research is showing that a majority of them were painted, proving that Ancient Rome wasn’t this bastion of whiteness, but a rich, culturally diverse population that spread across from Turkey, Egypt, to France and England. That’s a lot of people and from all kinds of varying backgrounds and races. So, while I enjoyed The Gladiator, I cringed at how a majority of the Roman Populace was white because they wouldn’t be. Rome would have people from all the areas that they conquered represented in that city. Either by having these people in the army or to be representatives of their area for the government.

"If people say, 'What kitsch,' it annoys me but I'm not surprised," says Brinkmann, who, with his wife, archaeologist Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, colored this reconstruction of the c. 550 BCE "Lion from Loutraki." Its stunning blue mane is not unique on ancient monuments. Lions often sat atop tombs in ancient Greece, where ornamental details such as the animals tufts of hair and facial markings were painted in bright colors that accented their fur.

Lion reproduction based on a statue dating from 550BCE. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.

So, what does this mean? Well, for one, history isn’t just white people and it isn’t just people of colour. History is PEOPLE. There are fake history websites trying to erase people who weren’t of colour from history. This is just as dangerous as White Supremacists believing that the ancient world was just populated by white people. Again, as I have blogged about previously, revisionist history is a dangerous, slippery slope towards a skewed outlook on life. Of course, I am all for a re-telling of Cleopatra with an all Egyptian (and Middle Eastern) cast. But it also should include people who were of Greek or Roman ancestry as well as Nubian ancestry. Ancient Egypt was a cosmopolitan place. But this means I also want Ancient Brits to be depicted with a range of skin tones as well.

A forensic reconstruction of Cheddar Man’s head, based on the new DNA evidence and his fossilised skeleton.

A reconstruction of Cheddar Man, courtesy of the Guardian UK.

When the reconstruction of Cheddar Man was revealed over a year ago, many racists lost it. And I mean they LOST IT. Some white supremacy websites today claim this to be a fake image. I’ve even come across a few on Pinterest that link this image with the “deep state”. Cheddar Man was unearthed over a century ago in Somerset. Obviously the nickname “Cheddar Man” is just that, a nickname. This gent hails from about 10,000 years ago (roughly the last major ice age) and when people first starting immigrating from the Continent to England. Earlier depictions had him looking like a figure from Norse mythology with flowing blond locks and piercing blue eyes. Thankfully due to scientific advancement, they tested his genome (his DNA) and it revealed he had dark skin, dark curly hair, blue eyes and still shared similar DNA to people living in Britain today. Now, this may be interesting to some of you, but I think it’s vitally important to realize this. Now, this doesn’t mean every person he traveled with looked just like him. We all contain the genetic code for a variety of looks. But it does make any Clan of the Cave Bear type film woefully and pitifully inaccurate with everyone pale, white, and having no variety in skin pigmentation.

Image courtesy of Panorama NYC

Basically, I am trying to get across to anyone who’s listening (or reading in this case) that we can no longer just blindly accept adaptations or stagings of any novel, biography, etc to just contain only white people. It’s a fallacy to think that there are no people of colour in existence in any and all historical re-tellings. I still come across articles written today about all non-white castings of Shakespeare plays and how “edgy” that is. Or a critic complaining that not having any white people is “pandering” to the non existent God of Political Correctness. Gatiss, while I still admire him, famously didn’t think there should be a non-white Victorian soldier on the moon for an episode of Dr Who because he didn’t believe there were non-whites living in Britain at that time. Remember, Dr. Who is a Science-Fictional 50+ years show and he objected to one minority solider on the MOON. Please Mark Gatiss, I implore you to do some reading into history and the existence of non-whites. Don’t get me wrong, I will probably watch the Dracula adaptation and will enjoy it. I will also silently weep and cringe that if there are any minorities on screen, they’ve been regulated to background characters because no one bothered to hire a historical consultant before writing and casting the show.

Pity.

Grief (Part 1)

In January of this year, I lost my Grandmother. It was hard and sad but I find myself not overly grieving over her death, which comes as a shock to many in the family because I was close to her. Was being the operative word.

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Grandma Yarrington & I; I think I am about 1 or 2.

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Uncle Joe & I at a family reunion, probably about 2000. His wife, Arlene, had passed away at this point.

Two years ago, my Grandmother was dangerously sick and was placed in Hospice. Her kidneys and liver were not functioning and many of us thought she was near the end. A lot of grieving was done. But she bounced back and refused to let go. She went home to her trailer and refused for a nurse or nurse’s aid to come in and see to her well being. I should mention that she was notoriously stubborn. She went on dialysis and it seemed to do well for her. The two aunts who are close by are extremely inept and fought over every little thing to do with her health. One convinced my grandmother to give her power of attorney, which devastated my mom as she and her brother had it. My mom is a nurse and one would logically think she would be the nest person to handle medical issues. One would think, anyways. But these two aunts are inept and cruel, not to mention just all out exasperating. Both barred me from contacting my grandmother and they did, in turn, isolate her from the other grandchildren as well. To be fair, my grandmother was not particularly close to any of the grandchildren except for my bother and I. And I believe one of the reasons for this was because we lived in Illinois, not in Michigan, so we were conveniently distant from the day to day issues and anxiety that arose all the time. Grandma’s love was conditional.

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Grandma Weld (my Grandma’s Mom), and I in December 1982.

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My father and I at the same event as the previous picture.

It’s really sad to write this, but her love was conditional. When we were all little, she loved all of us and delighted in having the grandkids over for things like have ice cream or cookies, etc. But as we all got older, because my brother and I weren’t around, she grew distant from the others. Because they grew up and were no longer children. they had  thoughts and feelings that were not in line with her thoughts and feelings. And that’s hard to accept. I noticed that about 5 or 6 years ago, things began to drive my Grandmother from me. While she normally liked talking on the phone with me every week, she started to not want to talk to me. I would write letters and got no response, which I accepted since her hands weren’t as steady as they once were, but not being able to talk to her was hard. Now, I loved my Grandma. I really did and I still do. Nothing will ever change that. But Grandma wasn’t perfect. She was stubborn, quick to anger and slow to forgive. She was not a reader, so never understood my passion for books. Now, her husband, my grandfather, was a reader. It was something instilled in him by his mom, Edith. My grandfather died when my mom was a teenager so any information I have on him as a person came from my Uncle Joe, his brother.

