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Sep 8, 2017

The Charge of the Light Brigade

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The Charge of the Light Brigade: who blundered in the Valley of Death?

The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the most notorious fiascos in British military history. But who should shoulder the blame for this suicidal assault on Russian guns? Saul David considers the evidence…
This article was first published in the Christmas 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine

The Light Brigade engages Russian gunners and cavalry during their infamous charge on 25 October 1854. When they returned to British lines, just 195 of around 676 horsemen were still mounted. (Bridgeman)
“By Jove,” shouted an eagle-eyed member 
of Lord Raglan’s staff. “They’re going to 
take away the guns!” 
It was 10.40am on 25 October 1854. Three hours earlier Lord Raglan, the British commander in the Crimea, had watched helplessly from his vantage point on the Sapouné Ridge as a huge force of Russian infantry overwhelmed three of the Turkish-held redoubts (earthwork forts) on the Causeway Heights, a low east-west range of hillocks that divided the plain below him into a north and south valley. The loss of these redoubts had left the British supply port of Balaklava, situated below the south valley, at the mercy of the Russians. But much to Raglan’s relief, two subsequent attempts by Russian cavalry to take the port had been gloriously repulsed by a ‘Thin Red Line’ of Highlanders and an uphill charge by the Heavy Brigade of British horse. 
At 10am, keen to follow up these successes, Raglan had ordered his cavalry “to advance and take any opportunity to recover the [Causeway] Heights”, and to use the support of infantry who were en route. But Lord Lucan, the cavalry commander, chose not 
to move until the infantry arrived. 
A bugle used by trumpeter-major 
Henry Joy of the 17th Lancers at the 
battle of Balaklava in 1854. (Bridgeman)
As Raglan fumed at Lucan’s inactivity, a staff officer alerted him to activity in the redoubts. Peering through his naval telescope – specially modified so he could use it with his one remaining hand (he had lost his right arm at Waterloo) – Raglan could see the Russians bringing forward horses and lasso tackle to remove the British 12-pounder naval guns that had been sited in the earthworks. He assumed the Russians were about to withdraw and take the captured guns with them. His mentor the Duke of Wellington had never lost a gun, and Raglan was anxious to retain the same proud record. Turning to his senior staff officer, he dictated the following momentous order: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front – follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns.”

Tempers fray

The pencil-written order was handed to Captain Louis Nolan, the finest horseman on the staff. It was an unfortunate choice: no officer had more contempt for the cavalry commanders, Lucan and his deputy Lord Cardigan, than the quick-tempered Nolan. He felt they were far too timid.
Captain Louis Nolan: The horseman’s scornful manner contributed to the misunderstanding between Raglan and Lucan. (Getty images)

Within 15 minutes, Nolan had reached 
the valley floor and located Lucan on rising ground at the near end of the Causeway Heights. He handed over the order, which Lucan read with alarm. Now he was being asked to recover the guns without infantry support. He complained to Nolan about 
the “uselessness” and “dangers” of such 
an operation.
“Lord Raglan’s orders,” retorted Nolan, “are that the cavalry should attack immediately.”
If, as seems likely, Nolan used the word “attack” on his own authority, it was a fatal intervention. The order had made no mention of an attack. So did Lord Raglan perhaps have a different objective in mind?
“Attack, sir!” said Lucan. “Attack what? What guns, sir?”
Waving his hand vaguely eastwards in the direction of the redoubts, Nolan said contemptuously: “There, my lord, is your enemy! There are your guns!”
Lucan claimed later that from his position he could see “neither enemy nor guns”, and that Nolan’s gesture was towards “the further end of the [north] valley”. There, clearly visible, was a Russian battery of eight cannon, the sun glinting off their polished barrels.
At this critical moment, according to one eyewitness, Lucan “appeared to be surprised and irritated at the impetuous and disrespectful attitude and tone of Captain Nolan”. He “looked at him sternly but made no answer, and after some hesitation proceeded to give orders to Lord Cardigan to charge the enemy with the Light Brigade”.
Lord Lucan: The cavalry commander gave the Light Brigade its fateful mission after misinterpreting Lord Raglan’s order. (Getty images)

If Lucan had only questioned Nolan further, he must surely have discovered that his objective was to recover the captured naval guns on the Causeway Heights, rather than seize the battery of Russian guns in the north valley. But so irritated was he by the taunting tone in Nolan’s voice that he chose not to continue the conversation.
Stung into action, Lucan made his final plans: Cardigan’s Light Brigade of Cavalry would lead the attack down the north valley, with the Heavy Brigade in support. The message was taken to Cardigan by Nolan who, when the Light Brigade commander voiced his objections, asked if he and his men were afraid. “By God!” responded a furious Cardigan. “If I come through this alive, I’ll have you court-martialled for speaking to me in that manner.”
Instead of returning to Raglan, Nolan 
rode over to his old friend Captain William Morris, commanding one of the Light Brigade’s lead regiments, and got his 
permission to accompany the attack.
Cardigan, meanwhile, had sent one of his aide-de-camps to query Lucan’s order. This caused Lucan to return in person. “Lord Cardigan,” he said, “you will attack the Russians in the valley.”
“Certainly, my lord,” replied Cardigan, “but allow me to point out to you that there is a battery in front, a battery on each flank, and the ground is covered with Russian riflemen.” In other words, the north valley was a death trap from which they were unlikely to escape.
“I cannot help that,” responded Lucan. “It is Lord Raglan’s positive order that the Light Brigade is to attack the enemy.”
An illustration of the Charge of the Light Brigade. The story of the tragic events was immortalised by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. (Bridgeman)

Pierced heart

At 11.10am, stationed with his two staff officers at the head of the Light Brigade, Lord Cardigan turned to his trumpeter: “Sound the advance!”
As one, the men and horses of the 
Light Brigade of Cavalry – which numbered around 676 –  moved forward at the walk. Leading the way were the 17th Lancers and 13th Light Dragoons, deployed side by side in two lines, followed 100 yards further back by the 11th Hussars, and with a similar gap to the 8th Hussars and the 4th Light Dragoons. 
The brigade had just accelerated to a trot when Captain Nolan surged ahead of the first line, shouting and waving his sword. He may have realised that Cardigan was not going to wheel to the right to attack the redoubts, and was trying to correct the error; or he may simply have been urging the brigade on. We will never know. With just 50 yards separating him from Cardigan, a shell burst between them. Nolan gave a ghastly shriek and dropped his sword. A twitch of his bridle hand caused his horse to turn and gallop back through the advancing squadrons. He then fell to the ground. A fragment of shell had pierced his heart, killing him instantly. 
Lord Cardigan was so taken aback by the order to attack that he sent an aide-de-camp to Lucan to query his order. (Bridgeman)

