Hope, and fight

THE PEOPLE’S VOTE ON BREXIT AND THE BREXIT DEAL

Brexit is not a done deal. It is not delivering on what most voters wanted.

It is a fraud.
The people of Britain can stop it.
They are fatalistic, but not bewitched.
They have the power to stop the desultory decline of their nation and start afresh.

OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF THE PEOPLE’S VOTE,
IN CAMDEN, LONDON ON 15 APRIL on video

and as reported in THE GUARDIAN

This post reaches a small number of people, but some of you are Europeans, and I want you to know how much our shared European destiny, heritage and culture are still valued in Britain. Don’t be misled by Brexit, or by our third rate Government and our cowardly MPs, so many of whom are misrepresenting their electorates.

Our true national identity is best expressed through a European Union.

We are stronger united with Europe.

Don’t give up on a Prodigal Nation, please.


Allegorical painting of Elizabeth I with Time and Death, painted probably after 1620, when dissatisfaction with the absolutist regime of the Stuarts was intensifying.
The unresolved tensions resulted in civil war and the first trial and execution for treason of a reigning monarch, Charles I, in 1649.

Still indubitably England’s greatest female ruler, an adept politician
and European diplomatist, peacemaker and maker of her own image,
the Virgin Queen, married to her people, Gloriana herself,
the personification of Great Britain,
Elizabeth I (reigned 1558 – 1603), is portrayed posthumously
with a load of trouble on her mind,
and Time and Death lurking on either side of her.
[Image: Wikipedia]

Like a Virgin

After the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy, the fashionable ruling class no longer wanted to be portrayed in an elevated spiritual sphere where they knew they didn’t belong. The reward they claimed for going to hell and back was instant gratification, not introspection. Some of them were still secretly very religious, but knowing how short and brutal life could be, waited till their deathbeds for their conversions.

They had lived through Civil War and exile, and they didn’t want to look other-worldly like the previous generation. Nothing was sacred, except survival. A new generation of court painter was happy to oblige with contemporary takes on traditional allegory in a flashier, worldly-wise presentation. The studied nonchalance of Van Dyck’s figures, inspired by Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, crumpled into the straight out of bed look.

On the great consensual casting couch of the Restoration Court, Charles II‘s mistresses competed to make him laugh as much as get into his bed, and one of Lady Castlemaine’s jokes was to have herself painted as the Virgin Mary with her eldest bastard son by the king playing baby Jesus.

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles FitzRoy, as the Virgin and Child
by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1664. National Portrait Gallery. Image: Wikipedia
Like a modern supermodel, but without make-up, she set the look of the day. Lely used her sensuous features, the heavy-lidded eyes and full lips, as the template for all his portraits of high society beauties, so there were complaints (from Pepys, for instance, and Rochester when he saw the portrait of his wife) that nobody else looked anything like themselves.

She was a sex-addict with a terrible temper and a gambling addiction. Today, she’d be diagnosed with a personality disorder. If she was a man, we’d be terrified of her, and prosecute her for harassment. Instead, we find her entertaining, titillating, challenging, ultimately pathetic.

Barbara is famous for being the most promiscuous, and unfaithful, of Charles II‘s mistresses, portrayed as the nymphomaniac Fuckadilla in a contemporary pornographic satire. Her list of lovers, including Jacob Hall the tight-rope dancer, John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, England’s most victorious general, and the playwright William Wycherley, shows she picked talent. She also paid them generously.

She was a life-force, and could be great fun. She enjoyed the thrill of power, or its illusion, and exerting political influence whenever she could, but for purely selfish reasons, to settle personal scores. She acted from the heart, not the head. She was unsentimental, and sometimes compassionate, an important distinction that we have lost sight of.

She was shocking to the country outside the King’s circle, the incarnation of the immorality and waste at Court, a curse on the country, a scapegoat for all the frustration and disappointment with the restored monarchy.

She was politically useful, that way.

She was not popular, like the People’s Choice among the King’s Ladies, Nell Gwyn; she was the Bad Girl, the Dirty Girl, the Bunny Boiler, the Alien Succubus, the space vampire played by Mathilda May in Lifeforce; she was X-rated, HBO, not terrestrial TV.

She was culturally essential, that way.

