On Being Irrepressible in Repressive Times

Raise Your Hand if You’re Still Thinking About Beyoncé’s Grammy Performance

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The Queen blessed us with an extraordinary performance on Sunday (excerpt here or find the full performance at minute 40:37 in the Grammy's Broadcast), and we could not help but be troubled by the many people we saw on Twitter & Facebook asking frankly stupid questions such, “ugh, what was that?” and “can someone explain to me what we just saw, because I don’t get it!” As information professionals, Your Dames cringe to characterize any question as stupid, but we also prefer not to mince words, so here we are. To those who were perplexed and asked their search engine of choice such questions, good! That’s how you educate yourself. That said: there's knowledge, and then there's expertise. Google can get you one, but you a librarian (or two) can be helpful in locating the latter. So we are still coming to you with a few truly exquisite pieces on the subject because, well, we are information professionals. We show our truest devotion by providing proper citations.


Bossy Spotlight: Dame Margaret’s Favorite Victorian Lady Detectives

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Women being aggressively independent in deeply repressive times: less laughable than you’d expect!

In light of the exciting news (covered more thoroughly below) of Philip Pullman’s new companion series to the His Dark Materials trilogy, it felt like an apt moment to call out the series that originally made me (Dame Margaret) fall violently in love with Pullman’s writing: the Sally Lockhart trilogy, and its possibly-even-better-than-the-original-series companion novel, The Tin Princess. Let me start out by noting that these books (written between 1985-1994) have not aged perfectly. About a 16-year-old named Sally who can neither serve tea nor make polite small talk but IS both a crack shot AND a junior financial wizard, the series gleefully embraces the tropes of the Victorian Penny Dreadful while also working to ground those tropes in realistic historical constraints, and to update some of their regrettable values to align with modern tastes. With regard to women’s rights, and workers’ rights: they kill it! Like, totally crush it. With regards to avoiding that genre’s racist tropes and ableism… they are less successful. Most glaringly, the final book in the trilogy, The Tiger in the Well features a big bad who’s paralyzed from the neck down and… Pullman didn’t really think through how his embrace of the generic Pitch-Black-in-All-His-Villainy language gets complicated when it’s used todescribe, and thereby aggressively other, a disabled body.

But, a fave can be problematic and still be a fave, and I still think there is a LOT to love in these wild, thrilling, and mildly ridiculous detective-adventure stories. For one thing, they are brilliantly plotted and totally gripping-- full of funny, vivid, immediately charming characters. For another, and even more praise-worthy, they create tension from accurately depicting historical conditions rather than using them for mere superficial effect. Sally is wildly, impossibly atypical for a Victorian woman, but rather than pretending that her ahistorical behavior would have been available to anyone with sufficient bravery (a common issue with historical fiction for young audiences), much of her peril in the books is mined from the real legal consequences that would have come from being an unwed mother or a female business-owner in that time. Sally triumphs over these forces, of course, because she’s the heroine and she must. But her victory is far less of a foregone conclusion than it seems like it might be, and the accuracy with which Pullman shows the structural forces she and other characters are constantly pushing up against is, without ever losing his page-turning pace, is bracing as fuck-- particularly at this moment in time. The first two Sally Lockhart books were adapted for TV, and feature such a stellar cast (Billie Piper! JJ Feild! HAYLEY ATWELL! Matt Smith!???) that I now feel compelled to revisit them, although I remember the first one being somewhat underwhelming to me, a lover of the books. Not even remotely underwhelming, however, are the audio versions of the first three books, narrated by Anton Lesser who just nails the sinister-dramatic tone the books' artfully purple prose demands.

ALL THAT SAID, if you’ve read these books already and need MOAR, or want to read something LIKE these books but without their acknowledged shortcomings, there is another series, so similar in tone and intent that they almost feel like an actual companion series, that meets the Sally Lockhart books on feminist and socialist messaging while RUNNING LAPS AROUND IT on racial issues. And that series is Y.S. Lee’s The Agency quartet which allows itself an absurd premise (there is a secret boarding school in Victorian London that takes in orphans in dangerous circumstances and trains them to be undercover inquiry agents, weaponizing the invisibility their status as poor females grants them in the stratified, gender-segregated society of 19th century Britain) and then ruthlessly depicts how hard it would be to pursue that kind of work within the actual constraints of the time period. These four books are among my very dearest favorites written in the last… 15 years, so if your blood thrills at girl detectives or perfectly executed romance stories or vibrant, honestly rendered Victorian settings or frank discussions of race and Empire in the 19th century or just plain terrific mystery stories, you really ought to have read them… yesterday.

