- 156,000 allied troops landed in Normandy, across
- 5 beaches
- 7,000 ships and landing craft involved and 10,000 vehicles
- 4,400 from the combined allied forces died on the day
- 4,000 – 9,000German casualties
- Thousands of French civilians also died
Review – City of Sin: London and its Vices
From the first unfortunate shivering Roman slaves on the banks of the Thames two thousand years ago to modern vice this book covers the history of vice and the sex industry. Discussing the rise and fall of bawdy houses, the city’s attempts to regulate brothels and prostitution, the differing classes of sex workers throughout the time period, and how they were seen. There are comparisons of royal mistresses such as Nell Gwyn and the Countess of Castlemaine, to the sad, short and dangerous lives of street whores. And to cover the more modern cases – the Profumo affair and the repercussions thereof. When men (mostly) of power get their friskies beyond the marriage bed the women concerned can have influence, blackmail the men, and bring government and even monarchy into disrepute. But prostitution and adultery are hardly new.
Not all the accounts are tales of woe – some tell of successful women (mostly women), who left ‘the oldest profession in the world’ rich, and lived to old age; there are some accounts of women who voluntarily became courtesans – having more freedom than their married sisters (although less security). Of course, there were many (and some were young) forced into ‘the trade’ and who died in poverty, shame, riddled with disease and often took their own lives. Male brothels or ‘molly houses’ and homosexual encounters are discussed, with an interesting account of the Cleveland Street scandal and the trial of Oscar Wilder.
Overall the book is interesting and contains a varied set of accounts – but is a little flippant in places.
A useful summary of the times and lives of women (and men) of the street and houses of ‘ill-fame’ from the tragic to the darkly amusing. Not for the prudish!
Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex by Alice Domerat Dreger
Punctuated with remarkable case studies, this book explores extraordinary encounters between hermaphrodites–people born with “ambiguous” sexual anatomy–and the medical and scientific professionals who grappled with them. Alice Dreger focuses on events in France and Britain in the late nineteenth century, a moment of great tension for questions of sex roles. While feminists, homosexuals, and anthropological explorers openly questioned the natures and purposes of the two sexes, anatomical hermaphrodites suggested a deeper question: just how many human sexes are there? Ultimately hermaphrodites led doctors and scientists to another surprisingly difficult question: what is sex, really? Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex takes us inside the doctors’ chambers to see how and why medical and scientific men constructed sex, gender, and sexuality as they did, and especially how the material conformation of hermaphroditic bodies–when combined with social exigencies–forced peculiar constructions. Throughout the book Dreger indicates how this history can help us to understand present-day conceptualizations of sex, gender, and sexuality. This leads to an epilogue, where the author discusses and questions the protocols employed today in the treatment of intersexuals (people born hermaphroditic). Given the history she has recounted, should these protocols be reconsidered and revised? A meticulously researched account of a fascinating problem in the history of medicine, this book will compel the attention of historians, physicians, medical ethicists, intersexuals themselves, and anyone interested in the meanings and foundations of sexual identity.
I’d had this book on my shelf for ages, but I wish I’d picked it up before. The accounts are tragic (in some cases), interesting and well researched, but more than that this is a book which makes one think. What does it mean to be male or female? When are where does a person become either a man or a woman, and more importantly does it actually matter? How much of our sex and gender are biology and how much is societal? All the cases discussed were French or British cases from the Victorian era – when the gender roles were very distinct, and sexuality was far more rigidly enforced. Homosexuality was illegal and it was ‘one sex, one body’. A woman was a woman, and she loved men, produced babies and was mild, retiring and gentle. A man was a man, and he loved women, was the breadwinner, stronger, more forceful. So what happened when these lines were blurred?
Biology is complex, and the biology of sex even more so. What happened to the people who were both male or female, or neither? Was assigning a sex and forcing that person to live according to those social mores, or even finding someone was actually the other sex and making them change for the good of the person or to ‘protect’ society?
The book is a good insight into the trials of medicine, social expectations and the often difficult lives of the hermaphrodites themselves, although with the exception of one of the people there were no diaries of the hermaphrodites themselves.
Changes in attitude, definitions, and advances in medicine shifted boundaries, but many of the intersex persons had sad, confused lives – being forced to be a gender they did not identify with. Some lived as they chose, and damned what the doctors thought, and some ignored the ‘advice’. But it wasn’t easy.
