Queer History (Part 1): 18th Century

I, stupidly, checked my comments recently and approved (yes, I can approve or trash comments and mostly I approve them-even the hate filled ones) a commentary from someone stating that they find my Mary Anning post to be racist and anti-Queer because I didn’t like how the filmmaker made Mary Anning a lesbian. Well, I didn’t like the representation because it was poorly written and just historically inaccurate on too many levels. But, to show that I DO actually understand Queer History, I have been compiling, and working on, blog posts showing history we need to be aware of.

For today’s awesome look at Queer History, let’s delve into the Macaroni Scandal of 1772 (and no, this ain’t cheddar).

stovetop Mac and Cheese in bowl with fork
Macaroni & Cheese. Sadly, nothing this delicious is the point of this blog. Courtesy of Cookingclassy.com
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The Macaroni by Philip Dawes, circa 1773. Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

A Macaroni (sometimes spelled Maccaroni) is not the infamous Blue Box we know associate the word with. If you are familiar with the term dandy, then this was what a dandy was called prior to the 1800s. If you don’t know what a dandy is, then the most current modern equivalent would probably be metrosexual. Macaronis were effeminate (often outlandishly so) aristocratic or bourgeoisie men who would mix English and Latin together when talking (often called Macaronic Langauge). They were the extreme influencers of their time, but existed on the fringes of Society. They dressed in ways that skewed feminine and masculine ideals, they exhibited behaviors seen as being effeminate, though there is evidence of the style and way of living as being more gender neutral: “There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately [1770] started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion” (quoted from the Oxford Magazine in 1770 and fond in Shipley’s article from 1984). And while we (historians and Austen aficionados) tend to think of Macaronis as being queer (i.e. homosexuals), perhaps the truth was they also had a range within themselves, having those who were masculine at one end, feminine at the other, and these neutrals in the middle (the Macaroni Rainbow, as it were). I myself had no idea there could be anything other than the effeminate Macaroni before researching this.

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The lyrics from Yankee Doodle, a song that predates the American Revolution. Public Domain Image

If you have ever attended school in America, at some point you may have sung “Yankee Doodle” and probably never thought about the line bout the feather in the cap an the word Macaroni. In reality, the song is stating, in a very funny way, that the Colonists lived in such a backwater area of the world, the thought of adding a mere feather to one’s hat made the person a “Macaroni.” So, it’s funny, but in a way that we don’t quite understand in today’s world. It’s a part of our history that we have forgotten, sadly, because it’s important to Queer History more than anything else. Side note, I have discovered that the tune to Yankee Doodle possibly goes back to the 14th-16th C (or even earlier) and the song itself is the State song of Connecticut (I suspect this will end up on an episode of Jeopardy or has already made an appearance). Peter McNeil, who studies fashion an design, was quoted in Studies in Ephemera, that the Macaroni Sub-Culture could be seen as a precursor the the Molly Sub-Culture, which then morphed into Victorian Gay Culture, and is part of the evolution of the LGTBQ+ community (Past & Present). Dear Reader, such insight blew my mind. Molly Culture is something I will be discussing in the near future, but knowing there was an earlier culture? Incredible! And if you think Macaroni culture was just a passing phase, Oliver Goldsmith mentions it in his 1773 play, She Stoops to Conquer, which makes his play contemporary to the scandal. Ah yes, the scandal.

Two Ladies and an Officer Seated at Tea
1715, Two Ladies & an Officer Seated at Tea (attributed to the Dutch School). Courtesy of the V&A Musuem

1772 was not a good year for Captain Robert Jones. Jones was convicted of Sodomy in July 1772 in the Old Bailey (well-known Court) and sentenced to hang. Pedophilia as something that was, perhaps, not seen as a crime in those days because the person Jones had sex with was a 13 year old boy. A boy, Francis Henry Hay, who from his testimony, was groomed and had been “readied” for sex. The age of consent for males was 14 at this time, so if the child had been 14, he would have been convicted for Sodomy as well. Now, this is the shocking part, Robert ones was given a Royal Pardon in August that same year. George III was not “mad” at this time in his reign, so he knowingly and willingly pardoned a person who raped a child. Scandalous, is it not? So, what makes this something we should know about? Well, firstly, that Sodomy was considered a crime prior to Oscar Wilde (for some reason, people think it was made a crime at that time in history, when it predates Wilde by over 100 years). Also, to acknowledge homosexuals did exist in Society, at all levels of Society, and have for hundreds and thousands of years. Jones was most likely given a Royal Pardon because he was so well-liked by Society (sad, but true). Jones petitioned and was granted a stay of execution, which equates to a pardon, with the understanding he had to exile himself from England. He was a lieutenant in the British Army, but seemed to have been called “Captain” as a sort of nickname (perhaps one he gave himself). Jones was popular for writing two books. The first on figure skating that went thorough several printings in 1772 and was very, very popular. He also wrote a book on fireworks that was published in 1765. Both books helped make such things acceptable and popular outdoor forms of entertainment. Ice skating had been around for years prior to Jones’ book, but his was the first known book on figure skating, with details on how to do maneuvers like the Flying Mercury.

Masquerades in the Pleasure Gardens | Museum of London
April 1795 Masquerade by Laurie & Whittle of London. Courtesy of the Museum of London

It seemed Robert was also very well-known for his costuming choices in masquerades and often written about in gossip news-sheets and mentions in letters (and diaries). So, his trial, and the after effects, would have been well-documented because he was such a pubic figure, which is a boon for us. He exiled himself to the South of France, where he live with another young boy (and yes, it was written that this boy & lover was lovely, which makes me sick). Now, you may ask, why should we talk about this guy? Well, first because this was very much a public trial. This was OJ Simpson type of news media coverage. For a subculture, the Macaronis, were under extreme scrutiny because of the disgusting actions of Robert Jones. It must have been devastating to try and live at a time when knowledge that one could be executed for being gay is ever present. As for the pedophilia, it is a disgusting thing to state, but there is still this belief that having sex with a virgin (male or female) can cures diseases. Back in the 17th Century, men with syphilis would often rape boys and girls, trying to cure their own disease, but managed to infect young children, who died from it. Today, men with HIV & AIDS continue to rape children thinking a virgin will cure them of the disease. I do sometimes wonder if some of the pedophilia I have come across in regards to homosexuality, could possibly be linked to this mindset. Then again, I kind of want them to be gutted publicly for the harm they caused.

17th and 18th century broadsides and pamphlets, 11 volumes | English  Literature, History, Science, Children's Books and Illustrations Online |  Books & Manuscripts | Sotheby's
17th C Broadsheet of the Execution of King Charles. Courtesy of Sothebys

Now, you may ask, was Jones the only scandal to take place in 1772? No, he wasn’t but he is the most well known. The second one is Samuel Drybutter. Poor Samuel lived life as an open gay man in the 18th Century. Probably not the wisest choice to make. He has a well documented case history of brushes with the law, primarily dealing with his selling of luxury items and accusations of theft, fraud, etc. But, what is most interesting, is starting in 1770, he is being charged and convicted of solicitation of men for sex in St. James’ Park. Drybutter is a very repeat offender in this area. From 1770 until about 1781, there are at least two arrests per year regarding Samuel and his attempt to pick up men. A few of them, unfortunately, are also of young men (possibly boys), which considering most of his interactions are with adult men, one does wonder if seeking young men (or boys) was his belief in the syphilis (or another STD) cure, or if he was also a pedophile. Drybutter notoriously allowed Jones to stay with him after the pardon and before Jones left for Europe. Samuel was known to be a prominent member of the Macaroni Club, meaning Society knew he was gay and had known for a long time. Samuel fled to Europe in 1781 after beaten almost to his death, dying abroad in 1787. He continued to live as an openly gay man, which really was a very difficult thing to do at this time.

Samuel Drybutter | British Museum
Satirical Print featuring Samuel Drybutter by Matthew Darly, 1771-1772. Courtesy of the British Museum

1772 was also bad for us Theatre folk as Isaac Bickerstaffe had to flee England for an unknown crime (possibly sodomy). Bickerstaffe was a very popular operatic comedy writer and friend to David Garrick (yes THAT Garrick). He was known to have had a long standing affair with a male opera dancer (no hint of underage shenanigans, thank goodness), and possibly he may have been Garrick’s lover. Possibly as Garrick quite adamantly distanced himself from his once close friend in 1772, even going so far as to refuse to lend the poor man money or even answer his letters. The letters, strangely enough, Garrick kept. Now, considering how difficult it was to be involved in Theatre (even now, there are myths that anyone involved in Theatre is promiscuous for some reason and if by promiscuous, you infer drinking copious amounts of caffeine), it is no wonder Garrick distanced himself from Isaac and homosexuality. Isaac was never a popular writer after he fled and lived in self-exile. He continued to write and send plays to people who could have performed them, bringing him back to his former fame and fortune. Yet that threat of sodomy (and the executions) kept him in poverty and in obscurity.

