Monday, 29 June 2015

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.” 

Mary, Mary. 
   She was quite contrary. To her contemporaries, her thoughts, her actions, her words were shocking, were vulgar, were distasteful. 
   Which obviously makes her another part of the Vintage Twins Heroine Series. 

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1729. She died aged 38, after the birth of her most famous child, the incredibly talented Mary Shelley. In her short life, Mary Wollstonecraft was dynamically controversial, unorthodox, dramatic, and sorrowful. 
But I don't think it's worth talking about her personal life, aside from this one statement: Mary Wollstonecraft was unshaken. She didn't care about what people said, what people wrote, or how horrific people may assume her ideas to be. Instead she FOUGHT
 A Vindication on the Rights of Woman is generally recognised as one of the first pieces of feminist philosophy, making Wollstonecraft fondly named as the first feminist. Wollstonecraft argued that women were not naturally unequal to men; that the difference in education allowed men to be raised above women. 
Wollstonecraft hated the idea of women being raised to be whimsical, and to rely on their beauty to progress and achieve: 
“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.” 
Personally, I love this- I think it's still a valuable lesson to learn today. That's what is so amazing about A Vindication on the Rights of Woman. I read it, realising how much of it I take for granted today- going to school. Identifying as a geek. Using knowledge. Being buried in books- in proper books. Mary Wollstonecraft kickstarted the route to getting us these things. We have a lot to thank Mary for- for teaching us to stand up and be a bonkers is the best thing to do. To love our education- to cherish it, to savour it. To not rely on men identifying the pretty, the not so pretty, and ranking us thus. NOT OKAY.
 Working at the People's History Museum, I'm surrounded by ideas worth fighting for. But this portrait of Mary really stand out. She's still so relevant today- hence why the awesome graffiti artist Stewy (who also did a cracking design of the Bronte sisters!) recently immortalised her on the side of her old home at Newington Heath- AND at the People's History Museum. 
Portrait of Mary in the galleries of the People's History Museum, Manchester

(c) Stewy

We recently supported the #GetMary campaign, which aims to get Mary Wollstonecraft sponsored by the general public to become a Radical Hero. All donations go to upkeep of the museum's collections and galleries.
   It is more important than ever to keep the stories of people like Mary Wollstonecraft alive. I leave you with this: 
'Make them free, and they will quickly become wise and virtous, as men become more so; for the improvement must be mutual, or the injustice which one half of the human race are obliged to submit to, retorting on their oppressors, the virtue of men will be worm-eaten by the insect whom he keeps under his feet.'
We at Vintage Twins HQ implore you to have a look at the #GetMary campaign. Full of passion, spirit and fight. Just like Mary. 

We'll back soon with the start of the Vintage Twins Book Club! 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Reader, I loved them: A trip to Haworth

Photo from the Bronte Parsonage Museum website

Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Strange, dusty forenames combined with a rather simple surname, that wouldn't mean anything to us today. Which, well, is a testament to what the writers behind these names achieved. There are very literally three great women behind these names- Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë. 
    I do not doubt that everybody knows exactly who these sisters are, and the great pieces of literature that they between them achieved. Amongst their many books, poems, essays and publications come the most famous pieces- Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights, and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. 
  The sisters lived with their father in the Parsonage at Haworth, Yorkshire, up on the moors in a small town. It was far from idyllic. The death rate was abnormally high; the graveyard that the parsonage overlooked was overflowing with flat gravestones and the social class was low. It is easy to imagine them, wandering through the small corridors of the parsonage, looking out onto the gloomy moors, past the graves, and thinking up the stories that would one day end up on my bookshelves.
  The Reverend Patrick Brontë outlived all of his children. Emily and Branwell died within weeks of each other at the young ages of 30 and 31; Anne died the following May, and Charlotte, tragically, only a year into her marriage and pregnant, at the age of 38.
  In their short lives, these women created pieces of fiction that shocked and enthralled their contempories, with honest, violent, dark and passionate scenes; with women becoming heroines through their own acts of courage, and strength. 
     Jane Eyre changed my life, Wuthering Heights changed my heart, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall changed my head. I'm confident that there are many woman, and folk alike reading this who are strongly agreeing out loud, in between swigs of tea (Readers, I imagine you all drink tea whilst reading our blog). I mean...JANE EYRE. She's sassy, right? But she's resilient. She's stalwart. Nothing flutters about Jane Eyre- no pale hand flies to the forehead. She goes through agony but comes out, strong, alone. Like she says- oh, there are so many lines from this book I could quote, lines I have muttered to myself, brows furrowed when I need to believe it-
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” 
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” 

       Wuthering Heights taught me another great lesson. From Jane, I knew that to be independent, to be strong, to be equal to another was important. Wuthering Heights taught me to love- love with passion, with strength, and without fear. Obviously, it didn't turn out great for Cathy and Heathcliff. But every turn of the page, the idea grew in my mind- to be loved like that. To love in such a way! How Emily put herself in the place of the two lovers, how she wrote their agony, their power, their hold over each makes me wonder. It is both terrible and great.
   The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was the most recent of the trio that I read, and I cannot advise people more to read it, to read it and to be amazed at how powerful the feminist messages are, how tragic the severe lack of women's rights were, and how brave Anne was to tackle them at a time when they were not to be tackled. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall avoids the wild darkness of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Anne, I would argue, is the most intellectual of the three- her pen seems steadier, more eloquent, and, in a way, bolder in what she addresses. 
 Ok- the reviews are over.
Sorry! I get carried away when talking about the Brontës. Anyway, the whole point of the blog is...I went to their old home in Haworth! 

 This was my view from the top of the main street. Catherine, the Vintage Twins resident photographing wizard, didn't accompany on this trip, so we didn't get many photos, and photography is banned within the Parsonage itself. 

   The first thing we did on arrival was head to the Parsonage Museum. I got attacked by a cat on the walk up there, as I lingered by the graveyard, taking in my first glimpse of the house. Inside, I got momentarily distracted by the lure of the shop, before heading inside. If you remember our blog on Elizabeth Gaskell's House, you'll remember how we adored how they had recreated Gaskell's world, even down to the wallpaper that covered the walls. The Parsonage museum did exactly the same- there were moments when I was so engrossed with the house, the objects, the room in which all their books were written (a diagram from Emily's journal tells us this!) and the sofa on which Emily died, I half expected to turn a corner and seen a sister there, or to feel the brush of a petticoat as I swept past one on the stairs. My poor boyfriend had to put up with me constantly delighting over every object, reading every letter twice, and doubling back through displays to check I hadn't missed anything. 
The museum assistants brought everything to life, and I learnt more about my heroines than I ever have before. From toy soldier battles, to little books, to language lessons, love lessons, paintings, poems, privileges, sermons, sewing, travels, teachings, handmade bonnets, perfectly preserved petticoats...Reader, I fell in love. 
   What I loved so much is that...well, it all happened in that house. They left, but they came back. They lived a little, but where they truly lived was in their own wild creativities, within their close companionship...and they created something lasting.

 Please visit
to find out more about the Parsonage Museum...and the wonderful Bronte Society!