Onward the brigade rode into that terrible crossfire. “Hell had opened upon us from front and either flank,” recalled a private in the 17th, “and it kept upon us during the minutes – they seemed like hours – which passed while we traversed the mile and a quarter at the end of which was the enemy. The broken and fast-thinning ranks raised rugged peals of wild, fierce cheering that only swelled the louder as the shot and shell from the battery tore gaps through us…” 
The private continued: “‘Close in! Close in!’ was the constant command of the squadron and troop officers… But the order was scarcely needed, for of their own instance and, as it seemed, mechanically, men and horses alike sought to regain touch.”
A corporal of the 13th was “struck by a shot or shell full in the face, completely smashing it, his blood and brains spattering us who rode near”. A sergeant of the 17th had his head taken off by roundshot, “yet for about 30 yards further the headless body kept the saddle, the lance at the charge firmly gripped under the right arm”.
With the front rank just 80 yards from the battery, the Russians fired a point-blank salvo of grapeshot that brought down men and horses in heaps. Five officers were among the dead, but Cardigan rode on unscathed. As he approached the bank of white smoke that masked the battery, he shouted: “Steady! Steady! Close in!”
Seconds later the front rank swept into 
and around the battery, sabring and spearing Russian gunners as they tried to tow the 
guns to safety. In the smoke and confusion, Cardigan became separated from his men 
and made his own way back to the British lines. The remnants of the brigade were rallied by the surviving officers and led 
in a desperate attack against a mass of 
Russian cavalry beyond the guns. 
“It was the maddest thing that was ever done,” noted a Russian officer. “They broke through our lines, took our artillery, and then, instead of capturing our guns and making off with them, they went for us… They dashed in amongst us, shouting, cheering and cursing. I never saw anything like it. They seemed perfectly irresistible, and our fellows were quite demoralised.” Having driven the Russian cavalry back on the Chernaya river, at the top of the north valley, the survivors fought their way back to the British lines.
When the battered remnant of the Light Brigade formed up near the same ground they had charged from 25 minutes earlier, only 195 men were still mounted. Even with the return of stragglers, the losses were crippling: 107 men killed, 187 wounded and 50 missing (most of them captured). The number of dead horses was almost 400.
Lord Raglan: The British commander in the 
Crimea’s decision to send the Light Brigade 
into action was probably unnecessary. (Getty images)

A victory of sorts

Even after the fatal charge, Lord Raglan was keen to use his infantry to retake the captured redoubts. He was dissuaded by General Canrobert, his French counterpart, on the grounds that troops could not be spared from the siege lines for their garrisons. Thus the charge was the last action of the battle of Balaklava which, though far from conclusive, was a Russian victory of sorts – their first of a war that had begun the previous March when the Russian tsar refused British and French ultimatums to withdraw his troops from Ottoman territory. Determined to protect the Ottomans by neutralising Russian power in the Black Sea, the Allies had landed on the Crimean peninsula in early September 1854. Within a month they were besieging the great naval base of Sevastopol from the Chersonese Plateau to its south.
Though the Russian attack of 25 October had fallen short of its original objective – to capture the British-held port of Balaklava and sever the supply line to Raglan’s troops on the plateau – it still had severe consequences for Raglan’s army. By taking the Causeway Heights, the Russians denied the British the use of their main supply route from Balaklava to the plateau via the Woronzow Road. In fine weather this was not a problem as a shorter route known as the Col was just as good. But as winter set in, and the road up the Col disintegrated, it became impossible to get enough supplies to the troops in the trenches.
By the end of November, so overwhelmed was the Commissariat (the department in charge of resupply), and so poor the single road up to the plateau, that many of the goods that did reach Balaklava were left to rot on the quays. “The English,” wrote a French officer, “will actually exchange their boots for something to eat… It’s pitiful to see such superb men asking permission to gorge themselves on the dregs in our mess tins.”
With no fuel, inadequate shelter and insufficient food, the British troops fell easy prey to disease, particularly cholera and typhus. “The noblest army England ever sent from these shores,” wrote the editor of The Times, “has been sacrificed to the grossest mismanagement. Incompetence, lethargy, aristocratic hauteur, official indifference, favour, routine, perverseness, and stupidity reign, revel and riot in the camp before Sevastopol, in the harbour at Balaklava… and how much nearer to home we do not venture to say.”
By the time the war ended – following the fall of Sevastopol – with a qualified Allied victory in March 1856, 21,000 British soldiers had lost their lives, only a quarter from enemy action. Most died of disease and malnutrition during the terrible winter of 1854/55.
The immortal status of all who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade was guaranteed when Alfred Lord Tennyson, poet laureate, wrote his eponymous verse of the famous action in late 1854, three weeks after reading a report of the battle in The Times. The second stanza begins:
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldiers knew
Some one had blundered”
The 13th Regiment of the Light Dragoons after the battle of Balaklava. Those who lost their lives in the Valley of Death were victims of an order that should never have been given, argues Saul David. (Bridgeman)

So who had blundered? Writing three days after the battle, Lord Raglan blamed Lucan. “From some misconception of the order to advance,” he wrote in his official dispatch, “[Lucan] considered that he was bound to attack at all hazards.”
Lucan was duly recalled to London where he tried – and failed – to clear his name. Did he deserve to shoulder the blame? Lord Cardigan, his former brother-in-law, was not in any doubt. “[Lucan] ought,” wrote Cardigan, “to have had the moral courage to disobey the order till further instructions were issued.”
In truth, all three principals – Raglan, Lucan and Nolan – bear some responsibility. Even if it had been interpreted accurately, Raglan’s final order to Lucan was probably unnecessary. After all, the naval guns had been spiked and could not be fired, the infantry had nearly arrived, and even a “demonstration” by cavalry along the Causeway Heights would have incurred casualties. He should, moreover, have taken into account the fact that Lucan’s view of the battlefield was much more limited than his and made the final order more precise (by mentioning the ‘Heights’, for example).
Lucan should have insisted on clarification from Nolan. But he allowed his pride to get the better of him. As for Nolan, so contemptuous was he of Lucan’s ability, so desperate for the cavalry to show its worth, that he failed in the one essential duty of a staff galloper: to provide the officer in receipt of the message with the necessary clarification. If the written order was imprecise, then how much more was Nolan’s insolent gesture: “There, my lord, is your enemy! There are your guns!”
It seems, moreover, that he used the word ‘attack’ when Raglan had intended a mere show of force. If so, Nolan bears the chief responsibility for what followed. Such was the opinion of most cavalrymen, according to Lieutenant Frederick Maxse RN who was serving on Raglan’s staff, and whose papers have only recently come to light. After the charge, Maxse inspected the ground and, 
“on looking to the left, saw poor Nolan lying dead who 10 minutes before I had seen eager & full of life, galloping down to Lord Lucan, anxious & determined to make him do something with the cavalry (of which he 
is a member, he was always very indignant 
at the little they had done in this campaign 
& bitter against Lord L). All the cavalry lay this disastrous charge on his shoulders & say that he left no option to Lord L to whom they say his tone was almost taunting on delivering the message – if he was to blame he has paid the penalty.”
Nigel Kingscote, another staff officer, agreed. If Nolan had lived, he told Raglan’s son, he “would no doubt have been broke 
by court martial”.  