Love in a village ... The fourth edition. By Isaac Bickerstaffe - Isaac  BICKERSTAFFE - Google Books
Bickerstaffe’s most popular work, which is available for free via Googlebooks.

This brings us back too the concept of the Macaroni. Captain Jones, because his case was the biggest scandal in 1772, was often referred to as the Military Macaroni. Recall, earlier I mentioned Macaronis were more of a style and way of living, not a sexuality. BUT, by equating Jones WITH that lifestyle, one can see how we start to equate certain styles of dress and fashion with sexuality (fashion and sexuality have always been linked, but the concept of linking very specific ways of dressing with sexuality was not, to my current knowledge, that commonplace in previous centuries). If Macaronis tended to be more gender fluid (as in embracing aspects of both genders), then Jones did more harm to the acceptance of homosexuality in the 18th and 19th C by being associated with them. We should discuss, at the same time, how the idea of being flamboyant, or effeminate, now equated male homosexuality and how, the reverse, of being a butch or masculine, (or rough manners) must have also starting to be formed for female homosexuality. We still deal with the aftereffects of this mindset to this day. Major cosmetic companies still have trouble catering products to men because makeup is seen as effeminate, and therefore, unacceptable. If it is perfectly fine for me to have, and use, a face wash, face scrub, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen, then is should be as acceptable for my BF to do the same (which he has 3 separate products, I am very proud to say). Even though, historically, makeup was worn primarily by men (same with lace, ribbons, bright pastels and silk stockings WITH red heeled shoes). Makeup is just makeup. It should be gender free because it was originally gender free. Ancient Egyptians of both genders wore makeup. So yes, I do blame Captain Jones for starting this division as to what each gender should adhere to. Personally, I also think the bastard should have been executed for raping a child on numerous occasions (because sexually abusing a child is never OK). And because we have no definite way of knowing when gender roles became so rigid, he is now my personal whipping post.

See Stunning Photos of King Tut's Tomb After a Major Restoration - HISTORY
A mural from King Tutankhamen’s Tomb. We should all aspire to that level of eyeliner. Courtesy of National Geographic

Because we have so little positive examples of Queer History out there, I would love a fake historical novel about a Macaroni who lived during this chaotic time and died sometime around 1830. Because it would be an interesting way of looking at what any person who wasn’t straight had to be confronted with, especially when it comes to this scandalous year and the aftereffects. I am also humble enough to know that I am not the right person to write such a tale. I struggle enough as it is writing my male characters, so only writing from the perspective of one is beyond my abilities as a writer. But it is a thought, a wish, that I hope may inspire someone to write such a story.

GET TO KNOW: ZACK PINSENT - HEY GIRL MAGAZINE
Zack Pinsent, courtesy of Hey Girl Magazine. I would love to meet this man and get sewing tips!

The only modern person whom I can think of who truly embodies the whole Marconi/Dandy aesthetic, if we really want to be 18th & 19th C nitpicky here (and I am), is Zack Pinsent of Pinsent Tailoring. He is a very proud member of the LGTBQ+ community in England and when I am trying to wrap my head around how a Macaroni, or even a Regency Dandy, may have dressed, this is the guy I look to. Plus, he really helps me, who loves the fashions and dearly wants to have a few Regency Era dresses to gander about in, understand the sewing of such garments much better and the social implications they may have had. Because, Dear Reader, I am always wanting to better my own understanding of this Era that any useful source of information must be a boon. But also, I mention Zack Pinsent because I am not a gay man. I would have no idea the struggles a gay man in our time, let alone the time of Austen, many have faced. Zack is, I will gladly admit, one of the reasons for this look into Queer History and Austen (this is also why I looked into the history of people of color prior o the 20th C). Because I want to know more and do the characters I have planned to be these representations to do justice to people like Isaac Bickerstaffe, the Macaroni Set, the Mollys, the Boston Marriages.

Part 2 will be a look back at people before the 18th C (which is why it will not be so in depth), then I hope to give a glorious account of Boston Marriages, the Molly Set and Mademoiselle de Beaumont. I have already mentioned the glorious William Brown in the last Part of my Black History Month blog posts, but I many mention them again 🙂

I must also report that I have eaten Pheasant (because, research). Smells a bit like turkey, so a bit gamy meets poultry. Tastes bland, like really bland turkey. I can see why they used so many sauces back then. The cats, however, enjoyed it greatly.

Resources:

Dominic Janes (Keele Uiversity): Macaroni Scandal article for The Conversation (July 2018)

Joseph Twadell Shipley, The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (JHU Press) 1984:143.

Murphy, Kevin; O’Driscoll, Sally (2013). Studies in Ephemera: Text & Image in 18th C Print

richtornorton.co.uk (this is my go-to for any and all research and sexuality in the 18th C)

homohistory.com

pinsenttailoring.co.uk

heygirlmagazine.com

historic-uk.com

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Update on My #MeToo Post (or how I am coping)

Back in 2018, after years of suppressing and not wanting to acknowledge what occurred, I finally decided to write what happened to me. Now, it may come as a shock, but not everything that occurred has been told. Some of it I probably won’t tell for a while (because legalities and all that), but some of it I can elaborate on.

When I had a neighbor/babysitter parade me around naked, telling her son that he would someday marry me, what I did not mention is that his sister, who was a teenager at that time, would then take me to her bedroom, molest and sexually assault me. Now, remember, I was 8 and she was a teenager. So, it is no wonder that I often still have issues regarding my sexual identity. Because, on the one hand, I do find myself attracted to women, I also wonder if it stems from what occurred then. Now, I sometimes will state that I am bisexual, and sometimes I don’t because, quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know if I will ever truly know. It should come as no surprise to anyone that anything of a sexual nature is something I struggle with and will probably always struggle with. Now, currently, I have been dating a wonderful man for over a year and while he doesn’t know of everything that has gone on in my past, he does now that I have been hurt. So he’s never pushed me and he’s let me just be comfortable with just being together (often, we fall asleep watching a film but then, we are both 40 and up). And you know what? That’s also perfectly fine. Sometimes it’s nice to cuddle, talk, and just be able to be comfortable with another person because that certainly feels more intimate than anything else. Now, the babysitter in question is dead. I have not shed one tear for her death and expect that I never will. Her daughter is still alive, but I don’t think she lives in the state and I hope I never see her again. Occasionally her brother, because he is still around, will send me friend requests on Facebook. I just delete and move on. And the reason I am so willing to move on from this part of my past, is because it’s the one I have worked through the most and I truly can state that it no longer bothers me. But if I ever met the son in person? I’d probably slap him.

As to the academic advisor, Helene Siebrits is still teaching. She is currently at Ohio State and she is the main reason that when I was applying to PhD programs, I just stopped. I found out when I was applying to schools I was interested in and I just couldn’t finish my application anymore. She has connections to many schools from people she has worked with through academia or professionally, plus students she has treated well. It would be impossible for me to be involved in any PhD program without coming into contact with her at some point. I had excellent letters of recommendation and the department at Ohio State was keen to meet me. But I couldn’t. And I don’t know if I will ever go on for a PhD. Because she was scarring. She inflicted injuries that are soul crushing. On a weekly basis, she would have me in her office, in Urbana-Champaign, and politely tell me that my existence was a mistake. People like me had no right to exist. People with depression had no place in Theatre or Academia. These were the weekly mantras I was forced to endure as Helene would drum into my head how utterly pointless my continuing existence was. Then the Costume Shop manager and the other Costume Professor, would do the same thing to me every other week, couched in terms of gentility (the other professor) and flat out disgust (the manager). It was a constant stream of being pointed out how ugly I was. How wrong I was. How I did not fit in. They spread a rumor that I was Autistic, but I apparently also slept with a professor for good grades/to get into the school. I purposefully sabotaged my grade in a class I was getting an A in to end up with a C JUST to dispel this rumor and I shouldn’t have. This professor that I supposedly slept with was Peter Davis. I never slept with him. I liked him, as a professor. I thought he was a pretty nice guy. But he also has a tendency to flirt with attractive students who are undergrads, which always made me uncomfortable as a student. I told him, in the Fall of 2009 what was going on-he didn’t care. He acted like he did, but he really didn’t. It took me years to figure out he is a narcissistic asshole and because I didn’t flatter him enough, I wasn’t worth his time (nor worthy of being moved from Costume Design to Theatre History because I did try to switch and while the Graduate School was all for it, it just wasn’t to be).

