In Praise of a Virtuous Woman – Louise Talma

This is a guest post from Kendra Leonard, author of Louise Talma: A Life in Composition

Louise TalmaAmerican composer Louise Talma (c.1906–1996), herself a strong-willed and independent woman, often celebrated those qualities in others, dedicating many of her pieces to the women who had made a difference in her life and in the lives of other artists. Recipients of such dedications included music pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, MacDowell Colony co-founder Marian MacDowell, and singer Geraldine Marwick. One of Talma’s last works was a setting for female voices and piano of Proverbs 31:10–30, “In Praise of a Virtuous Woman,” which was composed in the autumn of 1990 at the MacDowell Colony. While the piece is dedicated to Virginia Davidson and  the Treble Singers, it celebrates all women.

“Who can find a virtuous woman?” asks the text. “Her price is above rubies.” Beginning with simple melodic lines  in the two vocal parts—a soprano and alto—and a spare and elegant counterpoint in the piano, Talma’s music becomes increasingly more complex and densely textured as the four-minute piece progresses. The two voices sometimes declaim together, in unison, and sometimes engage in dialogue, mirroring one another’s lines, or offering supporting harmonies to each other. As the soprano sings of the word women do—“She layeth her hands to the spindle…she layeth her hands to the needy…she worketh willingly with her hands,”—the alto recites the names of hard-working and strong women from the Bible: Martha, Ann, Mary, and Elizabeth.

At the end of the piece, Talma sets the text “she shall rejoice in time to come” at the very top of the soprano’s singing range, an exultation bolstered by the altos, who for the first time split from singing together as a single voice as if to show that two melodic lines aren’t enough for all of the praise a virtuous woman is due, and sing in parallel fourths, creating the sound of an organ. As the singers call for the praise of the virtuous woman, Talma gives the piano a fast and chromatic passage that suggests that while women should and will be praised, their work and lives are more difficult and complicated than the words would have the listener believe. Talma’s setting of “In Praise of a Virtuous Woman” is itself a challenging work, apt praise for the women of Talma’s life who met and exceeded the boundaries and roadblocks presented to them because of their sex.

Kendra Preston LeonardAbout the Author: Kendra Preston Leonard is a musicologist whose work focuses on women and music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; music and screen history; and music and disability. She is the author of The Conservatoire Américain: a History and received the inaugural Judith Tick Fellowship from the Society for American Music for her work on Louise Talma

Pioneering women in Post-War Architecture and Planning

Posted by Fiona Dunford, Marketing Executive

In marking the celebration of International Working Women’s Day on March 8th this year, it is good to look back and recognise the achievements of pioneering women who made their mark in society and broke new ground in their chosen professions, during the critical post-war years. Two such women are Mary Beaumont Medd, a public-sector school buildings architect, and Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, architect, landscape designer/city planner, journalist and educator.

A life in education and architectureMary Beamont Medd (Née Crowley) began architectural practice at the height of the depression. It was Elizabeth Denby, who introduced her to a user-centred approach to design and this concept of planning around the occupants’ needs would become the hallmark of her school buildings programme.

Hired by Hertfordshire’s education department in 1941 and the first architect to be employed by the county, she initially supervised huts erected for the wartime school meals service, but soon moved on to plan for post-war school building within the education department.

When Hertfordshire acquired an architect’s department in 1946 and a schools team was created, Mary joined them. She designed the first school, Burleigh infants, at Cheshunt – it was just three square prefabricated classrooms, separated by intimate courts for play, but the whole of Hertfordshire’s school-building programme developed from that modest prototype.

She made contacts with the best teachers, learned what they were trying to do and watched children in and out of classes. By bringing this direct and – far rarer among architects – systematic observation of habits and needs to bear on designing schools, she acquired unique authority in primary school planning. It was enhanced when she teamed up with David Medd, the ablest practical designer among the Hertfordshire architects.

In 1949, David and Mary married. The Medds were revered for superlatively tailoring their schools to child-centred education. Beyond what they designed themselves, their advice and thoughtfulness saturated Britain’s post-war schools and helped win them an international reputation.

Mary died in 2005 leaving an architectural legacy which displayed her exhaustive attention to children’s and teachers’ needs and their human expression in subtle, modulated spaces, neither completely open nor closed. Working with invariable anonymity, she was contemptuous of fame.

