Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Whither Miss Mulock?

I have been reading Sally Mitchell's study Dinah Mulock Craik (1983), part of Twayne's English Author Series. Mitchell's short book provides a brief biography of Dinah Mulock Craik and introduces her works more by detailed description than by literary analysis. The book is a fast read and offers an excellent introduction to an under-valued mid-Victorian woman author.

Dinah Mulock Craik has not been appreciated by American feminists, as Elaine Showalter pointed out in her 1975 article in Feminist Studies, because, especially after she got married at the old spinsterish age of 40, she began more frequently to express conventional ideas about male authority and wifely submission. But her continued commitment to mentoring unmarried working women, to promoting their education and training, and to fostering their professional ambitions, seems to me to anticipate many of the feminist dialogues of the so-called "New Women." She writes for unmarried women specifically in her nonfiction work A Woman's Thoughts About Women (1857).

After her mother died and her crazy father abandoned his family, at the age of 19 Dinah Mulock began to pursue a writing career in order to support herself and her younger brothers. By 25 she was a popular novelist with an established career and a lot of connections in the publishing and writing world. She gained financial security with the publication of John Halifax, Gentleman, in 1856. In 1865, Mulock married George Lillie Craik, a man 11 years her younger, and even more unconventionally, she adopted an abandoned baby girl a few years later (adoption was terribly suspect in England at this point--adopted children were not granted the kinds of rights that biological children/heirs would enjoy). And then she continued to produce a novel approximately every five years. She used the money from her books to design and build a house for her family. Was her husband emasculated by her industrious financial support? It seems a definitive biography of Mrs. Craik is required. Craik's concern for unmarried working women--exacerbated by the hysteria around the surplus of spinsters discovered in the 1851 Census (see W. R. Greg's essay "Why Are Women Redundant?")--never abated during her long, prolific career. Still, a much-quoted letter to Oscar Wilde seems to expose a kind of anti-feminism. She wrote to the fop:
For myself, whatever influence I have is, I believe, because I have always kept aloof from any clique. I care little for Female Suffrage. I have given the widest berth to that set of women who are called, not unfairly, the Shrieking Sisterhood. Yet, I like women to be strong and brave--both for themselves, and as the helpers, not the slaves or foes, of men.
In their discussions of Craik, Elaine Showalter and Sally Mitchell attempt to recover her for American feminism by reading her life story against her sentimental novels. They locate Craik's independence, self-reliance, and staunch individualism in counterpoint to her long-suffering, martyrish unmarried heroines who pine and pine for conjugal bliss. I'm not sure this is the most convincing method of redeeming Dinah Mulock Craik. One of the problems is that there is not much of a historical archive on which to base biographical claims. Indeed, some scholars (or armchair fans) have attempted to narrate Craik's life story by quoting her novels. I'll mull over the question of Craik's feminism more this weekend at the British Women Writers Conference in Iowa. I like her spunk, for sure--"I like women to be strong and brave..." Maybe I will add "Definitive Biography of DMC" on my to-do list. That would be right after the book on Victorian matrimonial advertisements, which follows my translations of Bhagyavati and Devrani Jethani ki Kahani, which is of course just second to the ongoing project of turning my dissertation into a book entitled Tying the Knot: Marital Fictions in England and India 1753-1907. Argh. I wish Miss Mulock were around to act as my mentor!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Victorian Matrimonial Advertisements

My current research indicates that the lonely hearts advertisement has been circulating since the late seventeenth century: the practice of advertising for a spouse is about as old as newspapers themselves. Not surprisingly, the criteria for mate selection are quite different for men and women.

Men wish to be domesticated by beauty or money:
WANTED a WIFE, by a handsome young FARMER who is desirous of becoming domesticated, and of enjoying the society of a young, good-tempered female, who would tempt him away from his market festivities by her pleasing and gently persuasive manners. She must not exceed 20, unless she be a widow, whose family must not exceed six. Want of beauty would be no kind of objection, provided she possessed from 1,000l. to 2,000l. His rent, tithes, and taxes are all paid up, and he is wholly free from debt. All that he requires is love, peace, and happiness.

Or they just want someone to keep house and mind the pigs:
I heareby give notice to all unmarried women that I, John Hobnail, am at this writing five and forty, a widower, and in want of a wife. As I wish no one to be mistaken, I have a good cottage with a couple of acres of land, for which I pay 2l. a year. I have five children, four of them old enough to be in employment; three sides of bacon and some pigs ready for market. I should like to have a woman fit to take care of her house when I am out. I want no second family. She may be between 40 and 50 if she likes. A good sterling woman would be preferred, who would take care of the pigs.