I was told to not socialize with any of the other Costume students. If I was seen socializing with them, or they found out, they would punish me. And I was punished. I was punished for hanging out with the Theatre History students. While the other Design grads avoided me like I had the plague, the Theatre History grads were the only ones in that entire department that didn’t give two fucks what Helene thought and have supported me and continue to support me. So, my loyalty always is to them FIRST because they kept me from killing myself. But my punishment was probably illegal. I had to work in the shop, but unable to log hours. So while the others worked 15-20 hrs a week in the shop, I was made to work twice that. Doing everything from cleaning the area, to cleaning the bathroom, to being loaned out to other departments. I’m fairly certain the other departments had no idea that I was doing all of that work without compensation. But any and every attempt I made to tell anyone in a position of authority within that department was met with silence. The only Design Head who gave a fuck was the Sound Guy. And he was going to put a stop to it. Then he died. And it was unexpected. And the abuse continued.

I routinely was called into “meetings” with the costume heads (Helene and the other two ladies) and yelled at. It was a constant stream of abuse. Helene would call me up and tell me that there had been a change of plans for homeroom on Fridays and to not bring my watercolors. Only for me to show up to class and have no watercolors when everyone else was going to paint. She did that all the time. She did it in order to verbally abuse me in front of the others. When we had projects and she did one on one evaluations, she would destroy my work and I would have to start over. So, when others got 2 weeks to work on a drawing for her, I had 4 days. Only once did I outsmart her. I never showed up when we were doing a project that required us to fill in shadows with dots. It was the only time I purposefully didn’t show up because I knew she would have destroyed my work and I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t keep seeing work I had done be torn up and told to start again, but given so much less time to complete it. Because, of course, I would have to work those extra hours without anyone knowing and would have even less time to finish. I had no life. I was depressed. And even the psychiatrist I was able to see on campus confronted Helene and she told him, in person, that it would be better for everyone in the Theatre Department if I would just kill myself. He came to her office and in front of me, she admitted to him what she thought of me. Just think about that. The head of the Costume Program openly admits she wants a student to kill themselves because it would be better for the entire department.

I don’t know why she wanted me dead. I still don’t understand. But I do know Helene is a racist. She is white and from South Africa. She was equally cruel to other Asians in the Theatre Design program. And I mean awful. One was gradating the year I arrived, but Helene would berate her for no reason. In front of the others, and often in front of me. She would do this in front of other professors and not one told her to stop it. The other was a girl in the Scenic program. Helene hated her as well. And yes, this is something I have longed to write and tell because it’s a problem that needs to be addressed in Academia. No supervisor has the right to treat students as if they don’t matter. Now, I loved designing Costumes. I still dream about fabrics and styles and they way fabric drapes or sounds when it moves. I have always loved dressing up. Next to Austen (and Kermit the Frog and David Bowie), costumes have been a huge part of my life for years and years. But my interests in History, English, and Theatre don’t end because I no longer do any costuming. Because I am a writer, I tend to do costume character sheets first when creating a character (so, the knowledge I gained has still worked out well). I focus on how they dress to figure out how they moved. And from that, how they act, speak, and everything else falls into place. And instead of an MFA, I got an MA in Costume Design. And, you know what, that’s just fine.

At the end of that first year, I was stripped of all financial aid and my graduate assistantship. The reason given was my grades. I petitioned the Gradate School for clarification. I was told that having and maintaining a GPA above 3.0 (mine was 3.4) was not grounds for being removed from any graduate program. I should mention I was put on probation the first semester for crying. An undergrad slapped me because I told her she had to show up for her duty on Wardrobe Crew on time instead of whenever she felt like it. She slapped me, threw me up against a wall, and threatened to kill me. I was put on probation. She was never punished. To this day, I have no interaction with her on Facebook and refuse to applaud anything she’s done when it comes up on my news feed from mutual friends. Oh, and per the Graduate School, the academic probation was also illegal. The probation and removal of financial assistance were both in violation of the Graduate School at UIUC. So, for clarification, Helen Siebrits illegally placed me on academic probation, then illegally removed me from my assistantship and barred me from the program per the Graduate School at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Crying is not an acceptable reason to place someone on academic probation. Crying is not an acceptable reason to remove someone from their assitanstship and bar them from the program. And yes, I did fight to stay. The Graduate School was behind me 200%. Everything was in my favor. I had the grades. The probation was not an acceptable reason, and when Helene tried to change it to me having depression, that was also deemed as an invalid excuse. The final thing I had over Helene is that I refused to sign away my rights to my assistantship and sign an agreement to be removed from the program. I never signed these forms which are a requirement by the Department and the Graduate Student BEFORE funding can be taken away. I never signed it. I still had funding taken away. Because, unfortunately, the final say was with the Department Head. He was leaving and didn’t care. He was moving to Texas and a different school. His replacement? He also didn’t care. They gave the excuse that I was physically unable to sign the forms and everything was taken away. I could have appealed and I probably would have won. But I just couldn’t handle it all anymore. Instead, in an act that can only be described as petty, Helene Siebrits destroyed my file, containing my letters of recommendation to the program. While the Graduate School has a record that they were received and they did exist, my file is gone. And I mean everything as in all hard copies. They cannot find my transcripts. They cannot find anything related to me and the Theatre Department. The last person to have the file was Helene Siebrits before it all was gone. And while I will be found to have attended the school and was in the program of MFA Costume Design (and I can and do have a copy of my official transcript), any and all mention of my name and the shows I worked on were removed from the department’s website. I am, for all purposes, erased from ever having existed at that school.

I stayed another year, taking classes I wanted to take. History classes, Ballet, Art. I worked 20 hrs a week in the Music and Performing Arts Library, and also did tutoring on the side for extra income. I was put on food stamps and went to a food pantry twice a month. I survived. I left that school with a 4.0 GPA and went to Kansas State, where I maintained a GPA above 3.2 and ended up with a 3.7 GPA (other schools, it would be considered Cum Laude, but for some stupid reason, the Theatre Department there doesn’t allow such honors to be bestowed on their grad students, only the undergrads). But you know what, I’m ok. I have taken more history classes than the average non-history major (if I could ever transfer those credit to another school, I’d have enough for an MA in History, which is scary). I had fun working at the library (I always do, to be perfectly honest). I enjoyed Kansas State. Didn’t particularly like the costume teacher nor her shop manager, but then they focused on the grad who got the assistantship while I was just the backup. Whatever. At the time I was hurt but now, I could care less.

No matter the abuse I suffered BEFORE grad school, being abused by your professor (and head of the program) IS soul crushing. Because it is. You cannot imagine how many similar stories of abuse I have read and heard from others, in all fields of study, that have traumatized generations of academics. I know people, who like me, just couldn’t continue anymore. Because the abuse, the lack of understanding of mental health issues, is an ongoing problem we need to talk about. Googling “abuse by a professor” brings up pages of examples. And how sad is that? What I experienced is not unique nor is it uncommon. There are so many examples of other grad and undergrad students being abused by professors and academic advisors. This is a culture of abuse that goes back centuries and needs to have it’s #MeToo moment too. And while the treatment I got at Kansas State was better, being ignored and forgotten that you even exist in the program is just as harmful (Thankfully, I was able to retain the Drama Therapy professor as my advisor and Sally Bailey is the best and sweetest advisor anyone could hope to have).

Academia has long needed people to stand up and talk about the abuse. It’s time we really push this narrative forward and start holding those accountable. And yes, just because Helene Seibrits has worked for people of color (and worked with them), doesn’t mean she still isn’t racist. She told me, on a weekly basis, to kill myself. She called me a Kaffir to my face, every week. Kaffir is, well, it’s a very derogatory and racist word meaning I am not white. She referred to me as the Kaffir, on speakerphone, to my psychiatrist AND a person from the Graduate School in my presence. She yelled that I was better off dead because I didn’t deserve to live. Was she ever aware she said this to not one, but 2 people? Probably not. But she was never punished by the Department and I know, because I was told, the Graduate School did issue a complaint against her on my behalf. They found her actions to be racist. But remember, no matter what the Gradate School dictated, it was up to the Theatre Department itself to rectify this issue And they never did. And in case you are wondering why I am focused on Siebrits, it’s because she is still probably abusing other students. She moves around every few years and my concern is that there are others like me who she has abused in the past and will abuse the future. She should not be teaching. She should not be a member of United Scenic Artists Union Local 829. She should not be allowed to hurt others. Because I was very close to killing myself when I was there. I almost didn’t live to see the end of that first year. That’s how much abuse I suffered under her. She is toxic.