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Dadi and I, 1981.

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My mom and I, 1981.

When Dadi died (my father’s mother), Grandma resented that I mourned her. Dadi is the one who gave me my name. She came over when I was born and spent months taking care of me. Like myself, she was a poet and was published (and well known). She knitted and loved me. And I loved her. I still love her. I am more like her than I care to admit with my short, fat fingers, my love of the Arts, and the poetry. Grandma resented that. So, the fracture betwixt us started when I was 12. She also resented that I grew close to my Uncle Joe.  In College, I would call him every week just to talk. Now, he didn’t always answer, being hard of hearing in both ears he would take out the hearing aids when he wanted quiet time to work on a crossword puzzle or when reading. He taught me how to fish. He and Arlene, his wife, loved Elvis (who doesn’t) and they just were a happy, loving couple. He was the closest thing I had to a grandfather on my mother;s side. I miss him a lot.

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My brother & I in front of the Giant Chicken that, sadly, has been removed in recent years. It used to be outside of a Fried Chicken Restaurant in Michigan.

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Grandma and her second husband, Turk. Both loved each other but were both stubborn. They divorced but still saw each other. He loved her until the day he died. This was taken on January 25, 1975.

But that’s not to say my Grandma was all terrible and ugliness. She thought it funny that I have a thing for Paleontology, so would often send me clippings of new Dinosaur or even findings in Egypt. She taught me to sing “Hey Good Lookin'” by Hank Williams by the time I was three and I still can sing it because I have it memorized. It’s also a very inappropriate song to teach a three year old, but I guess I was cute singing it. She taught me how to make very fine stitches when hand-sewing. She encouraged my drawing and musical skills like singing. Grandma had a led foot and could flirt her way out of a speeding ticket. She enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics because she used to ice skate. She used to bowl and be very good at it and I remember her taking me and teaching me to bowl using her ball. She liked the Beach Boys and Elton John. Grandma always had canaries growing up. She had a few finches later on too. She also had a thing for penguins because “they are always well dressed.” She also had a thing for Garfield the cat. Other than birds, Grandma wasn’t an animal person, but she loved our one dog Beethoven (he adored her) and thought our cats were funny. Grandma loved butter pecan ice cream, cherry cordials, and fruit Mentos. So, it’s not as if I don’t have any good memories.

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My Grandma, Doris Weld, summer 1943.

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Grandma, aged 75, in AZ on a Harley. She developed a taste for them in her late life.

Grandma also had a little girl (or young lady) ghost in her trailer. Apparently the spirit liked it when I visited when I was little and would touch my teddy bear (which I still have). Mainly, the ghost would sit on her feet, wake her up, and then go away. Now, I’ve never seen the spirit, but it was always a running joke that when her trailer became too crowded with all of her stuff (she was a hoarder), the ghost decided it was too crowded and left. Grandma also once made me promise to “take” the ghost with me when she died. I don’t think it’s possible and since I’ve never seen the spirit, I cannot “take” it with me. She also made me promise to write her eulogy. I believe she feared that no one would want to speak at her funeral. So I did write her one. I didn’t get a chance to deliver it and that’s OK. A pastor and my Uncle Bill spoke at her funeral. My aunts didn’t dress her int he outfit she wanted to be buried in, which I am still upset about. She didn’t look peaceful, but then the toxins in her body made her stiff and it wasn’t easy to prepare her. Yes, I spoke to the funeral staff to thank them. They did their best with the makeup as my one aunt refused to give them any of Grandma’s makeup. She also refused them to allow them to do her nails, which I think would have been nice. But I cannot change what happened.

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Teddy and I, 1982. That bear was already 20 yrs old when I got him. I still have him.

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Teddy at Camp Innisfree (Howell, MI) in 2012. Still here. Still a bear.

I’m trying not to sound flippant but no matter how much it upsets me over things like her clothes, the nails, the makeup, the fact remains she was passed caring. And I had to accept this. Now, I feel guilty over not mourning her as much as I think I should. But i also realize that when she was sick two years ago, I truly mourned her and have been for close to two years. I mourn the closeness we once shared that just disintegrated. I mourn the fact that she didn’t like it that I grew up. I mourn that she never got to see Vivienne in person, never made it to my brother’s wedding. I mourn that she never really appreciated all that my mom did for her. I mourn that I can no longer call her just to chat.

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Grandma on her 75th Birthday wearing the earrings I got her. This was the outfit she wanted to be buried in.

Baritric Surgery: Sleeve

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Me at age 4 months. My mom still has this outfit.

As many of you may not know, I had Gastric Sleeve surgery on May 14th of this year. My surgery was p[performed at Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington by Dr. Cheregi (who’s been simply FANTASTIC). I have long struggled with my weight and even as a child, I was chubby.

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Uncle Neil and I; I was about 2 or 3 at this time.

At one point, during my Concordia University days, I had slimmed down to 230 lbs from 270, which is not an easy feat. I then worked for Meijer (a mega supermarket chain originating in Michigan) where I got exposed to some nasty chemicals that led to  spontaneous pnemothoraxes. In essence, I had coughed so much and so hard, I ended up with 3 holes in my lungs. This led to being put on some major cortisone steroids (and other medications). Steroids for Asthmatics are not the same as those used by athletes. When you are on a dosage, you have to be weaned off and there are notorious for making  one gain weight. I was on such a high dosage, it took nearly a year to be weaned off. So I went from 230 to 300 in a year. Not my proudest moment. Then I went to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where they discovered I was diabetic. The medication they put me on made me jump from 300 to 350 (diabetes medication is also well known to cause weight gain). Transferred to Kansas State, put on different diabetic medication and slimmed down to 300 again. After graduation, cannot afford the better medication, so put on Metformin, which not only makes me nauseous but causes me to gain weight (some lose weight on it, I didn’t). This led me to being over 330 lbs again by the time my niece was born two years ago.