Why Lucan’s eyes deceived him

The communication breakdown between Lord Raglan and his cavalry commander is perhaps explained by the topography of the Balaklava battlefield, says Saul David
(Map Illustration by Paul Hewitt)

It is hard to comprehend how the Light Brigade could have been misdirected until you stand on the spots where the main actors were situated when they made their fatal decisions. The site on the edge of the Sapouné Ridge, from where Raglan and his staff are said to have observed the battle of Balaklava, is today marked by a viewing platform. When I visited it, I was struck by the panoramic view it afforded of the battlefield.
Directly below the platform is a large plain covered with vineyards and other crops – just as it was in 1854 – and bisected by a tarmac road that snakes from right to left. This is the famous Woronzow Road that, for much of its length, runs along the range of hills known to the British during the Crimean War as the Causeway Heights. 
From Raglan’s vantage point, the Heights appear to be little more than a slight rise in the ground and are dwarfed by the hills that fringe the plain to the north and east. Does this explain why Raglan felt justified in issuing those two orders to Lucan and the cavalry: first to advance and take any opportunity to “recover the Heights”; and then to “advance rapidly to the front – follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns [from the Heights]”?
He was not – as some commentators have suggested – ordering cavalry to attack fixed positions up a steep hillside; but instead wanted Lucan to move the cavalry forward on both sides of a relatively gentle slope, and possibly even along it, to hasten the Russian withdrawal and encourage them to abandon the British guns. 
Just as revealing was my visit to the approximate location where Lucan had received Raglan’s orders, on a slight knoll of ground between the two valleys. From there Lucan’s view of the captured redoubts would have been obscured by rising ground. So when Nolan gestured vaguely (“There, my lord, is your enemy! There are your guns!”), it is easy to understand why Lucan mistook the Russian battery for Raglan’s true target. 
Saul David is a military historian and broadcaster. His books include Operation Thunderbolt (Hodder, 2015) and Zulu (Viking, 2004)
To listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests, including Saul David, discuss the Charge of the Light Brigade on Radio 4’s In Our Time, visit

Sep 6, 2017

The Transitional Poets


The eighteenth century is usually known as the century of "prose and reason," the age in which neoclassicism reigned supreme and in which all romantic tendencies lay dormant, if not extinct. But that is a verdict too sweeping to be true.
In this century-especially the later part of it-we can see numerous cracks in the classical edifice through which seems to be peeping the multicoloured light of romanticism. In the later years of this century a large number of new influences were at work on English sensibility and temper. The change signalized a change in the ethos of poetry and, in fact, literature as a whole. The younger poets started breaking away from the "school" of Dryden and Pope, even though some poets, like Churchill and Dr. Johnson, still elected to remain in the old groove. There were very few poets, indeed, who set themselves completely free from the old traditional influences. Most of them are, as it were, like Mr. Facing both ways, looking simultaneously at the neoclassical past and the romantic future. They seem to be
Plac 'd on this isthmus of a middle state.
In the selection of subjects for poetic treatment, in the choice of verse patterns, and in the manner of treatment we meet with perceptible changes from the conventions of the Popean school. Those eighteenth century poets who show some elements associated with romanticism, while not altogether ignoring the old conventions, are called transitional poets or the precursors of the Romantic Revival.
Let us sum up the romantic qualities of the poetry of these transitional poets.
  • These poets believe in what Victor Hugo describes as "liberalism in literature". Not much worried about rules and conventions, they believe in individual poetic inspiration.
  • Their poetry is not altogether intellectual in content and treatment. Passion, emotion, and the imagination are valued by them above the cold light of intellectuality. They naturally return to the lyric.
  • They have, to quote Hudson, "a love of the wild, fantastic, abnormal, and supernatural."
  • They show a new appreciation of the world of Nature which the neoclassical poetry had mostly neglected. Their poetry is no longer "drawing-room poetry." They do not limit their attention to urban life and manners only, as Pope almost always did.
  • They place more importance on the individual than on society. In them, therefore, is to be seen at work a stronger democratic spirit, a greater concern for the oppressed and the poor, and a greater emphasis on individualism in poetry, in society, everywhere. Their poetry becomes much more subjective.
  • They show a much greater interest in the Middle Ages which Dryden and Pope had neglected on account on their alleged barbarousness. Dryden and Pope admired the Renaissancermuch more and had many a spiritual link with it.
  • Lastly, there is a strong reaction against the heroic couplet as the only eligible verse unit. They make experiments with new measures and stanzaic forms. It is said that every hero ends as a bore. The same was the case with the heroic couplet.