Both series have been really important to me the last couple of months, as they hit a crucial sweet spot.They are neither so removed from Our Present Catastrophe that their escapism sours, nor so realistic that their heroines are denied the kind of decisive, lasting triumphs that we in the real world rarely get to partake of. PLEASE read them as quickly as possible and then find me on Twitter, where we can all shout about them together.  
 


Flailing with Joy as Self-Care

Just a quick round-up of some things our faves have been up to lately.

  • Okieriete Onaodowan, known to Hamilton fans as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, is going to take over the male lead in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway when Josh Groban leaves the show this summer. Dame Margaret already has an email thread open with friends planning to buy tickets and she highly recommends that you all follow suit.

  • Philip Pullman is FINALLY publishing The Book of Dust (and two more follow-ups to His Dark Materials)! Your Dames are half furious for the zillion-year delay, half running around squealing with giddy literary anticipation. We could even be described as half agony, half hope.

  • Via excellent newsletter editrix and perennial #Damesfav Julia Carpenter, a fascinating piece on Japanese multimedia artist Yayoi Kusama, who has a big retrospective opening at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC (it will then travel to Los Angeles, Toronto & Cleveland).

  • File under: musicians we continue to mourn & celebrate: Prince’s catalog is on Spotify, HUZZAH! Also these David Bowie stamps are gorgeous

  • And, as for musicians that we need not yet mourn and can merely celebrate, Jens Lekman’s newest album came out today and if you, like Dame M., want want all your existential crises to feel like they're happening in a discotheque, then it is JUST the record you’ve been waiting for.

  • Alan Alda’s attempted cartwheel at age 80: better than any cartwheel either of Your Dames has ever executed, and very good for the soul.

  • "The Americans" will be back for its alleged final season on March 7. Prepare with this teaser trailer (without spoiling anything, Dame S must holler out an enthusiastic PAIGE!) and this brilliant video re-cutting Sabotage to footage from the series. Revel in the wigs, people, revel in them.

  • In Old News That Is New To Dame S (who is presently reporting from deep within the One Direction rabbit hole in which she’s spelunking, no thanks at all to #Damespals Syazwina & Alicia), young Harold Styles, Esq. won Idler Magazine’s Good Grammar Award in 2015. A belated mazel tov to the world’s most adept donner of gentleman’s blouses!

  • And finally, [if god is good, soon-to-be Academy Award-winning actor] Mahershala Ali is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, furnishing both lovely forearms and stunning collarbone, and we have zero feelings about it whatsoever. Definitely not exchanging delightedly outraged texts or smiling every time we see it resurface in our timelines, no sir.

we don’t even go here, but this is truly the most apt gif of them all


Resistance/Persistence Weekly

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Your Dames, literally every time we're away from the Internet for more than nine consecutive minutes.
Whoooo, we’re still not even a month in, la la la la.

  • Ezekiel Kweku had some really smart, sobering, and ultimately encouraging things to say about maintaining one’s ability to resist the outrages and base ugliness of the current regime. Dame S. is going to torture a metaphor for a bit, strap in: Once your initial flame of “I can’t fucking believe this, can you?!” dies down, how do you bank the fires so you can crank up the gas when you need to? We’re going to lose a bunch of these fights & we need to shore each other up every day so we neither burn out nor fade away:

“The place beyond despair is not hope, exactly, but it is a place from which you may draw nearly unlimited will, because you are no longer afraid of losing. If we want to keep fighting, this is the destination we must reach.”

  • On that same theme, Magda Pecsenye continues to dispense practical, challenging & genuinely comforting advice at PostTrump.help. Though her advice is directed specifically at parents, you don’t need to have kids in your life to make it useful for you. Her latest is about reframing the daily shitshow as an object lesson in opportunities to keep playing really good small ball, every day, always.

  • If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably seen a couple of these posts that posit that the current occupant of the White House is playing some highly sophisticated game of political chess. We would like to counter-posit that there’s no way he’s got the chops to do such a thing, and furthermore, as Ijeoma Oluo has so snappily put it, Fuck this White Dude Game Theory. We Your Dames are convinced Occam’s razor will serve us better.

  • And now, a word from William Henry Harrison, via his brilliant modern amanuensis, Kate Washington, on why we should tolerate Marla’s Ex for another couple of days. Will no one think of the monuments?!

  • Cymere Nobles’ Impeachment song is our favorite song, the end.

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Handshake hero. This is the strongest argument for building core and shoulder strength we’ve ever seen.