Living with Corona

I date my life under pandemic as beginning on March 13 which is the last time I skated. It has been over seven weeks and I can not say the end is in sight. Time seems to simultaneously being going very slowly and very quickly. There are some days when the montonoy is overwhelming.

I have been trying to get outside every day except of course when it is raining which has happened a lot this spring. I am also trying to do two to three days of strength training every week. Although it has been lovely to see spring unfolding with the beautiful pale yellow and greens of the season, I would like to find different places to walk which is not that easy.

Like many other people, we are cooking more  since we eat at home every day.  Sunday night I made swedish meatball with mashed potatoes and roasted fiddlehead ferns. I used considerably more butter than I usually do. It was a throwback to a time when I was less weight and health conscious. It tasted very good.

We try to have regular zoom “meetings’ with our family.  If I had gone these seven weeks without seeing the faces of my children that would have been very hard and caused me to have greater anxiety.

I realize that I am very privileged because I have a home to live in  and money to spend while  in quarantine. My heart goes out to people who do not have those resources during this difficult time.

I hope everyone stays safe and well.

 

 

My Overdue Quarterly Review

The quarter, if you are counting, ended on March 31 which means I should have posted this review around that date. I had other, more meaningful, at the time, things to write about. Today feels like the right moment for some reflection.

I have been regularly posting.  I have been trying to write a draft of my post on Monday and then revise and publish it on Wednesday. A month ago I wrote the blog on Monday and  I must have inadvertently published it. I didn’t’ realize I had done that so I did my regular social media  notices on Wednesday. It appears my readers look for those notices because 42 people read the blog on Wednesday  but only 14 read it on Monday, the day I actually published it. It appears I have around thirty regular readers which is great. Thank you.

Tweeting has been fine.  As of Monday, I have 3,907. This year I have tweeted 161 times or  about 40 a month. I think I can keep up that pace for the rest of the year. I have 136 followers. My top tweet, in the last 28 days, was a picture of my husband and I out for a walk. I used the hashtag #COVID19 so that means that it  showed up in a lot of peoples feed.

As i mentioned last week, I finally finished the chapter I had been working on for a very long time.  I have been more productive because I am trying to schedule writing, or at least working in some way on the book every day for two hours. In the next three months, I plan to finish the 6th chapter and begin work on the 7th. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

 

Constance Green

Last week I finished the chapter of my book about faculty wives that I have been working on for over a year. The chapter, “Aristocracy” is about the gendered and hierarchical nature of academia. I wound up using one family, the Angells, as the framework for the chapter. One woman, Constance Green became the focus. Constance McLaughlin Green was an urban and technology historian who, in 1963, won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on Washington, D.C. She died in 1975.

On Dec. 5, 1975, I was living in my parent’s apartment following my college graduation. My boyfriend who I had lived with my senior year was now in England on a scholarship. A scholarship I had helped him get while not applying for anything myself.

I was depressed and in pain from sciatica that had developed after I got out of the backseat of a two-door car. As I read the New York Times that day, I came across Constance Green’s obituary. “That’s it”, I thought. “I’ll go to graduate school and be like her.” She had gotten her Ph.D. from Yale; a school I wanted to go to because I loved the architecture.

Forty-five years later I have written a mini biography of Constance Green. The more I found out about her, the more her life story resonated with me. Of course, I have not; and will never win a Pulitzer Prize. I am the descendant of immigrants not college presidents. What strikes a chord with me is her determination to pursue scholarship and writing history.

Stuck in Holyoke, she was determined to go to graduate school. Harvard’s dismissal of her as a woman with children who belonged at home did not deter her. Although I did not have children when I got my Ph.D. I was pregnant with my first child when I defended my thesis.

A few years earlier, I applied for a job at Wesleyan. The man interviewing me asked if I was planning on having any distractions. This was code for asking if I was pregnant. I doubt if a man would ever receive a question about possible parenthood. As for Western Massachusetts, as a native New Yorker who had never lived anywhere else, the first year I lived in Northampton I constantly felt that I was living deep into the country, far away from civilization.

Constance Green did not receive her PhD until she was forty and had three children at home. She never held a traditional full-time academic position. She had a prestigious career because she persisted in pursuing something that mattered deeply to her.

