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Introduction From the Public Lives of Charlotte and Marie Stopes

Introduction From the Public Lives of Charlotte and Marie Stopes

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Introduction From the Public Lives of Charlotte and Marie Stopes from the series Dramatic Lives, published by Pickering & Chatto
Introduction From the Public Lives of Charlotte and Marie Stopes from the series Dramatic Lives, published by Pickering & Chatto

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Published by: Pickering and Chatto on Apr 02, 2013
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INTRODUCTION: PERFORMING A PUBLIC LIFE
‘Baby determined to hold her head up in the world’, Charlotte Carmichael Stopes(1840–1929) wrote o her inant daughter in her account o Marie’s early intel-lectual development.
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A rst-time mother o undaunted maturity at orty yearso age, Charlotte may have been projecting her own desires onto her daughter,but her 1881 observation was prophetic. As a sex educationalist and birth controladvocate, Marie Stopes (1880–1958) was to become one o the most prominent women o the twentieth century. Embracing the access to higher education or women, made possible by Victorian activists like her mother, in turn Marie was part o the vanguard o early twentieth-century social change. As the gure-head o a sustained and ar-reaching birth control campaign, Marie signicantly expanded choice and opportunity or women. Ultimately, both Charlotte andMarie Stopes gained public recognition or their achievements as writers, reorm-ers and scholars, although in Charlotte’s case acknowledgement was hard won. Written as a biography o two interconnected lives, this book explores the ways in which women writers, scholars and social reormers entered the pub-lic cultural sphere o the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries andreshaped the attitudes o their time. Teir ideas were contested, even dismissedas the inconsequential and stereotypical utterances o repressed bluestocking eccentrics,
2
or in terms o the ‘threatening otherness’ o emale desire.
3
At thesame time, as this biography will show, Charlotte and Marie Stopes each drew  widespread attention or their work. Teir adroitness with techniques o pub-lic perormance, combined with remarkable personal persistence, helped themto succeed in publishing and promoting their writings. In very dierent ways,they both created controversy and recruited the popularity o drama and thetheatre to promote their causes. Teir achievements were partly driven by thecompetitiveness and aection between them, and by the recognition that socialand cultural change or women could only be eected through active partici- pation in public cultural and political debates. In each case, however, it was a problematic success. Tey were attacked or dismissed in their own time by those who disagreed with them, while many later accounts o both women have been partial, distorted or gendered, representing them in terms o neurosis or immo-
 
2
Te Public Lives of Charlotte and Marie Stopes
rality rather than academic achievement or social benet. Tis work will discussthese accounts and aim to rerame the women in terms o their contributions as public writers, academics and social activists.Te theatre o public opinion was a crucial eld o operation or early twen-tieth-century writers and reormers, but debates about social responsibility and change were, o course, also carried out in the actual theatres o the time.Charlotte and Marie Stopes both pursued specic interests in drama and per-ormance. Marie’s involvement in the theatre was more direct. While Charlotteassumed the role o Shakespearian critic, theatre historian and public educator,her daughter regarded stage drama as a vehicle or promoting social change.As an aspiring dramatist, Marie promoted discussion about sexual knowledgeand reproductive choices or women through her plays. Only one o these,
Our Ostriches
(1923–4), was successully staged as a proessional West End produc-tion in London, but six o her dramatic works reached the public in book orm.Te press attention that Marie Stopes attracted or her work in the realm o thetheatre and beyond enabled her seemingly outlandish ideas to become gradually accepted within mainstream, middle-class British society.
Public Personae: Charlotte and Marie Stopes
History has not been kind to Charlotte Stopes. Her achievements as a scholar andactivist have been overshadowed by her reputation as the marginally infuentialmother o a amous and controversial daughter. Yet Charlotte made signicantcontributions to the history o British drama and to the women’s emancipationmovement. Tis book shis the perspective, exploring the lie and work o bothCharlotte and Marie Stopes in the context o their relationship. Parodied in
 Punch
 as one o the quintessential New Women o the 1880s and 1890s,
4
Charlotte Car-michael was the rst woman in Scotland to take a university qualication.
5
Shegained a Certicate in Arts with rst class honours rom the University o Edin-burgh in 1878, the highest qualication then available to a emale student.
6
 Women had by then entered the elds o writing and popular journalismin large numbers, but inclusion within the rigid enclaves o academe remainedharder to attain. Charlotte worked as a teacher and wrote stories or childrenthrough the 1870s.
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She married the brewer, engineer and scientist Henry Stopes in her late thirties and raised two daughters,
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continuing with her intel-lectual and political pursuits aer her marriage.Charlotte’s voice was rst heard in 1889 when she attracted widespread pressattention as an advocate or dress reorm aer staging a programme coup at theannual meeting o the British Association or the Advancement o Science. Withthe support o a group o Rational Dress activists, and without the imprimatur o the conerence organizers, she commandeered a venue and recruited an audience o 
 