While exhibiting all these above-listed tendencies in their poetic works, the transitional poets are not, however, altogether free from Popean influences. That is exactly why they are not full-fledged romantics but only "transitional" poets. Nevertheless, their work proves: "The eighteenth century was an age of reason but the channels of Romanticism were never dry."
Let us now consider the work of the most important of the transitional poets of the eighteenth century.
James Thomson (1700-48):
He is a typical transitional poet, though he chronologically belongs to the first half of the eighteenth century. Though he was contemporaneous with Pope yet he broke away from the traditions of his school to explore "fresh woods and pastures new." He bade good­bye to the heroic couplet and expressed himself in other verse-Tieasures—blank verse and the Spenserian stanza. He would have acknowledged Spenser and Milton as his guides rather thanDryden and Pope. His Seasons (1726-30) is important for accurate and sympathetic descriptions of natural scenes. It is entirely different from such poems as Pope's Windsor Forest on account of the poet's first­hand knowledge of what he is describing and his intimate rapport with it. The poem is in blank verse written obviously after the manner of Milton', but sometimes it seems to be over-strained, "always labouring uphill," in the words of Hazlitt. Thomson's Liberty is a very long poem. In it Liberty herself is made to narrate her chequeredcareer through the ages in Greece, Rome, and England. The theme is dull and abstract, the narration uninteresting, and the blank verse ponderous. His Castle of Indolence (1748) is in Spenserian stanzas, and it captures much of the luxuriant, imaginative colour of theElizabethan poet. As a critic puts it, for languid suggestiveness, in dulcet and harmonious versification, and "for subtly woven vowel music it need not shirk comparison with the best of Spenser himself." Thomson looks forward to the romantics in his interest in nature, in treating of new subjects, his strong imagination, and his giving up of the heroic couplet. But he is capable of some very egregious examples of poetic diction. Even Dr. Johnson was constrained to observe: "His diction is in the highest degree florid and luxuriant. It is too exuberant and sometimes may be charged with filling the ear more than the mind."
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74):
Goldsmith was as friendly with Dr. Johnson had been with Pope, but that did not curb the individual genius of either. Goldsmith was as essentially a conservative in literary theory as Dr. Johnson of whose "Club" he was an eminent member. Both of his important poems, The Traveller (1764) and The Deserted Village (1770) are in heroic couplets. The first poem is, didactic (after Johnson's visual practice) and is concerned with the description and criticism of the places and people in Europe which Goldsmith had visited as a tramp. The second poem is rich in natural descriptions and is vibrant with a peculiar note of sentiment and melancholy which foreshadows nineteenth-century romantics. As in the first poem, Goldsmith exhibits the tenderness of his feelings for poor villagers.
Thomas Percy (1728-1811):
Percy is known in the history of English literature not for original poetry but for his compilation of ballads, sonnets, historical songs, and metrical romances which he published in 1765 under the title Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The work .did a lot to revive public interest in that kind of poetry which had gone out of vogue in the age of Dryden and Pope. The book contained poetry from different ages-from the Middle Ages to the reign of Charles. The work had a tremendous and lasting popularity. About its influence on the poets who were to come, we may quote Wordsworth: "I do not think that there is an able writer in verse of the present day who would not be proud to acknowledge his obligation to the Reliques." Even Dr. Johnson favoured Percy's venture and earned his thanks by lending him a hand in the compilation.
Thomas Chatterton (1752-70):
Chatterton is referred to by Wordsworth in his poem Resolution and Independence as
The marvellous boy        
The sleepless soul that perished in his pride.
Chatterton, indeed, was a "marvellous boy" who shot into fame, and then, before he was eighteen, poisoned himself with arsenic getting sick of his poverty. Some of his poems are quite Augustan in their matter and from but the most characteristic poems are the ones he published as the work of Thomas Rowley, a fifteenth-century monk who lived in Bristol, Chattertdn's native place. Chatterton gave out that he had discovered them in a box lying in a Bristol church. His hoax was soon seen through, but that does not detract from the merit of the Rowley poems. The poems like Aella and the Ballad of Charity are, according to Hudson, quite remarkable for two reasons-'because they are probably the most wonderful things ever written by a boy of Chatterton's age, and because they are another clear indication of the fast growing curiosity of critics and the public regarding everything belonging to the middle ages." Chatterton's work considerably influenced the romantic poets-who were intensely interested in everything medieval.
James Macpherson (1736-96):
He was another forgerer like Chatterton, though his work was not altogether baseless. He first achieved fame with Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland and translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language which were given out to be "genuine remains of ancient Scottish poetry." Later he produced Fingal, an Epic Poem in six books(1762), and then Temora, an Epic Poem in eight books (1763). Macpherson asserted ttyat these two poems were the genuine work of a Gaelic bard of the third century, names Ossian and that he had given their literal translation in prose. His claims.provoked an acrimonious controversy as to their genuineness. "Fortunately," says Hudson, "we need not enter ihto the discussion in order to appreciate the epoch-making character of Macpherson's work. In the loosely rhythmical prose which he adopted for his so-called translations he carried to an extreme the formal reaction of the time against the classic couplet. In matter and spirit he is wildly romantic." His poems transport the reader to a new world of heroism and super-naturalism tinged with melancholy, a world which is altogether different from the spruce and reasonable world of Pope.
Thomas Gray (1716-71):
Gray was one of the most learned men of the Europe of his day. He was also a genuine poet but his poetic production is lamentably small-just a few odes, some miscellaneous poems, and the Elegy. He started his career as a strait-jacketted classicist and ended as a genuine romantic. His work, according to Hudson, is "a kind of epitome of the changes which were coming over the literature of his time." His first attempts, The Alliance of Education and Government and the ode On a Distant Prospect of Eton College were classical in spirit, and the first mentioned, even in its use of the heroic couplet. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is Gray's finest poem which earned him the praise of even Johnson who condemned most of Gray's poetry. Hudson observes about this poem: "There is, first, the use of nature, which though employed only as a background, is still handled with fidelity and sympathy i There is, next, the churchyard scene, the twilight atmosphere, and the brooding melancholy of the poem, which at once connect it...with one side of the romantic movement-the development of the distinctive romantic mood. The contrast drawn between the country and the town the peasant's simple life and 'the madding crowd's ignoble strife'-is a third particular which will be noted. Finally, in the tender feeling shown for 'the rude forefathers of the hamlet' and the sense of the human value of the little things that are written 'in the short and simple annals of the poor', we see poetry, under the influence of the spreading democratic spirit reaching out to include humble aspects of life hitherto ignored." Gray's next poems, The Progress of Poesy and The Bard, present a new conception of the poet not as a clever versifier but a genuinely inspired and prophetic genius. His last poems like The Fatal Sisters and The Descent of Odin are romantic fragments with which we step out of the eighteenth century and find ourselves in the full stream of romanticism.
William Collins (1721-59):
Collin's work is as thin in bulk as Gray's-it does not extend to much more than 1500 lines. He combines in himself the neoclassic and romantic elements, though he is not without a specific manner which is all his own. On the one hand, he provides numerous examples of poetic diction at its worst, and, on the other, he delights in the highly romantic world of shadows and the supernatural. His Ode on the Popular Superstions of the Highlandsforeshadows the world in which Coleridge delighted. He is chiefly known for his odes. To Liberty and the one mentioned above are the lengthiest of Collins' odes, but he is at his best in shorter flights. He is exquisite when he eschews poetic diction without losing his delightful singing quality. Referring to Collins, Swinburne maintains that in "purity of music" and "clarity of style" there is "no parallel in English verse from the death of Marvell to the birth of William Blake." n
William Cowper (1731-1800):
"He", says Compton-Rickett, "is a blend of the old and the new, with much of the form of the old and something of the spirit of the new. In his satires he imitated the manner of Pope, but his greatest poem The Task is all his own. It is written in blank verse and contains the famous line:
