Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dutch Humanist TV

The day has finally arrived! Mary Wollstonecraft is getting an hour half an hour on national TV. OK, not my nation (or Mary's), but you've got to admit it is a commendable country that supports a whole network (TV, radio, website) with the slogan "Dare to think". What nation? The Netherlands. The Humanist Network has produced a dozen hour-long programmes, each about a different philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft is one of them. Their researcher Josephine Krikke approached me in April, and philosopher-journalist Leon Heuts interviewed me in June on Twitter, and gradually the production progressed. Today is the day! But fear not, if you are distant by time or geography. Here it is on Vimeo, the non-YouTube video host. (Am I capable of embedding it, or a clip, on this blog...hmm...another stretch for my blogging skills. Another day.) 

The programme page on their website is a neat summary. Josephine has just told me about another page, which (via Google Translate) appears to be a longer summary, or possibly a transcript, of the section involving this blog and our UK activities. Here's a flavour of it, with a bit of tidying up and creative editing and reverse translation, to produce something readable:

Women do not need power over men, but over themselves. Thus said Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first feminists, who lived in the eighteenth century. In the eighth episode of Dare to Think this meaning is central....
The Canadian-British former university professor Roberta Wedge was impressed by the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft. She even has a Twitter account that she uses as if she were Mary. ... In her hometown of London, where Wollstonecraft was born, Wedge's fascination with this woman was fueled. "I'm irreligious, but one day I decided to visit a church, where they announced that they would be celebrating the 250th birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft. This was the only organized public activity in the world surrounding this event." Wedge realized that how much Wollstonecraft has meant for the emancipation of women (and men). She was surprised that the woman still aroused such little interest.... 
She is also on a committee fighting for a statue of Wollstonecraft. She wrote to all the members of the British Parliament and on November 16 launches a campaign to make this dream into reality. "Mary deserves it. She was not only a champion of women's rights, but of human rights in general and the republican philosophy."
... according to Wedge there are issues that Wollstonecraft raised that are relevant in our time. "There are still women who believe that a marriage with a man means access to a new and better life, the ideal end point for the woman. Think of countries where not all the girls go to school. There is no reason for them to study, says the general opinion, as they will just disappear into motherhood. It was Wollstonecraft who was one of the first to dare to raise these issues."
I don't remember saying all that, but it seems likely enough. We did have a very long conversation back in the spring, and I am sure Josephine was taking much better notes than I was. And it makes it sound as if I am launching the campaign all by myself - far from the case. There is lots more about about Mary on the Green if you are interested. Yes, there's going to be a splash on November 16, but no abseiling lesbians.

One of the people behind this project is Dorothée Forma, who made an hour-long radio documentary about Mary in 1989 (more info). I've not had any direct contact with her, but I bet she is an intriguing woman too.

[PS And the presenter is Farid Tabarki. He interviews Leon Heuts, and facilitates the discussion with the studio audience.]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Follow up on dress up

The recent post about Paper Doll Dress-Up got some attention on Twitter. The concept of a 2D representation of Mary Wollstonecraft and her wardrobe seems to have sparked controversy: Oxford Classics called it an "absolute gem / atrocity of a find", which about sums it up. Lots of people have retweeted the link; I can't judge the proportion amused or horrified.

Nor do I know which side of the fence I come down on. But I have to remember that the paper dolls were not made for me; I am merely peering over the fence. "Think of the [intended] audience." Presumably, little girls. (And irony-clad hipsters?) So, it comes down to this: is it better that children be exposed to names and images that they otherwise would not experience, even if there's nothing but the bare name, and the images are dubious? We can hope that their curiosity might be tweaked, to find out more. And of course Wikipedia is only clicks away (and the Mary Wollstonecraft cycle is stuffed full of Featured Articles). Or is it essentially misleading, to provide impressionable young minds with a bland doll who doesn't look Mary, with clothes that I doubt she ever wore, and a bizarre context? I mean, a fan,of all possible items to carry? No books or writing implements? No biography, however sanitised? Visual representations of her do exist, after all.

