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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Sincere, artistic ladies

Sunday, October 11th., London.

A week of sluggish liver and disordered kidneys; restless nights; ill-tempered mornings.
An evening of strong contrasts; at eight o'clock I left, the musical, emotional atmosphere of Sharpe's, where Sharpe, Weist Hill, Mrs. Sharpe, Werg and Alcock were playing to a very mixed audience, Cherubini, Saint-Saens, Stanford and Schumann; raced home on my bicycle, rushed out again, took the bus and was having supper with Miss Symonds and her mother at Thurloe Square in exactly half an hour. At Putney, music, loud laughter, undiluted emotionalism, and sincere artistic purpose. At South Kensington, literature, quietude, the restraint of an eighteenth century demeanour, - and sincere artistic purpose , too.

'George Paston' (Emily Morse Symonds) (1860 - 1936) began her writing career as a novelist in the 1890s, but from 1900 turned her attention to writing biographies, histories, and drama, many of which reflect her fascination with the eighteenth century. Several of her works question the legal and social limitations faced by women of all classes, particularly within the institution of marriage. Writing during a time period when writing and publishing was a male-dominated industry, it was not uncommon to see a woman such as Symonds adopt either a gender neutral, or even a male pen name. The Academy noted that Symonds was "one of the many women writers who have succumbed to the mysterious attraction of the name 'George'." It has been speculated that perhaps she assumed the pen name at least partially as a means "to gain an unqualified entrance into the profession." The particular choice of the Christian name "George" has been attributed to a "mysterious attraction" that the name holds, as was George Eliot, the pen name of famed English author, Mary Anne Evans. Another famous female writer who chose George in her pen name was Amantine/Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, also known as George Sand. Despite her adoption of a masculine pen name, it was no secret that she was, in fact female. The Academy went so far as to question why she even maintained the facade. Ultimately, they simply chalked it up to "a whim."

Miss Symond's is a frank worshipper of the eighteenth century. Her mother, an ample little lady with a quick cheerful laugh, and a most pleasant manner, is ready to enjoy anything. She recalled the pleasure with which, at nineteen, she read "Monte Cristo", and joyfully accepted my offer to lend her the "Vicomte de Bragelonne" so that she might renew the "Dumas sensations".
Miss Symonds, on the whole the most advanced and intellectually fearless woman I have met, stuck to the old formula that a woman should marry a man ten years her senior, "Ten or Fifteen years," she corrected herself. Her reasons: that a woman matures earlier than a man and that at forty a woman is middle-aged, while the man ... etc. The old reasons, which I combated, with cases in point to support my view.
I ventured to mention that I have never learnt to be enthusiastic about the work of her celebrated cousin, John Addington Symonds. To my astonishment, both she and her mother confessed that they had read very little of it, and did not care for it.

John Addington Symonds (5 October 1840 - 19 April 1893) was an English poet and literary critic. Although he married and had a family, he was an early advocate of male love (homosexuality), which he believed could include pederastic as well as egalitarian relationships. He referred to it as l'amour de l'impossible (love of the impossible). A cultural historian, he was known for his work on the Renaissance, as well as numerous biographies about writers and artists. He also wrote much poetry inspired by his homosexual affairs. 

I have noticed several times lately that when young boys run whooping and leaping along the street, from sheer effervescence of animal spirits, they do not ever smile. On the contrary, their faces are sternly set, and have a rapt, intent expression, as though they were thinking out some difficult problem.
I wonder if I have been led to note this particular observation by association from thinking about Symonds' proclivities?

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