Anna Vaux

Anna Vaux works on the TLS.

In 1978, Susie Orbach wrote a slim, successful book with a catchy title – so catchy you didn’t need to read the book to feel you knew what it was all about. Fat Is a Feminist Issue. The title said so much. Perhaps the title said it all. Certainly it sold a lot of copies, and went on to have a happy life of its own as a quotation and a slogan. So perhaps Orbach has similar hopes for The Impossibility of Sex. It doesn’t have the alliterative force of Fat … but it does have the selling power of sex: a combination, moreover, of sex and mystery – for what can she mean by ‘impossible’? Impossible for whom? Impossible how? And what are we to make of the peekaboo cover, with a square cut-out of the crop-haired back view of – who? Ooh! Which of us doesn’t want to look inside to see if we, too, suffer from the impossibility of sex, whatever it is?’‘

Antonia White died in 1980 leaving behind four novels, over thirty translations (mainly Colette), two books about cats, some stories and a piece of autobiography. She also left two daughters (Susan Chitty and Lyndall Hopkinson) and more than a million words of diaries – work that some consider her greatest achievement, and the editing of which led to a public row (and legal action) between the girls, who disagreed about what kind of woman their mother was. The two things people know about Antonia White are that she wrote Frost in May and that she was a disgraceful mother. Some doubtless know it the other way around. Mud sticks. And Chitty’s Now to My Mother: A Very Personal Memoir, rather than White’s very personal sequence of novels, is what appears to have stuck in the public mind (if anything was sticking at all).’

Motherblame: motherhood

Anna Vaux, 21 May 1998

What makes a good mother? How many do you know? Perhaps you think you are one, or that your mother is – though it’s not very likely that you and your mother will agree on this. Fashions in mothering change, as Molly Ladd-Taylor and Lauri Umansky point out. Even within a given era, the experts do not agree – about breastfeeding, about solids, about sleeping habits. Americans are divided on whether mothers should stay at home with their children and on whether a good parent would spank a child. They can’t decide what age a good mother should be. They don’t know whether allowing a baby to sleep in its parents’ bed builds a more secure child or an excessively dependent one. They don’t know if it is bad to breastfeed a toddler, or give a newborn a bottle.’

From under the Duvet

Anna Vaux, 4 September 1997

The day before giving birth to her second child, Fiona Shaw sat ‘clad’ in her overalls chipping concrete from the quarry tiles outside her cottage door. The nine months before that she had spent renovating the house and completing her thesis. She wrote and she swam every day, and went marching about in her ‘dungarees and desert boots’, with shiny hair, a huge appetite and ‘boundless’ energy. She was ‘invigorated’ yet calm, ‘a Renaissance woman’ – there was nothing she couldn’t do. Yet in the few days following the birth of her daughter she found herself crying and unable to explain it. She didn’t want to see anyone, or parade her baby proudly in the village. Her body became ‘inert, heavy and burden-some’. When her husband went for a walk she screamed with terror at being left alone. She gave up eating, and lay ‘curled, motionless’, in her bed, ‘shipwrecked … on a rock of revulsion’, yearning for someone to look after her as she looked after her child.’

A Form of Showing Off

Anna Vaux, 28 April 1994

‘If God knows our ends, why cannot he prevent them, why is the world so full of malice and cruelty, why did God make it at all and give us free will if he knows already that some of us will destroy ourselves in exercising it?’ The question is put by Father Angwin, the non-believing priest in Fludd, Hilary Mantel’s short, black, funny novel about Roman Catholicism. Then he remembers that he doesn’t believe in God – an unusually quick solution to the Problem of Evil – and goes about his business, dispensing pieces of wisdom to his flock, thinking of ways to avoid the bishop, and looking out for the Devil, in whom he has no difficulty believing. He’s seen the Devil, after all: he runs the tobacconist’s shop at the bottom of the hill and he smells of sulphur.’

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