Many of the issues are still relevant – fortunately Britain is more open-minded these days. There are equal rights in marriage for all, gay people, and intersex people can live (relatively) free lives without fear of prosecution or ostracism. But there are still discussions on transgender, sexual and gender identity and ‘normality’.
I’d recommend this book for those who are interested in the development of science, medicine, identity, social issues and Victorian history.
This is another interesting free course run via Coursera, created by The Wesleyan University and presented by Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. It’s a good starting point with which to learn about some of the battles, significant persons, and events of Ancient Greece.
Over 7 weeks the course covers:
Prehistory to Homer
The Archaic Age (ca. 800-500 BCE)
Two City-States: Sparta and Athens
Democracy. The Persian Wars
“The Great 50 Years” (ca. 480-431 BCE)
The Peloponnesian War I
The End of the War, the End of the Century
We learn about Homer, Socrates, Thucydides, Critias, Herotodus, and the major players in the array of battles, laws, political systems and arrangements and shenanigans which went on during this important period in European history. There is one video on women in Greek society but other than fairly brief mentions women and the lower classes aren’t discussed in detail (to be fair this IS a short course and there is not a lot of info remaining about the common man and woman in Greek society).
The course comprises of informative videos and reading. I have to confess I didn’t do much of the reading (partly as I’ve done some in the past and partly because I didn’t have a lot of time) and I would have got more out of this had I done so – my bad.
I’d recommend doing at least some of the readings, and watching all the videos. There are quizzes to be completed at the end of each section – and these count as the grading for the course so MUST be completed.
The tutor was very engaging, easy to listen to and obviously is very well informed on this historical era. There were a couple of issues with sound quality – but I have found this an issue with Coursera before (but to be fair the course is free).
Coursera is a good way to pick up cheap or free ‘taster’ courses (One can pay for the course and gain a certificate – otherwise you can an acknowledgement of completion but no actual certificate. The cost of this is not much.)
Overall I enjoyed this and would certainly look out for more courses from this university and tutor.
Spell It Out: The singular story of English Spelling – David Crystal.
Why is there an ‘h’ in ghost? William Caxton, inventor of the printing press and his Flemish employees are to blame: without a dictionary or style guide to hand in fifteenth century Bruges, the typesetters simply spelled it the way it sounded to their foreign ears, and it stuck. Seventy-five per cent of English spelling is regular but twenty-five per cent is complicated, and in Spell It Out our foremost linguistics expert David Crystal extends a helping hand to the confused and curious alike.
He unearths the stories behind the rogue words that confound us and explains why these peculiarities entered the mainstream, in an epic journey taking in sixth-century monks, French and Latin upstarts, the Industrial Revolution and the internet. By learning the history and the principles, Crystal shows how the spellings that break all the rules become easier to get right.
You can tell I’m a logophile (lover of words), as this book really appealed to me. I love the vagaries of English, the whys and wherefores, the ‘really – that’s spelled like that?’ and the etymology of language. This book is a great resource – it covers the history of the English Language, and the ‘rules of spelling’ – many of which get defenestrated at every available opportunity. Crystal explains why.
English is a very confusing language – and I’m a native speaker! Similar sounds – such as ‘ou’ or ‘gh’ can be used in a large variety of words with different pronunciations:
(Spelling in red) coff as in cough; ow as in bough; ruff as in rough; thru as in through; doh as in doughnut.
Thorough, plough, tough, borough etc.
And we have the one everyone knows – I before E except after C… unless … well Wiki has a whole page of them:
There are reasons – from lazy scribes to printers being things look nice, to foreign words being adulterated, to regional differences to text speak. It all makes sense (sort of).
Crystal keeps the book interesting, easy to understand and amusing. He knows his stuff, and it shows. I found it fascinating, and will definitely get the author’s other work. Mr Crystal – you have a new fan.
Recommended for logophiles, writers, and the curious.
Amazon.com link The Hinge Factor
From the wooden horse at Troy to a harrowing photograph snapped in Vietnam, from Robert E. Lee’s lost battle plans to the evacuation of Dunkirk, world history has been shaped as much by chance and error as by courage and heroism. Time and again, invincible armies fall to weaker opponents in the face of impossible odds, when the outcome had seemed a foregone conclusion. How and why does this happen? What is it that decides the fate of battle?
The Hinge Factor is an instructive, fascinating look at how the unpredictable, the absurd, and the bizarre have shaped the face of history in war.