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers) as The Penitent Magdalene by Sir Peter Lely.
Image: Wikipedia

There was one gender injustice she could not defy, the plight of the older but still sexual woman. Barbara was forty-five when her protector, the King, died, and everything started going wrong. She got desperate and stopped discriminating. The once gorgeous predator became the prey of bad actors and con-men. She made a disastrous second marriage when she was sixty-five to a bigamist who was after her money.

The last years of her life read like the moralists’ revenge. It is documented in the DNB that in her final illness a dropsy “swelled her gradually to a monstrous bulk”, exactly the kind of private detail about our own or our beloveds’ deaths that we would want kept quiet.

There is a very sad ghost story about Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland as an old woman lamenting her lost beauty as she walks in her high heeled shoes tapping on the wood floor to stare out of the windows of her house on Chiswick Mall.

Good plastic surgery might have prevented that.

The woman while she lived was not penitent. She seized her moment, enjoying the sexual, and bi-sexual, liberation of the Restoration Court as much as any man. Her appetites, or addictions, and her temperament were entirely suited to her time.

The female libertine did not see herself as objectified or victimized, and we should not judge her differently.

Alfred Made Me

Drawing of the Alfred Jewel, incribed “AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN” (Alfred ordered me to be made). The gold, quartz and enamel jewel, two and a half inches (6.4cm) long, was discovered in Somerset in 1693. The figure of a man holding two flower-like sceptres is thought to represent Sight or the Wisdom of God. Image: Wikipedia

Alfred, King of Wessex from 871 to 899, the man who let the cakes burn because he was too busy thinking about how to run the country, liberated the Anglo-Saxons from Viking oppression and, crucially, made peace with the Danish immigrants.

Maintaining close political, economic and cultural links to mainland Europe was central to Alfred’s policy.

He saw strength in unity, not in division.

Alfred Jewel North Petherton, Somerset AD 871–899 Gold, enamel and rock crystal.
Image: © Ashmolean Museum.
This item is from Project Woruldhord, University of Oxford

He believed that educating the English, especially those training for high office, in Latin as well as their own language was essential to English influence and future protection of rights: “All the sons of freemen who have the means to undertake it should be set to learning English letters, and such as are fit more advanced education and are intended for high office should be taught Latin also.”

Alfred the Great is the only English king to be a hero of parliamentary rights and American Independence. His codification of English laws, his ‘Deemings’ or Doom book (Book of Laws), dated circa 893, were the foundation of English Common law, established, according to Thomas Jefferson, “while the Anglo-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced or that such a character existed.”

“Parliament is sovereign and the guardian of our democracy.” (Philip Colvin QC)

Today, 1000 British lawyers have delivered a letter to the government protesting the illegality of the EU Referendum, and that it was not held in the long-term interests of the people.

The British Government might have breached the 2015 European Referendum Act. This is the same government so swaddled in its own tax-funded cocoon that it completely misjudged the public’s disaffection, palpable to the rest of us, when it called for a Referendum to appease its own right wing, never dreaming, apparently, that it would lose the vote.

A series of blunders is determining our national destiny.

Alfred was a centralizing ruler who promulgated democratic rights: “Doom very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor! Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe!” (from Alfred’s Doom Book).

Alfred was a secular Christian, not a bigot. He saw Christianity, and Latin civilization, primarily as a tool for restoring and improving standards of education, government and culture in lands devastated by ignorant marauders, not as moral bullying to stamp out other beliefs.

Alfred and his achievements survived the cult that the Victorians, in their self-righteous way, made of him in their own image. Like God, Alfred was turned into a genteel, bearded C of E patriot in fancy dress. The probability remains that he was still England’s greatest king.

The amazing thing about Alfred is that, unlike Arthur, the legendary Romano-British king of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, he lived in flesh and fact, not as a projection of hopes for national destiny, not an amalgam of shadowy warriors and fictional constructs, not an allegory, but a reality.

His head was on the coins, which were inscribed AELFRED REX and were highly valued currency.

Arthur shows us what imagination and idealism can achieve, the eternal quest for meaning, the beautiful yearning, the divine poignant pointlessness of being human – he shows us the picture of our souls – while Alfred shows us the template for good government.

Alfred proves you really can provide an enlightened programme of arts and education reform alongside a sound economy, fair legal system, peaceful foreign policy and a strong, properly equipped army and navy.

Good government is worth a few burnt cakes.

At a time when England has no leadership, when the United Kingdom is threatened with internal division, adrift and friendless in northern seas, where the weather gets worse every year, Alfred is one of the few statesmen whose reputation is untarnished.