 
 Introduction
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British Association members to hear a panel discussion, which included Charlottehersel, on the ‘Psychological and Physiological Aspects o Women’s Dress’.
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Wellover a hundred newspapers reported the event, around the nation and abroad.
10
 She went on to write a radical history o women as public leaders and citi-zens in Britain and appeared regularly or over two decades on the campaign platorms o womens surage reorm. Charlotte also became a widely publishedShakespearian expert. Her rst book,
Te Bacon-Shakespeare Question
, came outin 1888, a reutation o the theory that Francis Bacon was the actual author o  William Shakespeare’s plays.
11
She believed that perormances o Shakespeare’s plays should take account o their historical context and the language in whichthey were written, and not be abridged or distorted by an excess o Victoriantheatrical grandeur – a view shared by younger theatre directors o the time,such as William Poel. Charlotte was also a riend o Emma Cons, who helpedto popularize perormances o Shakespeare’s plays or working people at theRoyal Victoria Hall in London, better known as the ‘Old Vic’.
12
As a ‘amousShakespearean authority’,
13
Charlotte produced nine scholarly studies on Shake-spearian themes and numerous articles or journals such as the
 Athenaeum.
She was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy in 1916. Yetit was her study o the role o women as citizens and leaders in British history 
14
  which proved the most popular and infuential aspect o her work.Largely regardless o her many achievements, Charlotte’s later-lie reputationas an eccentric dress reormer and elderly acerbic bluestocking has dened herlegacy. Shakespearian acionado Sir George Greenwood’s 1925 discussion o thecontroversy surrounding the Droeshout engraving patronizes her as an ‘ardentand orthodox worshipper at the Stratordian shrine…!’
15
Te American liter-ary scholar Samuel Schoenbaum reerred to her as a ‘Hampstead matron’.
16
wo years aer her death, in 1931, Frederick Boas assured his readers that despite herheroic public endeavours, ‘Mrs Stopes neglected none o the domestic duties’.
17
 Decades later Charlotte had not shrugged o her usty Victorian lady’s mantle,even in the context o eminist historical recovery, being described as eccentric,sexually repressed and an embarrassment to her daughter.Any biographical study o Charlotte Carmichael Stopes must acknowledgethe reerences given in her amous daughter’s twentieth-century biographers.Aylmer Maude’s fattering 
 Authorized Biography of Marie Stopes
 was the rsto these. A close riend o the subject, his account perhaps most closely refectsMarie’s subjective view o her mother as an exemplar o Victorian religious repres-sion.
18
Keith Briant’s
 Passionate Parado
 was published in 1962, a by-product o his youthul firtation with Marie in 1938, at the time o his editorship o theliterary magazine
 Isis
. A sympathetic account, Briant portrays Charlotte as thesurvivor o her husband’s preoccupations and obsessions.
19
Ruth Hall’s
 PassionateCrusader 
, written more than a decade later, depicts Charlotte as a ‘born old maid’,

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