Paper Doll Heaven got in touch and offered to let me use the image. I think that defines graciousness. (Or, you know, "no publicity is bad publicity". I can be so cynical. Sigh.) It is gracious to allow others to use one's work, when they have expressed less than adulation. So: tips to popularisers - with your pared-down info, include a way to find out more. And take some trouble over accuracy. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Even more expensive book

Well. My baffle has been gabbed. A couple of  Tuesdays ago we looked at a book to save up for (£150, 588 pages, April 2012).

Another has come to my attention, which is makes that look like small change. $925, 880 pages, May 2003. And for that money, do you get Folio Society illustrations?  Apparently not, if this boring cover is indicative. I am not judging its insides by its outsides, but oh my goodness I am judging the publishers. Price point ? Hello? Who exactly do they expect is going to buy this? Not even every university library would want to fork out that much, let alone municipal reference libraries.

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Critics, 1788-2001 (Vol 1 & 2). Routledge, how many copies have you sold? The editor is Harriet Devine Jump, presumably the same as this Dr Harriet Devine.

It has a page on Google Books, with QR code but no preview, not even the table of contents or index. (Such a mistake.) Amazon says the volumes are hardcover. Yes, well, I should hope so too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paper doll dress up

This is too weird. A ready-to-print Mary Wollstonecraft in underclothes, with a selection of dresses to cut out and try on. I don't recall any detailed description of her wardrobe, so presumably the inventive people at Paper Doll Heaven have just chosen  vaguely 1790s clothing. Having recently toured Sands Films, the costume makers, I must say I set my eyes higher when it comes to Mary: the Movie.

PS Follow up on dress up here, with an actual image, by kind permission.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Votes for women! Vote for Mary!

Friends, a request: please vote for the Mary on the Green project, to get a statue to Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green. If you haven't already done so, please visit, register, and vote for us. It is free, will only take a couple of minutes, and could net the project £6000. This will pay for several abseiling lesbians slices of whiskey cake.

It has been a good Wollstonecraft week:
  • an interview with another local journalist, in Mary's pew, no less (awaiting publication); 
  • a recce to Parliament, with Mary on the Green collaborators; 
  • a surprise seminar (the convenor said, "You were in the Islington Tribune!"); 
  • mutual-admiration-society coffee with the StokeyLitFest originator, Liz Vater; 
  • a random friendly photographer; 
  • several books (purchased: a solid 1976 edition of the Scandinavian Letters; borrowed: Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer; read: Ariel, last perused in deepest adolescence); 
  • too much time on Twitter....
And I also note that the Google Doodle for Friday was of the Disney animator Mary Blair, which I hope augurs well for her namesake.

Image: That is one of the logos for Natwest Communityforce. Yes, really, with 1970 decor. But we can imagine it as Mary, Fuseli, and Mrs F.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rumour quashing

The mixture of absinthe and HP sauce, in the presence of lesbian activists, does not automatically lead to abseiling. Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder*; if it leads you - alcoholicly and alliteratively - to abseiling, that is not my fault. If devoted best friends Mary and Frances, living and loving and working together, strike you as lesbians within the current remit of the term, well, that is a subject for a future essay. If abseiling and lesbians give you a frisson of radical nostalgia for protests of yore, then I congratulate you on your knowledge of recent Parliamentary history. But I can categorically assure you that Mary on the Green is not an abseiling type of organisation. The rumour is quashed here, as dead as those foxes Otis Ferry likes to hunt.

(If you dream tonight of Mary abseiling into the Commons, or of her as a suffragette smashing windows - "Votes for Women! Justice for one half of the human race!" - , or of her gigantic statue the size of both Buddhas of Bamiyan rolled into one, with pilgrims abseiling off her thoughtful nose, blame your dream on intellectual indigestion, literary late-night snacking on Ben Gunn's toasted cheese. Blame not this blog for your imaginings. I wash my hands of you.)

*If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit:
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Dorothy Parker, of course. Credit where credit is due, and cash when they really get anxious. (I said that.)

