We are Volcanoes. 

A few days ago I mentioned an Ursula Le Guin commencement address that Rebecca Solnit quotes: “We are volcanoes,” Ursula K. Le Guin once remarked. “When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” 

In Gilligan’s framework, it was here that I wanted to see this ethic of care as a place where both women and men could declare autonomy of self, but that they could work to leave a legacy of care behind. 

In many places on our trip, it’s been difficult to mourn the places where we’ve elevated women to angels or cast them out as demons, not allowed to sit at the table, or silenced by oppression. This isn’t just for “female voice” though, it’s for the voice of care. At Versailles we didn’t see men celebrated for benevolence or care of people, we saw a monument to a man who elevated himself as a god. In Rome we saw men who gave their lives to widows and orphans remembered with opulent shrines and memorials that’s cost could care for how many more widows and orphans. And in all of art museums we’ve seen painting after painting of power as oppression and the “ideal beauty”- often artists showing each other what they can get female models to do for them, what they could do to the female body. (Courbet is the absolute worst at this. THE WORST. Remember the meat cleaver suffragette I mentioned in the last post? I’d totally do that to all of Courbet’s work.) 

It’s true that while the stories of women have been silenced in the years, many stories of care have, or they’ve been dressed up and memorialized to be sexier than perceived, always untrue to the center of the story. 

In Amsterdam I began reading Alison Weir’s biography on Elizabeth I to prep for the Tower of London visit yesterday. Elizabeth spent her early life imprisoned at the Tower, spent days walking by the Tower Green where her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded, and later two other queens before her ascent to the throne. In her reign, Elizabeth famously never married, continually dodging marriage proposals and suitors while working to keep peace after each rejection. She was constantly hounded by Parliament and the court about this as well as naming a successor. However, having lived through the executions of three queens (including Lady Jane Grey who was manipulated into the throne after the death of Elizabeth’s brother) she had no desire to put herself in any sort of similar position. She tried to maintain peace over war (though wasn’t always successful on this front) and she could be cruel to those who crossed her. She was a woman in a man’s position and world, and she was expected to rise to the expectations of both roles, be both sovereign and a lady. 

It was surreal- and enormous- to see the Tower of London yesterday. We saw the Traitor’s Gate that she was paraded through as a princess, the layout of a fortress where she was kept prisoner, the lawn where her mother was killed, the tower where Jane was also kept before her execution. Also, the ravens! Again, we see a place where power is king, a place of oppression and wealth (the Crown Jewels are nuts) and a place where a narrative of care is difficult to find. 

Before we went to the Tower, we stopped first at the Museum of London to learn a little more about our friends, the Suffragettes. There were photos of Sophia Duleep Singh, who I wrote about before he trip started, and film footage of Emily Davison’s death at the Epsom Derby where she ran out in front of a horse. Before the suffragette exhibit, the museum highlighted the plight of the poor and of children: most kids in industrial Britain didn’t live to adulthood; people worked hours a day without break; houses were overcrowded and disease thrived. (Basically, Charles Dickens got it right in case we had any doubts.) So much of these conditions and lack of care from the government pushed Emmeline Pankhurst and company to start the WSPU and begin campaigning for votes for women. And they were militant to do so: they took meat cleavers to paintings multiple times and bombed post offices and chapels. They felt that war and violence was the only language that men would understand; it was the only way to be taken seriously. It was the only way to get the vote so that they could care for the poor and children. 

I don’t know if this is necessarily the case, but this is the way history has happened. They marched, they were beaten, they went to prison, they refused to eat. Their children were taken away from them and husbands left, embarrassed and angry with these women. Some, like Emily Davison, died. It’s all very complicated. And continues to be in places where the vote is still new and uncharted for so many women. 

We are volcanoes. We erupt and change the landscape; we offer our experience as part of the human experience, too. We juggle power and care and justice. As I said yesterday, London is full of these markers of women remembered across the spectrum, and so many times we happened across them both finding them intentionally and serendipitously: the home of Dorothy Sayers, the Women in War Monument, a memorial to Agatha Christie, the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft, the church of Emily Davison’s memorial service in 1913. New mountains emerging, maps literally changing. I am more and more excited to tell my OLA kiddos about these women, and ask them these questions about care, too.

Our last stop is the Brontë Parsonage that we’ll hit up tomorrow, symbolically brooding over the moors as we ponder where we go from here. (How’s that for a final leg?!) Anddd if my heart could take anymore love for London, we boarded a train this morning at King’s Cross station to get there, just like one of my favorite British ladies, JK Rowling, has written about for years. (And all the Harry Potter fans clapped their hands and rejoiced!)

Victoria is Everywhere

In Paris I mentioned our guide, Heidi, sharing with us about the percentage of street named after women was dire. Being a native Londoner, she mentioned that she didn’t think London was the same way, in fact half of the stuff in the city are named for Victoria.

I can confirm this.

London is a comfortable place in this journey. While stumbling through foreign languages and navigating foreign public transit is always an adventure, and indeed a fun one, the U.K. is a beautiful break where I can practice my English and read Tube maps and menus with ease. What a glorious thing to know immediately where an exit is or what meat is on a sandwich. 