If you want to be loved and respected, it helps to be a ninth century king, so far away that not even a Chilcot Enquiry can touch you.

This blog is haunted by untouchable dead people, all of them known unknowns, their thoughts and feelings impertinently second-guessed.

Let’s imagine, for instance, what Elizabeth I would have done with a woman called Andrea who told her that she wasn’t fit to be queen because she was not a mother with a stake in her country’s future. Some form of time-warped justice has been done, because Leadsom has been hoist with her own petard.

Elizabeth I with Father Time
Allegorical Portrait of Elizabeth I, painted about seven years after her death.
Childless Gloriana mulls regretfully over the legacy of her reign – and she was one of the best statesmen Britain has ever had.
Pearls drip heavily from her clothes while Old Father Time dozes behind her on the right; Death grins over her left shoulder and two elongated, middle-aged looking putti fly in to remove the crown from her head.
Never before or since has sovereignty looked so tired.
English School, c. 1610. Image: Pinterest

What would Alfred, the far-sighted man in the jewel, see now? Unity, tolerance, fairness, higher education, science, art, economy, trade, justice all under threat again; a record of social inequality and shameful foreign wars.

He would see that a series of blunders is determining national destiny.

A divided people have been led by fools in a bloodless remake of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Great Britain has voted itself to be one of the “what-ifs” of history.

There is hope, enshrined in law and democratic rights, initiated by Alfred’s one thousand year old deemings:

“For all of these reasons, it is proposed that the government establishes, as a matter of urgency, a royal commission or an equivalent independent body to receive evidence and report, within a short, fixed timescale, on the benefits, costs and risks of triggering article 50 to the UK as a whole, and to all of its constituent populations. The parliamentary vote should not take place until the commission has reported.”

Parliamentary sovereignty must be upheld. It is the heart of our democratic constitution, fought for and refined over centuries. Democracy is not an advisory X Factor public vote of 52 -48. Continue reading

Angel in a pink dress under a pink glass ceiling (2)

“I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! …I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”

If the first dear readers of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre had known the writer was a woman they would have smirked over Jane’s cry for freedom. Oh, poor, plain, chatty Jane! How embarrassing for her. An hysterical woman screaming for attention. Love me love me Mr Rochester even though I’m poor and not pretty.

Under the impression that a man was communicating to them through an imaginary female body, the reader thinks – oh, if HE says so, perhaps there’s a point to all this spiritual and sexual equality thing after all.

And collusion with prejudice, having to play along with patriarchy, was the reason Charlotte wasn’t happy pretending to be a masculine writer. But, traditionally, this was how women had achieved enormous power over sexes and nations.

mariatheresa ghent

Martin van Meytens, Empress Maria Theresa, Town Hall Ghent. Image: WGA
A Serious Woman in a Pink Dress
Like the dress choices of Elizabeth I, and, intriguingly, the present Duchess of Cambridge, everything the great Habsburg empress and European matriarch wore in public was laden with political and diplomatic significance.
The pink dress she wears is covered in Flemish lace, a gift from the states of Flanders. She presented this formal portrait to them as a reciprocal gift, and it still hangs in Stadhuis Ghent.
She was an able, pragmatic and hardworking statesman, who passed many reforms though deeply conservative in her convictions and a devout Roman Catholic instinctively intolerant of religious diversity.
Though she held the real power, she only bore the title Empress by virtue of being married to the elected Holy Roman Emperor, because no woman could be a candidate, and after his death, as co-ruler with her son Joseph II. In her domestic life, too, she observed the glass ceiling: she was an obedient wife who had sixteen children by her faithless husband.
Like many strong-minded women who achieve power on their own merits she was not interested in the cause of female emancipation in general.
It is easy to understand why Elizabeth I never married.

Prejudice is resilient. It is ancient as the time when Eve replaced Lilith – and which of them wore pink, then? Every time the ceiling cracks, it is quickly repaired, by as many women as men, afraid of their shade of pink, the eternal feminine, being subverted by female literary terrorists.

Once upon a time, the most powerful of angelic messengers wore pink when they brought good news.

pink

Fra Angelico Annunciation 1433-34 Tempera on wood, Museo Diocesano, Cortona. Image: WGA
The announcing angel Gabriel is wearing a pink dress and an expensive gold leaf androgynous haircut.
Rose-pink is the liturgical colour of rejoicing.

