The Bluestocking, vol 198
A very plain middle-aged Victorian female novelist.
I had some great responses to last week’s intro on late bloomers, so I’ve included a few of them below. If you’re over 21, I hope they serve as inspiration to try something new . . . whether it’s scuba-diving or learning Korean.
The Problem Solved By Debutantes (Culture Study)
“The Kardashians operate outside of any traditional understanding of class or distinction unless you define class solely based on net worth. It is almost classist to try to analyze them using any traditional metric because, like the Trumps, they have a visceral and relentless tastelessness.
[…] I think their original dilemma was that their father, Robert Kardashian, died young. They were rich, but here again we have estate taxes and too many daughters. Plus, he was most known for defending O.J. Simpson, hardly something that is going to win you a lot of respect or set you on a course to greater fame. After he died, the family was left in obscurity that was tinged with notoriety. Kris Jenner’s remarriage to Olympian Caitlyn Jenner was not going to cut it. Yet, they have long since overtaken their real ticket to fame, the Caroline Bingley figure, Paris Hilton. But their 21st century innovation is that they have flattened into one giant Lydia, complete with superficiality and sex scandals.”
Fab Q&A with the author of a book on debutantes: on how coming-out balls were a solution to post-Reformation England’s “Daughter Problem”; the racial dynamics of debutantes in the US; and the Kardashians as the Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice.
The Real CEO of Succession (New Yorker)
Francesca Gardiner, one of the writers of Season 3, said of her boss, “He’s sort of cool-dorky.” [Jesse] Armstrong bakes. He’s been a vegetarian—with occasional excursions into fish—since his youth. He met his wife, who works for the National Health Service, when they were in college, at the University of Manchester. They have two children and have lived in the same unflashy part of South London for almost three decades. When I asked if he had plans to upgrade his domestic space, he said, “We might do a new kitchen. So that will be corrupting.” Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall Roy, told me, “I think it was Flaubert who said, ‘I want to live the quiet, ordered life of the bourgeoisie so that I can be violent and original in my work.’ That’s Jesse.”
I am riven with jealousy that I didn’t get to write this profile of Succession’s Jesse Armstrong, but nonetheless I am generously prepared to concede that it’s beautifully done. This is the kind of detail I live for: the show’s writers “consulted histories of ancient Rome in the hope that understanding the relationship between Nero and his freedman Sporus—whom the Emperor commanded be castrated, before undergoing a sham marriage ceremony with him—might illuminate the dynamic between Tom and Cousin Greg”.
Lesley: “I am in the joyous process of creating a 50 in 50 list of things to celebrate my fiftieth year which starts at the end of October. A combination of things I have wanted to do for a while but haven’t got around to (pottery classes, sitting in the public gallery during a case at the Old Bailey, going to the Hay Festival), things I think will be fun (cycling to Amsterdam with my two brothers, though they don’t know about this yet!, walking the Thames Path and swimming in 50 different locations) and things I am curious to see what impact they have on me (not buying any new clothes, sending a book from my collection to someone every week, learning to meditate).”
Richard: “After a few decades of [redacted] policy I had some spare time so I wrote a scene from a story I’d long thought about. Then I thought I'd try some dialogue so I wrote another chapter. I've now written five novels just because I could, though of course only F&F read them. It was the most fun I ever had sitting down.”
Rose: “Last night I went scuba diving for the first time at the age of 51. I started fell-running at the age of 42. Skateboarding next?”
Ann: “I’m 43 and started learning Korean a couple of months ago . . . I love Korean TV and Kpop, and I don’t have any work or relationship motivation to learn a particular language, so I figured, choose a language which will help me with the things I like to do. So I am learning one of the hardest languages for a native English speaker...to watch more telly.”
Helen (who is also learning to drive late): “My lovely instructor told me that sometimes he has to teach eighty-year-old ladies to drive. They have spent their lives being driven about by their husbands, and then the husbands fall ill and the wives need to be able to get to the hospital or home to see them, as well as to do all the other practical stuff. They have to have shorter lessons because they tire so quickly. But if they can do it, then you and I most certainly can.”
Thanks also to the reader who sent in this interview with intensive care doctor Hugh Montgomery: “He has also conducted research on Everest, run three ultramarathons, skydived naked for charity and holds the world record for playing piano underwater (110 hours, as part of a team during his medical school days. He persuaded Yamaha to create a keyboard that would work underwater and “dumped it in a swimming pool”.)”
“He staged displays of strength for his courtiers and the public, once snapping a horseshoe with his bare hands, and hosted brutal competitions in which participants hurled live foxes, badgers, and wildcats long distances by using a sort of slingshot.” This GQ longread on a German museum heist also makes me think I want to know more about Augustus the Strong of Saxony.
“Entrepreneurial passion for inventing strengthens cannabis users’ idea originality to the detriment of idea feasibility.” No shit. (Science Direct)
“Normal People should be called “White People” because, in Rooney’s world, people like me don’t exist. . . Though her books are easy reads, I can’t get past their shameless reassertion of white individualism. If you think I’m being too hard on Rooney, you’re probably white.” I strongly suspect this writer has not been to Sligo. (SMH)
“The biography is based almost exclusively on the diary and letters. Byrne quotes lavishly, which means we are treated to many of Pym’s lovely one-liners. (John Lennon, as he ages, looks “like a very plain middle-aged Victorian female novelist”.) But there are some unsettling omissions.” The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym (TLS)
‘I had a conversation with a bunch of Nigerians on Clubhouse, many of us abroad, where we discussed “What is a safe place for a Black person in the world?” We kept saying, you know, a white person can just up and go to Europe—they mix in, and they’re fine—and we kept asking, “Where can a Black person go in the world and feel at home? And where can a Nigerian person go?”’ This conversation with the Nigerian author Elnathan John, now living in Berlin, is very interesting on identity, tensions within Africa, and American cultural dominance.
“[Channel 5 commissioning editor Ben Frow] described how his creative process often involves thinking of topics and then combining them with celebrities, sometimes with Alan Partridge-esque results. A forthcoming series featuring Pam Ayres travelling around the Cotswolds came about because “it’s the only part of Britain no one’s done, then Pam Ayres popped into my head”. . . but he said one commission along these lines had been a disaster. “Penguin A&E with Lorraine Kelly. It’s got penguins, it’s got A&E, it’s got Lorraine Kelly. Total flop.” (The Guardian)
The Bluestocking is approaching its 200th edition, so I would like you to hit reply and send me a link to the best thing you’ve ever seen on the internet. First prize is a signed copy of Difficult Women (second prize is two signed copies etc etc).