How close is too close? My mom was on the verge of coming down, packing everything up, and taking me to a mental hospital for suicide watch. She lived over 3 hours away. Instead, I allowed my psychiatrist to check me into the Pavillion Foundation over Spring Break in 2010. He did this because he felt the Suicide Prevention Team at UIUC would not be adequate. I was there 5 days. I got help. I completed their outpatient program and continued to see my psychiatrist at UIUC the rest of that year, staying over the summer to continue treatment and the next year as well. THAT is the result of non stop emotional abuse.

Its’ important that I write about this because I, at least, had some help. I had the vet grads in my building who knew something was wrong. I had my theatre history friends who could tell that all was not well with me. I had a doctor that fought for the right to call Helene in front of a representative of the Graduate School because he wanted her hatred of me heard by someone in a position of authority. If I didn’t get the help, I would not be here. And that is a fact. I would have not been here to finish my novel. I would have not seen my brother get married. I would have not had the joy of seeing my niece grow up and seeing my nephew. Everything from Spring 2010 to now has been a gift because it was so easily lost. But mine is not the only tale. How many did not make it because of the abuse? They believe 50% of PhD students end up dropping out. Around 20-30% of Master’s do the same. They know, only because some come forward to talk about it, that around 8% think about suicide. And those are the ones that talk about it. And how much is from abuse? Probably a lot of it.

As for John Ortberg, it’s complicated. I have been lucky to talk and find support from Daniel Lavery, Ortberg’s son. I have had people who initially did not believe me in 2018, now believe me because they have realized that there is abuse at Menlo & Willow Creek Church. Friday, I make a statement to the South Barrington Police Department. And I am scared. I am terrified. Because last time I spoke to a cop about sexual abuse, I was 11 and the guy did zero time. But this isn’t about abuse and sexual assault has no statute of limitations. Will anything happen? I don’t know. Would I like something to happen? Sure. I want to know why. I want to know why those who knew this was happening helped. I want to know why Orberg did this to me. I want to know why Ortberg III was allowed to do what he did (and why his dad is ok with it). So, yeah, it’s a lot to deal with. I can’t tell you why anyone sexually abuses or sexually assaults a child. I can tell you that it’s extremely hard to come to terms with and I don’t know if it will ever be ok. Because you lose something when it happens.

Basically, I want answers. I want to know why Helene Siebrits is allowed to teach when she should not have the opportunity to abuse another student emotionally. I want to know why Willow Creek allowed abuse to happen from so many people in charge, for years. I want to know why Menlo reinstated Ortberg in 2020 when it’s clear he should not be in position of power. I want to know why the Theatre Department at UIUC allowed the abuse to happen, when there was evidence happening in front of their eyes. And yes, it’s a lot of questions that I have, but these are questions I need answered to be able to move on. I had some trolling recently, on another post (well, several) that have caused me to not sleep very well these past few days. I spent 40 minutes in the shower crying today because sometimes the memory of what happened at Willow Creek is still painful. And there are things that happened that I have never told my mom because I can’t. I can’t burden her with my pain.

So, I am coping. I am doing better than I thought I would be, but not here I want to be. Is this an issue I will revisit again in he future? Probably. Besides Ortberg, I still on occasion, have flashbacks to the abuse Siebrtis did and because it is fairly recent (still) it’s also a bit too close to the surface. Those are my main two scars and the ones that haunt me the most because there has been no closure for me. The abusive babysitter is dead. She can’t touch me. The neighbor who sexually molested me is dead. I have no issue being in my front yard anymore. Because I have closure on those parts of my past, I have healed from them. But Ortberg? I don’t know how long it will take, but I do want closure. And for Helene? I definitely want answers there. Because I was not the only person being abused by her at that time. And all of us deserve answers from her and from UIUC.

Re-Editing, Re-editing, and Re-editing

For roughly almost all of last year, I did not work on my first novel at all. One, it was hard because COVID had all of us hunkering down and stressed out that trying to do anything that required a lot of concentration was just pointless. This doesn’t’ mean I wasn’t working on any writing projects. I did many blog posts that were dear to my heart (and a few of those that I started researching last year will finally be completed this year because, yes, I DO take my time with researching and writing these posts). Plus I did more research (general) into the 19th C for the other 5 novels (6 Austen variations because there are 6 completed Austen novels). Then I decided to do some research into Faerie Tales (because I had once scribbled an idea back when I was 15 that I do think may be fun projects). I also adopted another cat (Parker) as companion to Henry. Met a wonderful guy (and still going strong over a year later), watched a lot of films, read a lot of books. Gained a bit of weight (as did we all I imagine). But now, I am back on board with re-editing my novel. Egads!

Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney | Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog
JJ Fields as Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey). Courtesy of Pinterest. Also the namesake of my cat, Henry.

So, what’s it like to come back to a novel that once was all consuming, read it, and discover that there are parts you no longer like? A bit weird, to be completely honest. In a way, I feel closer to Jane Austen (who famously re-wrote her novels over and over again, over a period of years) and other writers, both departed and contemporary. We must, after all, be our own worst critic and our most fervent admirer. Re-reading my own novel is surreal. There is no other way to describe it (unless we want to say it’s a bit like schadenfreude, except we are taking our pleasure from our own misfortune). There are parts that I immediately know must be cut because they do nothing to advance the tale. There are parts that can easily be condensed and explained in a sentence or two instead of paragraph after paragraph. In some ways, I was much more into describing than showing, which is a fault most (academically trained) writers probably have. This is why we edit.

Jane Austen Manuscript Chapter 10
Jane Austen’ editing process. Courtesy of the British Library.

Both Cassandra and Henry Austen made statements in their later lives regarding Jane’s writing process. It should come to no surprise that she had outlines and knew how she wanted each of her noels to end (I do that as well). But like most writers, even she probably acknowledged that after writing and editing the first time, sometime things have to be changed because what you thought may have been a good choice (like a name or even an ending), just doesn’t work as well. It seems Jane was forever rewriting her novels into newer drafts, editing them, changing them, chipping way at the excess until she deemed them to be ready to be published. And that is all I am doing as well. Since the age of 19, I had outlined and had these thoughts of re-working Jane’s novels in such a way as to include a bit more history (because we are so removed from her time, we forget some of the most basic knowledge her audience had, we no longer have), but in a way that is fun and gives us the endings we want, but in a different way. Now, in my naivete, I did write a fan letter to Jane Odiwe when I was 19, wanting some advice from an author I admired about whether or not my idea would work. Now, not to besmirch Odiwe (for I do admire her for her storytelling and her love of Austen), imagine how shocked I was when her “Searching For” series started coming out and I realized my fan letter from all those years ago, when I had stupidly written her an outline of my idea, became her reality.

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe
Courtesy of Amazon

Then, I read it. Well, not all of them, just the one regarding Captain Wentworth because it was the one I had foolishly outlined for her in that letter years ago. Dear Reader, hers is enjoyable, but nothing like mine. Other than taking the name (because I did give her the title of my novel as Searching for Captain Wentworth), and the premise of time travel (which, thankfully, I abandoned when I was 21 and opted for another route), I know my novel will not suffer nor (hopefully) be compared to hers. Now, I do not blame Jane Odiwe. After all, a fan letter from over 20 years ago (to which I never received any reply and please recall this was early in the age of emails and twitter did not exist), to which she may have read (or had been read for her and to her), probably installed a nugget of an idea that inspired her. For that, I am humbled because what she ended up writing is nothing to what my plans have become. While hers has involved time travel, and not much accuracy in terms of history, they are sweet pieces of fiction and, dare I state, love letters to Austen herself. While my concept is more about fleshing out some of the characters and giving a bit of background, with some fantasy and witticisms thrown in for good measure. The hard part, of course, is the whole getting of an agent. Because my original title was stolen, I had to change mine. And because it sounds similar to Odiwe’s, some agents refuse to read even the first chapter.