What is the ‘hinge factor’? Basically, it is the pivotal event that led to a particular outcome of battle – from generals despising each other and not coming to one another’s aid, to the weather, to misunderstood orders, to a war-journalist capturing an iconic shot – which turned a nation against a war. It’s a ‘what if’. What if it hadn’t rained at Agincourt? What is it had been cloudy when the Enola Gay dropped the bomb? What if the Trojans hadn’t fallen for the ruse of the Wooden Horse? In many cases, the outcome and possibly history itself would be very different.
The accounts are fairly lengthy but taken from reliable sources (relatively). Yet each and every one reads like a tale of heroes, courage and, often, sheer bloody stupidity. The author is a correspondent – and it shows. He knows his stuff, and he knows what makes a good story and what is important. (check out his Wikipage Erik Durschmied).
The Vietnam account is actually the author’s own account of what happened in those terrible years, and how news coverage changed the tide of that particular conflict.
The accounts make one wonder how many lives would have not been lost if only the General’s hadn’t behaved like morons, if only it had been cloudy, or hadn’t rained, or the retreating soldiers had spiked their own guns. I found it quite a moving book – history does indeed repeat itself first as tragedy and then as farce (Karl Marx).
The account I found most interesting was the Berlin Wall. I remember seeing that on TV – something many people would never believe could happen. Within a few hours the tide that had been building suddenly erupted and flowed inexorably towards freedom for East Germany (as it was then). It was the only revolution and ‘battle’ in history where no blood was shed. But what if the border guards had started firing at the crowds? What if the orders had come to stop the tide of humanity? There would have been a bloodbath.
As usual, I am meandering into history, so back to the book. It’s well written, well researched, thought-provoking and a must for lovers of history, fate and military history.
Eurekaaargh!: A Spectacular Collection of Inventions That Nearly Worked – Adam Hart-Davis
This work presents 100 stories of weird and wonderful inventions, full-blown and well-developed disasters of what seemed to be brilliant inventions that fell at the first fence, or sometimes the second, like the first steam-powered submarine, still lying on the seabed off North Wales.
I love books like this – the real and rather sad history of things. Most of us remember learning about the Montgolfier balloon; the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk; George Stevenson and his steam engine; and other notable inventors. But what about those that came before and failed? Or did not have the money to patent their invention? Or those whose inventions were too far ahead of their time to be viable. This is a book about these folks – the men (mostly – sorry ladies) who tried (and sometimes died) to better mankind with gadgets and machines and came to a sorry end.
Mr Hart-Davis has done his homework and tells a good tale. The tone is light-hearted, yet informative. There is enough information to draw in the reader but not so much as to get boring, or confusing. One could dip in and out of this book, entertain one’s friends with it, or simply wonder at the ingenuity and foolishness of people.
Please note most of these are British inventors.
Recommended for fans of history.
Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and their Victims – by Katherine Watson
From Mary Ann Cotton, the Victorian serial murderess, to Dr Crippen, poisoners have attracted a celebrity unmatched by violent killers. Secretly administered, often during a family meal, arsenic (the most commonly-used poison) led to a slow and agonising death, while strychnine (with its characteristic bitter taste) killed very quickly. Poisoned Lives is the first history of the crime to examine poisoning and its consequences as a whole. Unwanted husbands, wives or lovers, illegitimate babies, children killed for the insurance money, relatives, rivals and employers were amongst the many victims of these calculating killers. Difficult to detect before 1800, poison undoubtedly had its heyday in the nineteenth century. In response to many suspected cases, forensic tests were developed that made detection increasingly likely, and the sale of poisons became more tightly controlled. Because of this, twentieth-century poisoning has become a crime largely associated with medical professionals including, most recently, Dr Harold Shipman, the world’s most prolific serial killer.
Many of the true crime books focus solely on the murders themselves, as one would expect. Usually the same twenty or so crimes are discussed and not often in detail. This book is different. Over 500 cases from 19th century to the early 20th century are included, although many as comparisons and not in detail. That said the author does a great job of discussing the ‘whys and wherefores’ of the crimes – the societal aspects, how they changed, the rise of the police force, and the increased awareness of poisoning as a crime. Before the 1900s sanitary conditions amongst the poor were dire, life expectancy short and infant mortality high. Many of the cases discussed, and the situations covered reflect this – people poisoning as to not have another mouth to feed, to get a few pounds from the ‘burial clubs’ which sprang up, ostensibly to help the poor, and the new ‘life insurance’ schemes which abounded. Poisoning is viewed as the most despicable of crimes; usually it is a slow and very painful process, and often the perpetrator is well known to the victim – spouse, parent, servant, nurse/doctor. It’s easy to judge by the modern standards when life expectation is relatively high, health provision freely available (in the UK at least), a social security system, divorce attainable, much less stigma on illegitimacy and very few people are truly desperately poor. Oh and poison is much harder to get. But one must realise that sometimes disposal of an unwanted, violent spouse, was the only way out some people could see. There were simply no viable alternatives.
