Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dombey and Daughter

Florence Dombey in ‘Captain Cuttle’s Parlour’ by William Maw Egley, 1888 
Better late than never, I have just finished reading for the first time one of Dickens' lesser known classics, Dombey and Son, and am very pleased and a little bit surprised to report that it is a feminist novel -- possibly even the first, overtly feminist novel -- that takes the '& Son' of timeless patriarchal family tradition to task head on.

This is a later painted portrait of the much neglected daughter in the story, Florence Dombey, who Dickens writes as the heroine of his first proper novel, who endures her father's near hatred and resentment of her, if he acknowledges her existence at all, as he has eyes and heart only for his son and heir and then, when that son dies, along with his mother, he lives in the hope of producing another son with the woman he next marries chiefly for that purpose, without any love or even affection for her.

But then his second wife, who knows she has been effectively bought by the rich Dombey for this purpose and considers herself no better than a commodity or slave (a challenging notion for the times with possible echoes of John Stuart Mill's Subjection that came out earlier in the same decade), refuses to submit to his will -- in bed or out of it. She is a proud, highly intelligent woman who has no time for Dombey's arrogant self-importance and assumed authority, nor his immense wealth; she married him largely to satisfy her mother and put to an end her relentless quest to marry her off.

The two-year marriage produces a final confrontation between husband and wife where she stands up to Dombey and tells him how much she loathes him, how appalling he is in his treatment of his daughter (who loves him despite his woeful neglect) and that she would rather die than remain his wife.

It is a very satisfying and dramatic scene, but one that must have been quite challenging for Dickens fans in the 1840s. As a Dickens fan myself, my appreciation of his work is in some degree despite his lack of feminist themes or even sympathies, though his range of secondary female characters has always impressed me as extraordinary and includes a number of daughters misused and taken-for-granted by their fathers.

But I didn't expect overt feminism from Dickens -- certainly Dickens is not reviewed or advertised in these terms. Indeed I hardly expect it (and almost never find it) from modern male writers. And considering Darwin wrote his deeply sexist Descent of Man detailing his theory about how men have evolved to a higher level of intelligence and ability than women more than thirty years after Dombey and Son was published, it would seem that Dickens was a man well ahead of his time and a much braver (smarter and more honest) man than his famous countryman and fellow writer whose name also happens to start with the letter D.

And if Dombey and Son had been promoted and embraced as a feminist text at the time it was published in 1848, perhaps it might have had more cultural influence and curbed Darwin's readiness to put his sweepingly stupid and culturally ignorant sexist claims in print, claims that have provided the basis for countless sexist theories committed to print ever since.

But it remains reassuring to know that Dickens knew the dangers of male arrogance and sense of entitled superiority over women, their wives as well as daughters, even when hardly anyone else did -- or at least hardly anyone else braved the topic in print.

So I strongly recommend everyone read it and for those that can, especially the men, write a modern day Dombey. Heaven knows there are enough real-life examples around still to inspire one.

Just btw, it's my father's birthday today. He would have been 96; almost as old as Dickens, and almost as cool. Happy birthday, Dad; we came right in the end, just like Dombey and daughter.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Pig politics

So the day after Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern delivered a flawless speech on the party's policies and values for the official launch of their campaign to be the next government after three terms of a right-wing government, the leader of some trumped up, self-styled party promising classic attention-grabbing but woefully unrealistic small-party policies, such as a universal basic income, calls her - in a tweet of course, where all the serious politics happens - 'lipstick on a pig.'  

At the time Jacinda had only been in the leadership job three weeks and had already been made to deflect an interrogation by the male media on her baby plans. Then this rich businessman of 63 who has only just now decided he might like to give politics a go (sound familiar?) thinks he can tell this woman who has been politically active since she could vote and a member of parliament for almost a decade, though she is only 37, that she needs to prove she is more than lipstick on a pig. 

Well I say he needs to prove he is more than a dipstick and a prig who has trouble seeing beyond the lipstick to the P.I.G. -- Professional. Intelligent. Game-changer.  

Jacinda having the last laugh

Oink oink.   