A Life in Education and Architecture: Mary Beaumont Medd, by Catherine Burke, University of Cambridge, UK provides more than a biography of Mary Medd (née Crowley), one of the foremost Modernist architects in the UK. This book critically examines her innovative designs for school buildings in post-war Britain. In doing so, it provides a detailed exploration of the relationships between architects, educators, artists and designers in shaping a new approach to designing for education.

Jaqueline TyrwhittMary Jaqueline Tyrwhitt (Jacky) attended St Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith and hoped to work for a history scholarship to Oxford, but her father did not allow her to pursue that course. Instead she studied at the Royal Horticultural School obtaining a General Horticultural Diploma, followed by a course at the Architectural Association School in London where she was greatly influenced by Patrick Geddes’ view of town planning, as organic growth responding to the needs of society rather than as a pattern to be imposed on society.

After various jobs and study periods in gardening, agriculture, architecture, town planning and industry, she was, during the war, made Director of Research at the School of Planning and Regional Reconstruction as well as Director of Studies at the School of Planning and Research for Regional Development, positions that she held for seven years, during which time she was much involved in the reconstruction of a devastated post-war Britain.

It was in 1947 that she met the Swiss art historian Siegfried Giedion and subsequently became one of his fervent admirers, translating and editing all his major works. Subsequently her links with thinkers in the international architectural world became stronger and in 1951 she left England for Canada.

The next fourteen years were spent mainly in North America, working for the School of Graduate Studies in Toronto, for the United Nations, and then at Harvard University, all in the field of town and regional planning. While she was working for the UN in India in 1953 she met the Greek architect and visionary, Constantine Doxiades, who became the third major influence on her thinking.

In 1969 she retired from her professorship at Harvard and came to live permanently in Greece. In addition to creating her garden there and giving hospitality to a constant stream of family, friends, students and colleagues from all over the world, she continued to work as an editor, teacher and consultant. The night that she died, 21 February 1983, she was working on the final details of her gardening book.

Jaqueline Tyrwhitt: A Transnational Life in Urban Planning and Design, by Ellen Shoshkes, Portland State University, USA, is an intellectual biography which, not only details the landmark contributions of Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, working alongside Geddes, Sert, Giedion and Doxiadis, but also indicates their relevance for contemporary scholars and practitioners, particularly those concerned with ‘healthy’ community design and sustainability.

Sex, Gender and Society – A guest post from Anne Oakley

International Women’s Day is 104 years old, and my book, Sex, Gender and Society, is 43 years old. Both remind us that social definitions of what women can do remain restricted and oppressive; such definitions perpetuate the idea that human capabilities are always inherently limited by biology.

In 1972, when I wrote Sex, Gender and Society, there was little awareness of women’s rights, feminism had scarcely arrived (again, it had been here before!) and the term ‘gender’ in its modern usage hadn’t been invented. My modest little book went through the evidence about how societies variously define femininity and masculinity, and concluded that there’s enormous scope for all sorts of behaviours. The main limiting factor is how we think about the sexes, and how we impose on them expectations of gender. Doing the research for and writing that book was life-changing for me; I was a young academic in a field (sociology) which was intensely male-dominated and which mostly ignored women’s interests and activities. The anthropology, and psychology and medical science I scoured for the book opened my eyes to a much more inclusive world.

To my great surprise the book has enjoyed a long career on readings lists of many kinds. It is dated, of course: we know much more about sex and gender than we did then. But many of the old arguments still hang around – women are more emotional and less rational than men, they are less capable than men of physically and intellectually demanding jobs, they are more necessary in the home as child-rearers, and so on and so forth. We still need the evidence to oppose these ideas.

Sex gender and societyThis new edition has the original text tidied up and properly referenced, but it has not been substantially rewritten, because that would have meant a new book altogether. Sex, Gender and Society was a child of its time, a time that is not altogether in the past. A long new introduction looks at how some of the research has moved on, at some of the omissions in the original book (there was too much about heterosexuality, not enough about domestic violence). It’s still a modest little book, but the plight of women globally requires many like these to be written, read, and, most importantly, used as a basis for action.

Ann Oakley is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the Social Science Research Unit at the Institute of Education, UK. The new revised edition of Anne Oakley’s Sex, Gender and Society is available in paperback, hardback and ebook formats from 5th March 2015.