What the heck is that picture about, I hear you asking? When I did a Google Image search (I was going to write "when you do a Google search", but sadly (?) those impersonal days of stable shared search results are over, and without even knowing it, we wear the goggles of the Filter Bubble) on "abseiling lesbian", I got three categories of images: nothing NSFW; a few pictures of people abseiling, who on inspection of the source pages could not be guaranteed to be lesbians, and thus the use of these images might contaminate the carefully guarded honour of this blog; and a photo of some gingery-looking dark cake, sliced. So I went to Wikimedia Commons, was not surprised that "abseiling lesbian" turned up nothing, and looked for "cake slices" instead. This is how my mind works, slipping sideways by association. Some call it genius; some, madness. Frankly, I'd just like a slice of that chocolate-whisky concoction. By FotoosVanRobin, CC-BY-SA-2.0 (

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wine, Wollstonecraft, and Women's Institute

"Wine, women, and Mary Wollstonecraft" was the title that the Stoke Newington Women's Institute chose to bill me under, retrospectively. A good time was had by all, except possibly the WI hedgehogs (cheese & pineapple variety). The quiz that I'd spent ages devising was brutal. Four rounds: Mary; democracy; inspiring women worldwide; significant British women. When we got to the Nobel Prize winners, one woman said - in tones I interpreted as halfway between accusatory and plaintive - "We make jam, you know." I think that was a joke.

One fun thing today was writing a twelve-tweet love-life mini-bio of Mary, stimulated by an exchange with visionary Cory Doctorow. Who knows what may come of it.

This post is too short. The previous one, the update on Mary on the Green, was probably too long. Oh well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mary on the Green

It's time for an update on Mary on the Green, the campaign to get Mary Wollstonecraft a statue on Newington Green. We got an article in the Islington Tribune on Friday, the hook being that this hyperlocal campaign is soliciting funds from a big UK bank. Here's how it works: you go to Community Force Project 2478, register (hint: all they ask for is an email address; it doesn't have to be your main one), and vote. It's free, it takes less than a minute, and I see no sign that it geolocates. If Mary on the Green gets enough votes, NatWest will donate £6000, which would certainly boost the project. If you love Mary like I love Mary...isn't that a song? Go on, do the decent thing, wherever you live: express your support for the campaign by voting, and tell your friends about it too - Facebook, Twitter, blogs, you know the drill.

Other publicity is bubbling along nicely. Student radio wanted an interview the same day as the local paper; the promised .wav might yet show up. I'll be addressing the new-look and zeitgeisty Stoke Newington Women's Institute this evening, rattling the tin. Three questions to get out of the way first.

Why Mary Wollstonecraft? I hope readers of this blog can provide answers aplenty: England's first feminist (well, close enough) - and so much else besides - lacks any substantial memorial anywhere in the world.

John Betjeman, I love you .
Wikimedia Commons, ILYT.
Why a statue? If you care to argue for some other form of public art, go ahead, but I have my heart set on a representational and recognisable statue, not an abstract reference to her such as a pile of books. Don't get me wrong; I like some pieces of conceptual art very much, but not for this project. Mary on the Green, as a group, has no official view on this; we want to give the artists a free hand and see what they come up with. But I know where my campaigning energies, such as they are, lie.

And why Newington Green? True, there are many other locations associated with Mary, including quite a few in central London (her birthplace in Spitalfields, her garret on the South Bank, her publisher at St Paul's, her chipped teacup lodgings in Bloomsbury, her happy last months in Somers Town and St Pancras). Newington Green was where she lived as a young woman, with her beloved. She arrived an unknown and unpublished schoolteacher; she left a couple of years later, having had her world enlarged by hanging out with well-read, high-minded, hard-working neighbours. Most of them were Rational Dissenters, associated with the little chapel of which Richard Price was the minister. That great and gentle man was kind and generous to her, as was Mrs Burgh, widow of an educationalist, and truly a fairy godmother to Mary. The chapel still says Newington Green Unitarian Church, and is still radical - in fact, it has just rehung on the outside railings the banner that says Birthplace of Feminism (in Mary's honour, and in place of the previous one, 300 Years of Dissent). So Newington Green has a strong claim to Mary.