God made the country and man made the town
which indicates his love of Nature and simplicity. However, the classical element in him is more predominant than the romantic. Compton-Rickett maintains: "We shall find in his work neither the passion nor the strangeness of the Romantic school. Much in his nature disposed to shape him as a poet of Classicism, and with occasional reserves he is far more of a classical poet than a romantic. Yet throughout Cowper's work we feel from time to time a note of something that is certainly not the note of Pope or Dryden, something deeper in feeling that meets us even in Thomson, Collins, or Gray. There is a tenderness in poems like My Mother's Picture, that not even Goldsmith in his verse can quite equal; while his fresh and intimate nature pictures point to a stage in the development of poetic naturalism, more considerable than we find in Thomson and his immediate succesors."
George Crabbe (1754-1832):
He mostly continued the neoclassic tradition and was derisively dubbed as "a Pope in worsted stockings." In his poetry, which is mostly descriptive of the miseries of poor villagers, he was an uncompromising unromantic realist. He asserted
I paint the Cot  
As Truth will paint it, and as Bards will not.
He showed much concern for villagers, but he left for Wordsworth to glorify their simplicity and, even, penury. Crabbe's excessive, boldness as a realist alienates him from the polish.of the neoclassic school. However, he tenaciously adhered to the heroic couplet, even when he was a contemporary of Blake and the romantic poets.
Robert Burns (1759-95):
He was a Scottish peasant who took to poetry and became the truly national poet of Scotland. His work Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786) sky-rocketed him to fame. All these poems are imbued with the spirit of romantic lyricism in its untutored spontaneity, humour, pathos and sympathy wjth nature and her lowly creatures including the sons of the soil. Sometimes indeed Bums tries to write in the "correct" manner of the Popean school but then he becomes unimpressive and insipid. A critic observes : "Burns was a real peasant who drove the plough as he hummed his songs, and who knew all the wretchedness and joys and sorrows of the countryman's life. Sincerity and passion are the chief keys of his verse. Burns can utter a piercing lyric cry as in A Fond Kiss and then we Sever, can be gracefully sentimental as in My love is like a Red, Red Rose, can be coarsely witty as in The Jolly Beggars, but he is always sincere and passionate, and that is why his words go straight into the heart." Bums was influenced a great deal by the spirit of the French Revolution. His fellow-feeling extended even to the lower animals whom he studied minutely and treated sympathetically.
William Blake (1757-1827):
Blake was an out and out rebel against all the social, political, and literary conventions of the eighteenth century. It is with considerable inaccuracy that he can be included among the transitional poets or the precursors of the Romantic Revival, as in many ways he is even more romantic than the romantic poets! The most undisciplined and the most lonely of all poets, he lived in his own world peopled by phantoms and spectres whom he treated as more real than the humdrum realities of the physical world. His glorification of childhood and feeling for nature make him akin to the romantic poets. He is best known for his three thin volumes-Poetical Sketches (1783), Songs of Innocence (1789), and Songs of Experience (1794), which contain some of the most orient gems of English lyricism. A critic observes: "His passion for freedom was, also, akin to that which moved Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey in their earlier years, though in its later form, it came nearer to Shelley's revolt against convention. There is, indeed, an unusual degree of fellowship between these two: the imagery and symbolism, as well as the underlying spirit, of The Revolt of Islam, Alastor and Prometheus Unbound find their nearest parallel in Blake's prophetic books. Both had visions of a world regenerated by a gospel of universal brotherhood, transcending law."
Gray, Burns, and Blake: The Transitional Poets
It was the mid-eighteenth century and poets were tiring of the neoclassical ideals of reason and wit. The Neoclassic poets, such as Alexander Pope, "prized order, clarity, economic wording, logic, refinement, and decorum. Theirs was an age of rationalism, wit, and satire." (Guth 1836) This contrasts greatly with the ideal of Romanticism, which was "an artistic revolt against the conventions of the fashionable formal, civilised, and refined Neoclassicism of the eighteenth century." (Guth 1840) Poets like William, "dropped conventional poetic diction and forms in favour of freer forms and bolder language. They preached a return to nature, elevated sincere feeling over dry intellect, and often shared in the revolutionary fervour of the late eighteenth century." (Guth 589) Poets wanted to express emotion again. They wanted to leave the city far behind and travel back to the simple countryside where rustic, humble men and women resided and became their subjects. These poets, William Blake, Thomas Gray, and Robert Burns, caught in the middle of neoclassic writing and the Romantic Age, are fittingly known as the Transitional poets.
Thomas Gray transitioned these phases nicely; he kept "what he believed was good in the old, neoclassic tradition" ("Adventures" 442) but adventured forth into "unfamiliar areas in poetry." In particular, Gray brought back to life the use of the first-person singular, for example "One morn I missed him on the customed hill…" ("Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", p. 433, line 109) which had been "considered a barbarism by eighteenth century norm." (431) Thomas Gray’s poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is a wonderful example of natural settings in transitional poetry. It "reflects on the lives of common, unknown, rustic men and women, in terms of both what their lives were and what they might have been". ("English" 268) Gray is unafraid to see the poor, and emotionally illustrates how death affects their life: "For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn, / Or busy housewife ply her evening care: / No children run to lisp their sire’s return…."
However, humble settings were also readily used by Robert Burns, a Scottish poet "frequently counted wholly as a romantic poet" ("English" 281), but who’s work often makes him a more transitional as it incorporates both neoclassical and romantic verse ideals. To a Mouse, also takes place in the country, and this time the humble subject is not a man, but a lowly mouse. Using such terms as "beastie" and "Mousie" results in an affectionate tone, as the human species is emotionally weighed up against "Mousie’s" life. A common ground is found when the poet notes that "the best laid scheme o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain". This public display of emotion, such as the affection and concern for the mouse, as well as a depressing revelation that life can go wrong for all, would have been surprising to pre-romanticism readers. One of Burns most significant influences though, was his use of Scottish dialect to write his poems; it was "a great departure from the elegant and artificial diction of eighteenth-century poetry." ("Adventures" 441) His use of dialect gave the reader a sense of connection to the common man and the humble subjects of this poetry. It created a rawer, more real mood that would have been lost in the ornamental heroic couplets used by the Neoclassic writers.
William Blake is, however, arguably the most important transitional poet. As a poet he did away with the common standards of "rationality and restraint" (Guth 589), instead favouring to write using "bold, unusual symbols to elaborate the divine energies at work in the universe" in poems such as The Tyger. This poem makes use of an awe-inspiring mood, coupled with deeply universal concerns and experiences. In this case, the tiger is a symbol of the evil in mankind, and the heavy knowledge of experience that is brought with adulthood. His poems also made great use of repetition and parallelism, sometimes to gain the effect of a nursery rhyme, simple soft and sweet, as read in The Lamb: "Little Lamb God bless thee, / Little Lamb God bless thee." However, the same device also emphasises the rhetorical nature of his famous question "Tyger…what immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" which makes up both the first and last stanza of The Tyger.
The transitional poets were no longer afraid to feel and were brave men who put their hearts on paper for all to see. They expressed a simple affection for uncomplicated country life, and used such settings to make profound comments on mankind in general, death, and religion. These poets idealised the humble man, the country setting, and universal truths. It is fitting to call Gray, Burns and Blake adventurers, whose guides to new lands were their pens. They dared change through the use of unconventional devices, such as dialect, the invocation of emotions, and the egotistic use of the first person singular. These changes in verse, and the subsequent popularity, and admiration received from the public, for Gray and Burns (Blake was not appreciated until the next century) and their transitional poetry marked the beginning of the end of Neoclassicism. Now, these three poets having forged the way, it was time for the Romantics to follow.

