Two Plants in a Pot

If you water one, you water the other.

As part of my research regarding women involved in the arts neglected by history, I continue to ready essays by Alice Meynell (1847-1922). However, reading Alice, I realize that the past is a foreign country. Reading 19th cen. English almost seems like reading another language. Save for a few phrases such as “saucy jades”, “humble cumdumble”, “she tells thumpers” and “as tame as a clout”, the language itself is comprehensible. It is how it’s structured that sometimes confuses me.

In her essay “Mrs. Dingley”, Alice expresses her dismay as to how Mrs Dingley has been treated. Who is Mrs. Dingley? And what is this treatment that bothers Alice so much?

Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), tutored the young Esther Johnson in reading and writing. Impressed by her wit and charm, upon the death of her guardian, Swift encouraged Esther to move to Dublin where he was from. So Esther moved to Ireland along with her friend Rebecca Dingley. Swift spend much time with the two women and would write letters to both of them when away. In his letters he refers to Esther as “Stella” and to Rebecca as “Mrs. Dingley”. This in itself bothers Alice as she feels Mrs. Dingley is not given the respect due of using her Christian name as well.

But what really bothers Alice, still defending Mrs. Dingley, is that “no one else in literary history has been so defrauded of her honors.” Why couldn’t the “sentimentalist” acknowledge that Swift had sentiments for Mrs. Dingley as much as he did for Stella? Because in love, she says quoting Shelley, ”to divide is not to take away.” Love is fluid and flows and can simultaneously be here and there. Like two plants in a pot, you can water one while simultaneously watering the other.

But types of historians (notoriously males) Alice calls “the sentimentalists” cannot comprehend this. And their lack of comprehension has subjected women to perpetual injustice. By assigning importance to events and people according to their own perceptions, historians leave the reader not with a summary of facts so much as with a presentation of their own worldview. Alice, in the spirit of Synergy & Solidarity, thus feels the need to defend another woman whose “empowerment has gotten hijacked by the patriarchal overculture.” *

Mrs Dingley is still alive.


Related: In the Shade of a Tamarisk


Meynell, Alice. The Spirit of Place, and Other Essays. John Lane the Bodley Head. London and New York. 1890. Read on HERE

*Rein, Valerie. Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Inner Barrier to Women’s Happiness and Fulfillment.  Lioncrest Publishing. Austin, Texas. 2019. (Thank you Eileen!)

Posted in Art Narratives, Books, Conditions of Possibility, female consciousness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the Shade of a Tamarisk

After months of Covid Gloom, we are finally out of Rome and on our special island. Today we went to a beach I know well as it’s less than 100 meters from our front door. Although not the most exotic of Parian beaches, it’s popular with people living in the neighbourhood. The children dominate the area where it’s easy to get in and the water is shallow. And where the water is not quite so shallow, a group of middle aged women meet for their daily swim. Well, more than swim, they tread the water as they animatedly talk to one another. All wear hats for protection so, from a distance, they look like a bunch of heads bobbing in the sea.

Lying in the shade of a tamarisk tree, I look up at the sky and sigh. Finally, after so many months of tension, my body is learning to relax again. The vastness of the cerulean blue above me is hypnotic and leads me to places I’d temporarily left behind.

In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin published an essay entitled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” and answers the question herself by saying that there have been few “great” women artists simply because the patriarchal system has left little room for them to evolve as artists and become “great”. Women have been deprived those “conditions of possibility” that would permit them to be on the same level as men in terms of cultural success. In the past, for example, men were permitted to attend art academies whereas women were not. Thus it’s obvious that the condition of possibility, in this context, favors the male and not female artist.

But just because women have not been treated equally doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. Let’s take, for instance, a look at the historical role of women in the visual arts. Women have made significant contributions as interpreters of the visual arts but, despite the quality and quantity of their writings, they’ve been ignored or minimized compared to their male colleagues.

Alice Meynell (1847-1922) was a British poet, essayist, and suffragist. Although born in London, she grew up in Italy where she acquired her aesthetic imprinting.

Alice suffered from bad health and, during one illness, a Jesuit priest offer her solace. He gave her so much comfort that she decided to convert to Catholicism and give her writing a new direction. One common theme was the idea of equality.

 A passionate suffragist, Alice believed that “We dare to say that if the balance of power between men and women had been more equal the world over, we should not still be settling international disputes by swamping a continent in blood and turning Europe into a shambles.”

Essays provide the perfect format for observations on specific themes and it was a format that Alice frequently used. One such essay was “The Spirit of Place.” More than the essay itself, it’s the title that intrigues me. For, sitting under the shade of a tamarisk looking towards the sea, I can feel that just by being here, my spirit is transformed.

“Spirit of place! It is for this we travel, to surprise its subtlety; and where it is a strong and dominant angel, that place, seen once, abides entire in the memory with all its own accidents, its habits, its breath, its name.” Alice Meynell



Meynell, Alice. The Spirit of Place, and Other Essays. John Lane the Bodley Head. London and New York. 1890. Read on HERE

Sherman, Claire Richter, Holcomb, Adele M. Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979. Greewood Press. Wesport, Conn. 1981. Read on HERE

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Peaches from my Balcony Garden

Balcony Peaches


A few years ago, I threw some peach pits in a balcony flower pot and voilà, one turned into a tree. It was an unexpected surprise.


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La Matadora

La Matadora


La Matadora

La Matadora

(from STORYBOOK © “13 Drawings”)


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Smoke in the Eyes

Smoke in the Eyes

Their Knees Touched

(from STORYBOOK “13 Drwings” ©)


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