But the reason that this part of London, as opposed to any other, is going to become the world centre of pilgrimage to Our Lady (this is my blog; let me dream) is because some twenty-first century neighbours care enough to make it happen. I have written before of the formidable team of the Newington Green Action Group, who brought the green itself back to life within the last decade, and who now wish for a cherry atop their cake. NGAG has registered charity status, elected officers, a bank account, a track record, contacts across the borough, kosher paperwork, the whole lot. Mary on the Green had a soft launch of sorts on International Women's Day, with the unveiling of the council's un-blue plaque to Mary, high up on Newington Green Primary School, followed by a children's choir in the church, from that school. We got our letter in the Guardian, signed by all those peers and MPs. (Stop! I'm having flashbacks of those hundreds and hundreds of hideous handmade emails. I've been trying to block it out. More absinthe, please)  The Mary on the Green website went live: cannily and simply I appeared on Woman's Hour and Jenni Murray called me "besotted". That was half a year ago.

In the intervening months, Mary on the Green has been solidifying its structure and plotting its big splash of publicity to entice the money. The former is fairly dry and tedious, but of course necessary: laying the groundwork so that the best, i.e. most suitable, artist and art work will be chosen. What are the criteria for the sculpture? What needs to go into the brief? Who gets to choose the long list, the short list, and the successful candidate? Has anyone thought about pigeonshit and vandalism? (The art world isn't all canapes, I can tell you.) The attention-grabbing splash is rather more juicy. I can't say too much just yet, but think HP sauce, not ketchup!

Photo of Newington Green by Vicky Ayech. Photo of bottles by Jonathan Brodsky. 
Both CC-BY-2.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hidden photomontage in Bradford

If you missed "Mary Wollstonecraft and the Newington Green Dissenters, 1784" when it was at the Museum of London, fear not! Hidden, the magnificent series of photo-montages by Red Saunders, is up once again. This time it is at the Impressions Gallery in Bradford, the other side of Yorkshire from Beverley, where Mary spent happy childhood days (and fell in love with Ardent Jane and her library).

Here is our previous post about Hidden, and the artist's thoughts on the history not taught at school.

PS And there's an article by Paul Furness in the Socialist WorkerHidden: Illustrating the secret history of workers’ resistance, describing Mary wearing her rosette for the French Revolution.  He also lists three new photomontages: Captain Swing, the agricultural riots in the 1830s; Hilda of Whitby,  a 7th century nun "who insisted that girls had as much right to education as boys", and:

Then we meet the Grindletonians. These were mainly women from the Yorkshire Pennine village of Grindleton who challenged the accepted world view in the run up to the English Civil War. They argued that a new way of living was possible in this old world if only the people living in it would seize it back from those who run it. 

The picture shows a gathering of radical soldiers and villagers seated together in a clearing at dusk. They listen intently to a woman who tells them that a new world is not just possible but is within their reach if only they would stand up as one and take it.It was little gatherings like this that mushroomed into the Civil War—in fact a revolution where the king’s head came off.

Image kindly provided by Red Saunders.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The world turned upside down

Matthew Buckingham's The Spirit and the Letter
On show at the Brooklyn Museum till 8 January 2012 is Matthew Buckingham's installation "The Spirit and the Letter", a homage to Mary Wollstonecraft, with spoken excerpts of A Vindication of the Rights of WomanThe New Yorker calls it "simple but striking", and gives him form ("When it comes to revisiting history, few artists capture complexities and contradictions with the kind of lyrical efficiency that Buckingham brings to the endeavor"). Buckingham's piece was co-commissioned by the Camden Arts Centre here in London, and in 2008 was exhibited a third of the globe away at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. 

Now that the video installation is in Brooklyn, it has been joined by some of the artifacts from the local library - as in, the New York Public Library, which provided much of the impetus for Shelley's Ghost. That exhibition, which I characterised half a year ago as "Mary, her husband, their daughter, and her lover (and their friends)", was beautifully displayed at the Bodleian, complete with Mary Shelley's silver toilet set and the tousle-hair'd poet's guitar. Bits of the exhibition are at Dove Cottage at the moment, visiting the Lake District poets for the summer; I had understood, reading the exhibition in Oxford, that soon the show would reincarnate at the NYPL. 

