Saturday, November 26, 2011

A very zombie love affair

I have written before of the zombie-fighting adventures of Mary Wollstonecraft (here), and also of the strange attention paid to some  Undead republicans by state forces on the day of the Royal Wedding (here). Now, thanks to the kind permission of Sandrine Berges -- philosopher-queen by day, but by night, masked crusader against the Undead, not to mention discoverer of the lost manuscript of A Vindiciton of the Rights of Zombies -- we can see our heroine's brave face at the time of another pan-European crisis, one that renders today's financial collapse of but little weight in comparison. Closer to home, "A Very Zombie Love Affair" clears up the mystery of the Fuseli menage a trois:

I am sitting down to write this half-way between Paris and Lille which I hope to reach before tomorrow night. I am tired from the journey, and being with child has affected my capacity to reminisce – nonetheless, dear loyal reader, I will now attempt to bring back with words some of the painful events that have plagued me since I last wrote here.
'Tis two years now since I fled infected London for Paris – two wonderful, peaceful years, when the only upsetting events were the occasional loss of a dear friend to the guillotine. 'Tis in Paris that I met my dear beloved Imlay, adored companion and father of my child to be. France is mercifully free of zombies. I believe the revolutionary practice of using the guillotine often and plenty has so far prevented a general infection of the country: the blade that slices through the neck is democratic enough in that it kills zombies and royalists alike. M. Guillotine, I should note, was one of the early proponents of the view to which I fully subscribe that in order to destroy a zombie and prevent it from rising again, one should separate its head from its body.
Back in London, my experience with educating zombies so that they may claim their rights having failed rather than succeeded, I retreated for a while to my own affairs. After a spell in Ireland, where I was put in charge of protecting six children from their zombified mother, I came home to start a school with my beloved Fanny. Such happiness, however, would not last. Fanny was bitten, by one of my own sisters (a story I shall tell on a later occasion). I entreated her to leave England for Portugal, where I hoped the weather would be more favourable to her condition.
I soon received reports that she was worsening, and still in hope that I might assist a recovery, I decided to join her. I lost no time in setting out and endured a tolerable passage in a ship ridden with zombies. My days were spent cutting through necks and limbs, and my nights locked away in a tiny, rank smelling cabin. As soon as I set foot in Portugal, I realised that there could be no hope. Not a single living soul remained: all had been zombified, which should have come as no surprised had I reflected on the extreme catholicism of the natives. My dear Fanny expired in my arms, after I had decapitated her. 
Desolate, I returned to London, whatever small lust for life I had left all but used up in slaying my way through the journey back. Fortunately, my good friend Johnson approached me and offered me work in which I was able to lose my sorrowful self. I reviewed, edited, translated, even wrote book, which, I am not afraid to say, gathered a little success of their own. Twas then also I met the treacherous Fuseli. Straightaway I was charmed by his wit, and his worldliness, and I do not flatter myself I believe when I say that he did not find my company unpleasant, at least at first. But as s oon as I had persuaded myself that he returned my affections, Fuseli found himself obliged to marry a relation whose sole capital were looks and an income.

Soon after the wedding – to which I was not invited – it became apparent to me that the young Mrs Fuseli was in fact entirely devoid of brains – except for the ones it was her practice to devour at breakfast. Yes, Fuseli had succeeded where I had so spectacularly failed: he had tamed a zombie and taken her for his wife. Full of admiration for him and pity for her, I immediately offered myself as complement to their household. I argued in a convincing enough manner that whereas he had apparently succeeded in training his dead wife so that he could use her body as he pleased without risk of infection, he must sorely miss the intellectual company of a real woman. I put myself entirely at their mercy, humbly requesting that they should take me into their home. To my great horror, Fuseli laughed in my face, and his wife growled at me in such a way that I came to fear for my life. 
'Twas then I decided to leave for Paris where I have at last found bliss, in the person of Imlay, a tall handsome American (Fuseli is Swiss and Short), with whom I am expecting to start a family in a short few weeks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Mary Wollstonecraft has a page on Fakebook, a site which "allows teachers and students to create imaginary profile pages for study purposes". (It comes with its own disclaimerThis tool is for educational purposes. It is NOT affiliated with Facebook or any other social networking site.)  It links her to most of the usual suspects, i.e. those she socialised, lived, and worked with: Joseph Johnson, Imlay and Godwin, Price (erroneously twice) and Godwin. Aside from that, it is curiously bare. It's a wiki: you can edit it, if you like.
Use "Fakebook" to chart the plot of a book, the development of a character, a series of historical events, the debates and relationships between people, and so on! Get started by entering a name at the top of the page. Then proceed to add friends, posts, comments and profile information. You can save your work and edit it again later.
P.S. Oh look -- she has another Fakebook page as well. I wonder which one is the real Mary Wollstonecraft? This one gives her more friends, including King George III, Joseph Johnson (image: a black man), and Lord Kingsborough (image: a document).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mother of feminism, mother of Parliaments

Mary Wollstonecraft illuminated the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday evening, and London didn't know what had hit it. Mary on the Green, the campaign to raise a fitting memorial to the foremother of English feminism, was out in force, leafletting on Westminster Bridge.