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Vivienne and I, May 2017

So, I made the decision to ask my primary doctor about seeing a nutritionist. And she’s been wonderful! Kate has been helpful and has helped try to understand what foods were triggering higher blood sugars (all of them), plus has helped me lose over 30 lbs in the year that I’ve been seeing her. Unfortunately, losing weight did not help my blood sugars at all. I was running over 200 into the 300s on a daily basis. Finally taken off of Metformin by an endocrinologist and put on Insulin. And the dosage kept getting higher and higher. Even though I was eating right, exercising, and had lost weight, the blood sugars just wouldn’t come down. So the Endo first brought up the subject of gastric surgery last August. So I did what I do best and started researching, talking to my primary, and talking to the nutritionist.

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Classmates and I at the 20 yr HS Reunion this past Autumn.

By December, I had made the decision to have the surgery. This meant calling the insurance company, finding out what steps I had to take, and finding a surgeon. By January, I had meet Dr. Cheregi and had done all the tests needed for the insurance company. We had a tentative surgery date of April as I needed the psychiatrist to write a letter. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally after calling repeatedly for days and weeks on end, the letter was submitted and a surgery date was scheduled. Last minute blood work was done and all was set up. At the same time, i had started a new job and had been there about a month. They were all fine with me needing a few days off (they forced me to take a week, which really was the best decision).

Surgery was not as bad as one might think. They give you anti-anxiety meds so I was fairly chill going into surgery. And once they put you under, you are out. At least I was. Next thing, I was in recovery with a male nurse forcing me to take some ice chips. And the first 8 hours were not pleasant. I am not going to lie about that. The anti-nausea medication actually made me nauseous. You have a drain put in to reduce swelling, and a pillow is needed to press against the stomach when coughing or gagging. But I did well as I didn’t ask for pain medication too often and sometime just getting liquid Tylenol was enough to take the pain away. Mainly, I slept.  The next day, I has some broth (meh), Crystal Light lemonade (ok), tea (because I needed it), and a Popsicle (yum!). The Popsicle was needed do to sore throat from being intubated. But I wasn’t really hungry. Did walk and sat in the recovery chair most of the day, snoozing. Got the drain removed and went home. And for about three days, did nothing more than take some pain meds, sleep, drink copious amounts of broth, protein water (I highly recommend Protein2O), eat some Popsicles and had some tea, on occasion. From the date of my surgery to my 1 week check up, I lost 13 lbs (I was 288 the day of surgery). Today I weigh 270, which is 60 lbs lighter than I was a year ago, and 18 lbs since the surgery (I thought it was 17, thinking I was under 288 day of surgery, but I checked and I was wrong).

The hardest part was while doing all of this prep work since January, I lost my Grandmother and my cat. Doris died in January and Jack had surgery before Christmas to remove a tumor that was on his head. We thought he would have at least 6  months before the tumor came back. He had six weeks. My grandmother I didn’t mourn as much, mainly because she had been declining for two years. But Jack was my baby and I still miss him. He was only 9.5 yrs old. So, it’s been hard to recover from that and the surgery at the same time.

No photo description available.

My boy Jack during our time at Kansas State. He had a thing for the linen closet.

After that first week post-op, things got better. I still don’t get hungry, but sometimes a bit peckish. The rules of eating post-op are the first week, clear liquids, then second full liquids. Then weeks 3 & 4 you can add things like soft scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes…you get the picture. But it’s important to realize that these are guidelines and every one will recover differently. I’m technically in week four, but couldn’t tolerate eggs until recently. It can take me 20-30 minutes to consume 3 oz of soup. And that’s the trick everyone has to learn. You have to take small bites and also take your time chewing. I have had a few missteps and have vomited since the surgery. Drinking water too fast and too quickly was one lesson. The other is eating too fast. But I am learning, losing weight and my blood sugars are finally within a more normal range. One day I woke up and it was 90, which is considered normal. This was the main reason I did the surgery, to help with the diabetes. Will it cure diabetes for me? For some, they are able to get off all medication. I may never because it runs on both sides of the family. But what sounds better, a low dose of insulin for years and years or having to increase it until it’s a few hundred units a day? I’ll take the low dose, to be perfectly honest.

So, why write about this? Why inform everyone? Because in America, there’s a stigma against people who have weight loss surgery. Which I think is ridiculous because no one undergoes having half (or more) of their stomach removed (or those who get bypass have a small pouch and no longer use their stomach) for the thrill of it all. People do this for medical reasons. Diabetes is a major reason it’s done, but not the only one. There are famous celebrities who’ve had surgery yet won’t admit to it. And I think that’s truly awful. There should be no shame in getting proper medical treatment that improves one’s quality of life. It’s not for everyone and that’s fine. There are people that are able to lose weight on their own or with assistance from a nutritionist or even a personal trainer. Some of us aren’t that lucky and do need the surgery. For me, the part of the stomach that was removed is also the part of the body that tends to create insulin resistance issues (meaning I kept having to get the insulin increased in order to work). So now the insulin can actually work and do it’s job in controlling the blood sugars. The bonus is that I will also be able to lose weight, which will help the diabetes, the asthma, and even the depression & anxiety that I have. Because as one loses weight, medications get adjusted and can work more efficiently.

Basically I wanted to share this to be upfront and honest, but also just tell people that it’s OK if you get weight loss surgery and it’s OK if you don’t. There are many people out there that are overweight and it’s not always a result of over eating. Yes, food is involved, but things like medications and actual medical issues can also cause weight gain and retention. I’m not looking to be a model after I lose most of the weight because that’s not my goal. I would like to be able to shop in a regular store, run after my niece, and make myself a pelisse or two. I did this for me and not for anyone else. And that’s all that matters.

Hysterics & Hysterical: Why I dislike the words

As many of you should know by now, I have a penchant for the 19th Century. While I tend to focus on the late Georgian/Regency Era for my writing (and where the bulk of my research is, to be honest), that doesn’t mean I haven’t researched outside of the Regency period. The entire 19th Century is an amazing span of years to look at for any historian. We go from horse drawn carriages to steam locomotives and gas lighting inside the homes. We also go from paintings and drawings of people to photography. It’s an incredible century to look at and do any kind of research into. Yes, it can get overwhelming at times, which is why people tend to focus on certain areas or time periods within the century because it can be too much. So this brings me to a sort of affinity I have which is about female hysteria.

via Pinterest

Hysteria was a female malady that was still a term used in American medicine until the early 1950s. Symptoms included anxiety, loss of appetite, increased appetite. shortness of breath, fainting, sexual desire, lack of sexual desire, insomnia, water weight, irritability, or as women know it as-HORMONES. Hysteria comes from the Greek word for Uterus, and many ancients (men) considered the uterus a “wandering womb” and hysteria was a result of this. Proof that men have never understood female anatomy. From the 11th Century to the 16th (roughly) it was called melancholy and most thought it appeared as a result of demonic possession.