Inside Out in the Office: A Closer Look at Anger
Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Courtesy of Pixar/Disney

Does this anger me? Of course! I’ve also gotten comments such as I seem to write English fairly well for someone with my name (because people with Arabic names can clearly not understand the complexities of the English tongue), or I had no right to be writing Austen (because it’s only the domain of….whites?). I’ve even had agents state my novel is too ambitious (and too much like Austen), I should consider throwing in sex scenes instead of wanting to keep it sex free. The audacity of it all (because while Austen did not show sex and her novels are really sex-free, she did include romance and sensuality, which I have striven to retain). Having not touched it for a year, I am more determined than ever to edit it (again, for it seems to be the 6th or 7th time now), really make it as good as I can, then query agents again later this year. Yes, I expect I will have more rejection letters than acceptance. Yes, I still struggle with HOW to query successfully because no matter how many blog posts and tips (and hints) agents have given, none of them have worked for me.

3 Ways to Get a Literary Agent - Keller Media, Inc.
Courtesy of Keller Media

There is, of course, the more modern route which is to self publish. My boyfriend has self published 2 novels and 1 collection of short stories (and no, I have not read them). I will most likely self publish my poetry (literary agents for poetry is almost non existent and I’m sure the competition is even harder). I do plan on sending poems out to online journals and other publications to get some in print, because I do think having some of it out there would be a good thing. I have, over the past 2-3 years, have sent them to online magazines and journals with no response, but hopefully that will change. Of course, I have also, technically, self published a few poems here on this blog (and a few on Poetry.com-remember that old site? Those poems are long gone, in terms of online presence as I do have them written down). And I did get one or two published in my college days (and one in my high school days as well). So, I have no issues with going this route for poetry. But for the novels? Perhaps I am a bit old fashioned but I really do want to try and find an agent. I know so many books on Amazon are self published (it seems so many go this route and the offerings can be incredible to god awful all in one book that has to be split into 3 or more). And while that is an option, I want the agent for the simple reason that I want to see my books in stores. I want to see them in libraries. I want this little bit of myself to outlive me in print form (my immortality, as it were). Would it be nice to know that 200 years from now, my works could inspire others? Of course! I’d be pleased if my works inspired someone even 10 years down the road!

So, back to editing. That dreaded business for which others have worked with professionals. And yes, a professional editor would probably be very helpful. Yet I want to work the story to the best of my ability FIRST, then sending it off to an agent (hopefully). And then, if an editor is brought in, I would not mind. I see professional editors as that final step in polishing a work. My novel is still a bit rough, so to speak, and I want to be able to smooth it out and have that knowledge that I did so before even thinking of handing it off. Because what I know I can chip away, an editor may also chip away, or they may chip away more than what I think should be done. While I always am astounded with the stories coming out with people who wrote and then found an agent, and saw their book published all during the lockdowns, that is not normal when it comes to the literary world. For one thing, having these tales out and about make it seem as if writing a novel and getting signed to an agency is extremely easy ad those of us who struggle MUST be lacking in some way. This is simply not true. For a novel to have been written, queried, signed, then published in the span of 10 months tells me (as it should others) that the novel is probably very rough or very short and most likely (and I hate to write this), but not well written. Most novels take 2 years MINIMUM from when they are accepted to when they are published. Sometimes more IF one does not have an agent is is looking for one. In other words, this is not a fast sprint to the finish line. This is carving Michelangelo’s DAVID.

Why Tom Holland's Spider-Man/Peter Parker Is The Worst One Yet |  Moviedash.com
Tom Holland as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming (and yes, the inspiration for my cat, Parker/Peter Parker). Courtesy of MCU/SONY

Like any long term anything, patience, fortitude, and stamina is key. Now, with the whole COVID thing, I know my Depression & Anxiety have gotten worse, which means my attention span is not the best.

Red squirrel - Wikipedia
Red Squirrel. Courtesy of Wikipedia. And yes, my attention span has sometimes been THAT short.

HOWEVER, with things improving, and hopefully some medication tweaks, my attention span will be much improved and I can edit for longer periods of time rather than doing half a chapter a week. Naturally, editing on a computer screen is also not ideal, but I am determined to do this more choppy edit on the computer first. Then I may consider getting it all printed out and doing a more traditional edit like Austen did (and that I did my second time around too). So, I am basically trying to tell you, Dear Reader, that if you are also in a similar boat as I am, and struggling with writing or editing, take a break. Walk away for a bit. It seems a bit daft, but it helps. It truly does. I do believe not looking at it for abut a year has made it easier for me to make those bigger edits that the novel needs to be a better, more cohesive, story. We do, after all, tend to get very attached to our writings and it’s hard to look at it objectively when the struggle, the effort it took to bring it all about is still so fresh. IF you are doing a dissertation (as I have friends who are currently doing this), walking away for a long period of time is NOT doable. Sadly. BUT (and this is vitally important), walking away for a day or two does help.

Pin on Writing Superboards
Found on Pinterest

Witting is a process and when you first get everything down, like any parent, you think it’s a masterpiece and utter perfection. Dear Reader, it is not. And that can be very hard to understand as well as being very hard to accept. Now, I did do 2 edits back to back after I first finished the novel over 2 years ago, walked way, then came back after a mere 3 weeks and did, I believe, 2 or 3 more edits. It was not enough time for I was still too much attached to certain passages and characters to be objective. But now, having given it nary a glance for 10 months, I can be more harsh, more critical of my own failings and work. It’s much easier to remove one or two entire paragraphs, condensing it to 2 or 3 sentences when I am not so adamantly attached to them. What I am trying to stress, of course, is editing is hard. It’s a lot or work, and it’s not going to be easy. DO edit after you first finish. I found so many typing errors it was not humorous. But then walk away for a least 3-4 months. Then, come back, do another edit. Walk away for a few more months, then come back to edit it again. If I had known this, I do think this novel of mine would be at that stage here I can query an agent. But this is entirely my failing and one I know I will never repeat. Learn from this, Dear Reader, for it’s advice I know I would have liked to have been given and one I have yet to come across elsewhere.

As for Jane Odiwe, I wish her no ill will nor any regrets. My fan letter was so long ago that she probably had no memory what I wrote when she started writing the “Searching For” series. And I am completely at peace with that You have to realize that there are so many people writing Regency type novels out there that anyone who is able to stand out, even a bit, is a credit to those of us who are dabbling in this genre. While mine are more fantasy variations with historical underpinnings, there are variations out there doing “what ifs”, mysteries, sequels, etc. If you ever Google it, there are more variations, sequels, and themes on Pride & Prejudice than any other Austen Novel. And while I could have gone the route of doing P&P first, I wanted to focus on Persuasion because it is the novel (besides Northanger Abbey) that I love the most. Both of those novels are also the least adapted (film & TV wise) and have the least variations, which is a great pity, is it not? For we have Wentworth writing the best love letter in all of Austen and Tilney, who knows his muslin (and smirks quite often). So take heart. Keep typing or writing away (I wrote mine out first on paper, roughly a third, then switched to typing). Keep researching (if that’s your thing). And keep dreaming.

A Mary Anning Appreciation Post

WIN tickets to new movie Ammonite | The Senior | 2259
A Film loosely based on the life of Mary Anning released 2020.

When Ammonite was being talked about, I was excited. I am someone who has a yen for Dinosaurs (well, anything Paleontological to be perfectly honest), so a biopic on Mary Anning, the first [well-known] female Paleontologist, was excellent news! Then the premise was released and my heart sank in disappointment. Now, I have nothing against promoting Queer History and having it represented in the media (Gentleman Jack is a great example of Queer History done right), but I also feel it hurts the progress the LGTBQ+ Community when it is added for no other reason than to cause debates and it focuses the attention of the person on their genitalia (and what they did sexually or not) instead of their accomplishments. For example, Bohemian Rhapsody was touted as a Freddie Mercury & Queen biopic but shied away from any outwardly depiction of Freddie Mercury’s sexual preferences that weren’t heterosexual (notice the focus was more about his relationship with Mary Austin, with his band-mates taking second place, but very little mention was made over his male lovers or his partner, Jim Hutton). It would have been better, considering how much Freddie Mercury continues to influence the LGBTQ+ Community to show his same-sex relationships (both good & bad). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. I was thrilled that they got Rami Malek to play Freddie because it matters that a person of color play a person of color. And while I was happy he was nominated, and then won, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as I had hoped it would be. I wanted to know what parts of his personal journey helped shape him and his music. I mean, we know this happened but I would have liked to have been shown it. However, Rocket Man showed Elton John’s sexual preference as being part of who he is and how no one who truly loved him, cared who he slept with. We saw that he had relationships that were good and ones that were bad. And how they shaped him to be the man we see at the end of the film. Plus, we saw how the choices he made, both good and bad, influenced his music and his future relationships along the way. It was a biopic done right (especially the way they handle the incorporation of the music because it just worked so well).