Pink should not need an apology. There are many shades of pink. I’m not going to give it up; it is a misunderstood colour reclaimed by women writers every day. The best things in life are ambivalent.

Irony is pink.

Yes, dear reader, you can be a woman, wear lipstick, high heels and a pink dress, and be a feminist. You might even grow up to be a writer one day.

Pink. It’s a mistake not to take it seriously.

Angel in a pink dress under a pink glass ceiling

“You may try, but you cannot imagine what it is to have a man’s force of genius in you, and to suffer the slavery of being a girl.” George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, 1876

There are two glass ceilings for female writers and artists, arranged one on top of the other, a crystal palace of prejudice and illusion. There’s the transparent political and economic one, the barrier to equality of status and pay.

The other, under that, or above, I can’t see that far, I don’t understand technical details ’cause I’m a girl, and the light refracts so prettily, I wonder if I should buy that pink hat, is a rose-pink coloured barrier to having your work taken seriously.

This one, the pink one, was smashed in the 19th century by the Brontë sisters and Marian Evans, but they knew they could only break through if their ideas were camouflaged under male names.

They were not worried about commercial failure, or shocking people; they were worried about not being taken seriously.

Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, and George Eliot, would have sold their books under their own feminine names and been admired for their romance and intelligence, for the local colour and dialects of their novels, their compassion for underdogs and their understanding of children and servants, for provocative scandals and the delicacy of their sentiments and morals. Pink.

Compassion, but not passion; feelings but not reasons; intelligence but not intellect; morals but not politics; wit but not humour; nurturing not building; melodrama not abstract symbolism; social satire but not revolution.

Even today, as in her own time, there are readers who attribute the philosophical and scientific principles driving Mary Shelley’s Gothic fiction Frankenstein to her husband.

Writing under male names was not female writers’ modesty, it was a covert declaration of war: “J’accuse”.

Shocking_Pink_SchiaparelliThe 20th century’s rediscovered PINK through Elsa Schiaparelli’s use of textiles dyed in “Shocking Pink” in the 1930s . Image: Wikipedia

Readers still expect women to write pink books, and make pink films, and there’s an awful lot of those, and literary agents and publishers are looking for boy-blue to flag the earth-moving big ideas.

Pink. Tender as baby’s flesh, innocent as the blush on a maiden’s cheek, the scent of rose petals and the sweetness of strawberries with cream, a poetic dream of love, the silken negligée strewn on the candle-lit bed, the colour of a coquettish tongue, the suggestion of sex without the mess.

From the softest bloom of dawn to the blazing glory of sunset, pink is our rescue from darkness, the wistful yearning to touch something greater and better than ourselves, and nostalgia for the people we might have been if experience and temptation hadn’t got in the way. That shade of pink is the colour of creation.

There’s another shade of pink which still giggles and trills and simpers more tea, vicar? Don’t the children look sweet? Look at that baby! A posy for your wife. And it’s charitable, too, a badge of Empathy and Do-Gooding.

Oh, bring me a devil dressed in pink, quick.

Gentle, caring, feminine, innocuous, virginal – wait! Pink can be powerful, depending on the woman wearing it.

195_24434_1 3x 001

Martin van Meytens, Portrait of a young woman said to be Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, later Holy Roman Empress and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. She had to fight a major European War to win acceptance of her right to rule, as a woman, the hereditary Habsburg territories. Image: Wikipedia

I, declares the Female Author, might wear pink, look pink, have been born pink, but I write with blood and iron. Dressed in a pink dress, with a garland of pink roses in my hair, I wield a sceptre of fire and hold the scales of justice. I am a woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a writer.

The most successful tragedienne of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the only actor of either sex who fused the two dominant cultural ideologies of the age, Neoclassicism and Romanticism, was rare in having her work taken seriously, but she herself was not. Though she was acknowledged by many to be  a better actor than her male contemporaries, she was not given equal status to them.

And she was furious: Perhaps in the next world women will be more valued than they are in this.” (Sarah Siddons.)

Soon after publication of the Bells’ first novels, and a decade later of George Eliot’s, everyone knew or at least suspected that the authors were female, just as Robert Galbraith’s cover was quickly blown in 2013. But the books had shouted so loud that they had already shaken the glass ceiling until it smashed.

END OF PART ONE

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