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The Hidden Histories Podcast

Series One: The Great Forgetting: Women Writers Before Austen.

Welcome to Hidden Histories, the New Statesman’s history podcast, hosted by deputy editor Helen Lewis. Each series explores a subject that the textbooks hid, held-back, or hijacked, starting with “The Great Forgetting: Women Writers Before Austen”.

Most eighteenth century novels were written by women. So why are the authors we remember mostly men? Here, you can find out how our episodes will confront this question, explore links to further reading and learn more about the show’s guests.

You can also listen to the trailer using the player below...

... or subscribe in iTunes.

Series Breakdown 

1. Re-writing the rise of the novel: who do conventional accounts of the era overlook?
2. Bluestocking culture: how did women become writers?
3. Sociable spaces: what did it mean to have a magazine by women?
4. Unsex’d females: women writers and radical politics
5. Fight club: who’s the most interesting female writer of the Eighteenth century?
6. The Great Forgetting: why are the authors we remember mostly men?

About our Guests

Dr Sophie Coulombeau is a lecturer at Cardiff University, novelist, and BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker. She blogs at Sophie Coulombeau and tweets @SMCoulombeau . Her favourite female writer of the period is Frances Burney

Dr Elizabeth Edwards is a research fellow on the “Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour” project, at the University of Wales. She specialises in the history of women’s writing, tweets @eliz_edw and flies the flag for Hester Thrale Piozzi.

Dr Jennie Batchelor is a Reader in Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Kent and Principal Investigator on "The Lady's Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre”. She tweets @jenniebatchelor and her favourite writer of the series is ‘Anonymous’.

 

Series Reading list

Episode 1: Rewriting the Rise of the Novel

Jane Spencer, The Rise of the Woman Novelist: From Aphra Behn to Jane Austen (Wiley Blackwell, 1986)
Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel: 100 Good Women Writers before Jane Austen (Pandora, 1986)
Janet Todd, The Sign of Angellica: Women, writing and Fiction, 1660-1800 (Virago, 1989)

Episode 2: Bluestocking culture

Elizabeth Eger, Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
Harriet Guest, Small Change: Women, Learning, Patriotism, 1750-1810 (Chicago University Press, 2000)  
Norma Clarke, The Rise and Fall of the Woman of Letters (Pimlico, 2004)
Devoney Looser, ‘Catherine Macaulay: The “Female Historian” in Context’Études Épistémè17 (2010) 

Episode 3: Sociable spaces

Jennie Batchelor, Koenraad Claes and Jenny DiPlacidi, 'The Lady's Magazine: Understanding the Emergence of a Genre' 
Alison Adburgham, Women in Print: Writing Women and Women's Magazines from the Restoration to the Accession of Victoria (Allen and Unwin, 1972)
Mary Thale, 'Women in London Debating Societies in 1780', Gender & History, 7:1 (April 1995), pp. 5-24
 London Debates: 1780

Episode 4: The Unsex'd Females

Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830 (Indiana University Press, 2002)
Angela Keane, Women Writers and the English Nation in the 1790s (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Brycchan Carey, British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

Episode 5: Fight Club

Margaret Anne Doody, Frances Burney: The Life In The Works (Rutgers University Press, 1988)
Frances Burney, Evelina (World's Classics, 2008)
William McCarthy, Hester Thrale Piozzi: Portrait of a Literary Woman (University of North Carolina Press, 1985)
John Mullan, Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature (Faber, 2008)
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (World's Classics, 2015)

Episode 6: The Great Forgetting

Clifford Siskin, The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change in Britain, 1700-1830 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) 
William McCarthy, 'The Repression of Hester Lynch Piozzi: or, How we forgot a revolution in authorship', MLA 18:1 (Winter, 1988), pp. 99-111. 

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Over tea, the dominatrix told me that keeping a straight face was the hardest part of the job

"There is great power in being submissive," she explained.

As fetishes go it was fairly mild: just a bit of sissification – or, getting yelled at while wearing ladies’ clothing. He was a top entertainment attorney, a powerful man. He wore stockings under his suit to work. His wife didn’t want to engage – so she sent him to a professional, who put him in full make-up and forced him to run around a dungeon in high heels. Jenny Nordbak is younger than you’d expect for a retired dominatrix, stirring her tea in a King’s Cross café.

Nordbak, 29, serviced the movie moguls and lawyers of Tinseltown for two years. As a child, her Barbies always ended up gagged and bound. As a student, she defied a controlling boyfriend by dropping her trousers during a game of beer pong. And at 22 she took up her whip, for philosophical reasons, tired of bad sex and of the sexual politics women often live by: who starts it, who ends it and what to expect in between.

At her sex dungeon in Los Angeles, keeping a straight face was the hardest part of the job – especially during consultations, which worked like therapy sessions to unlock client desire. There was all the obvious stuff, such as the head-scissors (choking with the thighs). But there was also the man who wanted to lick a broom, and the one who asked her to ride a bike into him.

The stereotype is true: the more powerful they were in life, she says, the more demeaning their fantasies. “But I still wonder which way round it came: did they need a break from being in control, or had they become powerful because they secretly always felt humiliated?” She failed to control her laughter with one, only for him to pant in gratitude: “Mistress, no one’s ever laughed at me like that.”

Tea with Nordbak is a lesson in the lexicon of the underworld. Pro-dommeSub-flogger. Boner-check. Often her clients cried during sessions but they were clearly enjoying themselves – so I ask her in more depth about the nature of submission.

There’s a point that some people like to get to, she explains, in a low voice, called the sub-space. “A psychological state like being on drugs. Someone once compared it to a runner’s high. But it’s more intense because someone is inflicting it on you.” Nordbak has been there and didn’t like it much. But submission is misunderstood, she says – “It is powerful to be submissive!” – just as the desire to dominate is misrepresented in Fifty Shades of Grey as some kind of “affliction”, something you do if you’re broken somehow.

In Nordbak’s world it’s rather more nuanced; a dominatrix, after all, is submitting to a submissive’s desire. And working bloody hard. A dungeon pair build great trust between them, and great communication: sometimes your life depends on it.

She’s only once thought she’d killed someone – a woman, at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, who fainted during a headlock. Nordbak ran out of her tent for help, dressed only in boots and a strap-on. Female clients generally came to her because they wanted to learn her ways.

She gave it up when she started to get jaded, beating someone and thinking about her dinner. But her time as a pro-domme taught her to be more assertive in all areas of her life. “How does someone know what you want, in any area of life, if you don’t tell them?” she says. “Another person is never going to read your mind.”

Who’d have thought that S&M, the world of the rope and the ball gag, was all about communication? As with homosexuality, she thinks we all lie somewhere on the spectrum – a little bit submissive or dominant, whether we know it or not.

She is married now with a baby, and writing books. There is only one thing she misses and that is the look on a man’s face when you lead him across the room by the balls.

“They shut down,” she says, passing her palm over her eyes. “They follow you. They will do anything. Every woman should have that experience.” 

“The Scarlett Letters” by Jenny Nordbak is published by St Martin’s Press

https://www.amazon.com/Jenny-Nordbak/e/B01IZ1MQLG

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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