Time to Read?

5 09 2018


PHOTO: artsci.wustl.edu

HAVE WE EVER HAD ENOUGH TIME TO READ?
FOR WOMEN OF THE 18TH CENTURY, THE ANSWER IS A RESOUNDING “NO”

Literary history can seem full of women frustrated with their lack of time for reading. Florence Nightingale rails in Cassandra (1852) against the way women are constantly interrupted and never protected in their study, complaining that “there is no time appointed for this purpose and the difficulty is that, in our social life, we must always be doubtful whether we ought not to be with somebody else or be doing something else.” Virginia Woolf makes this frustration into the beautiful manifesto, A Room of One’s Own (1929). Few, however, seem quite as angry about their lack of time as Catherine Talbot. She rages in her unpublished journals about not having enough time, she muses on her lack of time in her published pieces of writing, and she makes time a constant theme of her letters to Elizabeth Carter.

As friends, Talbot and Carter had much in common. Neither married, both belonged loosely to what we now think of as the Bluestocking Circle, both knew Samuel Richardson and Samuel Johnson, and both were nourished to different degrees by their Christian faith. But Talbot’s situation was particular because she grew up under the protection of her father’s friend, the Bishop Secker, and was obliged to him for including her in his busy, affluent, and often very public household. The intensity of this situation comes out at one point when Talbot erupts in fury at Carter’s failure to understand that her business is of a special degree: “You suppose that when I complained of wanting leisure I had several hours. You forget that you rise three hours earlier than I am allowed to do; that we visit 18 families at from three to 14 miles distant, and 20 I believe in Oxford, and are besides eternal riders, walkers, and airers. That I have many correspondents, and cannot for my life write short letters. And with all that crowded together, at first I had scarce one hour.”

Read further @ Literary Hub


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