The review in Broadway World says:

The Spirit and the Letter places the viewer in a space that evokes inversion: a simple chandelier, glowing dimly, protrudes upward from the floor, and an upside down mirror hangs on the wall. A video image, projected onto a large wall, shows a room where the same chandelier can be seen in its "correct" orientation, hanging from the ceiling. In this room, a woman in 18th century dress paces across the floor. She exits but then after a moment reappears standing on the ceiling, disobeying gravity as she moves through the image, resembling a ghost of sorts. Portraying Mary Wollstonecraft, this actor delivers a erratic but impassioned exposition of Wollstonecraft's ideas, edited from Wollstonecraft's books, letters, memoirs and tracts, including A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

The Brooklyn Museum holds Judy Chicago's Dinner Party as the centrepiece of its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Shame, shame, on D.C.'s National Museum of Women in the Arts, for missing the chance to acquire those 39 place settings, of which one is dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A book to save up for

British Library, by Christine Matthews
You just know that with a series title such as International Library of Essays in the History of Social and Political Thought, the forthcoming tome on Mary Wollstonecraft is not going to be something to read in the bath.  Working 27.5 hours at current UK adult minimum wage will get you 588 pages of hardback quality. You have until April to save up that £160, or to persuade your favourite library to acquire a copy upon publication. It sounds fantastic, though:
The essays in this collection represent the explosion of scholarly interest since the 1960s in the pioneering feminist, philosopher, novelist, and political theorist, Mary Wollstonecraft. This interdisciplinary selection, which is organized by theme and genre, demonstrates Wollstonecraft's importance in contemporary social, political and sexual theory and in Romantic studies.
It goes all the way back to the beginning, and I hope it will set to rest for once and for all the misconception that both author and magnum opus  were shunned on its publication:
The book examines the reception of Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman but it also deals with the full range of her work from travel writing, education, religion and conduct literature to her novels, letters and literary reviews.
Most of the content, or possibly all of it, is reprints. Some of the essays go back over a century; some are much more recent: 
As well as reproducing the most important modern Wollstonecraft scholarship the collection tracks the development of the author's reputation from the nineteenth century. The essays reprinted here (from early appreciations by George Eliot, Emma Goldman and Virginia Woolf to the work of twenty-first century scholars) include many of the most influential accounts of Wollstonecraft's remarkable contribution to the development of modern political and social thought. The book is essential reading for students of Wollstonecraft and late eighteenth-century women's writing, history, and politics. 
London Library, by Bill Johnson 
It is from Ashgate, which I hadn't heard of before. Others in the International Library of Essays include Tom Paine, Jeremy Bentham, Rousseau, Aristotle, Hannah Arendt, Edmund Burke, and many others. This volume has been edited by Jane Moore, from Cardiff University, a reader in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy -- NB not history.  She wrote a rather more slender book on MW in 1999, at the request of the British Council, part of "a series of innovative critical studies introducing writers and their contexts to a wide range of readers".

What tense should we use for the forthcoming heavy-weight volume: has been edited? Is being? It can't take another six months to print and distribute a book, even if the physical presses are in deepest China. It's funny, isn't it: despite the rush-rush of modern life, so commented upon, some things were much quicker in Mary's day, particularly in the publishing business. Lyndall Gordon says A Vindication of the Rights of Men is "no hasty pamphlet" (chapter 7 of her biography Vindication), but from Mary's letters we know that as she was writing her books, the printer's devil was knocking on the door, wanting to take the manuscript pages to Joseph Johnson for typesetting. No luxury of writing an entire draft, and going back over it before the publisher saw it: rush-rush indeed.

And just look at the contents! This is only partial, but my goodness, am I partial. Random good bits in bold.

Part I Survey of the Work and Reputation:
  • Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft, George Eliot; 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft: her tragic life and her passionate struggle for freedom, Emma Goldman
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf
  • Feminist studies and the discipline: a study of Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Sapiro; 
  • On the reception of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, R.M. Janes; 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft: texts and contexts, Gary Kelly; 
  • Remembering Mary Wollstonecraft on the bicentenary of the publication of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Sylvana Tomaselli. 

