Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The funny things that memory holds

I was exploring an old house recently with an elderly lady who had also known Isabella. She wearied, so I steered her to a nearby sofa and we settled down to enjoy a magazine together. Eyes down to take in the reading matter, we simultaneously exclaimed, "That's Isabella's carpet."

It seemed odd that our brains had bothered to store such an apparently insignificant thing, and it intrigues me that we had both spent long enough gazing downwards, not conversing and not making eye-contact for the carpet to become engrained within our brains.

I recalled the carpet from childhood, when I was young enough to play on it. Had my companion played on it too? Had Isabella loved children, or did she just love patterned carpets?

My friend gave me this photo of Isabella from about 1922. Imagine my excitement - not only is she looking happy and glamorous, she's wearing a long string of beads.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Woman and Labour - Project Gutenberg

As I've said before, I'll read anything tangential to Isabella's story to get a feel for the times in which she lived. She kept no diary and left no letters, so I've been looking at what other people of the time wrote for insight.

There's a great project digitising and making downloadable versions of books that are out of copyright in the USA, Project Gutenberg. There are many fascinating books from the early years of the twentieth century freely available that would have taken days of hunting in inaccessible libraries to find before Gutenberg.

One I've been reading is by a South African, Olive Schreiner.

'Woman and Labour' is her re-write of a much researched book that was destroyed, I think, during fighting in the Boer War. I'd never have thought I'd enjoy reading an ancient feminist argument, but it's wonderful.

Isabella's story is only unusual because she was a woman. She was one of the first women to follow the trail hacked out by women of a slightly earlier generation. Women's emancipation - just like slaves - was a hot topic, and Olive explains her thinking on the topic, and that is what excites me in her book.

Here's a group of women who are still campaigning, re-enacting the costumes of the suffrage campaigners of 1911, such as Isabella would have seen. Although maybe the campaign is more fun.