 

Hippocrates (far right) recommending Marriage as a cure for female wandering womb (courtesy of University of Texas)

In the 16th & 17th Centuries, men dismissed the whole demonic possession for the uterus must be retaining fluid. They believed the uterus must expel the excess fluid. How? Well, they weren’t sure how to but left it to midwives to deal with. Though Physician Abraham Zacuto in his Praxis Medica Admiranda from 1637 recommends marriage and vigorous intercourse with the husband as a cure-all for this situation. Again, men only see marriage and sex as a cure for something that they don’t understand. The 18th Century gave us enlightenment and men started to see hysteria as a neurological disorder rather than a physical one. It didn’t last long.

via Pinterest

The 19th Century saw a reversal of the neurological thinking and again put hysteria to blame on a woman’s uterus. However, this led to a very interesting solution by male doctors-intimate massages to alleviate the symptoms. Men suffering from cramped hands then turned to science for an easier solution. Hence, the vibrator was born to hep alleviate a woman’s hysteria effectively and quickly. But what is important to note that hysteria was only considered a white woman’s disease. Women of color exhibiting these same symptoms were often regulated to insane asylums, or just thought to be lazy or stupid. Hysteria was seen as a consequence of too much civilization, which was clearly meant to exclude women of color because they were never civilized enough. For an era that many consider prudish (the Victorian Era), they were obsessed with sex and sexual gratification but only as it applies to white people. I should mention that with the advent of photography, erotica became an overnight seller (yes, naughty pictures of prostitutes was a big seller in those days).

via Pinterest

Now, while all of this is interesting, and it is, why then do I dislike the terms hysteria and hysterical? Mainly because it is a term used primarily by men to dismiss a woman’s feelings or even thoughts on any subject by equating them with their emotions and uterus. Hysteria is intimately connected with the female reproductive organs that I cringe whenever any woman  is deemed hysterical, even in films and television because I truly feel women are being seen as less than a person and only as a sexual organ. After all, a hysterectomy is the removal of a uterus and is while the ovaries are not always removed, the actual uterus is (ovaries are sometimes left because HORMONES). Now, no where is there a male equivalent term to hysterical. I suggest vasectical since a vasectomy deals with the male reproductive organ.  So when a man is being overly brisk, overly overbearing, I do think we should be allowed to call him vasectical because he’s clearly only the sum of his reproductive organs if we are called hysterical.

via Pinterest

So while I acknowledge the history of the words hysteria and hysterical, I do not like them being used to describe any woman in today’s society. We are more than just a uterus. We have rational feelings and thoughts. While I understand that the word may be used in writing a pre-1950s novel, it doesn’t have to be used. Too many politicians are making laws regarding women’s bodies and whenever any woman objects, she is labeled as “hysterical.” She is being labeled as nothing more than a uterus, which is the very law she is trying to protest. It’s important to understand the origins of such words because they often have a derogatory meaning and are very unpleasant for people to be labeled as.

Vasectical: the male equivalent of hysteria

More Information on Hysteria:

Grant Shreve “The Radicalized History of Hysteria”. JSTOR Daily, September 20, 2017.

Hysteria Beyond Freud (1993).

Matt Simon “Fantastically Wrong: The Theory of Wandering Wombs” Wired Magazine, 2014.

Rachael Maines’s book The Technology of Orgasm (1999)

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology: A Review

I have the Audible version of this as read by Neil Gaiman (which I highly recommend as it’s lovely to have it read by the author) but I decided to read the book myself. I devoured it. Norse Mythology has always intrigued me. Long before the Marvel Films came out, before it became popular and trendy, I used to read myths, legends, and faerie stories as a child in between samplings of Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Stephen King. Besides Greek & Roman (which one needs to understand works such as the Iliad and Shakespeare), Norse mythology is wonderful as it is terrible. Unlike other mythologies, there really is no happy ending, but a cycle of death, destruction, and life (more reminiscent of Hinduism and the concept of rebirth and reincarnation). While people think my fascination stems from my enjoyment of the Marvel Films (and I do enjoy them), I started getting interested in them due to JRR Tolkien’s works.

JRR Tolkien (Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate)

Most people don’t know (though they should), Tolkien’s works were inspired by the Eddas, which are heavily influenced by the Norse mythologies. Tolkien was also influenced by Arthurian legends and works such as Beowulf and other Medieval literature. Yet I live for Austen, so go figure that one out. But there is something dark, mysterious, sensual about Norse Myths that Tolkien never really touched upon and Neil Gaiman hints at: Loki.

Loki

Loki is the God if Mischief and Gaiman points out is Blood Brother to Odin. He is a dark God. He is a sensual God. He is Chaos. He brings gifts and order, but at the same time, brings destruction and death. Out of all Aesir, he is the horniest (seriously, he sleeps around a lot), and has the most interesting offspring: monsters and goddesses and gods. We equate him with the Devil now only because the Eddas were written down in the early Christian Era by monks and most of the stories have been lost. What we do have shows a very complex mythos and Loki is a key figure in almost every single one of them. He saves the Asguardians yet is punished by them. He helps divert destruction away from Asgard, causing mischief, but saves the day. Loki is a shapeshifter as well and takes on many forms. One can see why Kirby and Lee chose him as the antagonist for their comics and why this character became more popular as an antihero. Because he is neither good nor bad, but both, which makes him more like the humans who are listening to the tales than the gods whom the tales are about. Loki is also called the Silver Tongue, the Lie Smith and while Poetry and Writing are said to be gifts from the Gods (there is a tale about that Gaiman talks about), I often wonder if Loki was gifted at telling stories. So many tales are referenced and have been lost and while Silver Tongue can mean many things, I have often wondered if this meant Loki was a protector of writers since he is also associated with nets and netting (knots). Writers “knit” words together. It’s not an unusual assumption.