Women desire love, affection, and a handsome drawing tutor:
AGENORIA says that she has natural golden-brown hair, fair oval face, laughing mischievous eyes, dark arched eyebrows, roguish expression of countenance, is eighteen, ladylike, sensible, merry, good-natured, highly respectable, and has good expectations. She longs to be married to a tall, studious, benevolent, affectionate, well-principled gentleman, who would think it a pleasure to instruct and assist her endeavours to obtain a thorough knowledge of English, French, and drawing; and in return she would try to be an apt pupil, and a loving and obedient wife.

Or they long for a mate who will tolerate their moodiness:
"Oh, woman, in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please;
When pain or sickness rend the brow,
A ministering angel thou."
A Young WIDOW, highly connected, dark hair and eyes, considered pretty, good income, desires to marry, she does not deny that she might at times realize the two first lines of the couplet quoted above, but she can assure any gentleman willing to make the experiment that she is as certain to be true to the conclusion.
And then there's the one advertisement to which I am myself tempted to respond:
VEGETARIAN, a young man who does not use flesh as food; a Roman Catholic, humble, well-educated, and connected. A lover of temperance, truth, literature, fruit, flowers, and economy, income about 80l. a year, wishes for a wife with similar tastes, principles, and income, or as nearly so as possible.
Appreciating the definition of VEGETARIAN the advertiser wisely provides, I do wonder if he might think this correpondent too young?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Vive la casserole!

These recipes are both a tribute to my mother and a departure.

Tonight at Trader Joe's, I had the rare fortune of witnessing a small boy interacting with the bag of frozen peas that he'd just made his boon companion. This child was entertaining himself and his slightly older brother (while their mother blithely shopped on) by ecstatically smothering his face with the bag of frozen peas, alternated with giggling uproariously because who ever has thought of that and done it, really? He knew he was brilliant. I wish I had a photo of this hilarious event because words do not suffice. I was not thinking of tuna casserole (I swear) until I saw that boy with his frozen peas. Here's my mom's classic WCW recipe (I bet some of you dear readers will recognize it):

1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
1 1/3 cups water
1 1/3 cups uncooked Minute Rice
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
7 oz. tuna (1 tiny can only?)
salt and pepper and paprika
cheddar cheese

The instructions are undeveloped which is to say unembroidered: mix together ingredients in a casserole dish. Bake covered 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees. Stir half way through and top with Ruffles Potato Chips. YES!

But wait! What are those green things doing obscuring the picture of this otherwise gorgeous casserole? Well, those are "Not Your Mother's Green Beans," recipe courtesy of some Moosewood cookbook or another. My version is as follows...

In a recycled jar (with lid) mix one part olive oil and one part vinegar--red wine and Balsamic make a nice combo--with 2 Tbsp minced shallot, random "Italian" herbs, salt-n-pepa to taste (really, has anyone ever gotten enough of Salt-n-Pepa?). Secure lid; shake it like a polaroid picture. Meanwhile boil 1/2 lb. green beans in salted water. When beans are "al dente," drain and soak in dressing. Top with pine nuts. Well, toast them first, if you're not toasted already by the sheer joy of the recipe, the toddler with his peas, and the bottle of 2-buck Chuck you opened a little too early.

nota bene: the only thing to drink with this fine meal is 2-buck Chuck, obviously.

n.b. #2 When I was the age of that pea-faced boy, or a little older perhaps, I loathed peas and spent a long time delicately picking each and every one of them out of every single forkful of this otherwise tasty casserole. My parents just let me be picky, God bless them, for a while... until the lima bean incident that is. But we won't discuss that.

n.b. #3 Some of you are thinking as you view the photo, WHAT are those frozen corn tidbits doing there? or WHERE (the hell) did the potato chips go??? Well, this is the two-thousand-zeros, friends, and it's time for a little health to hit the tuna casserole recipe, n'est pas? Hence I use brown Minute Rice, lowfat Cream of Mushroom soup, three cans of tuna, frozen corn, and the "reach-for-the Epicurious-stars-in-the-'Burbs" homemade bread crumbs. I know you are all very impressed with me right now.

In the immortal words of Mom, Just Eat It, Or Else!

Bonus post...
Random kitchen utensil No. 1
"tuna can drainer"
REALLY! check this out: my mom said I could not live without it, and she was right, as usual.