Works Cited
Adventures in English Literature, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1996
English Literature 12: The Enlightenment Concluded, Victoria: Open School, 2000
Guth, Hans P., and Gabriele L. Rico. Ed. Discovering Literature. Toronto: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1997

Aug 31, 2017

Social & Historical Context for "Top Girls"

British Society in the Early Eighties:
How did society change for men and women from the 60s – 70s?
What were the social changes that affected women’s lives?
Many women entered the work force because they had to, financially and the 60s saw a surge in the employment of women. Many women chose to work, arguably because they felt less pressure to stay at home as the traditional role of wives, across races, began to change. People stopped endorsing the belief that women’s working was detrimental to their children and marriages and the father’s role in a child’s upbringing also began to gain importance.
 As the rate of unemployment went up, so did the rate of divorce.
The incidences of divorce in the United States more than doubled between 1970 and 1980, reaching more than one million divorces a year on some occasions. The rate of divorce also changed because the laws were changed, meaning a divorce didn’t have to be someone’s “fault”.
 “The sense of community began to flail behind that of individualism”
In the United States Mother only families made up 9% of all
families in 1960.
Where as in 1987 it was 20%
50% of all mother-only families in 1987 lived in poverty
These changes in the 60s affected the future parents of the 80s, with children raised in mother-only families more likely to drop out of secondary school, form single-parent families themselves, and live in poverty as adults, and so the cycle continues!
 After divorce in the 60s-80s, and often is still the case, women experience a marked drop in income, because they become /became their children’s primary carer, whereas males do not and often, even experience a pay increase.
  Life for men/fathers changed too. In 1988 50% of divorcee fathers had no contact with their children.
  From the 60s – 80s the childcare industry more than doubled.
  Abortion was legalised in 1967 in the UK. The limit was 28 weeks.
Today the limit on abortion is 24 weeks and an abortion can be given on the NHS, but waiting lists are long.
  Margaret Amy Pyke was a founding member of the British National Birth Control Committee (NBCC), later known as the Family Planning Association (FPA) and in 1963 she claimed there were 300 abortions a day, therefore 109,500 in the year (this was when it was illegal).
  In 2003 there were 181,600 abortions according to the Department of Health
  There is generally very little stigma assosciated with abortion these days, unlike in the 60s and 70s.
  Today abortion is often linked with  teenage pregnancy by the press, but around two thirds of abortions are those of women in their 30s, a lot of whom already have children but cannot afford/ do not want another child. – Rather than it being women who have children out of wedlock like in the 60s or women who chose their career over children like in the 80s – and Top Girls.
 How had the class structure changed by the early 80’s?
The early 80’s saw huge changes in class structure, as for several reasons the poor, lower classes became poorer, and the wealthier upper classes became even wealthier.
 One reason for which the lower classes became poorer was the mine strikes. The NCB or national coal board had plans to shut down many of the coal mines  in this country, they had in the 12 months before the 1984 strikes already closed 23 pits resulting in the loss of 21,000 miners jobs, and they planned to close even more in the five years after which would mean that 100,000 out of 184,000 miners jobs would be lost. The actions of the NCB resulted in a miners strike between 1984 and 1985 as families that already were struggling to stay afloat would be even further into poverty due to the loss of jobs.One in ten miners that had protested were arrested.
 The unemployment in Britain doubled to over three million between 1979 and 1983 which hit the working class hard.
 The characters in Top girls mostly fall into the working class, however characters such as Isabella Bird would be in the upper class.
The Swinging Sixties saw the re-kindling of female radicalism. In the United States , Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique and founded the National Organisation of Women. In Britain , a burgeoning women’s liberation movement met for the first time. This was the decade that saw the first sales of the contraceptive pill and a law that legalised abortion.
In 1965 Jean Shrimpton appeared in a mini skirt at the Melbourne Races and Twiggy set a new style for body and hair. Valentina Tereschkova became the first woman in space and in Ceylon Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman Prime Minister, with Indira Ghandi and Golda Meir following soon after.
Jocelyn Bell discovered pulsars, Dorothy Hodgkin won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry and The Women’s Football Association was founded, with 44 clubs.
In 1965, Barbara Castle was appointed Minister of Transport, becoming the first female Minister of State. In this capacity, she oversaw the introduction of seat belts and the ‘breathalyser’. Then, as Secretary of State for Employment, she paved the way for equal pay after being inspired by the women machinists at Fords of Dagenham who went out on strike for an equal wage in 1968.
 1961    The contraceptive pill goes on sale for the first time in the UK.
1965    Barbara Castle  (1910-2002) is appointed Minister of Transport, becoming the first female Secretary of State.
1967    Under the new Abortion Law, abortion in Britain under medical supervision is made legal within certain criteria.
1968    850 women machinists at Fords of Dagenham go on strike for equal pay. This paves the way for the Equal Pay act two years later.
1969    Six days before her 22nd birthday, Bernadette Devlin becomes the youngest ever member of the British parliament. 
1969    The Representation of the People Act extends the vote to all men and women over the age of 18 years.
This was the decade of feminism. Landmark books like Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics sold in their millions. Magazines like Ms and Spare Rib increasingly found their way into women’s homes and the feminist publishers Virago was launched. Nawal El Saadawi published her controversial Women and Sex, the first book to challenge the position of women in Arab society.
In 1975 several key pieces of legislation were passed. The Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in education, recruitment and advertising. The Employment Protection Act introduced statutory maternity provision and made it illegal to sack a woman because she was pregnant. The Equal Pay Act finally took effect, though it failed to encompass equal pay for work of equal value.
Self-help became a by-word as the decade progressed with women increasingly taking control of their lives with women’s refuges and rape crisis centres providing a sanctuary for women who faced violence.
On a lighter note, Annie Nightingale became Britain ‘s first woman DJ, breaking the all-male code at Radio 1; Jackie Smith flew with the Red Devils and Mary Peters triumphed in the Pentathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games. In 1978, Louise Brown made international headlines, as the first test-tube baby in the world. The decade closed with Margaret Thatcher being swept to power as Britain ‘s first woman Prime Minister. 
1970: The Equal Pay Act enshrines in law the principal of equal pay for women.
1971" On 6 March over 4000 women take part in the first women’s liberation march in London.
1972: Five formerly all-male colleges at Oxford University open their doors to women.
1972: Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe launch Spare Rib, Britain’s first feminist magazine.
1974: Contraception becomes free to women in the UK more on birth control.
1974: The Women’s Aid Federation is set up to bring together refuges for battered women that have been springing up throughout Britain. more on domestic violence
1975; Several key pieces of legislation are passed:  The Sex Discrimination Act, which came into force on 29 December 1975. This makes it illegal to discriminate against women in education, recruitment and advertising; the Employment Protection Act introduces statutory maternity provision and makes it illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant; the Equal Pay Act takes effect.
1975: Margaret Thatcher  (born 1925) is elected leader of the Conservative Party.
1976: The Equal Opportunities Commission comes into effect to oversee the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts.
1976: The Domestic Violence Act enables women to obtain a court order against their violent husband or partner.
1977: The first Rape Crisis Centre opens in London.
1979: On 4 May Margaret Thatcher is elected Britain’s first woman Prime Minister.
80s: The early 1980s saw a proliferation of women-only organisations. This was the decade of power woman with her shoulder pads and high ambitions.
Amendments to the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act established the principal of equal pay for work of equal value and allowed women to retire at the same age as men. Yet at the same time, many women began to question whether there was a “glass ceiling” as they failed to reach the top jobs in their companies and organisations.
Margaret Thatcher, quickly gained the nickname “The Iron Lady” and in 1982 showed her resolve by taking Britain into the Falklands War. Election wins in 1983 and 1987 made her one of the few prime ministers to win three successive terms. 1987 was also the year that Diane Abbot became Britain ‘s first black woman MP.
In November 1982 more than 20,000 women surrounded the Greenham Common American airbase in a protest known as “embrace the base”. They were protesting against the installation of US cruise missiles. The designer Katherine Hamnett made her own personal protest by wearing an anti-cruise missile T shirt to a meeting with Mrs T.
Jane Glover conducted at Covent Garden, Helen Chadwick was short-listed for the Turner and Kim Cotton became the country’s first surrogate mum.
1980: The 300 Group is founded by Lesley Abdela to push for equal representation of women in the House of Commons.
1982: Caryl Churchill’s feminist play Top Girls is first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
1983: Corpus Christi College, Cambridge admits women for the first time in its 630 year history.
1983: Dr Sally Ride becomes the first American woman astronaut in space on board the space shuttle Challenger.
1983: Lady Mary Donaldson becomes the first woman Lord Mayor of London.
1984: Liechtenstein give votes to women, the last country in Europe to do so.
1984: The Equal Pay Act (Equal Value Amendment) introduces equal pay for work of equal value.
1985: Kim Cotton became Britain ‘s first surrogate mother.
1986: The Sex Discrimination Act (Amendment) enables women to retire at the same age as men. It also lifts the legal restrictions which prevent women from working night shifts in factories.
1987: Diane Abbot is Britain’s first black woman MP.
00s: As the new century got underway women continued to make their mark. Olympic runner Kelly Holmes won two gold medals at the 2004 Olympic Games and Ellen MacArthur became the fastest person to sail round the world solo.  Caroline Hamilton and Ann Daniels reached the North Pole making them the first all-female team to trek to both poles.
Clara Furse  became the first female chief executive of the two-hundred-year-old London Stock  Exchange, and in politics Margaret  Beckett was the first woman to be appointed as Foreign Secretary. 
Adoption laws were updated to allow unmarried and same-sex couples to adopt children together for the first time. The Pensions White Paper looked at better and fairer financial provision for women in later life, and the first gay couple got ‘married’ as the Civil Partnership Act gave same sex couples similar legal rights to married couples.
2002: Sheila Macdonald is the first woman to become an executor of a UK high street bank, the Co-operative.
2003: The Sexual Offences Act (2003) provides new legislation against abuse by people who work with children, and updates the laws of sexual abuse within families.
2003: JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter books, became the world’s best paid author.
2004: Kelly Holmes becomes the first British 800 metre runner to win an Olympic title since 1980 and the first woman since 1964. She is also the first British runner to win two gold medals since the 1920 Olympics.
2005: Ellen MacArthur becomes the fastest person to sail single-handed around the world and at 28 years old, the youngest person to receive a damehood.
2005: Under the biggest overhaul of adoption laws in 30 years, unmarried and same-sex couples can now adopt children together for the first time more on adoption 
2005: The Civil Partnership Act (2004) brings same sex-couples similar legal rights to married couples. Two women, Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close became the first British gay couple to exchange vows at Belfast City Hall, and England’s first gay couple tie the knot in Brighton 
2006: Margaret Beckett is appointed Foreign Secretary, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