Part II Contexts: History, Politics, Culture: Wollstonecraft and Social, Philosophical and Political Theory: 

  • Mary Wollstonecraft: 18th-century commonwealthwoman, G.J. Barker-Benfield; 
  • Wollstonecraft, feminism, and democracy: 'being Bastilled', Virginia Sapiro; 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft and the 'reserve of reason', Simon Swift; 
Wollstonecraft, Gender and Enlightenment: 
  • The Enlightenment debate on women, Sylvana Tomaselli; 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft and Enlightenment desire, Janet Todd; 
  • Wollstonecraft, Education and Conduct Literature: Her demands for the education of woman, Emma Rauschenbush-Clough; 
  • Mary, Mary, quite contrary, or, Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft compared, Regina Janes; 
  • Advice and enlightenment: Mary Wollstonecraft and sex education, Vivien Jones; 
Wollstonecraft and the French Revolution/Wollstonecraft's Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution: 
  • 'The grand causes which combine to carry mankind forward': Wollstonecraft, history and revolution, Jane Rendall; 
  • Gender in revolution: Edmund Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Furniss; 
Wollstonecraft and Religion: 
  • For the love of God: religion and the erotic imagination in Wollstonecraft's feminism, Barbara Taylor
  • Sibylline apocalyptics: Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Job's mother's womb, Mary Wilson Carpenter; 
Wollstonecraft and Romanticism: 
  • Death in the face of nature, self, society and body in Wollstonecraft's Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, John Whale; 
  • Godwin's Memoirs of Wollstonecraft: the shaping of self and subject, Mitzi Myers; 
  • 'No equal mind': Mary Wollstonecraft and the young Romantics, Harriet Jump;
Wollstonecraft, Femininity/Sexuality/Feminism: 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft and the wild wish of early feminism, Barbara Taylor; 
  • Wild nights: pleasure/sexuality/feminism, Cora Kaplan; 
  • (Female) philosophy in the bedroom: Mary Wollstonecraft and female sexuality, Gary Kelly; 
  • Wollstonecraft, Slavery and the Orient: Mary Wollstonecraft and the problematic of slavery, Moira Ferguson; 
  • Wollstonecraft's Death: The death of Mary Wollstonecraft, Vivien Jones. 
Part III Texts, Novels, Literary Reviews, Letters: 

Wollstonecraft's Literary reviews:
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's contributions to analytical review, Sally N. Stewart; 
Wollstonecraft's Fictions – Mary, A Fiction and The Wrongs of Woman: or Maria, a Fragment: 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft: the gender of genres in late 18th-century England, Mary Poovey;
  • Wollstonecraft and Godwin: reading the secrets of the political novel, Tilottama Rajan;
Wollstonecraft's Letters: 
  • Letters Written…in Sweden: toward Romantic autobiography, Mitzi Myers; 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's letters, Janet Todd
Note the lacunae: no Lyndall Gordon, no treasure ship, no modern philosophers, no Claire Tomalin, no suffragettes, no charting of the C19 rehabilitation (no Elizabeth Robins Pennell, who I'm rather fond of). But still...

Somehow I have to get my hands on a copy.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Women's Institute bends an ear

The venerable Women's Institute has several zeitgeisty new branches in inner London, and Stoke Newington has asked me to tell them all about Mary Wollstonecraft. This will happen a week today, on the evening of 10 October 2011. Entrance is free, as they are always looking for new prospective members. £5, as they are serving wine and cheese, with a 1970s theme. (If, on the other hand, you are of the gentlemanly persuasion, sadly the door is barred to you. But you could always organise a group of curious men on another occasion; Mary addressed many such assemblies. Or meet me in the pub afterwards.)

The WI formed in Canada in 1897, spurred by Adelaide Hoodless's anger at lethally adulterated milk, and quickly became a way of bringing women together, for education but also for social support and social change. It took off in the mother country from 1915, where rural women were often socially restricted to sister congregants at church or chapel, and never the twain shall meet. One author argued, on its Canadian centenary, that the WI represented The Acceptable Face of Feminism.

The WI intentionally crossed class and religious divides - as did Mary. Her novel Maria: Or, the Wrongs of Woman has its central figure, the falsely imprisoned middle class woman, forge a bond of sympathy with her working class wardress Jemima; this is said to be the first female cross-class solidarity in literature. And the WI still campaigns: they have a dozen listed on their website, from libraries to dairies, from maternal healthcare in the Third World to "care not custody" in the UK, against locking up the mentally ill. I can see some themes emerging....