Thursday, 5 March 2009

bluestockings and witchcraft

Intellectual women down the ages have frequently been suspected of witchcraft (muttering strange formulae, speaking foreign languages, and generally being cleverer than their peers).

Readers of a romantic disposition may recall the scene in Ivanhoe, when Rebecca, the beautiful and intellectual Jewess, is accused of witchcraft because she speaks Hebrew. Apparently the character may have been inspired by the real life bluestocking, Rebecca Gratz, a preeminent Jewish American educator and philanthropist who was the first Jewish female college student in the United States.

Then of course there are the fictional witches featured previously in this august publication, Mss Weatherwax and Mss Hawthorne.  Both highly intelligent and independent women.

Gail TrimbleMore recently, the vitriol heaped on the highly intelligent, beautiful and charming Gail Trimble, always correctly attired in classic and timeless garb, has led to the suggestion that she should be burnt as a witch (this article is of course a spoof, but it's a spoof of the actual sexual innuendo and general opprobrium that was heaped on her merely for being an intellectual).

Indeed, nineteenth-century bluestockings were frequently branded "witches" according to the abstract of the article Bluestockings Beware: Cultural Backlash and the Reconfiguration of the Witch in Popular Nineteenth-Century Literature, by Linda J Holland-Toll.

Feminist witches have always looked to our foremothers for inspiration - one of the earliest feminist covens in America was called the Susan B. Anthony Coven No 1.  In fact, it's still going!  (Definitely a second-wave feminist type of organisation, though.)

The connection is probably because both intellectuals and witches transgress against the patriarchal dictum that women are not allowed to be powerful.  And of course, there is significant overlap between intellectuals, feminism and witchcraft.

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