Monday, August 21, 2017

Let's do this, indeed!

On Sunday we did this, attended the official launch of the NZ Labour Party's election campaign at the Auckland Town Hall, with comedian Michele A'Court MCing, former LP leader and record three-term New Zealand PM and nominee for UN Director General Helen Clark in the audience, as well as the leader of the Scottish Labour party, Kezia Dugdale, and last but very much not least, Labour's newest and youngest-ever leader, Jacinda Ardern, the keynote speaker who together drew a crowd that packed out the Town Hall and two neighbouring halls and theatres. It was fantastic! They, and we on the left-wing of politics, in Aotearoa, are doing this indeed. Change is a-coming and about fabulous fucking time.

After Ardern's moving, savvy and entertaining speech, delivered without notes, I watched from my vantage point on the mezzanine floor, as Helen Clark in the front row stood with the rest of us ordinary mortals and her fellow politicians to applaud this wonder woman who came from small-town New Zealand and the classic 'simple' beginnings to deliver hope and inspiration and forward-thinking leadership, at the age of 37, to this small, but politically-world-leading (in the past) nation. It was a rousing experience indeed.

There were extended greetings by all speakers in Maori, as well as an official Maori welcome waiata to bless the proceedings, and briefer greetings in many other languages besides that spoke volumes about the left's core commitment to going forward into a multi-cultural future with all its challenges and rewards, without which there will be no future, and to acknowledging the mistakes of colonial arrogance and ignorance in the past.

Economic success is to be measured not in numbers, says Ardern, but in lives lifted out of poverty and in the closing of the ever-widening chasm between the rich and poor in this country, as in all other western nations, that once talked tough and true about egalitarianism but have increasingly fallen for the convenient illusion that if you leave it to the market, in other words if you do nothing to help people to help themselves, equality will magically prevail. The opposite is true, as they know as well as anyone, so to this corrupt hypocrisy the left must, and is, saying no more!

Climate change and mental health and education and jobs too must be taken on as core challenges rather than dismissed as secondary to the economy, measured in GDP numbers alone.

So we have HOPE and HEART in this new and vibrant political leader and message, with polling suggesting that she and Labour could well win the election next month and put New Zealand back on the map as a forward and fair-leaning nation.

Let's do this!      


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Winter Down Under

This was the cover shot published in the Sydney Morning Herald during our recent trip to Australia in the depths of winter. The following week it was even warmer and the wet-suits were off.

Not to make light of global warming or to diminish the charms of a proper winter -- for starters it kills off the bugs and without that we're up the creek without a paddle, to use a popular Aussieism -- but this looks kind of fun (for those who like a bit of wet, salty terror), even if one of the two women partaking appears to have lost her footing.

Aussie in any season indeed is not for the faint of heart of foot, which is kind of what I like about it, if it is also why I moved to New Zealand; a little bit of Aussie heat goes a long way.  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Labour gains

So, I think I should leave the country more often...

While flying back yesterday from my dance-reunion trip across the ditch on a plane piloted by a woman (my first - and a bloody smooth flight it was too), reading Inferior, a book about how science has got women so woefully wrong (review to come), I learnt that the political party I have long supported and almost stood for at one point in time has appointed a new leader - a woman - to fight the upcoming general election in seven weeks. All this is very good news indeed.

I have met Labour's new leader Jacinda Ardern and, along with my daughter, have done some campaigning with her, and I reckon that if anyone can turn this country to the left, where it needs to go, it is she. She represents the possibility of real change towards a country that cares and creates, rather than a country that struts and cuts, a change the party, the country - and global politics - sorely needs.

Jacinda is the fourth leader the Labour Party has appointed since Helen Clark, the country's first elected woman PM, left NZ politics for the United Nations when Labour was ousted in 2008. But she is the first woman leader since Clark, after two disastrous Davids and one ordinary Andrew were appointed to the job. And even though she only has seven weeks before the election to turn Labour's poor poll results around, I think she can't help but improve the party's and the country's outlook whatever the election result, and if not this time, then next she will be New Zealand's prime minister.

Good luck Jacinda; Labour gains indeed.