Flugel’s Psychology of Clothes

Is quite a trying book. Phallic symbolism everywhere. I will not be able to look at a tie with a straight face for a while.

Not sure the poor guy deserved this little bon mot I found in the margin (linking trophyism, phallic power and the castration complex). I did chuckle but my inner librarian pursed her lips at the vandalism.Image



My research

I don’t actually remember what I entitled my initial proposal and to be honest I am still not one hundred percent sure where I am going with it. The core of the thing is menstrual mood disorders (PMT, menarche and menopause), essentially looking at how they were constructed and treated in the 1930s. However this is one of those subjects where I am pretty much forging new ground. The way my research develops literally depends on what I can find and I am struggling with a lack of secondary material directly related to the subject.

One of the leads I have been following is a lady called Mary Chadwick who was a trained nurse and a Freudian psychoanalyst in the 1920s and 30s. In 1932 she wrote a book called ‘The Psychological Effects of Menstruation’ which she followed up with ‘Adolescent Girlhood’ and ‘Woman’s Periodicity’in 1932 and 1933. In total she wrote 8 or 9 books between 1925 and 1940, the majority of which were written for a general audience (and often ran to several editions). She also contributed articles to a wide range of journals.

If you google her you will come up with a couple of references to her analysis of Hilda Doolittle (HD), the Imagist poet. She also appears in a lot of lists with the same female analysts- those who studied at the Medical-Psychological Clinic in London and fellow child analysts. Occasionally there is a reference to her being the first English child psychoanalyst or her issues with Melanie Klein.

I had to do a LOT of research and came up with a timeline of her life and a little bit about where she stood in the psychoanalytical world. She is an utterly fascinating person and it really is such a shame that she has become so overshadowed by some of her psychoanalytical contemporaries.

My next stage is to look at where she fits into the nineteenth thirties, which involves research into psychiatry, physiology, medical research, menstruation, hormones, vitamins, the historiography of witchcraft, anthropology, eugenics, sexology, feminism, periodicity, theories of sexual difference, reflex theory, gynaeology, nursing practice, adolescence and psychoanalysis. All of which are new to me. My next task is to submit a tentative bibliography to my supervisor within the next two to four weeks. Exciting, but there are a lot of subjects there I know nothing about….at all.

My spirits have been lifted a bit by a massive bargain I came across the other day. I have coveted ‘The hygiene of life and safer motherhood’ by Arbuthnot Lane for weeks but it was £42 and I can’t justify that. It’s a series of articles from popular health writers that he put together in the mid-thirties, one of whom was Chadwick. I have the personal supplement to the book which is brilliant (it’s on the special problems of women) but I needed the book for my research.

I came across it on Abebooks, two volumes for £2 and £3 delivery. I took a chance and ordered it anyway expecting the worst. This time my gamble paid off. The thing is huge and beautiful and includes another copy of the personal supplement as well. It’s heavy so I definitely got a massive massive bargain. So happy!

Saying goodbye to the old me

So doing this PhD has meant completely changing my life, mostly for the better. One thing I have been reluctant to face until now was the necessity of making space on my shelves. Books have always been an important part of my life, not just the reading them but just having them there lining the walls.

Over the last week I have finally tackled my shelves. Each time I have had to do this (usually when moving, which we have done a lot), it has been quite traumatic, but this time it was slightly easier. Each book was a reminder of something- a phase, an illness, a happy memory, but the majority of them were from my pre-PhD searching for knowledge phase, the seeking of a subject that could hold my interest for longer than a year. Now that I have one I can suddenly let these books go.

I think I got rid of two hundred or so. Fantasy escaped virtually unscathed, as did zombie novels. I culled the history books to my favourites and excised many of the books from my first degree in Ancient history. Not the primary sources of course, except for Herodotus, Seneca, PLiny and Virgil who I took great pleasure in hurling into a bag. Then I got rid of any books that I knew I would never read again and some of the remnants of my phrases. Those were the most upsetting, evidence of the strain I was under and the desperate seeking for some sort of mental stimulation.

I kept a few – ‘cancer ward’ from my Russian phase, Lyndal Roper from my witch phase, Aristocrats from my 18th century phase (and Tom Jones and Pamela of course). I got rid of half of my biographies of famous and rule breaking women, those that were dull and poorly written. I came across a stash of sewing and crafting books from the time I was really ill and desperate to learn something new but unable to deal with anything complicated. They had somehow made it through previous culls but finally getting rid of them was very cathartic.

I had a supervision yesterday, it went well I think. My supervisor is happy with my progress. He wants me to move out to look at the larger picture and the context this lady was working in. I am allowing myself today off, an easy thing when I have my son home from nursery today. Shopping, housework, childcare – Virginia Woolf had a point. Nothing got done from my to do lists but I was busy the whole day anyway!

There are some cracking series on 4oD I have been catching up on recently – I loved ‘Big Women’ a drama covering twenty five years of a feminist publishing house. I didn’t see it the first time around and whilst it had its flaws it was very refreshing.

Next time, something about my research……

Finally back

Ok, not the worlds best start to a blog, but i think I have reached a point where I can post a bit more regularly. Things aren’t quieter, I fact they have just got a whole load more complicated but I am better able to manage my time (how did that happen). Even my office is tidier.

So the Colchester Women Oral History Project is now off the ground, interviewees are being sought, interviewers are being trained and equipment is being bought. A lot of my life is spent sending emails now, which feels very strange. As an introvert email is such a blessing, there is no one examining my facial expressions or waiting for me to finally collect my thoughts. It’s just me and text, the ideal combination.

I have also handed in my second piece of work. The first was in October, just a simple biography of a neglected psychoanalyst. Only I don’t do simple. 5000 words and several archive searches later and I have a pretty good outline of her life. I am reluctant to put too much information out there at the moment, I don’t want to do someone else’s work for them but I’ll talk about her at some point.

Second piece was looking at her influences, where she drew much of her material from. I had to do this one over Christmas and worked very long days to get it done. I was almost completely unfamiliar with psychoanalysis (or ps-a as I am going to call it from here on in) so it was very much a crash course. 6000 words, but I wasn’t happy with it. I am still struggling to write academically after so long (I did my Masters in 2004 in a totally different time period of history). I am now looking at anthropology in the late 19th and early twentieth century which is again, something entirely new to me. QMUL library had very little in the way of general histories, I had to use my SCONUL card at the University of Essex to get the books I wanted.

I have until the 28-02-14 to write an abstract for this student colloquium thingy in May. I feel very stressed at even the thought of it. No idea what I should talk about. Thankfully it seems that my fellow students are in a similar situation.