When I decided to switch careers, I did not know how or if I would keep doing historical scholarship. I had 2 small children. It turned out that, like Constance, I had to persist. The first year I worked as a nurse, I spent a week’s vacation going to Amherst College to research The Ladies of Amherst. Twenty-one years after I defended my dissertation, I published Brewing Battles.

Both Constance Green and I came from generations that feminism impacted but neither of us were able to fully realize the benefits. My book is bringing back into history woman like us.

 

 

 

 

The Mysteries of Udolpho

I run a Jane Austen book club for the Jones Library. Despite the library being closing, I will be hosting, via Zoom, a meeting of the club tomorrow. This is the second year of the club. I have structured it so the first meeting of the year we read a Jane Austen book. Then, for the rest of the year, we read books related to the Austen work.

This year, we read Northanger Abbey. On Thursday we will be discussing The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Scholars consider Udolpho to be the first Gothic novel. Austen satirized it in Northanger Abbey. Udolpho is a very long book; almost 700 pages.  The gothic or “frightening part” is the middle third. It was slow reading up until that point and then the pace picked up.

During her stay at the Udolpho castle, Emily, the heroine suffered mightily. Many eerie and unexplained things happened. The author also builds suspense because you do not know if there will be a reunion of Emily and her love, Valancourt. After Emily leaves the castle, the pace of the book slows down again.

In the end, there is a rationale explanation for everything that occurred. Emily is a sensible, intelligent young woman. Throughout the book she only rarely succumbs to belief in the supernatural. In this way, she and Catherine Moorland, Austen’s heroine, are similar.  Catherine, partly because she is reading The Mysteries of Udolpho throughout Northanger Abbey, initially believes horrid things have happened in the castle she is visiting. In the end of her book, sense prevails as well.

I had mixed feelings about The Mysteries of Udolpho. There were parts I enjoyed and parts I disliked. The book, while it might have been new in 1794, feels dated in a way Northanger Abbey doesn’t.

Businesswoman

To be honest, I was having trouble coming up with a post for this week because I am busy, and my computer is on the fritz. I started looking at some of my old posts and stumbled across one from almost eleven years ago that I found interesting.

At that time, the host for my website and blog was Network Solutions. On social media, I complained about something that was wrong with my site and their response was to ask me to write a post for a blog they had, Women Grow Business.

I wrote the post, questioning whether I could find define myself as a businesswoman.  Click here to read the post. (The formatting is from Network Solutions). Reflecting on all the work I did to promote Brewing Battles, I am proud of what I accomplished. Although I do not make any money from this blog, I am also proud of the presence I have built on social media.

Book Review: The Clergyman’s Wife

The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley is one of the best adaptations of a Jane Austen book that I have read. The main character is Charlotte Lucas; the book imagines her life after she married Mr. Collins. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte’s decision is a practical one. She tells Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home.”[1]

Greeley does an excellent job portraying the limited choices available to women like Charlotte who remains unmarried at 27 and is not a beauty. The fact that Mr. Collins is gainfully employed as a minister and has a wealthy woman, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as a benefactor probably would have been enough to make him a good catch. However, his prospects which include being the heir to Longbourn really sealed the deal.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is Greeley’s expansion of the Greeley back story. The knighting of Mr. Lucas was not a complete blessing. The Lucas family was better off, financially when he owned a haberdashery shop. The family’s social elevation reduced the marriage options for both Charlotte and Maria.

The plot involves Charlotte forming a friendship with a local farmer, Mr. Travis. Through this friendship, she gains a better sense of what a marriage built on love and mutual interests might be like. Charlotte also realizes that this was not ever a viable option for her.

In the other good adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn, by Jo Baker, Mrs. Bennett dies, and Mr. Bennett lives into old age. In that book, the entail of Mr. Bennett’s estate is not discussed. Because Charlotte is Greely’s heroine, the entail becomes a plot point in The Clergyman’s Wife.

After Charlotte has been married for several year, lost a child at birth and has a young daughter, Mr. Bennett dies. The estate at Longbourn now belongs to Mr. Collins. The inheritance requires the Collins to leave Hunsford and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It also means that Charlotte and Mr. Travis must part.

In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte makes a practical choice which Elizabeth disparages. Elizabeth has a much happier outcome when she marries Mr. Darcy. The Clergyman’s Wife has a more realistic ending for Charlotte and by inference many women in the early 19th century. In the end Charlotte’s need to have both love and economic security remains unmet.