Watson discusses the changing views and social ideas – the emerging rights of women; ideas pertaining towards mental illness; religious and moral ideology and the rise of the forensic scientist, the role of the coroner and much more. It’s a potted history which changes vastly over time. This, I think, is the most fascinating aspect. There is no sensationalisation of the cases – which sometimes appears in books on true crime – the subjects are dealt with in a sympathetic way. It’s a book of tragedy – lost lives, destroyed lives, desperation and the depths of human misery, but there is also hope. Murder by poison is rare now and more easily diagnosed. And society is not as brutish, or terrifying as once it was for the common person.
Well researched, well argued and highly interesting I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, 19th Century history, the rise of science and the social reasons for crime.
As a new feature of 2018 I thought I’d add a little levity and a little (more) strangeness to the blog. Weird Wednesdays – featuring strange laws, odd words, peculiar facts, and amazing place names. #WeirdWednesdays #strangelaws
I read a lot of history, and boy is some of human past weird! It never ceases to amaze me that humanity got over hitting each other with rocks but somehow we did and invented civilisation (although some days watching the news you’d not know it). Even so, our past has held some very odd ideas (and still does in some places) and some strange laws and rules.
From Witchcraft laws, judges prosecuting animals, clouds, corpses to outdated laws still on the statute books there have been some damn silly, and damn weird laws of the land. Some sound weirder than they actually are, and when one investigates it becomes more obvious why this is in place. Some don’t.
I’ll start with Britain – as I live there – but other countries will be discussed at later dates.
Odd or confusing Law 1:
It is illegal to be drunk on licenced premises. Under section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872,
“every person found drunk… on any
licensed premises, shall be liable to a
penalty”. It is also an offence under
the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 for
the keeper of a public house to permit
drunkenness or disorderly conduct on
the premises. Furthermore, under the
Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to
sell alcohol to a person who is drunk,
or to obtain alcohol for consumption
by a person who is drunk.”
So you can go into a public-house and buy booze but if you get squiffy you are breaking the law, and so is the landlord or landlady. I can see the logic of this – alcohol accounts for a high proportion of crime – in 2014/15 nearly 50% of violent crime was related to booze. Anyone who has been in the city on a Friday night can testify as an eye witness to this (in my city at least).
The Licensing Act states
Every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding [F1level 1 on the standard scale], and on a second conviction within a period of twelve months shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding [F1level 1 on the standard scale], and on a third or subsequent conviction within such period of twelve months be liable to a penalty not exceeding [F1level 1 on the standard scale].
Every person . . . F2 who is drunk while in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine, or who is drunk when in possession of any loaded firearms, may be apprehended, and shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings, or in the discretion of the court to imprisonment . . . F3 for any term not exceeding one month.
Is this a Weird Law? I guess that depends on your point of view regarding alcohol consumption. What constitutes ‘drunkenness’? One person could sink a barrel and the next person is bladdered after half a shandy.
Odd or confusing law 2
It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances
This is an offence under the Salmon
Basically, if a person knows or believes a salmon, eel, or lamprey has been acquired under ‘an offence’. So a fish illegally caught from a salmon farm, an unlicensed fisherman etc.
Weird or confusing law 3
It is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street. However, beating or shaking a doormat is allowed before 8am.
This is an offence under section 60 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. In other districts, it is an offence under section 28 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.
I’d guess this is to stop pollution and fouling of the streets…. but I could be wrong
Do look out for more strange laws of the land.
Other sources Britain Explorer Blog
The Strange Laws of Old England
Today’s team review is from Liz, she blogs here https://lizannelloyd.wordpress.com/ Liz has been reading The Betrayal by Anne Allen The Betrayal is set mostly in Guernsey but in two eras. First, we find ourselves in 1940, where Teresa Bichard is distraught at leaving her husband, Leo, on the island while she flees to her family on […]
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