- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Women’s history

“Women were not only not interested in history, they didn’t trust it. In ‘Northanger Abbey’ (completed by 1803), Jane Austen’s comic heroine, who adores novels, confesses that she finds history both boring and impossible to credit: ‘It tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all — it is very tiresome, and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.’ …

“By the end of the 18th century, not just novel readers but most novel writers were women, too. And most historians, along with their readers, were men. …

“Eighteenth-century observers, in other words, understood the distinction between history and fiction not merely and maybe not even predominantly as a distinction between truth and invention but as a distinction between stories by, about, and of interest to men and stories by, about, and of interest to women.”

Jill Lepore, writing on “Just the Facts, Ma’am,” Monday in the New Yorker

The first prejudice

“This is as good an excuse as any to mention an aspect of [John] Adams that is invariably ignored (and is ignored in the HBO series, too): his antagonism toward Catholicism. Adams disliked France not only because they powdered their faces and wore frilly clothes; he also disliked them for being Catholic. He believed it unlikely that a Catholic country could nurture a true Republic. ‘Is there any instance of a Roman Catholic monarchy of five and 20 million at once converted into a free and rational people?’ he once asked Dr. Joseph Priestley, a philosopher and Francophile. ‘No, I know of no instance like it.’ …

“In fact, one of the causes of the revolution was the Quebec Act, which gave religious protections to Catholics in Canada. This infuriated the colonists. ‘Does not your blood run cold to think that an English Parliament should pass an Act for the establishment of arbitrary power and Popery in such an extensive country?’ wrote Alexander Hamilton. … Sam Adams told a group of Mohawk Indians that the law would mean that ‘some of your children may be induced instead of worshipping the only true God, to pay his dues to images made with their own hands.’ ”

Steven Waldman, writing on “Exchange: HBO’s John Adams,” Monday in the New Republic

Opera diva

“The brilliance of Amy Winehouse is she has recognized she is a character in an opera and that, like other operatic voices, she is called forth to sing her own destruction. The power of the female voice, as every opera lover knows, is supreme. If you are in the right place at the right time with the right singer, her voice will go right into your chest and then down. You feel like you are the instrument being played.

“Control is the key word in both opera and the ‘bad girls’ celebrity narrative. The contemporary nunnery is rehab, the house of penitent women, where lost girls reclaim their virtue and self-control. Winehouse won’t go there. Or she will. That’s the plot of Act I. Let’s hope it’s not a one-act opera.

“With her tattoos, her beehive nearly as big as her torso and her Aida eye shadow, she is closest to Tosca, the opera singer who is the main character in an opera bearing her name. The basic tension is the same in Puccini and Back to Black: the professional artist in and against the passionate sufferer.”

Stephen Marche, writing on “Tuning in to Celebrity Operatics,” March 15 in the Toronto Star

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