Barbara Taylor

Barbara Taylor’s most recent book is On Kindness, written with Adam Phillips.

Carers or Consumers? 18th-Century Women

Barbara Taylor, 4 November 2010

In 1779, a Scottish doctor called William Alexander published a two-volume History of Women. Alexander was a man of the Enlightenment who regarded politeness to women as a mark of civilisation. Savages and ‘musselmen’ might treat their women as sexual helots, but a gentleman was solicitous of his womenfolk. Whether women deserved such treatment was another matter. Modern European...

In the 1790s revolutionaries on both sides of the Channel abandoned wigs and powder for hair worn au naturel. The English jacobin John Thelwall, tried for treason in 1794, cut his short in the Roman manner. A radical songster celebrated the look: ‘Each Brutus, each Cato, were none of them fops/But all to a man wore republican crops.’ In 1795 the style took on added significance...

Yikes: My Mennonite Conversion

Barbara Taylor, 2 June 2005

Nomi Nickel, the 16-year-old narrator of Miriam Toews’s A Complicated Kindness, is one of the damned. Abandoned by her family, betrayed by her boyfriend, shunned by her community, she sits alone in an empty house, dreaming of lost happiness. This is the unpropitious end-scene from which Toews, winner of the 2004 Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award, unspools a blackly...

Too Much: a history of masturbation

Barbara Taylor, 6 May 2004

Lounging in a boat​ anchored near his home, daydreaming about a ‘pretty wench’ he’d spotted in Westminster earlier that day, Samuel Pepys became so aroused that he ejaculated spontaneously, having ‘it complete avec la fille … without my hand’, as he recorded complacently in his diary, the ‘first time I did make trial of my strength of fancy of that...

Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist heroine sans pareil, didn’t approve of heroines. Great Women – or ‘icons’, as Elaine Showalter prefers to call the three centuries’ worth of feminist ‘rule-breakers and path-blazers’ celebrated in her new book – get short shrift in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman:

I shall not lay any stress on the example of a...

Letter

Self-Obsessed

30 November 2000

Mary Wollstonecraft, if Susan Eilenberg is to be believed (LRB, 30 November 2000), was an exceptionally feminine feminist, a woman positively overflowing with stock female attributes. Silly, egotistical, histrionic, narcissistic, envious, rancorous, petty-minded, meddling, intellectually mediocre: this Wollstonecraft is a misogynist’s pin-up. The portrait, Eilenberg insists, is Janet Todd’s...

Being intolerable to oneself is a feeling I know, one that seems almost impossible to convey effectively.

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Assertrix: Mary Wollstonecraft

Elizabeth Spelman, 19 February 2004

It’s a rare champion of justice who is not rather partial to the injustices that grease the gears of his or her everyday life. Feminists know this all too well: 19th-century white women...

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Nature’s Chastity

José Harris, 15 September 1983

‘Tame’, ‘peaceable’, ‘dogmatic and utterly hopeless’ were the adjectives used by Engels to describe English socialists in his Condition of the Working-Class in...

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