Elton John Compares 'Rocketman' With 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - Variety
Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocket Man (2019). Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Courtesy of Variety.com

Mary Anning did not have a sexual relationship with Charlotte Murchinson. They meet, briefly, in Lyme Regis and corresponded over the years. This film, instead, tries to depict these two as star cross lovers torn apart by Society. Unless we want to infer that Mary was a female rake who could easily seduce a woman, make her fall in love, and then break her heart in a mere matter of weeks, we have problems with this film. Instead of celebrating the awesome story of a woman who contributed greatly to the field of Paleontology (Anning) and woman ho also contributed to the field of Geology (Murchinson), Director Frances Lee decides to focus on a “what if” sexual relationship. Thus boiling down any contributions these women made to science down to their sexuality. It is a form of erasure, in a way. Instead of looking at these women as intelligent scientists, Lee equates them as sexual creatures FIRST with some inclination towards scientific thought. Anning found the first intact Plesiosaur skeleton (think Loch Ness Monster). In 1811, when Mary was 12, she and her brother found a skull, which was roughly 4 foot long. She went on and found the rest of the skeleton a few months later. This ended up being an Ichthyosaur. The Anning family were known to sell fossils to collectors and to museums, so for the children to have found a specimen would not have been unusual. But what is most unusual is by 1820-1825, it was only Mary who was finding and selling the fossils, her brother having been apprenticed out (the father passed in 1812). She uncovered a Pterosaur in 1828 in the cliffs of Lyme Regis and this was first Pterosaur found outside of Germany at this time (Pterodacytylus macroynx). Mary excavated a transitionary fossil between sharks and rays/fish called Squaloraja in 1829. Anning was a self taught Paleontologist, Geologist, scientific illustrator, and Anatomist. Her discoveries have been long thought to have inspired Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Mary Anning was recognized as one of the 10 most influential women scientists in Britain in 2010. Yet his film does nothing but consider all of these accomplishments as being less than important than who she may have slept with.

Portrait of a woman in bonnet and long dress holding rock hammer, pointing at fossil next to a spaniel dog lying on ground.
Mary Anning & Her Dog (Circa 1830s-1840s) attributed to Mr. Grey. Courtesy of National History Museum
Mary Anning (1799-1847)
One of the many scientific drawings done by Mary Anning. Courtesy of UCMP.Berkely.EDU

Of course, the reason Francis Lee has decided to portray Mary Anning as a lesbian is solely based on the fact she remained unmarried and there is no evidence she had any relationships (heterosexual or homosexual), which must mean she was hiding something. By tying her scientific contributions to her sexuality, Lee has, perhaps unintentionally, equated any woman’s contributions to Society as being sexually motivated. It may come as a shock, but contributions to Art, Science, History, etc are not necessarily tied to what we do in the privacy of our own home. Now, if her sexuality had been an influenced, say, her scientific interests then yes, I would have applauded it being shown if done right.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, and if the location sounds familiar, it was featured in Jane Austen’s Persuasion as the location of The Cobb where poor Miss Musgrove hurt herself. Lyme Regis (located in Dorset) is known for it’s plentiful shale deposits, which often contain fossils. Many tend to be small (like ammonites and other creatures), but sea creatures have been routinely found in the cliff facings as well. It was a popular (but waning) seaside resort town (Brighton having taken it’s place as the primary go-to area, with Bath being secondary). But, if you recall from any previous posts regarding Austen herself, in 1799 England was at war with the US. Her life, like that of Austen, was a life revolving around War coupled with the restrictions placed upon her by Society due to her sex. Because there is no writings (family or otherwise) to indicate she was ever in love, the conclusion must be she was a lesbian. The truth was she was one of 2 children (out of 10) who survived into adulthood. Her father died when she was fairly young and she and her brother, Joseph, took up the fossil hunting trade to generate an income. Odd how any man who was not married during this same period is not automatically labeled as being a homosexual (the hypocrisy of it all and yes, I am LOOKING at you Horace Walpole).

drawing of side view of a long thin skull with needle like teeth and a large eye socket
An 1814 drawing by Everard Home for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society depicting a Temnodontosaurus (originally Ichthyosaurus) skull found by Joseph & Mary Anning in 1811

Gera Lerner in her 1975 article in Feminist Studies asked how do notable women in history get written about, stressing the emphasis on how historians (in the 1970s) disregarded contributions of women overall: “Women of different classes have different historical experiences (5)”. Lerner also points out how women were viewed in the 19th Century were based on extensions of their normal duties. Education of the poor was seen as an extension of teaching children in the home. Which is still an issue we continue to face today. They “conducted their lives (5)” according to the male-dominated accepted role for them. Austen, being a writer, was acceptable because there were other women who were writing, and being published. Women writing primarily for women is fine because it doesn’t change the dominance of men in Society (especially since Austen’s brother Henry made the publishing deals, so while she wrote the books, he controlled hat happened to them). And yes, Mary Anning did fit into this role in her own way. She worked in a family run business started by her parents for extra income. Continuing this work as a means of generating an income after he death of her father would have been deemed as an acceptable position for a young girl and her brother because they had such a large family. Continuing to go this route when her brother was apprenticed elsewhere would have also been socially normal considering they were not part of the middle class, but were the working poor. Not being married, I have to state, was not an unusual occurrence for women at this time. Mary was one of 10 children. Her mother not only buried her husband, but eight of her children. Compare to the Austen Family, who had all he children survive into Adulthood (being middle class and having better access to food and medicine). Mary may have decided it would be better for her to continue to support her mother with fossil hunting than trying to find a husband and slip into extreme poverty (which was always the threat of any working woman, including Austen herself). On top of that, she had much less education than Austen and everything she did was primarily self-taught, whereas Austen had the support of a large family, that included members of the Aristocracy. Plus, I must point out that since this was a time of war, women outnumbered men so it would have been perfectly normal for there to be unmarried women over the age of 30 at this time (The Civil War in America produced a similar effect).

Sketch of house with two large front windows on either side of a front door and next to the steps leading up from the street to the door are two partially open cellar doors
June 1842 sketch of Mary Anning’s home in Lyme Regis by W. H. Prideaux and Edward Liddon. Courtesy of the BBC

When a generation of men have been killed, there will be a generation of women who will end up living alone. Mary died of Breast cancer in 1847 at the age of 47. She had not been welcomed into the Scientific community because she was a woman, but later generations have remembered and thought fondly of her. It is surprising that when she died, the Geological Society at that time spoke about her contributions, which is good, but also a bit sad it took her passing to get a bunch of men to acknowledge her importance to Science.But we must also remember is she had no male advocates who had the wealth, and influence, to see she was acknowledged better and more widely.

print of the Ladies of Llangollen
Sarah Ponsonby (left) and Lady Eleanor Butler, known as the Ladies of Llangollen, who were in a “Boston Marriage.” Lithograph by J.H. Lynch, 1830s. Public Domain

Mary and Charlotte meet briefly in 1825 ( a few weeks) and Mary meet her again in London in 1829. They corresponded as late as 1833, possibly up until Mary’s death in 1847. The relationship in the film Ammonite seems to be inspired by the relationship Mary Anning had with Frances Bell, who really did exist. But when Frances came to Lyme Regis to learn how to find and clean fossils from Mary, she was 14 and Mary 24. I highly doubt Mary saw Frances as a lover (unless we want to label her as a pedophile, which we don’t). Frances died young, at age 15 and Mary was, understandably, upset. Mary considered Frances one of her truest friends (possibly because they had a love of fossils). She may have considered Frances as her own personal protegee, seeing herself in a younger person. Instead, the film moves the actual time of the mid 1820s to 1840, but also makes Charlotte younger, naive, and incredibly stupid. It’s a slap in the face to any woman with a working mind.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2014-07-05-at-11.01.45-580x384.png
‘The Light of Science’ a satirical cartoon by Henry T De la Beche (1832) featuring Charlotte Murchison. Courtesy of Trowel Blazers


Charlotte Murchinson was born a full 11 years before Mary Anning in 1788 (but is portrayed much much younger in the film). Her father was a general and her mother was an amateur botanist. Charlotte married at the age of 27, which was considered fairly late in life, to a solider .They traveled Europe, where she made observations of the different geological features and botany. She had amassed a fossil collection of her own that was so diverse, leading men in the field of Geology would often use her specimens in their publications. While her husband focused on Geology (and became a member of the Royal Geological Society), Charlotte seemed to be more interested in minerals. She persisted and won the right to attend geological lectures at King’s College in 1831, which had been closed to women at that point. Charlotte was well traveled and her insights no doubt helped her husband in the field of geology She was no idiot as and was not the simpering weakling that she is being portrayed as. For any woman to demand to sit in on Geological lectures that are closed, and to have won the right to sit in on them, was no weak woman. She is also shown in the film to be incredibly stupid, bordering on extreme naivete, which is really gross.