Bluestockings and the emergence of organized feminism – a guest post by Deborah Heller

This is a guest post from Deborah Heller, editor of Bluestockings Now!, and Professor of English at Western New Mexico University

International Women’s Day—celebrated annually on March 8—has as its slogan “paint it purple,” harkening back to purple as the official color adopted by the IWD founders more than a century ago. They adopted that color from the British suffragettes, who had used purple to symbolize justice and dignity for women.  Bluestockings Now! The Evolution of a Social Role, helps to propose another color as symbolic for women-powered advancement of women, and women’s advancement of society in general—the color blue.

The name “Bluestocking” was invented in the eighteenth century to signify the intellectually and culturally energized women who frequented the London salons of Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, and others. When Elizabeth Vesey urged one salon guest to attend in casual “blue stockings” instead of the white silk stockings of formal attire, the name stuck. Thus “blue stocking,” often clipped to “blue,” came to stand for the informal apparel and egalitarian manners of the Bluestockings. But it signified much more.

Bluestockings Now! is not the first book on the subject of the Bluestockings, but it is a book that sets out to redefine the Bluestockings as a movement rather than a fixed group, describing what that movement was, how it operated as a networked phenomenon, and how it lead, in the middle of the nineteenth century, to the emergence of organized feminism.

This collection of nine essays, newly written by top scholars in the field, accomplishes a number of significant things. It follows the Bluestockings—and what I call “Bluestockingism”—from the eighteenth century into the nineteenth and, indeed, into the twenty-first century. As an illustration of the staying power and versatility of the Bluestocking movement, I introduce a hitherto unknown eighteenth-century Bluestocking, Margaret Middleton, and show how Middleton steered the Bluestocking impulse into the movement for the emancipation of slaves and, eventually, the emancipation of women.

Contributors to the volume agree that Bluestockingism—an emerging new form of women’s social and cultural activism—was born out of a macro-phenomenon commonly called “modernization.” Modernization entailed new forms of social networking that allowed women to transcend the primary groups into which they were born (family, neighborhood, religion) and to form feminocentric groups that eventuated in the feminist concept of “women” as a solidaristic group sharing legal, political, economic, and personal interests in common. Modernization also provided the material basis of improved communication technologies and the social foundation of “cultural production” as viable means of making social change happen. “Make it happen”, by the way, is another official slogan of International Women’s Day 2015. The Bluestockings were the primary impetus behind the evolution of women’s self-consciousness that has resulted in such activities as IWD in our present moment.

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Bluestockings now‘This excellent volume of new research on the Bluestocking phenomenon makes an exciting intervention in the field of eighteenth-century literary studies. The editor has gathered together an impressive range of original essays. The use of contemporary network theory and visual mapping is particularly innovative and thought-provoking.’   Elizabeth Eger, King’s College London, UK

 

Women, Ageing, Popular Music, and Madonna – a guest post from Abigail Gardner

Abigail GardnerIn celebration of International Women’s Day, we are taking the time to acknowledge the women who ‘made it happen’ in music. Dr. Abigail Gardner, co-editor of ‘Rock On’: Women, Ageing and Popular Music, responds to the current media debate circulating Madonna and her significance in today’s music industry…

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen

It’s odd because Britain usually loves an old Queen. But Madonna, ‘Her Madgesty’, the ‘pop empress’ herself has been spurned by Britain’s Public Service broadcaster, the BBC. Its premiere youth station; Radio 1 has banned her latest single ‘Living for Love’ from its playlist on the grounds that it is irrelevant; it just doesn’t reach out to the 15—29 year olds that constitute its audience. They also say it’s not that good, citing ‘musical merit’ as their defense for ditching it. It has though, been played on BBC Radio 2, home to those over 35. Meanwhile, in pop and dance charts across Europe and Japan, the single has charted, coming in at No.12 in Hungary. But the BBC seems to have fallen out of love with this particular Rock Royal.

And so the social media storm erupts. On Facebook and Twitter, fans from all over the world rage against the ageism of the BBC, claiming her as icon and innovator. Madonna detractors call her tired and past her sell by date, irrelevant now. But in moving Madonna away from the Radio 1 playlist, the BBC has inadvertently highlighted exactly how relevant she is. Age matters now. It’s where feminism is focused and The Material Girl can’t help it but be caught up in this debate. The album, Rebel Heart has tracks like ’Unapologetic Bitch’, ‘Joan of Arc’, ‘Iconic’, ‘Holy Water’ and ‘S.E.X’ on it. Religion and sex, power and control remain part of her shtick. That these be housed within a 56-year-old body that refuses to fade gently into the night is what causes BBC brows to furrow. Emily Judd of The Independent (17/2/15) likens her Grammy performance to ‘a demented grandma at a school disco’, whilst noting that her ‘sculpted behind [means that] she’s fit enough to put on a spectacular show’ for the upcoming tour. Madonna is both a figure of embarrassment (the mad granny) and aspiration (the sculpted bottom). Her continuing relevance is that she confuses and upsets. Her presence within the pop arena, that space configured by and predominantly for, youth is problematic. But we don’t expect Keith Richards to stop being Keith Richards, Paul McCartney to disappear gracefully behind the mixing desk. So let’s not expect Madonna to be anything but Madonna and stop commenting on her old hands, her old arms, her old age. Let’s make that part of her irrelevant.