Odin (Pinterest)

No matter how many times I read about Odin, or hear about him, he reminds me of Gandalf. Though Gandalf comes across a bit more caring and likable than Odin. Gaiman does an excellent job of picking certain stories and retelling them in a way to make them sound new, yet ancient all at the same time. Odin still sounds old and you can hear echoes of Gandalf and all other wizards in his words and deeds. And while you don’t realize it, Odin is as dark or even a darker God than Loki ever was. Odin hung himself in tribute to himself (yep, that’s a fact in Norse Mythology that Odin is the Gallows God), gave up an eye for Wisdom (tore it out!), and killed his own grandparent to make the universe. I’ve often wondered why then experts note that Odin was definitely worshiped while Loki wasn’t considering how bloody and violent Odin is from his tales. Probably why I enjoy Thor; Rangnorak (MCU Film) then because it does bring up Odin’s bloody past.

Thor (as described from the myths) via Pinterest

Thor comes across as pompous and blusters without thinking, reminding one more of an early Hulk than Thor of the comics. It’s interesting to compare the old tales with what is really the new tales-the comics. You can see parallels between the characters we recognize from the films and comics and trace their origins back to what they used to be, which I throughly enjoyed. I much prefer Lady Sif to be a badass warrior than Thor’s vain wife. And one can see why Marvel made Loki into Thor’s sibling instead of Uncle (it works much better as a comic antagonist character).

What I enjoyed most was the tales themselves, of which Gaiman has given us only a taste of all the tales that are out there. You can hear the Dwarves tinkering away at their anvils, creating the most beautiful things that you can ever imagine. Lady Sif is vain and uncaring and only Heimdall is anyone of interest (sort of). Loki creates the problems, but also offers solutions that tend to come with benefits for the Gods (while Loki gets punished). The tales are magical as they are sad. They are funny and scary. They end. Then they give hope that they will begin anew and will give rise to a new set of Gods. And Loki? While I still consider him a dark God, I’ve realized that Odin is much darker and much scarier. But Loki is Chaos, and his tales are really some of the best. I don’t think Chaos is ever really defeated. I think we need Chaos. We need the uncertainty as much as we hate it and fear it, we crave it.

Loki Odinson (courtesy of Marvel’s Wiki)

What does that say about me then? I’m not sure why I prefer the tales of Loki over the other Gods other than Loki comes across as the most Human, the most accessible. He’s not unlike the Greek Prometheus, who is punished for brining fire to Humans. Yet he is not as sacrificing as Prometheus. There are shades of other Gods in the tales of Loki, which fascinates me as a reader and as a writer. He is neither good no evil, but simply exists. Loki is dark, mysterious, and definitely a sexual dark God who also comes across as loving all his children, even if they don’t look acceptable to others, and really does his best to be accepted by the other Gods. Perhaps Loki is more like a fallen angel-not quite Lucifer but not unlike Lucifer at the same time. All I know is that I will return to Gaiman’s retellings over and over again because they are so enjoyable and when I do crave that taste of Chaos, the hint of darkness.

Becoming Jane: Review

BONUS ADAPTATION! Since we’ve know talked about revisionist history and learned a bit about all of that, I thought it would be fun to do two bonuses to our Austen Adaptations! The first is Becoming Jane (2007).

Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy) and Jane Austen (Anne Hawathay)

This film is based on a book titled Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence and is considered a demi-biography as he uses the plot device of Pride and Prejudice as well as Austen’s Letters to piece together her early life as well as the possibility of her romance with Thomas LeFroy based on her mentions of the man from her letters to her sister, Cassandra. I’ve read the letters myself. She mentions him twice in 1795 and once a few years later. If that’s the basis of an unrequited love affair, color me shocked. Jane also mentions trying to find pink silk stockings with much more fervor. The Jane Austen Society does endorse the book by stating the author does seem to understand the character of Jane Austen. Endorsing the book doesn’t mean his book is accurate, only that it is enjoyable to read. I have looked on the JAS website and no where do they claim that rthis book is historically accurate. They only reviewed it as being an enjoyable read. I do think sometimes they should start off such books with a disclaimer that they don’t endorse such books as being historically accurate first off so people don’t believe it’s truthful, only conjecture (because this is where revisionist history can become an issue).

Jane being confronted by her parents, the Rev George Austen (James Cromwell) and Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters).

Firstly, the film gets many things wrong. I have not read the originally source material (the book that the film is based on) so I do not know if the author made the Austen family out to be poorer than they were in reality. If the author did not make them out to be this poor, then this was Hollywood taking liberties with the truth to make Jane seem more desperate to make a rich match than she was in reality. In Deidre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen’s Country Life, she points out that Rev. Austen made over 300£ profit on his own farm that he rented during a “bad” year. That’s about $590 (roughly as exchange rates vary daily), but that’s still a fairly decent profit in a bad year, given how much he had to pay in rent, plus the workers who were doing the actual labor. Mrs. Austen was known to grow berry bushes, chickens and other fowls. No where have I ever come across her sowing or digging up her own potatoes. Remember that Mr. Bennet spends around 100£ a year on each of his girl’s allowances in Pride and Prejudice, so having three times that amount extra per year is not a bad thing. Yes, Jane was not from a wealthy family, but she wasn’t as poor as the filmmakers made her out to be. When her father died in 1805, they did sink into poverty, this is true. But at the time of this film (being, I believe 1795), she wasn’t poverty stricken yet.

Mrs. LeFroy (Eleanor Metheven), Jane, Lucy LeFroy (Jessica Ashworth), and Comtesse Eliza de Feullide (Lucy Cohu)

The date this takes place also beings me to a state of confusion in terms of the costuming. Looking at the above scene, both Mrs. LeFroy and Eliza are in late 1790s gowns, but Austen is in a gown closer to 1810. The young girl is also shown as being old enough to attend balls and has her hair down, which we should all know by now I have a distinct hatred for. Either she is too young and doesn’t not attend the balls and can have her hair down (which she looks old enough to start having it up anyways), or have it up.

