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Past & Present Current Issue

Published: Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2018 09:54:22 GMT


Women, Service and Self-actualization in Inter-War Britain*

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Lytton Strachey’s biographical essay on Florence Nightingale in Eminent Victorians (1918) is perhaps the most infamous critique of Victorian notions of women’s service. Decrying the ‘popular conception of … the saintly, self-sacrificing woman, the delicate maiden of high degree who threw aside the pleasures of a life of ease to succour the afflicted’, Strachey described instead a woman, who, from girlhood in a ‘well-to-do’ family, ‘would think of nothing but how to satisfy that singular craving of hers to be doing something’, achieving the seemingly impossible in the Scutari hospitals by ‘fix[ing the] determination of an indomitable will’.11 Strachey’s exploration of the coexistence of ‘self-abnegation’ and self-interest in the biographies in Eminent Victorians caught a contemporary mood and has been much debated since. His portrait of Florence Nightingale, however, albeit deliberately provocative, was only one of many characterizations between the wars of the interrelationship between women’s service, social privilege and self-expression. Others put the focus rather differently. In 1926, the writer Winifred Holtby discussed the role of feminism in challenging the ‘line of sex differentiation’ and argued that the social and economic inequalities which checked the development of a woman’s personality also ‘prevent[ed] her from making that contribution to the common good which is the privilege and the obligation of every human being’.22 In 1934, the writer and agony aunt Christine Jope-Slade linked privilege, service and self in another combination when she advised business and professional women to cast aside the social constraints faced by ‘leisured’ women of previous generations and ‘give because you want to give, to render service because it is a pleasure to you personally [which] is a bigger thing than to render it to the exigencies of the moment, or in obedience to the necessity enforced relentlessly by others’.33

Law and Violence in Eleventh-Century France*

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Making sense of violence remains one of the central interpretative challenges in the history of eleventh-century France. Whereas much previous scholarship has understood the social practices of violence in this period as being connected to the weakness of contemporary legal institutions to contain it, this article re-examines the problem by considering how the view of violence recorded in western French monastic charters was instead shaped by the legal framework of contemporaneous legal institutions. It thus argues that accounts of violence in monastic charters reflect processes whereby monks, and occasionally laymen, consciously crafted their representation of legal conflict around concepts of violence articulated in and promulgated by courts by their court-holders. The language of violence, it argues, thus points towards one way in which monastic scribes orientated the composition of their charters around the external legal world in which they operated. This article further explores why violence was a useful legal concept in eleventh-century courts. It eschews interpretations that explain the relationship between law and violence in terms of state-formation and the attempt to monopolize control over the legitimate use of force; instead, it argues that violence was a way of structuring legal disputes in politically complex land cases so. The utility of violence as a legal concept in these courts should thus be seen as practically, rather than ideologically motivated.

Rabbits, whigs and hunters: women and protest in mary toft’s monstrous births of 1726*

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Following a prolonged miscarriage in the spring, Mary Toft – a poor woman from the Surrey town of Godalming – began giving birth to parts of animals in the autumn of 1726. Reportedly beginning with initial deliveries of parts of cats, pigs and rabbits in September, Toft's deliveries were soon exclusively of rabbits and these continued to appear until mid November. Historians have focused on the medical and wider cultural context of the episode. Other scholars have explored what this case reveals about contemporary ideas about frauds, monstrosity and the self. Mary Toft and her rabbit births have become an exemplary case in cultural history. This article is part of a recent reassessment of cultural history and the renewed emphasis on its relationship with the study of social and material relations of power. This article situates Mary Toft and her rabbits in the social and political contexts of family, neighbourhood, parish, town, county and metropolis. It undertakes a micro-history to expose the stark inequities and quotidian exclusions that shaped the hoax and responses to it, arguing that the case was shaped by the politics of social conflict and disaffection amongst the poor. The article then views the case within the social and political context of the 1720s, showing why it was of interest not just to doctors, but to lawmakers and law enforcers. The case developed amidst considerable fears about unrest, disorder and crime amongst the local and county elite and particularly tense social and political relations in south-east England as discussed in E. P. Thompson's Whigs and Hunters (1975). Toft's case invites consideration of how accounts of protest such as Thompson's – one exclusively about men – might be adjusted to take account of the practices of women and the family within the domestic environment.