Anne Lister - Wikipedia
Anne Lister by Joshua Horner, circa 1830. Public Domain

Besides Charlotte, Mary did have other friendship with women who were scientists as well. Mary Buckland being one such woman and Elizabeth Philpot the other. Instead of showing that Mary Anning had been surrounded by likewise minded women, Lee combines all these female friendships into one, but adds sex. I would have been much happier of the film was more about Mary befriending an unknown woman (a fictional character, if you will) and teaching her how she did what she did, or explaining how she hunts fossils, and develop that into a relationship (and possible Boston Marriage). It would have been more interesting, for me at any rate. Instead, we get a rough and not very feminine Mary, pissing in full view of the public, wiping her hands on her skirt, then handing a Cornish Pasty to Charlotte. So, Mary is being portrayed as “Butch” to counter the femininity of Charlotte (which is a sad troupe). She would ever have relieved herself in that way-she would have gone off a bit for privacy as any of us would do. Plus, there is an ocean, consisting of water, right there, to wash her hands off. Literally a body of water. And since she lived in Dorset, a Cornish Pasty IS NOT appropriate. Hand held eat pies did exist, but do be so specific as to a Cornish Pasty-just no. And let us also address that for a seaside town that was known to have a population of Black people, nary a one is ever seen. Lyme Regis was a popular seaside resort that was replaced by Bath (then Brighton), which means people from all classes (and yes, this includes Black people) lived there year round since before 1800. Especially since it was tied to Sailors and the Navy, which employed many Black people at this time. But, I must not forget that the director of this film is a man, who views the women in the film with the gaze of men. And if we want to portray her as a lesbian, then I would have no issue with it IF it were done with a little more finesse. Mary spent more time with Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Buckland than Charlotte. If a relationship would have occurred, I would have found it much more believable to have been either of these women than Charlotte because they were there longer, and also were the stronger relationships in Mary’s life. They even could have, because Mary really was found of Frances in real life, aged Frances up to be in her twenties and used that as a passionate, real-life relationship which ended in Frances’ death at a young age from something like pneumonia. Because that feels more true to the person who was Mary Anning, but also more true historically. And I would have had the guts to not only show Lyme Regis as being diverse, but would have made Frances not white. But then, I am wanting to make the film for women, and women of color, and not for the male gaze.

Out of the deep | Oxford University Museum of Natural History
A Plesiosaur hunting. Courtesy of Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Christobel Hasting stated “Note the wide eyes, the tumbling ringlets, the peaches-and-cream complexions of the protagonists. Then look at the narratives that posit same-gender sexuality as a source of inevitable pain and struggle” as a reoccurring theme in all Lesbian period dramas. Hastings, in this article (and it’s well-written, I highly recommend it) also discusses the erasure of POC from these pieces, which also erases them from the narrative overall. Now, when I first wrote and published this blog, I did not include any commentary on this and it is clearly a mistake on my part and I fully take on this blame. I truly wanted to focus on just how awful they portrayed Mary Anning (and Charlotte) that I neglected to think how it might be perceived to use a piece discussing the erasure of people of color and not address it. And yes, I should have and that is why I am editing this to include this discussion. Because, Dear Reader, I am not perfect and I want to own up when a mistake has been made (I also had to delete a comment and my response because the a troll trying to imitate another person then sent some truly awful email to me via this blog and that’s just vile and caused some serious metal health issues for me).

While I praise Gentleman Jack for its honesty, it IS one of these white period dramas written. But here Gentleman Jack succeeds it’s (dramatized) the real life story of Anne Lister and her relationship with her wife. Now, of course, the series could diversify the cast (and I would love it) because there was diversity in England at that time. It would be an easy thing to start to include and I think many of us would be thrilled by this. Now, previously, I had not included any commentary on that in this originally, but that was clearly a fault of mine because we should also address the erasure of any person of color in this narrative of period drama. As I am also aware that it’s an area that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Its perhaps easier to make Queer History more palatable when the primary target audience are white conservatives (and possibly male). And hey, I get it. It’s easier to drum up sympathy for two white women in early Victorian England, then, say, two women in India or Africa or South America. Because it doesn’t seem to matter, which is really sad. Plus, setting it in the mid 19th C is all too easy. It’s a bit lazy, to be perfectly honest. Most view the 19th C as being an era of sexual repression to begin with, so tossing in any aspect of LGBTQ+ references makes an easy sell. So, yes, this film also lacks basic diversity. And I mean basic. Most period dramas showcasing the 19th century seem to leave out any person of color unless it revolves around the Civil War. Now, Hasting’s article went onto state that this way of filming period Lesbian dramas is done for a reason. That reason being filmmakers are pandering “to the male gaze, and preserve the patriarchal status quo.” Which is something I was probably aware of, but hadn’t really considered that this one way of pandering had to dominate everything at this point in time. Maybe because I had thought with more diverse filmmakers, things would get better (they are, but doesn’t it seem to take forever?). Because the 19th C lesbians are always white. There are always pretty ringlets, big petticoats, soft pale skin. And that seems to be a setting for the male porn gaze than anything else (because, let’s face it, minority representation in LGBTQ+ films is extremely rare to non-existent). After all, we are still dealing with dick jokes in the MCU (so, perhaps filmmakers are catering to teenage boys?)

COVID-19: Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is postponed | Lyme Regis Town Council
Ammnites on Lye Regis Coast. Courtesy of Lyme Regis Town Council

Now, for some reason (well, I know WHY but it’s still irksome) a person, using the name of someone who commented, then decided to send me emails that were truly vile. And I mean downright nasty that it made me cry and not sleep for the past three days. Right now, after spending 40 minutes crying in the shower, I am very close to losing it. And yes, that is scary. Friday is going to be an extremely hard day for me. I am gong to make a police report because of a post I made last year regarding John Ortberg. And yes, I am stressed out about it. There are things in the blog I did NOT make public because some of it is just too painful. When I made the decision to have the knowledge go public earlier this year, I knew there would be a backlash. I knew it. I had dealt with some of it last year, and even some the year before. But now, it’s not something anyone can be prepared for. I’ve gotten emails stating that I am a liar. I’ve had weird comments made on blog posts from when I first started (like 2 years ago) show recently. And the emails-they are the hardest. Now, wisely, if someone emails me off of this blog, it goes to a inbox on this site and sends a copy to my personal account. o, unless I respond from my personal account, you don’t have access to my email address (it’s worth paying the $100 yearly fee for this feature). But the emails range from sending me porn links, to accusing me of being a Qanon conspiracy theorist, to commenting on my whiteness (and not being a person of color), to things that are really not meant to see the light of day. Ever. And it’s currently hard for me to function. I have panic attacks. I am severely depressed. I cannot get my antidepressants because the doctor won’t write a new prescription unless she sees me AND she cannot see me for 3-4 months. I cannot work BECAUSE of the PTSD and Panic Attacks. So, fair warning, if you comment on this post, or email me, do not be shocked if it takes a long time for me to approve the comments. And this is me, the writer removing her mask, saying hey, right now I am really not OK. But I am trying.

2.3 million project for the Cobb at Lyme Regis- or it could face collapse |  Bridport and Lyme Regis News
The Cobb at Lyme Regis. Courtesy of Bridportnews.co.uk

“And sometimes, I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in”

Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility)

Resources

Britiaicca.com

Unicversity of CAlifornia-Berkely (Paleontology Department)

Placing Women in History by G. Lerner. Feminist Studies, VOl 3 Issue 1/2 (Autumn 1975)

Introduction to Sociology, Chapter 12 (Gender, Sex, and Sexuality). Available on Opentextbc.ca

Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender by Mari Mikkola (2008 & 2017). Available on Plato.Standford.edu

Vanity Fair review of Ammonite (09/2020)

True History of Ammonite (Smithsonian Magazine August 2020)

LGTBQ+ Films: “It’s time for Lesbian love stories that aren’t white period dramas” by Christobel Hastings for Stylist.co.uk

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oceansofkansas.com

Lymeregistowncounsil.gov.uk

Newspapers.com

Book Review: Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay

Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars:  Goodall, Jamie L H: 9781540242150: Amazon.com: Books
Available on Amazon

It’s been a while since I did a book review and I must say, this one is going to be a real humdinger! First, let’s just get it out there and acknowledge that for most of us, the concept of Pirates is either influenced by the Disney films, or the swashbuckling films of the 1940s and 1950s (or both is you like pirate films in general). And no matter how much I LOVE Muppet Treasure Island (and I do), it’s really not an accurate portrayal of Piracy (though anything with Tim Curry can be forgiven for accuracy because it’s Tim Curry).