Rock On Women ageing and pop musicRead more about ‘Rock On’: Women, Ageing and Popular Music, including reviews and excerpts on the Ashgate Website. Details of more titles focusing on women and gender in music can be found on our Women and Gender in Music page.

Christopher Marlowe at 450

This is a guest post by Sara Munson Deats

christopher marlowe at 450As the baptism date, if not birthday, of internationally renowned English playwright, poet, and translator Christopher Marlowe, February 26 seems an auspicious day to celebrate the recent publication of Christopher Marlowe at 450. The year 2014 saw the 450th anniversary of Marlowe’s birth. To commemorate this significant anniversary, the book evaluates the scholarship and criticism treating all aspects of the poet/playwright–his biography, his individual poems, including his translations, and his seven plays–to discover what has been covered, what has been neglected, and what areas scholarship and criticism might focus on in the future.

There has never been a retrospective on Marlowe as comprehensive and up-to-date in appraising the Marlovian landscape. Each chapter has been written by an eminent Marlovian scholar, and in addition to considering all of Marlowe’s dramas and poetry, the volume contains chapters exploring the following special topics: critical approaches to Marlowe, Marlowe’s plays in performance; Marlowe and theater history; electronic resources for Marlowe research; and Marlowe’s biography. The volume thus provides an indispensable source of information not only for Marlowe students and scholars but for anyone interested in Renaissance drama and poetry. And because interest in every aspect of Marlowe studies has burgeoned since the turn of the century, it seems appropriate at this time to present a comprehensive assessment of traditional and contemporary approaches, and to predict future lines of inquiry into the life and work of this fascinating poet and playwright.

The book is dedicated to the Marlowe Society of America, and to the cadre of scholars throughout history who have devoted their time and talent to refining our understanding of Christopher Marlowe, and of his contributions to English literature.

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Sara Munson Deats is Distinguished University Professor of English at the University of South Florida, and editor, with Robert A. Logan (Hartford), of Christopher Marlowe at 450.

Contributors to the book: Sara Munson Deats; Robert A. Logan; Ruth Lunney; Tom Rutter; Stephen J. Lynch; Leah S. Marcus; Patrick Cheney; M. L. Stapleton; Richard Wilson; David Bevington; Christopher Matusiak; David McInnis; Constance Brown Kuriyama

Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in ten years coincides with new Ashgate volume ‘Kazuo Ishiguro in a Global Context’

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

Cynthia F. Wong and Hülya Yıldız’s edited collection on the work of the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has now been published – coinciding neatly with the arrival of the author’s first novel in a decade, The Buried Giant.

Ishiguro is one of the most celebrated writers of his generation, having won the Booker Prize in 1989 for The Remains of the Day, as well as receiving an OBE for Services to Literature (1995) and the prestigious French decoration of Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1998).

Kazuo Ishiguro in a global contextBringing together an international group of scholars, Kazuo Ishiguro in a Global Context offers a fresh assessment of Ishiguro’s growing significance as a contemporary world author. Over the last three decades of interviews and public appearances, the author has been seen to grapple frequently with the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in being an ‘international’ author and writing an ‘international’ novel. By attending to Ishiguro’s career in a global context – via the author’s personal biography from Japan to the UK; by way of the topics and themes explored in his fiction; through the circulation and reception of his works in various editions and languages worldwide; and by presenting a truly global host of contributors – this collection pushes against the literary, political and linguistic borders that Ishiguro calls into question in his own writings.

With new Ishiguro material on the horizon, we are confident that the discussions and debates set into motion by Wong and Yıldız’s volume will adopt fresh relevance and open up new avenues of exploration for those considering literature’s global context in the twenty-first century.

About the Editors: Cynthia F. Wong is Associate Professor of English at the University of Colorado Denver, USA, and Hülya Yıldız is Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Language Education at Middle East Technical University, Turkey.