Jane and Mr. Wisely (Laurence Fox)

In real life, Jane Austen agreed to marry Harris Biggs-Wither. The next day, she called it off. From all accounts, he was not a good looking man and they had nothing in common. She was forced into accepting it by her mother, Mrs. Austen. Mr. Wisely, in this film, takes the place of Mr. Biggs-Wither, except he is much better looking and they actually have things in common. Mr. Wisley did not exist in real life.

Eliza, Jane, and Henry Austen (Joe Anderson)

Wandering waistlines aside, I don’t believe umbrellas had out modern coverings of polyurethane yet. Nice use of the pug though. Henry should either have his hair short or have it pulled back. Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794, so this taking place in 1795 is historically accurate (at that point). I don’t mind the blue color on Anne Hathaway because it is a lovely color on her, but they use it a lot and the shifting waistlines just bothers me. For a big budget film, one would think they would do a better job at hiring a historical consultant (and not just the author of the book they used as a source material).

Cassandra (Anna Maxwell-Martin) and Jane

A few things they showed in this film that did happen, but they speed up in order to fit into this film. Cassandra did get engaged to a clergyman, who was accompanying his cousin’s ship overseas. They gave him the name Thomas Fowle, which is odd since his name was Robert Fowle. I don’t know why they didn’t just use the man’s name. He did die of yellow fever, but not in 1795, in 1797. His cousin, left Cassandra a 1,000£ legacy to compensate her for the loss of her betrothed. Cassandra never married. George Austen was sent to a small farm where he lived the rest of his life. No where have I found any evidence that he was deaf or hard of hearing. From all accounts he seems to have been on the Autism spectrum. Sign language did exist (there was a form of it that existed in France around the 1800s at that time, but I have no idea of what they were using in the film was at all accurate or not). I don’t recall Jane ever mentioning her brother George at all in her letters so I highly doubt she had any kind of close relationship with him. It’s possible his parents and even a few of his brothers saw him from time to time, but he spent his life away from his family. Jane Austen also never met Mrs. Radcliffe. I wish these two authors would have met in real life, but alas, that never happened!

Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith)

Now, are there any good points? Yes there are. James McAvoy is a treat to watch in this film. I have enjoyed him ever since I saw him in Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. He was fantastic in Split and Glass. He is equally talented in this film. Maggie Smith steals what little screen time she has, so it’s always a pleasure to see her whenever she is in a film. Anna as Cassandra is overshadowed by Anne Hathaway, which is a pity since Cassandra is such a vital figure to Jane Austen’s life. Same with Mrs. LeFroy, who barely makes an appearance yet was an important figure to Austen’s life. I do like they showed a game of cricket being played, as the first game was played in Dartford in the early 18th Century (yes, I checked).

Jane & Tom; the red overdress is too 1970s with the thin straps.

The bad points: the costumes are hits and misses. A lot is made of the supposed love affair between LeFroy and Austen base don three mentions in a few letters and LeFroy mentioning years later that he had a “boyish love” for Austen in his youth. The fact is he was already engaged with he went to visit his aunt and met Jane in 1795. If he flirted, Mrs. LeFroy may have seen him as going too far and sent him on his way before he hurt her young friend. That’s probably all there was to the tale. His “boyish love” years later was most likely a bit of a crush looking back on his memories. We want to make much of this instance when there may have been nothing there. Also in 1795, based on her letters, Jane was working on Sense & Sensibility, not Pride & Prejudice, so the author using the second novel as a basis for her love affair is a little bit…awkward.

Thomas LeFroy (1798) after his marriage

Revisionist History Part 3

This part is going to focus on how people use revisionist history in books and politics, because it’s important to learn how easily facts are skewed, twisted, and manipulated nowadays.

David Alan Stuckman (Wikipedia)

David Alan Stuckman is a former Congressman who worked under Regan and has gone on to write several revisionist books on Capitalism and their history (mostly touting how Democrats have failed and how Republicans can save it). He was quoted in the Atlantic Monthly in the December 1981 issue as saying the “[Reagan’s 1981 Tax Cut] was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate…it’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down’.” He later on published a book titled The Triumph of Politics blaming Republicans for not willing to reduce spending on top of cutting taxes for the wealthy which led to the large deficit. Stuckman seems to be unwilling to see that “trickle down” economics does not work and will never work and yet has written four books praising it (his last book published in 2019 is all about trashing Trump). His primary book that is seen as wholly revisionist history (and is labeled as such by WorldCat) is The Great Deformation. While he seems to have good insight as to the workings of economics, Stuckman also tends to have a revisionist view of how to fix things, so reader beware.

 

Courtesy of Risen Magazine

Dinesh D’Szousa is a frequent guest on Fox News and has long been a student of Revisionist History. He does have a BA from Dartmouth, where he wrote for an independent student run newspaper The Dartmouth Review and outed several homosexual classmates. He ended up as an advisor to President Ronald Regan. In 1995, he published a book called The End of Racism stating that Slave Owners were painted unfairly and treated slaves really well. He followed this up in 2002’s book What’s So Great About America stating that colonialism helped lift third world countries up to Western standards of living (in Chapter 2). 2007’s The Enemy at Home had the premise that Muslims don’t hate America, just hate America’s sexuality, completely ignoring the issue of Wahhabism and the Saudi Arabia connection to 9/11. He then did a book and film with the same title, Obama’s Rage with no need to explain what it was about. He then did another book and film combination, America: Imagine the World Without Her in 2014. He was then convicted of one felony of misappropriating campaign funds, plead guilty, and sentenced to five years probation (of which he states was an Obama conspiracy). While on probation, he did another book & film combination called Hillary’s America, a hit piece connection her to Slavery, and, therefore, evil. It was just a bunch of thinly connected conspiracies which he touted as truth. Dinesh then rehashed the whole thing in 2018 with Death of a Nation, again trying to connect Andrew Jackson and the Democrats with Slavery, the KKK, and Nazis. Nothing this man writes, says, or does holds any weight historically or logically. Yet anytime he is confronted with the truth, he demands to be debated on stage. Many historians, including myself, have offered to do so. He has yet to take any of us up on this offer. Do not waste your time nor money watching his films nor on his books. If you want to read them, try the library. YouTube has clips of the films. They are laughable as they are disgusting. I cannot handle more than 10 minutes of them before my blood pressure goes up. Truly disgusting. D’Szousa has done more harm with his lies than any other public figure than I know of because so many people have been reached with his presence on Fox News and have seen his films. This is dangerous because they perceive his statements as facts, not lies. It’s an erosion of history happening in real time.

