Hot Summer Evening Mixtape

Feist, One Evening

Joan Baez, Scarlet Tide

Thea Gilmore, Josef’s Train

Jesse Ware, Wildest Moments 

Moorcheeba, The Sea

Cassandra Wilson, You go to my Head 

Goldfrapp, Rocket

Beyonce, Disappear 

Massive Attack, Safe From Harm 

Tanita Tikaram, For all these years

K.D. Lang, Tears of Love’s Recall 

Laura Nyro, Beads of Sweat

Cold Specks, When the City Lights Dim 

The Many Ways in which we are Wrong about Jane Austen

She never expected to be read the way we read her, gulped down as escapist historical fiction, fodder for romantic fantasies. Yes, she wanted to be enjoyed; she wanted people to feel as strongly about her characters as she did herself. But for Jane a story about love and marriage wasn’t ever a light and frothy confection. Generally speaking, we view sex as an enjoyable recreational activity; we have access to reliable contraception; we have very low rates of maternal and infant mortality. None of these things were true for the society in which Jane lived. The four of her brothers who became fathers produced, between them, 33 children. Three of those brothers lost a wife to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Another of Jane’s sisters-in-law collapsed and died suddenly at the age of 36; it sounds very much as if the cause might have been the rupturing of an ectopic pregnancy, which was, then, impossible to treat. Marriage as Jane knew it involved a woman giving up everything to her husband—her money, her body, her very existence as a legal adult. Husbands could beat their wives, rape them, imprison them, take their children away, all within the bounds of the law. Avowedly feminist writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and the novelist Charlotte Smith were beginning to explore these injustices during Jane’s lifetime. Understand what a serious subject marriage was then, how important it was, and all of a sudden courtship plots start to seem like a more suitable vehicle for discussing other serious things.

No more than a handful of the marriages Jane depicts in her novels are happy ones. And with the possible exception of Pride and Prejudice, even the relationships between Jane’s central characters are less than ideal—certainly not love’s young dream. Marriage mattered because it was the defining action of a woman’s life; to accept or refuse a proposal was almost the only decision that a woman could make for herself, the only sort of control she could exert in a world that must very often have seemed as if it were spiraling into turmoil. Jane’s novels aren’t romantic. But it’s become increasingly difficult for readers to see this.

My favourite paragraphs from Helena Kelly’s fantastic essay, The Many Ways in Which we are Wrong about Jane Austen 

5 Things – This is Halloween edition

The Jack O’ Lantern is carved. The lentil soup and roast sweet potatoes are cooking. Time to post a few things I’ve been saving for Halloween.

Ada Calhoun, The Sisters Who Spoke to Spirits

The spirits are the least disturbing thing in this essay about the Fox sisters, whose table-rapping ways kicked off the phenomenal popularity of Spiritualism in the nineteenth century. So much weirdness here.

Documentary, Ghosts on the Underground (2006)

This documentary about spooky experiences on the London Underground terrified me when I first saw it several years ago. I hunted it down last year for a Halloween watch with my partner and was pleased to find it just as creepy as I remembered.

Roger Clarke, A Natural History of Ghosts, 500 Years of Hunting for Proof

Roger Clarke’s book is an enjoyable ramble around the last five hundred years of belief in ghosts. Most of the hauntings get debunked, but what they reveal about social history and the psychology of the people involved is fascinating.

M.R. James, ‘Oh, whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad’ and ‘A Warning to the Curious

I love the ghost stories of M.R. James and re-read them all every few years, but I think these two are my favourites. They have given me a life-long dislike of sleeping in twin-bedded hotel rooms and walking along misty beaches on my own, but I feel they are worth it.

Vitamin String Quartet, This is Halloween

Just a great cover of a great song.

Bank Holiday Mixtape

Case, Lang Veirs, Atomic Number

Beth Orton, Ooh Child (alternative version)

Carina Round, You Will be Loved

Joan Armatrading, Help Yourself

Al Green, Love and Happiness 

Laura Nyro, Eli’s Coming

Corinne Bailey Rae, Diving for Hearts

Joni Mitchell, Tin Angel

Bjork, The Dull Flame of Desire

KD Lang, Season of Hollow Soul 

Mariee Sioux & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Loveskulls

Joseph Arthur, Love Never Asks you to Lie

Brandi Carlile, Raise Hell

 

Soundtrack to the Spring

Until recently, I’d have said that The Red Shoes was my least favourite Kate Bush album. I hadn’t listened to it for years. Then Lily and Big Stripey Lie  scrobbled on my last.fm account and I completely changed my mind. Maybe The Red Shoes resonates more as you get older. It’s a complex, mature woman’s album, exploring themes of self-determination, resilience (Rubberband Girl), creativity (The Red Shoes), and spirituality.

Well I said, “Lily, oh Lily I don’t feel safe
I feel that life has blown a great big hole
Through me” And she said
“Child, you must protect yourself
You can protect yourself
I’ll show you how with fire”

My partner got me listening to Cris Williamson’s classic of feminist, lesbian and women’s music, The Changer and the Changed (1975). Williamson has such a beautiful, soaring voice. ‘Waterfall’ (0.00) gives me chills and you can just hear them playing ‘Sweet Woman’ (12.51) for the slow dance at the end of the lesbian disco in the 1970s. You might like to compare the original ‘Shooting Star’ (21:15) with the Butchies cover. Williamson has developed a more solidly country sound in recent years. Fringe (2007) is awesome too.

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