What is Capitalism? 
Capitalism is a system of free enterprise. This means that the government doesn’t interfere in the economy and every earns their own money. This system was put into power by Margaret Thatcher in the early 80s.
 Margaret Thatcher privatised many big state-owned industries such as British Gas and BT. She also became less dependent on fuel from mining and so because of the capitalists aims of making money rather than investing in the people’s needs, the people working in the mines became redundant and as a consequence, thousands of people lost their jobs.
 Capitalism refers to the money you make. There are far more private companies and self-employed people rather than state-owned businesses in a capitalist society. If you work hard, you earn more money and therefore become richer.
What is Socialism?
This is more or less opposite of capitalism. It focuses on the care of the individuals in society as opposed to focussing attentions on the money and profits. Socialism is the idea that the government should be in charge of the economic planning and distribution of money throughout society. Money in a socialist society is shared equally among the people. Therefore there are no real social classes of wealthy and poor people. Many businesses and companies are state-owned and are run by the government 
Which system is better? 
Socialism is probably the most moral system as everyone has an equal chance in life. Under socialism everyone can have some sort of job. Even if they do not want it at least it is there. Capitalism has many advantages too. The government has limited control over businesses which allows them to compete; people can pursue careers which have always dreamt of starting although this is automatically means that the poorer people can’t start their own business if they haven’t the money to begin with and it allows people to choose what they do with their money.
Links to characters in Top Girls.
Marlene: Marlene was more of a capitalist than a socialist. She was encouraged by capitalism in Thatcher’s reign and worked hard for her own money and lifestyle. Capitalism suited Marlene as she made her money by hard work. She is richer than her sister due to the system. On the other hand it has had a negative effect on her as she had to give up her child to peruse her career.
Joyce: Joyce came under the socialism sector as capitalism was only interested in the profits and not the people, and so she had to have 4 jobs in order to look after Angie. Many feminists were socialists as, because of capitalism, companies would be more inclined to hire men rather than women in the work place as men would not have to take months off work in order to have a baby. The same goes for people of a young age looking to marry and settle down.
Angie: Angie would probably not have received a good education under the capitalist system as her family couldn’t pay for a private education. This would results in her not being able to get a really high flying job as she wouldn’t have had the qualifications needed. If socialism was in place then she may have had more of an equal opportunity to succeed in getting the job she wanted.
The Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain (1960s-1970s)
 What goals had been achieved and what had not?
Women had gained the right to vote in the early 1900s, but there was still inequality in many areas.
What had women to be freed from?
Being stuck at home, not having many opportunities to go out and work. They either had to be career women or family women.
Towards what direction did the women’s liberation movement move at this point?
They were looking for equality at the workplace, and also campaigned for free contraception, abortion, and 24-hr nurseries
What was economic independence and why was it so important for women?
Economic independence is not having to depend on anyone else’s income. It was important for women because if they had it, they would have a lot more freedom to do what they want. Back then, if a couple separated, the woman would get nothing because she had come to depend on her husband’s income. Pensions were also biased towards men.
What would women do with their newly found freedom?
Women would be able to work on the same level as men and not have to be stuck at home being a housewife. They would have a lot more opportunities applying for jobs. Not only did the movement gain several vital legal concessions, they also managed to change basic attitudes in society.
What exactly did women need to be freed from in 1982?
Women needed to be freed from the patriarchal society, where men had all the top jobs.
The Women’s Liberation Movement was the force behind the feminist push for equality. Without it, women may not have been in the position we are in today.
The movement was successful in giving more privileged women a choice in life, but it is debatable as to whether women who aren’t as fortunate have that, even today.

Due to pressure from the Women’s Liberation Movement the government passed the following acts:
Equal Pay Act 1970 – equal wages for men and women
Women’s Aid Federation 1974 – provided support for women suffering from domestic violence
Sex Discrimination Act 1975 – outlawed discrimination in the workplace
Domestic Violence Act 1976 – helped women with violent partners

The main goal of feminism is complete equality of men and women, including all social, economic and political aspects.
More specific goals include ;
  • The elimination of gender based stereotypes
  • The elimination of “lookism”
  • An end to workplace discrimination
  • Equality in hiring, promotion, treatment of employees and equal treatment in all aspects of the business world.
These all are included in some way or another in “Top Girls”.
“Gender based stereotypes” – In Act 1,Caryl Churchill fights gender based stereotypes by containing characters like Isabella (the unconventional woman who has no children, marries late and spends her life travelling) , Marlene (the career woman), and Joan (someone who fights against the female stereotype by learning). However, Caryl Churchill also presents us with characters that conform to stereotypes. Joan (it is stereotypically the man who is educated, and Joan, in effect, becomes a man rather than fighting the stereotype), Nijo (a woman who lives entirely by how a man defines her) and Griselda (a woman who centres her entire life on her marriage). By containing all these characters, Churchill is making the reader question these stereotypes, one of the goals of feminism.
 “The Elimination of “lookism”” – The scenario Caryl Churchill presents us with regarding Louise is an example of “lookism”; she has been passed over several times for a job because others may dress more feminine, more professionally or more modern. Caryl Churchill here is raising the question “can you be feminine in the workplace” and is therefore questioning one of the goals of feminism. This goal also ties in with both Isabella and Joan in the first act. Isabella freely travels as a woman “and strongly disputed anything otherwise.” where as Joan feels the need to become a man. Again, Caryl Churchill raises questions to the reader about whether “lookism” can ever really be diminished completely.
 “Equality in hiring, promotion and treatment of employees” – This is another situation where Caryl Churchill presents circumstances which both support and contradict a feminist goal. By Churchill choosing to promote Marlene over Howard, she could be trying to support this goal, however the introduction of Mrs Kidd, Howard’s wife could be showing that not everyone agrees with feminism.
Feminist Role Models within “Top Girls”:  In Act 3, the audience is presented with two different female role models; Marlene and Joyce. Marlene could be seen as a feminist role model – fighting against her female stereotype, and fighting for equality in the workplace where as Joyce is exactly the opposite, giving into her female stereotype of “mother”. During the scene, Marlene is often portrayed negatively – does this mean that Caryl Churchill disagrees with feminism?
Feminist Writers / Famous Feminists
  • Simone de Beauvoir
  • Betty Friedan – “The Feminist Mystique”
  • Germaine Greer
  • Virginia Woolf
History of Feminism
Split up into 2 (sometimes 3) “waves”
First-wave feminism refers to a period of feminist activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the United Kingdom and the United States. It focused primarily on gaining the right of women’s suffrage. In Britain, the Suffragettes campaigned for the women’s vote, which was eventually granted − to some women in 1918 and to all in 1928 − as much because of the part played by British women during the First World War, as of the efforts of the Suffragettes.
Second-wave feminism dealt with inequalities of laws and cultural inequalities. There was a large following of feminism in the 60’s. The 1980’s was a “crisis point” for feminism – focus was shifted onto academic issues, such as studying and having a career, which meant a decline in political feminism, such as passing equality laws. In the 1980’s, a woman named Gloria Watkins began to criticize the lack of unity within the feminist movement, and throughout the early 80’s especially, feminism was attacked.
Second-wave feminism often runs into third-wave, which is simply trying to continue feminist theories, and trying to fix any problems that arose during the second-wave. Third-wave feminism also tries to challenge the criticisms that arose during the 80’s.
FEMINISM: Most feminist historians say that all movements that work to overturn gender inequality and obtain women’s rights should be considered feminist movements.
Feminism includes, in the broad sense of the word, men and women acting, speaking and writing on women’s actions and rights and identifying social injustice in the status quo.
First Wave Feminism (Before 1982):
Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century.
Focused mainly on absolute rights, especially the gaining of women’s right to vote. The right to vote was eventually granted to some women in 1918 and to all in 1928.
Suffrage was one of the most fundamental struggles of women; not having the right to vote clearly marked them as second-class citizens.
In the Edwardian era, women’s rights were dominated by increasing clamour for political reform and votes for women. Emmeline Pankhurst said that women’s votes were seen no longer “a right, but a desperate necessity.”
The protests got gradually more vigorous, leading to arson in 1914.
A member of the suffragettes, Emily Davison, also sacrificed herself under the king’s horse on Derby day.
Earlier campaigns -> Married Women’s Property Act 1882
Campaign to repeal The Contagious Diseases Act of 1864, 1866 and 1869, which was labelled as a misuse of police power.
In 1800, women had little control over their lot in life. Higher education was off-limits.