[1] Jane Austen, The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard.

Goals

My main goal for 2020 is to finish my book on faculty wives. I hope to complete chapter five, which I have been working on for over a year, shortly. I would then have five or six chapters left. At the very least, I need to pick up the pace.

When I was thinking about my progress, I realized that I would need more structure, focus and motivation to achieve this goal. Beginning the end of January, I will be participating in the year long non-fiction manuscript group that the Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop offers. Most of the other members of the group will be memoirists but I think paying for the workshop and having regularly scheduled meeting once a month will provide a lot of structure and motivation.

The other writing commitment that I am undertaking is being part of Nerissa Nield’s Writing It Up in the Garden workshop for ten weeks. This is two hours once a week. Both of these writing groups require a commitment which I hope will benefit my rate of production for the book.

Besides writing the book, my other big commitment is to my ice skating. Having competed in October, my focus is now on being part of an adult group number, for the annual skating show of the Skating Club of Amherst. I hope I will be less nervous skating on home ice. My other skating goal is to complete at least one three turn this year. Here is link to a video, by a professional, of a three turn. After today I will have 357 days left to do it.

Because finishing my book is imperative, I am going to try to keep my schedule free from the other activities. This will not be easy; I have trouble saying no. The only thing I will consider getting involved in is efforts to defeat Donald Trump.

What are your goals for 2020? I would love to hear them.

Sisters

On Saturday, I went to see a Shakespeare and Company staged reading of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Kate Hamill wrote the play.  The actors played the story mostly for laughs, presenting the material more broadly than Austen’s version.

One serious moment which was deeply affecting was when Marianne is seriously ill, and Elinor pleads with her to live. “Don’t leave me Marianne”  says Elinor. I felt tears come to my eyes in response to this wonderful portrayal of the deep connection between the two sisters. I have a sister; our relationship is very complicated, but I don’t want to lose her. However, Elinor’s speech comes from the playwright not Jane Austen.

Thinking about this scene led me to reflect on other sisters in literature and movies.  The original Frozen is definitely about sisters. Elsa and Anna are the “heroes” of the movie; their sisterly bond enables them to triumph.

Another movie which is about sisters and is appropriate for the season is White Christmas.  There is even a song, “Sisters” in the movie. It stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen play the sisters. When I was little this was one of my favorite movies.

It is more difficult to come up with books that feature two sisters with as deep a bond as Marianne and Elinor. Little Women is all about sisters but there are four. Throughout the book, at various times, the sisters have different connections to each other. The relationships are not static.

I want to find good examples of sisters in a few novels for my Jane Austen book club. Starting in February we are reading Northanger Abbey. The rest of the year we will read gothic novels. Thinking ahead, the following year I might do Sense and Sensibility so I would need works that fit with the book’s themes, especially sisters.

Stalemate

I was having trouble finding a topic for today’s post. The end of last week was very stressful if not traumatic and I am still getting my bearings. I feel like I have been on a roller coaster for the last twelve days.

From November 8 to November 10, I attended a writing retreat in Northampton, MA. Nerissa Nields runs writing groups and retreats under the rubric, “Writing it up in the Garden.” This retreat was women only; the Kali Retreat. The group was 11 women, including Nerissa.

The retreat was a great experience both for my writing and my psyche. Thinking about a retreat was most enticing; the idea that I would be able to focus on my writing and nothing else was incredibly appealing.

My feelings about the writing part were more mixed. I write non-fiction from an academic background and I thought most of the people would be creative writers. I feared that my work would not resonate with the group.

The retreat exceeded my expectations in both areas. The two and half days were a wonderful escape from real life stress and the group couldn’t have been nicer and more supportive about my work. I was incredibly productive; writing almost ten pages during the retreat. Another great benefit of the retreat was that the motivation it engendered lasted into the following week.

On Thursday I had to go to New York City to attend a legal hearing, concerning a civil matter on Friday. I spent the late afternoon on Thursday prepping with my lawyer for several exhausting hours. Thursday night my husband and I had a lovely dinner with our son, his fiancée and her parents.

Friday was the hearing, which was definitely not a pleasant experience; it did not go my way. Because of privacy concerns I cannot say much more about the proceeding. However, my friends and family know the judge’s decision was wrong. I appreciate their love and support.