I think I'll let the pictures tell the tale. NB there were two images, which the projectionists cycled between. Is the caption clear enough? That's

Photos by Neil Wissink, who says he's "happy for anyone to use the photos with due credit". 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mary on the Houses of Parliament

This is a mock-up! Reality will be even better.
There is so much going on that I hardly know where to start. Mary Wollstonecraft will be beamed across the Thames onto the Houses of Parliament in the early dusk of November 16. The rumour that I quashed about the abseiling lesbians and the whisky chocolate cake is as nothing to the glorious truth: a giantic projection will wow the crowds from 4-6pm on Wednesday, and will pop up all over the media in the days to come. This is the kick-off to serious fundraising for the Mary on the Green campaign I wrote of last month.

Another piece of good news is that the NatWest CommunityForce scheme has, as a result of your support, awarded £6275 to the campaign to raise a memorial to Our Lady. That is a serious kick-start.

My address to the Fawcett Society last week went well, and next week will be adapted for the Newington Green Action Group's annual Friends Evening. All welcome! As indeed all are welcome to the Girlie Show, a Mary on the Green fundraiser to be held at Snooty Fox, a pub in Newington Green. Somehow I think the overlap between the two events will be ... choice. Possibly only me. That's OK.

If you recognise Mary Wollstonecraft's contribution to the life you lead now, I invite you to consider whether and how you might wish to get involved in the campaign to create a sculpture in her honour.  Remember, there is no substantial memorial to her, anywhere in the world.  (There is a lecture, a lecture hall, a hidden house, and several plaques, but nothing really big and tangible.) Your contributions would be valuable. If you can, please donate. Aside from money, there is much else to do: we need lots of people to spread the word, for example. (On Twitter, look out for and use the hashtag #marybigben.)  If you have other ideas of how you might help, please let me know, in the comments or by email.

Image from 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's all Dutch to me

This was kindly sent to me by Josephine Krikke, the researcher on the Dutch Humanist TV programme about Mary Wollstonecraft, her philosophy, life, and effect on our times. The half-hour episode aired in the Netherlands two weeks ago, which I wrote about then, and is available on Vimeo. This text is their translation of the animation, which takes up the first couple of minutes of the programme in telling Mary's life quite charmingly. It is easy enough to understand, even without these English words. 
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the first feminist publications. In her time, females were mainly seen as a possession, but Wollstonecraft claimed that they had the same rights as males. She wrote much more than this, novels and travel journals, for example. She was one of the first women who could earn her living from writing. She called herself "the first of a new genus". 

Wollstonecraft has a difficult childhood. Her family relocates often because her father gets into debt. In addition, he beats his wife. Mary (Wollstonecraft) often lies in front of her mother’s bedroom door, in order to protect her. At age 18, she leaves home. 

With her best friend, Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft sets up a school in Newington Green but Blood passes away not long after. Wollstonecraft leaves the school and settles in London. Here she can often be found at the publishing house of Joseph Johnson, where she meets progressive intellectuals, such as Thomas Paine and her future husband, William Godwin. She learns French and German, translates texts and starts to publish her own works. 

The French Revolution touches the hearts of progressive intellectuals. Wollstonecraft receives praise for her A Vindication of the Rights of Man, wherein she defends the principles of the revolution – the freedom and equality of every human being. But especially, the later published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is still well known today. 

In this, Wollstonecraft claims that the ideas of the revolution are also applicable for females. The male revolutionaries had not stopped to think about this. Even the revolutionary philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that education for females was not necessary, because they are superficial and weak. Nonsense, says Wollstonecraft. It is exactly because of the lack of education that females are superficial. Girls are taught to behave themselves like obedient dogs, like spaniels. 

Wollstonecraft leaves for post-revolution France and begins a fateful relationship with the American adventurer, Gilbert Imlay. After the birth of their child, Fanny, he leaves her. Once back in London, Wollstonecraft tries to end her own life by jumping in the Thames, but a passerby rescues her. 