Indentured Labour Migration and the Meaning of Emancipation: Free Trade, Race, and Labour in British Public Debate, 1838–1860*

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

This article reinterprets the political and cultural underpinnings of post-slavery indentured labour migration in the British empire. Focusing on the early period of emancipation, it explains how and why indenture transformed in public debates from an unnatural scandal into a legitimate form of free labor. It argues that new modes of social-scientific analysis associated with race and liberal political economy drove this process of normalization. Connecting ideological with material change, it also argues that debate on indenture was fundamentally linked to broader unresolved questions about the meaning and purpose of emancipation. In this context, it shows that a growing consensus that emancipation had ‘failed’ reshaped debate on indenture even as increasing sugar production in parts of the empire bolstered support for labour migration. The article concludes by showing how supporters of indenture appropriated antislavery language to their own ends, paving the way for significant expansions of the indenture system during the early 1860s without public debate or controversy.

Cinderella of the Breton Polders: Suffering and Escape in the Notebooks of a Young, Female Farm-Servant in the 1880s*

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Virginie Desgranges (1868–1887), was born into an impoverished family on the Brittany/Normandy border. Her father, who died when she ten, was a rag-and-bone man. At the request of folklorist, she filled eleven notebooks with a mixture of songs, traditional tales and three longer, semi-autobiographical fictions, written while she was employed as a farm servant. This article uses these texts to explore the world of a young, poor, malnourished and possibly abused young woman in nineteenth-century rural Brittany. Through her narratives we can derive a picture of her world with its dangers, miseries and occasional pleasures, and the characters who shaped her life experiences: the predatory masters, the miserly farmers, the helpful neighbours, and the magistrates. We learn about her cultural formation, the role of the school and the church, but also the street-singers, the sailors and the vagabonds who contributed to her oral culture. In her short stories Virginie tells us about the tensions within her family – with her brother but particularly her mother – and raises the topic of sexual abuse. These texts enable historians to perceive how someone in her position interpreted their own sufferings, and in particular what violence and misery she felt was normal and what aberrant. They also show us how a young woman might plan her escape from her circumstances, as well as the forces that prevented those plans coming to fruition.

An Unmistakable Trace of Colour: Racializing Children in Segregation-Era Cape Town, 1908–1933*

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

On 19 September 1933 the case secretary of the Cape Town Society for the Protection of Child Life wrote to the city’s resident magistrate regarding a girl named Minnie Green.11 Minnie was then in an industrial school in the Transvaal; her stepmother, Mrs Marshall, had applied for her release and the Society had instigated police investigations into Marshall’s character and home circumstances in order to establish whether Minnie should be returned to her care. In her letter to the magistrate, the case secretary summarized the police investigation. Besides noting the basic economic circumstances of the home — Marshall was earning £5 a month working at a boot factory, her husband £8 a month as a handyman — the Secretary also mentioned Marshall’s three other children: Eleanor, Jeremy and Christine. While both the girls were living at home, Jeremy was at an orphanage on the outskirts of Cape Town. In the margins of the letter a hand-written pencilled annotation emphasized the fact that the orphanage was a ‘coloured institution’, while a second annotation indicated that Eleanor was attending a ‘European school’. The letter concluded: Some of the children are passing as European but others are classed as Coloured … in view of the fact that Green has been brought up in European surroundings the girl would not stand the same chance in life if she returned to the family and mixed with colour, and we beg, therefore, to recommend that Green should not return home.22 Mrs Marshall’s request to have her stepdaughter returned to her was subsequently refused. At the foot of the Secretary’s letter, however, further handwritten annotations by Society staff continued to query the racial status of Marshall’s children. ‘How can it be’, asked a Miss England, ‘that some are treated as coloured and some as European?’ ‘The family is mixed’, responded a Mr Rude. ‘One child’, he went on, ‘was decidedly coloured’. Squeezed into the remaining empty space at the very bottom of the page, Rude continued: ‘Both parents would have passed for European. I think the colour is on the father’s side. The girl has a European appearance’.