Mona Sakr, in her article on Mina Loy this issue, asks the question of why her subject is presented as a ‘cacophonous mix of tin can labels’. The question is a pertinent one, reflecting a theme common to all the articles: the many ‘labels’ that creative women have had placed upon them or that they placed upon themselves, and the subsequent portrait of female complexity. We have Zelda Fitzgerald , in her endless quest to circumvent the label of ‘flapper’; Emilie du Chatelet , whose historical identity has been shaped by men associated with her; Olympe de Gouges , whose self-construction as a political activist was sexually subverted by contemporaries to an image of her as ‘femme publique’; and Trota di Roggerio , who was acutely aware that women have a powerful idea of the facets of femininity, internal and external.
Yet it is striking that the complexity of woman is something that has been largely ignored, with many scholars placing her into unconvincing boxes such as ‘intellectual woman’, ‘attractive woman’ or ‘motherly woman’ when the reality is far more complex. I was struck on meeting Bettany Hughes that she characterized herself as academic, broadcaster, wife and mother and her busy life reflected these different aspects of her identity. So, whilst she gave the interview and explained her own creations, she received a visit from a friend, heard her daughters’ piano practice and prepared to cook a family meal. Female creative thinkers, through self-analysis and analysis by others, can help us to reconstruct these different aspects; to see women as both constituted from their contributing elements and something above and beyond the parts which make up the whole. As a result, we begin to realise our own infinite potential; whatever sex we may be.
Mother, daughter, sister, friend… beauty, intellectual, creator and consoler; the many facets of female identity remind us, in contributor Simon Cuff’s words: ‘even ordinary women were extraordinary’. I hope that you find our extraordinary women as interesting and inspirational as we have.
A pessimist may remark that often a female scientist with only marginal contribution to their field is lauded as a symbol of the success of women in science. With this issue, Bluestocking proves the pessimistic view mistaken.
The three women we present to you worked in very different periods, demonstrating the ability of women to transcend a variety of barriers, according to the time in which they worked. Participants in biological, physical and practical sciences, our subjects for this issue represent the breadth of female endeavour and achievements in science. These women all created a lasting legacy, not through publicity or self-aggrandizement, but through their staggering contribution to their respective subjects. Palaentology may not have the present public recognition and prestige without the determination and gumption of Dorothea Bate . French speakers may not have been introduced to Newton’s revolutionary Physics were it not for Emilie du Chatelet ‘s translating, and kindly correcting, his work. Lastly, modern medicine owes much to a figure of the 11th century: Trota di Ruggiero , perhaps the first obstetrician, gynaecologist and paediatrician, who remarkably condoned contraception in defiance of the church.
Such achievement is mesmerising to read about but a sad similarity between all three women is their obscurity. Du Chatelet, far too long a footnote of Voltaire; di Ruggiero, the author concealed for centuries and Bate, the biographer’s enigma, are all finally exemplified in this issue as women of science, but, most importantly, as exceptional pioneers.
As Arts Editor of http://www.Blue-Stocking.org.uk I have had the pleasure of reading several fascinating and invocative essays on the work of great women. After the hard task of selecting the few for this issue what I have realized and come to appreciate most is that these women span across many centuries and have produced more than one remarkable piece of work for which they have come to be known or even stigmatized by. I have selected three articles that concentrate on the creative work of Twentieth Century female figures, all of whom were involved with or subject to artistic and political movements from Surrealism to Fascism which consequently affected their thinking, diverse practice and to some extent, their ‘media image’. Common to all three articles is the struggle that each artist or their respective character had in being heard and recognized as an antonymous figure.
However, it is important to me that these essays both celebrate and critique the work of the women discussed so that http://www.Blue-Stocking.org.uk remains an objective, academic and not biographical journal. To celebrate the woman on the base of their gender would only undermine our project, which is to publicize and recognize the creative intellect of women that might have previously been over-looked. It is significant that these women are discussed in relation to their work so as not to offer another list of monographs that first un-wrote woman from history, but to contextualize their thinking within their own field. I hope that this has been successful to some extent and that you both enjoy the reading and learn something new, I certainly did.
The contribution of women to the creative and social development of humanity has been considerable and can be traced back thousands of years. In this issue of Bluestocking, it is possible to see just how significant this contribution has been to the most famous landmarks in our history. From the birth of Christianity; Simon Cuff explores the life and devotion of the mysterious Mary Magdalene , to the birth of the modern world; Lloyd Lewis resurrects the reputation of Olympe de Gouges , socialite, feminist and French revolutionary.
The literary achievements of women are also undeniable, and are no better exemplified than by the prolific work of the Brontes . Elly McCausland’s article on the ways in which Emily and Charlotte broke down literary boundaries and presented an image of female independence that has stayed with readers since the publication of Jane Eyre in 1847 highlights just how radical they were in their views of morality, romantic love and conventional femininity.
These women may have been separated by nearly two thousand years, but they are connected by the fact that their work remains of great historical importance, despite the gender discrimination that they faced; the refusal of many to allow for a female disciple, the misogynist critics that tainted the memory of Olympe de Gouges and Victorian society’s shock at the publication of Wuthering Heights. I hope that this issue of Bluestocking will offer you a re-evaluation of the lives and works of these women, not just as feminist symbols but as authors, campaigners and historical figures in their own right.