Later she marries the renowned liberal philosopher, William Godwin. She passes away during the birth of their second child, Mary. Godwin writes to a friend that he is certain he shall never again know happiness. Daughter Mary later marries English poet, Percy Shelly; at age 19 she writes Frankenstein.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Formal Fawcetts fall for first feminist

The Fawcett Society wishes to find out more about Mary Wollstonecraft, and you are all invited: a week today, Tuesday 8 November, 7pm at Newington Green Unitarian Church, where Mary was radicalised. Dress warmly. The official announcement of this free, open, public meeting is here.

Technically, it is not Fawcett itself that will be soaking up the Wollstonecraft atmosphere that evening, but the East London branch, possibly with their North London sisters. (No doubt they will all take turns, sitting in Mary's pew.) Why do I call the Fawcetts "formal", aside from my woeful weakness for alliteration and allied alphabetical amusements? (And MW wasn't strictly speaking the first feminist.) Because they are the respectable face of British feminism, so much so that they don't even use the f-word. "Fawcett is the UK’s leading campaign for equality between women and men. Where there's an inequality gap between women and men we're working to close it." They lobby Parliament -- effectively. They wear suits and ballgowns, metaphorically and for all I know literally, and they Get Things Done. All power to them. 

As consummate campaigner and secular saint (enough already! - Ed.) Peter Tatchell pointed out, street activists recognise the value of committed negotiators who can get inside the establishment and talk to the power brokers in language they understand. What those who risk arrest don't like is when the besuited intermediaries ignore or belittle their contribution. Without OutRage! noisily and creatively demonstrating, Stonewall wouldn't have had its phone calls to MPs returned, or so went his argument. OutRage! acknowledged this interdependence but Stonewall didn't, or so he said, way back when. See Animal Liberation Front and RSPCA; see Black Power and the civil rights movement; see toffee-hammer-wielding suffragettes and patriotic patient persistent (I said stop! -Ed.) suffragists. I don't know the precise parallel to gender issues -- Riot Grrrls got co-opted into commercial music*, Guerrilla Girls never made it to the National Gallery -- but at any rate, Fawcett is the Stonewall of feminism, and they do what they do very well. "We make real differences in women’s lives by creating awareness, leading debate and driving change. Our lobbying power means we have real influence right at the top of UK politics and among those who make decisions."

The Fawcett ethos is one of liberal reform: "Our vision is of a society where women and our rights and freedoms are equally valued and respected and where we have equal power and influence in shaping our own lives and our wider world." I like to think its members would sit well with the Rational Dissenters of Newington Green, the ones who opened a young schoolteacher's eyes not to the injustices of the world -- she was well acquainted with them already - but with the political dimensions to these injustices. "We campaign on women’s representation in politics and public life; on equal pay, on pensions and poverty; valuing caring work; and the treatment of women in the justice system."

I'll do my show and tell (as I did a year ago at Ignite -- so sad to be missing this autumn's version! -- but if you haven't got tickets by now, you have no chance anyway, so might as well come along to Newington Green). We'll certainly cover the latest developments with Mary on the Green, and perhaps trade campaigning tips. The quiz on Mary (and democracy, and wonderful women worldwide) which I devised for my visit to the neighbouring Stoke Newington WI will not, after all, be reprised -- or not on this night. There is another event coming up, however...stay tuned.

The final reason for my fondness for the Fawcett Society is historical: "We trace our roots back to 1866, when Millicent Garrett Fawcett began her lifetime’s work leading the peaceful campaign for women’s votes."  This was the woman who wrote the introduction to the centenary edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, cleansing Mary's memory and claiming her as a forerunner of the suffrage movement:
The remarkable degree in which she was ahead of her time is shown on almost every page of "The Vindication." She claims for women the right to share in the advantages of representation in Parliament, nearly seventy years before women's suffrage was heard of in the House of Commons. She knows that few, if any, at that time would be found to sympathise with her, but that does not prevent her from claiming for women what she felt was simple justice. She also perceives the enormous importance of the economic independence of women, and its bearing on social health and disease.
I claim MGF as a Lost Daughter.

*Oh. Oh no. Riot Grrrls has had its domain squatted by a lifestyle brand, with stockists. Don't look. Oh if you really have to look. Whereas the Guerrilla Girls were media savvy from 1985, and keep a firm hold of their brand name.

The 1891 intro is here. This version (held by Keele) seems to start mid-essay, 
and I can't find anything better at the moment.  Images from the Fawcett Society , 
One War Art for the Riot Grrrl Manifesto, John Gray's blog for the stamp, 
and Guerrilla Girls for the satirical movie poster.