 

Robin Hanson (Wikipedia)

Robin Hanson is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, which was once part of University of Virginia, until it became independent in 1972. Recently, on Twitter, Mr. Hanson has decided that there were Slaves who volunteered to be Slaves and enjoyed their imprisonment because they chose to enjoy their time this way. He routinely brought up Sally Hemmings, who at the age of 14 was raped by Thomas Jefferson, who was 3 times her age, then was 15 when he brought her to France. In France, she was technically a free person of color. But, Mr. Hanson has stated she willingly remained a Slave and returned to America. Let me help with this one here Robin. She was 15, pregnant, in a country where she didn’t speak the language and probably didn’t know that the laws in this country meant she was now a free person of colour. She left with Jefferson because she didn’t know she had another option. She was his property and was not given a choice. Robin is a blockhead for thinking Sally willingly, at the age of 15, chose to be a slave. He gave the reason that she wanted to be with her mother, who was at the Jefferson plantation and chided Sally for her foolishness. Yes, what child would want to remain with their mother when they are scared and pregnant at such a young age? I cannot believe this person is still employed by GMU and cannot believe he is a research fellow at Oxford University. He should be removed from both positions post haste.

 

Avital Ronell (Northwestern.edu)

Avital Ronell gets a mention here only because she is such a problematic figure in Academia. Most Academia Feminists flock to her and protect her, yet she is not a Feminist. I repeat, she is not a Feminist in any sense of the word. She does nothing to promote other women or other under-represented people forward. She has often been cited for being unusually cruel to her graduate assistants and recently had to pay for sexually abusing and harassing one for years. Her books are often unreadable to the point of being gibberish. Parts of her books that are readable seems to read more like essays written by her grad students than by her which makes me wonder if they are the works of her assistants over the years and she’s been taken credit for it and making money off of it. It’s  not really revisionist per se, only she it is dangerous to assume everyone in Academia is honest and forthcoming. Not everyone is nice. This is a gentle remainder of that.

 

The point of this three part posting was this: vet your sources carefully when researching historical or even modern day issues. The Internet is a terrific resource and it’s amazing how much information is at our fingertips! But the downside is there is a lot of misinformation out there too. Even at the library, there are books, which I know, we think we can trust because they’ve been edited, published, and therefore have been vetted to a certain amount, but that’s not always the case anymore. Publishing crackpot conspiracy theories is a big business nowadays and there are many books and independent films being touted as historical proof of things when they aren’t. Take the History Channel, for example. When it first came out, it had wonderful programing on all sorts of subjects and looked into all kinds of historical eras. Now, it’s mainly aliens, Bigfoot and WW2 if we’re lucky. WW2 is the only thing on there keeping it history relevant at this point, and that’s extremely frustrating as it’s also sad.

Love & Friendship (Lady Susan) Adaptation

Love & Friendship came out in 2016 and was adapted fro the screen by Whilt Stillman, who also directed. When it first came out, I mistakingly read Jane Austen’s juvenilia piece entitled Love & Friendship and then became utterly confused as the piece I read had nothing to do with the film I saw. Instead, Stillman borrowed the title of one piece and adapted another, Lady Susan, to the screen. This is the only adaptation of Lady Susan for the screen at this time. Lucy Prebble has been hired by BBC and Celdor Films to adapt Lady Susan as of 2009, but nothing about that adaptation has been made available. There has been three different stage versions in recent years as well as three different re-writes of the novella. However, this is about the only screen version and how truthful and accurate is it to the novella.

Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan

I think that for the only adaptation for this Jane Austen novella, it’s pretty decent. It’s not an easy novella to adapt, first of all, simply because it’s written as a series of letters.  I believe Sense & Sensibility was first conceived that way before Austen decided to change it, so we can be thankful that she only played with this format once. It’s a tale that we are not used to seeing from Jane Austen as it deals with sex, manipulation, obvious social climbing, adultery, and all sorts of things one would expect in a a rollicking good Georgian novel like Tom Jones, not Austen. Most scholars date this to have been written in 1794 and the adaptation was said to have taken place at around the same time. I believe the costumes are pretty accurate.

1790s Dress from the Kyoto Fashion Museum

1790s Dress from the Museo del Traje (Madrid, Spain); Both gowns are from the same time period.

Portrait of Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton) by George Romney, Museum of Fine Art, Boston

1790s Portrait of Emma Hart (Later Lady Hamilton); her hair and hat are very similar to Lady Susan’s as pictured below. [Public Domain]

Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) and Lady Susan

An interesting choice made, which at first I didn’t like, but upon watching it again, I ended up enjoying was to make Mrs. Johnson, Lady Susan’s confidant, an ex-Patriot from America. Making her someone who was loyal to the Crown and having to flee the Colonies for her British sentiment made her husband’s (Stephen Fry) threats to send her away both comical and frightening. Especially since the Revolutionary War had recently ended and the War of 1812 was soon to start (plus there were still some skirmishes occurring between American and Britain at this time). While the director admitted to changing the film a few times on set because of the ingenuity of the actors (and allowing them to have input into their characters), a majority of the lines do come from and are influenced by the actual letters from the novella. I would state that 90% of the dialogue is based upon those letters, which is fairly decent in my mind.

Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwell) with her brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel)

I appreciated the use of wigs, especially the non-white ones on the men (the older men particularly). One thing is apparently clear and that is income (loss of income) is a running theme in all of Austen’s published works (this work wasn’t published until 1871). I did love the use of agricultural and farming news because that was an important part of living on an estate and part of Austen’s daily life. I also love how they had all the characters introduced in the beginning, which is a very classic silent film era technique.

Fredrica Vernon (Morfydd Clark), Lady Susan’s daughter

There really isn’t much criticism for this film. It’s very witty and charming. I really wished they had not changed the title because it deserves to be known as Lady Susan since she is the main character and the subject of almost everyone’s thoughts and concerns. A very good job was done to take the text from the novella and build it into dialogue to make it sounds like dialogue from the Georgian Era instead of a sentence from a letter (which is much harder than it sounds). I did find it weird that Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin) is shown and interacts with Lady Susan, but never speaks. He is there, but silent.

Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) is Fredrica’s suitor

The music used in the film is very lovely and even the servants in this piece are well dressed and colorful, which is always nice to see. This may not be the nest adaptation of a Jane Austen work out there not of this particular work, but I have not read nor seen the plays and this is the only version that is accessible to everyone. I don’t think it’s a requirement to read Lady Susan before watching this film. The novella is a bit hard to read because it’s only a series of letters and can get a trifle dull and confusing at times. As a film, this shows a side of Jane Austen we rarely get to see outside of her personal letters. We see her as an author being more witty and more sexually aware of how women are seen in society. She’s having fun with this character and doesn’t punish Lady Susan for enjoying pleasures of the flesh. Which is interesting for the daughter of a clergyman to take. I highly recommend it and do believe it should be a part of any Austen collection for who knows if we’ll ever get another adaptation of this novella.

Reginald DeCourcy, Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), and Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray)

Got to adore the way the film introduces each character!

Revisionist History Part 2

For this posting on Revisionist History, I thought I’ve focus on an area that most people don’t think about much, which is the area of biographical films (or biopics for short). Now, biopics are good for introducing famous or interesting people to a wider audience, but they are also notorious for glossing over the bad parts or nasty parts of a person’s life and even changing facts to create a more palatable film. In a way, this is a bit of revisionist history because people will use films as 100% facts, not realizing that like other films, there are things that are made up in them. So, I thought it might be nice to look at some examples of this just to be a different change of place.

General Custer (courtesy of USF.edu)

Any biopic about General Custer is going to be problematic because his widow, wanting to to make her dead husband into a hero, wrote a biography on him after his death which turned him into the hero from which all film interpretations are based upon. Only one film (Little Big Man) comes close to showing him as a jerk and idiot, so it’s closer to truth. There are a lot of films in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s that glorify this man and they are laughable in many aspects. Custer was a Confederate soldier that was notorious for disobeying orders. He was ordered to NOT engage the Native Americans. He did anyway and is responsible for one of the greatest losses of human life outside of the Civil War in the 19th Century. So, always be aware of any film that portrays him as a good guy because historically, he wasn’t. It’s important to be aware of men such as Custer who are idolized to this day from the false biography his wife had written and published. It’s amazing the damage a false narrative can still cause after over a hundred years. She purposefully revised history and people not only bought it, no one wanted to believe anyone who was stating the truth!

Andrew Jackson (Courtesy of thehermitage.com)

The few times this President has been portrayed on screen, no mention of the Trail of Tears is brought up and he never swears. Jackson was known for swearing up a storm. He was racist. misogynistic, and from all accounts, an premier asshole. I would love it if we started doing more honest portrayals of our Presidents in films or even in Theatre pieces because people need to be aware of the good and the bad. People are not aware Jackson was behind the Trail of Tears because it’s not taught in schools or it’s just not common knowledge. It should be though. For some reason, there has been a deliberate push to lessen the damage Jackson inflicted on this country and to build him up a a hero when he was not a hero in any sense of the word.

Queen Christina of Sweden (Public Domain Image)

This monarch’s story has been fictionalized only a few times, which is sad (though she has a few plays and an opera) because she is so interesting! Raised to be King, she had female and male lovers, abdicated, lived her life in exile, patron of the arts, never married. I’ve only seen two films on her (and there are so many on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I). It’s hard to say if these two films are very fictionalized because from all historical accounts, she was bisexual and did travel to Rome (one film has her sleeping with a member of the Vatican). So, am I am saying is it’s possible. I also don’t know a lot about her as there’s not many biographies on her. I’m sure some liberties were taken on both films (that’s a given) but the true and accurate things that would seem pure fiction, were not. So, I included this because sometimes real life is stranger than fiction!

Biblical based films are always a little hard to judge. When they are taken from stories from the Bible, you can judge them for things like historical accuracy and if they adhered to the Bible story. A lot of the older films (pre-1980s) aren’t too accurate, but they were dealing with things like the Hayes code which prohibited certain body parts (like belly buttons) from being shown and didn’t allow certain words (even from the Bible, which is funny considering the Hayes Code was a Catholic run organization) from being said. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some of those lavish productions for the over the top costumes and sets, but they do a lot of adding in of love stories and characters that aren’t in the original source material to turn it into a workable film.

JRR Tolkien (Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate)

Now, a Tolkien Biopic is shortly coming out and the Tolkien Estate hjas stated that they did not authorize the film and do not approve of this film. Where does this leave us? Tolkien did publish letters (I have a copy) which gives insight into him as a writer and a person. There are a few biographies on his as well as biographies on people he knew such as CS Lewis. Of course, there are going to be some liberties taken with it and some things are going to be left out. I don’t expect this is going to be a film that is going to be 100% accurate. If it’s 80% accurate, I will be satisfied. It’s sad that the family were not involved and don’t approve. So it’s a film that I will most likely wait to see when my library has a copy.

David Bowie (Courtesy of the Bowie Estate)

This brings us to another issue. There is also a film coming out about David Bowie that is also not authorized by Bowie’s family. Because it is not authorized, there will be none of Bowie’s music involved and it will take a lot of liberties of the man’s life and career. There is no authorized David Bowie biography available, so this film will be pure speculation plus any interviews that are out there. This is what I would call pure revisionist history in terms of a biopic whereas the Tolkien film has resources such as Tolkien’s letters that author himself published during his own lifetime plus many authorized biographies of the author and the men he knew an worked with. That gives his film a more accurate feeling to it than this one will have.

The point I am trying to make is this: some biopics (especially the older ones) are not at all accurate and yet people will believe them as being 100% true. Remember that during the early 20th Century, film studios were trying to make money and most films were shot in as little as 4 to 6 weeks, not months like they are now. Historical accuracy wasn’t as high as a priority as entertainment value. It’s only more recently that it’s been more of a need to be both accurate and entertaining. Though there are always people put there that do films that are completely revisionist history (and they tend to be full of conspiracy theories, which is how you spot them easily). And also because there are so many biographies in terms of films, TV specials, and even books set to come out in the near future I felt it was a good idea to do this little posting on this now instead of later.