The Spanish Main (1945)
The Spanish Main (1945) courtesy of IMBD.com
Episode 110: Muppet Treasure Island — OVERINVESTED
Tim Curry as Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island. Courtesy of Disney & Henson Studios

I never knew, though long expected, that there was a history of piracy linked to the US and not just the Caribbean/Virgin Island regions. After all, we have long been acclimated to the concept that pirates must exist in tropical climates and must be weird and wacky characters. While they can still be weird and wacky, they don’t necessarily live in tropical weather. Historically, piracy has usually been equally encouraged and equally condemned by any reigning government. Queen Elizabeth I allowed her Naval Armada to commit acts of piracy against Spain all in the name of Patriotism, but condemned any who were committing the same acts against their own countrymen. Jut remember, smuggling and piracy are very much the same thing, just different names (though I tend to think of smugglers as being the land gents while pirates did all the leg work). But this book ha very little to do with Queen Elizabeth I (though England is still involved in this narrative). This book, which I might say unabashedly is a pure delight and a work of superb genius, really opens up the Chesapeake Bay area for those of us who love history.

The Buccaneer by Howard Pyle (1905, but published in Pyle’s Book of Pirates in 1921). Courtesy of the Delaware Art Museum & Public Domain

It should come to no surprise to hose of us who love Early American History that piracy is a legacy that helped shape our nation from the rag-tag collection of colonies to the 13 States up to and after the Civil War. After all, pirates performed a variety of functions that was key to the survival of many of the early Americans. Pirates, when America was still under British Rule, helped supply luxury items and goods that were normally heavily taxed. Pirates helped supply British Goods after America declared its right to Independence. Thy also supplied French goods to American and parts of Europe during the French Revolution (particularly silk, lace, and wine/alcohol). Pirates helped win the war against the British Navy by blockades and providing a small, but strong, presence along the coastlines. Of course, we called these pirates “Patriots” and the British hailed them as Pirates, but they really ere one and the same. This particular presence was vital in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Map of the Great Lakes
The Great Lakes Courtesy of Geology.com
Choosing your Great Loop route - Atlantic to Great Lakes | Waterway Guide  News Update
The waterways leading from the Atlantic & Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes. Courtesy of Waterwayguide.com

Unless you don’t live around the Great Lakes region, most people in the US don’t understand how important the Great Lakes is to this day. Or course, most people in the US cannot locate Italy on a map nor understand that Africa is a Continent, not a country (Geography is important). The Great Lakes are the biggest source of fresh water in North America and are still used to transport items from the Atlantic to the Mid-Western US and Canada via canals and waterways. One of the main waterways leading to the Great Lakes is through the Chesapeake Bay area, so I immediately knew that any book detailing Piracy in this area would play into trade. And it does. But in a way that I never thought about. I take it for granted that goods are easily available to me, living here in close proximity to Lake Michigan. But then, most of us do as we have grown up in a time when delivery of goods has been fine tuned that we get upset if something that is promised within 30 minutes shows up 1 minute late. But I am getting a wee bit off topic. The Chesapeake Bay area straddles a wide expanse of Eastern US coastline, so it makes sense that the Colonists would want to protect this area, and the passageway to the interior, from the British.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl Review | Movie -  Empire
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, courtesy of Disney

This doesn’t mean that ALL pirates were on the good side. There was a lot of money to be made capturing ships and getting hold of goods that could be sold. And piracy existed on both sides and there are examples of American’s committing acts of piracy against other Americans (looking at you William Claiborne). And many pirate tales that I clearly remember hearing or reading about as a child are linked to this area of the US. For example, Captain Kidd is tied to this region of the US. He lived in this area, got married in this region, and was executed as well. People still roam Virginia and Maryland’s coastlines looking for Kidd’s lost treasure (which, I am sure, never really existed but it’s a great example of an early American Myth that lingers). There’s also Blackbeard, who I have to state, was a goddamn dandy. Ribbons in his beard, matches lit and arranged in his hair and hat. If this guy could enter a room with doves and glitter, he totally would. The BEST example would be David Bowie’s entrance as Jareth in Labyrinth. I fully expect any and all future appearances of Blackbeard to have the same theatrical aesthetic or why even bother. I also humbly submit that Idris Elba play Blackbeard because if anyone could look threatening, but pull this aesthetic off it would be Hemidall (I mean, Idris).

Sarah: You're him, aren't you? You're the Goblin King. | Labyrinth jareth,  Bowie labyrinth, David bowie labyrinth
David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. Courtesy of Henson Company
Our Readers Point out a Crucial 'Infinity War' Toy Detail | The Mary Sue
Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor: Rangnorak. Courtesy of MCU/Disney

Plus, oysters. I never knew people fought over oysters. We had people committing acts of piracy over oysters until 1960! Personally, oysters look like small pieces of snot and from my research into them (because, AUSTEN), oysters were the food of the poor, the working class, sailors,and fishermen. And the oysters in this region were plentiful, which is great for the population who live round there. Now, today we associate oysters with wealthy and indulgence. I’ve even seen some historical films show oysters being eaten by the nobility & upper classes PRIOR to the 1820s, which is, of course, incredible wrong. Oysters were considered “common fare”, people would fed oysters to their cats and dogs. That’s right, pets prior to the 1860s ate better than most people do now. But what is interesting, is that sometime in the 1830s & 1840s, oysters started getting that reputation of being food for the upper class (possibly due to the industrial revolution and the burgeoning middle class that was exploding in the US and in the UK). Now, to be completely honest, I haven’t looked into WHEN oysters started being eaten as food for the rich, but I have done a wee bit of research and know that during the 1820s and 1830s, it was still seen as street food, so not necessarily food for the poor, but starting to migrate into the echelons of the middle class, which then leads to the rich. But by the 1860s, oysters, and those who harvested them, could make some serious money.

For a quick refresh literary wise, Darcy and his aunt would NEVER have eaten oysters (1800-1812). Mr. Rochester may have eaten them for a party (1840s). Mr. Thorne’s mother would have never eaten them as a youth, but may be obliged to serve them for her daughter’s wedding (1840s-1850s). Miss Havishim would have never eaten them, but her adopted daughter may (1820s). Lady Bracknell would definitely eat them (1895). Gatsby would be chugging them down like there was no tomorrow (1925).

The State of Oysters | Our State
Oysters as picture in Our State, a North Carolina online magazine

Professor Goodall does note that oyster ships could make $2000 a year when the average salary was $500 a year. So, yes, oysters were big business and still are. But what I mostly took away from the Oyster Wars is how over fishing, and the acts of piracy, harmed this industry and the ecological impact is something that region still deals with to this day.

What Can Be Done To Stop Bullying? A Lot – BRIDGES
Courtesy of bridgesofpbc.org

Now, this book came to my attention because Professor Goodall wrote a piece about pirates and the imagery of pirates because of the Super Bowl (also, FUCK Tom Brady). I couldn’t believe the backlash she received for writing a very well written, and well research look at the brief history of buccaneers. But, we know people are very easily bestirred and don’t like to be reminded that maybe, just maybe, the image they hold near and dear is not always a good image to be fond of. But, it led me to this wonderful book and I gladly followed Goodall on Twitter (@L_Historienne) where I recently voted to learn about a pirate called Sadie the GOAT. While she may or may not have existed, if I ever get a chance to name a Goat, it’s gotta be Sadie.

Surfing Goat Dairy - If pirate goats were real, would they say "Baa-rgh,  mateys"? 🤔🐐 | Facebook
Courtesy of Pinterest

So, this is what I think. If you like to learn more about Early American History, this is the book for you. If you are curious about the Oyster Wars, definitely read this book. If you want to read about some of the interesting pirates that called America home, then you should defiantly get this book. And if you just want to read a fun book about Pirates that is well written, can easily fit into a purse (or satchel) and makes you look devastatingly cool while waiting for your Boyfriend at the local coffee shop, the you MUST get this book. If you want to support a female historian in a filed dominated by men, then you MUST get this book. And if you cannot afford it, then please ask that your local library purchases it to add to their collection, Because this book may inspire another future historian and knowledge IS power.