Today was a BIG day. We woke up early to catch all of the public transportation to Alton, England where the bus does not run on the weekends and we were gifted a two mile walk to Jane Austen’s house. We’ve walked on average about 11 miles each day, so to start the day off in such a manner felt like a breeze. (My hidden agenda for this trip was to come back with Beyoncé legs.) 

At the station, the information desk gave us a “Jane Austen Trail” guide, highlighting buildings in town relevant to the life of Austen, and it turned out to be hilarious. “This building was owned by a friend of Jane. She wrote about a visit there in a letter once.” “This building was pub. Jane wouldn’t have visited, but she may have known about it.” “This building is where Jane’s cousin’s dog’s aunt may have lived. Probably.”

Once at the house we watched a short film on her life before exploring her home where she produced so much of her work. On display included the quilt she made with her sister, a ring that most likely belonged to her, dinnerware of her older brother, and the top of the writing table that sturdily supported her many drafts of story after story. Most houses like this I’ve been to, everything is behind glass and dustily on display, but that wasn’t the case here: it was a house you can walk through and touch the walls, hear the floors creak as you walk up the stairs, play a replica piano in the drawing room. It’s a museum, but in so many ways a house still lived in. 

In so much of the museum, the relationships of Jane and her siblings comes up time and time again. She was desperately close with a sister who made space in their lives for her to write, one brother gifted her the house we walked through and another helped her find publishers. And, as my friend Sarah pointed out, she drew on these relationships for her stories of heroines who had agency to make decisions in a world where decisions were not afforded to women. The relationships of family in her novels can be complicated at times, but always at their best they are loving and desire the best for one another.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been the biggest British literature fan- it can be tame- and I confessed this to Sarah yesterday. But it was fun to be at the house with a friend who doesn’t love Jane, she LOVES Jane. And experiencing this with her made me want to love Jane, too. 

There’s a line in a book, Blue Like Jazz, where the author says he didn’t like jazz until he saw a man playing a saxophone, eyes closed, whole body caught in the beauty of the music he was creating. After that, the author says, he likes jazz: sometimes you have to watch someone love something before you can love it yourself. 

After we got back to London, we did a self-guided suffragette tour through the city that I found online. This was A+. We walked by the Caxton Hall where women’s parliament began meeting in 1907 and by Eaton Square where women marched for fair wages. We stood in front of the post office that suffragettes broke windows out of in protest of their lack of voice and paused in front of the Velazquez painting at the National Gallery that a suffragette attached with a meat cleaver after the arrest of Emmaline Pankhurst. (It was a nude Venus with allegory thrown in and honestly I’d take a meat cleaver to it, too.) And, at our last stop at Brompton Cemetery, we searched through hundreds of gravestones in search of Pankhurst’s final resting place, only to find it after we’d given up and began to leave. The mother of England’s suffrage movement, she died in 1928 just two weeks before voting rights were extended to women over 21. (Previously, women over 30 could vote since 1918.)

What a pendulum swing: Austen to the WSPU militancy. 

Earlier yesterday, I started mapping out our locations for tomorrow and found out that Mary Wollstonecraft lived on the same street where the Airbnb is, literally a stone’s throw from the door I walked out this morning. And Dorothy Sayers isn’t too far either. You can find their home locations on a site called “London Remembers” that marks people, places, and events all over London with small blue plaques. 

As we walked around, we talked about the effects of female monarchy on the country, if that has allowed for more progressive views on women and their spheres in Britain and in turn the places of the empire (New Zealander ladies could vote as of 1894) and also gives a stronger reason to by just remember powerful queens and female leaders in the history, but also other female influencers and universe disturbers. There’s a camaraderie of sisterhood and humanity, from the familial relationships at Austen’s house to the plaques remembering those movers and shakers around the city. There’s a responsibility for us all to remember and for us all to continue telling the stories. 

On our way to Brompton Cemetery yesterday we crossed the street and happened to glance up at a small blue “London Remembers” plaque, so easily missed if we’d kept going. It was a remembrance of Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit, but a scientist and conservationist as well. Another woman moving and universe disturbing, and London remembers her, showing us the way.

Audio Prep: A Saint, An Artist, A Suffragette, and A Female Pope.

WOOF. There are too many books to read and not enough time. Praise the Lord for podcasts, am I right?!

Stuff You MissedThere are two FANTASTIC podcast groups that are pinch hitting for me with stories of ladies that 1) I don’t have enough time to read a full book on, 2) Could not find a book that I felt would work (some biographies are really biased, see below) or 3) did not know about in the first place (again, see below). The first is “Stuff You Missed in History Class” that, true to its name, encompasses all sorts of random people, places, and events in history that are not adequately given their 15 minutes. They have several episodes on women that we should stand up and pay attention to from all over the world, you can see that list here. The other is called “The History Chicks” which focuses specifically on women in history. See their list here. They’re quality isn’t as great, but the information is still worthwhile if it’s what you’re looking for.

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