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There is a valuable place in the world for "popular histories". Books that get the non-specialist reader interested in a particular topic, era, or person by presenting information about it in an informal "sound-bite" fashion, and especially by focusing on images or claims that will catch the imagination.

I confess it, I got a bit grumpy about this book long before I finished blogging it. And I don't think that was just because it felt like a bait-and-switch. I wanted to learn more about the social institution of women's companionate relations in general: how it played out in various situations, what the social and economic dynamics were, how it was instantiated at different class levels. I got a little of that, but a lot more of overly intricate micro-biographies of a fairly narrow slice of literary women, most of whom were connected to each other in some way.

Now we get to a set of biographies that are both intriguing and maddeningly skimpy. After chapters where the every movement and conversation of the subject is reconstructed from correspondence and memoirs, we have the story of a woman who -- without recourse to inheritance or marriage -- appears from obscurity with evidence that she somehow ammassed a comfortable fortune. How? Why? Where? When? No idea.

We're finally getting to some examples of positive companionship in different forms. This chapter emphasizes three components that are one way of achiving that goal: a benevolent and good-tempered mistress, a carefully hand-picked companion, and sufficient inequity in their positions that the lines of authority are clear. These are not women who are infantilized by having a hyper-competent housekeeper-companion, or who drive away a good prospect by the sort of bullying that comes from insecurity and narcissism.

OK, maybe I've been working through this book too long and I'm just getting bored. Or maybe it's the sense that Rizzo is trying to build a narrative that she's already established in her mind, rather than study the sources. Whatever the reason, I'm feeling a bit snippish. The book is starting to feel like a random series of 18th century biographies that can in some way be related to the idea of "companions".

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 178 (51a) - On the Shelf for October 2020 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2020/10/03 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for October 2020.

I can't help but think that the story of Baddeley & Steele is more fascinating than the rather sordid, mercenary mess that Rizzo presents it as. If I were still doing the more detailed notetaking that I'm trying to step back from, I'm not sure how I would have stopped on this one. It would make a fascinating movie, full of intrigue, drama, and larger than life characters. (Almost none of which is apparent in her rather thin Wikipedia entry. Though it does have a link to Steele's biography of her.)

I could have sworn I posted this yesterday, but I'm so busy getting the legacy podcast episodes up it's not surprising a lose track of all the rotating tasks. I needed to take a day off anyway, it's just a matter of which one. Again, not much commentery on this one other than to recommend watching The Duchess, and not just because I'm a Keira Knightly fan-girl.

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 177 (previously 50d) - 17th Century Poet Katherine Philips - transcript

(Originally aired 2020/09/26 - listen here)


I think the "read through then dictate" process is working as intended. No really comments on this one. Written in haste...


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