The Second Great Awakening, which started in 1790, emphasized emotional experience over dogma, allowing women more leadership opportunities outside of the home
After the passage of the 19th Amendment, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, spearheaded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was disbanded. The League of Women Voters and National Women’s Party took its place. But three years after women won the vote, suffragist and feminist factions split over Alice Paul’s introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to Congress. The proposed amendment, which read, “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex,” alienated some women who feared that its passage would undermine legal protection granted to women and children.
From that point in the early 1920s until the 1960s, feminism seemed to stall. But that didn’t mean that subtle changes had stopped taking place. For instance, during World War II, more women than ever joined the workforce, assuming industrial and military jobs previously reserved for men. Higher education had become a more viable option as well, and the number of female college graduates was rising. Then, when the troops came home, American women’s culture experienced a return to domesticity. Many women continued to work outside the home, but career options were restrictive with gender-specific job postings. Women had won the vote but not cultural independence
Late 1960s – new activism ushered in by student activity surrounding the war and civil rights movement and older women’s dissatisfaction with domestic restrictions and workplace discrimination.
In contrast to first-wave feminism, the movement during the 1970s benefitted from the involvement of far more organizations, encompassing a broad spectrum of political beliefs and ideologies.
Defining texts of this generation of Feminism
The Female Eunuch
Written by Germaine Greer and first published in 1970, The Female Eunuch became an international bestseller and a prominent text in the Feminist movement, part of the second feminist wave. The book is a feminist analysis, written with a mixture of polemic and scholarly research.
When it was first published, it created a “shock-wave” of recognition in women that could be felt around the world, emphasising that sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation. Greer looks at the inherent and unalterable biological differences between men and women as well as at the profound psychological differences that result from social conditioning.
The Second Sex
The Second Sex is one of the best-known works of the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir. It is a work on the treatment of women throughout history and often regarded as a major work of feminist literature. She weaves together history, philosophy, economics, biology, and a host of other disciplines to show women’s place in the world and to postulate on the power of sexuality.
“One day, I wanted to explain myself to myself… and it struck me with sort of surprise that the first thing I had to say was ‘I am a woman.’”- Simone de Beauvoir
The first wave fought and gained the right for women to vote. The second wave struggled to obtain the right for women to have access and equal opportunity to the workforce, as well as ending of legal sex discrimination.

Why was Thatcher the archetypal Top Girl?
Thatcher’s father, a Methodist who was active in local politics, ran a grocery shop and she grew up in a flat. By earning scholarships, she got in to a Grammar School and then Oxford university. After university, she became the youngest ever female Conservative candidate in Dartford and climbed the political ranks until she became Prime Minister in 1979.
Thatcher didn’t have natural academic brilliance or a privileged background. Instead she was ambitious and worked very hard and was completely dedicated to the goals she set herself. Young and without experience and female, she started out as an underdog and throughout her political career worked doubly hard to prove that she was equal to her colleagues, until at last, being Prime Minister, she was better than them. She was, literally, the Top Girls
Thatcher especially seemed to feel pressured to compensate for her gender. She was unwavering in her views and notoriously ruthless to those she saw as opposing her, as famously illustrated in the miners’ strike. She was bossy and authoritarian in her leadership of the Cabinet, dominating the male MPs. Behaving with so little regard for others’ feelings or opinions is generally unusual for women. Similarly, her aggressive embracing of Capitalism and the interests of the individual were more akin to male independence then female social mindedness. Thatcher definitely denied her gender; further, she could be seen as pretending to be male.
How did her leadership affect the lives of British women?
Because the Labour Party’s support was based on the extremely men dominated unions, at the time, the Conservative Party were actually ahead with women’s issues.
Thatcher didn’t campaign for women’s issues in any way, but her acts against the unions helped to dismantle the model of men working full time and women not working at all. Also, her promotion of entrepreneurship over manual labour helped to get women into the workplace because the concerns of their generally lower physical strength and their entering into a macho culture were less pronounced in this sector.
What kind of role model did she provide for British women?
Thatcher provided a template of a woman who made it in a man’s world by being more ‘masculine’ than the men with whom she was in competition. She is often described as the pioneer of ‘power dressing’. She took great care in her appearance and used it to express her values. She almost always wore suits with shoulder pads, usually made from blue material that was made in Britain. The suit gave her a sharper, more masculine silhouette; blue was the colour of the Conservatives; and the origin symbolises her nationalistic tendencies. This, along with her behaviour, implied to women that appearing ‘strong’ ie masculine was one of the most central values and essential for anyone who wanted to get to the top.
Margaret Thatcher was marred to businessman Denis Thatcher, and they had twins, a boy, Mark, and a girl, Carol. Interestingly, although Mark was less intelligent and renowned for his playboy lifestyle, Thatcher has always seemed to favour him over Carol. However, for Thatcher, her career always came before her family.
Thatcher had a sister, Muriel, 4 years older than her. Whereas Margaret was closer to her father, Muriel was closer to her mother, who ‘didn’t like the limelight’. Her husband was originally going out with Margaret. After she married, she gave up her job. You can see how this inspired the relationship between Marlene and Joyce.
Margaret Thatcher was presented by the media as a fascist tyrant, masculine and aggressive.
Thatcher’s father, a Methodist who was active in local politics, ran a grocery shop and she grew up in a flat. By earning scholarships, she got in to a Grammar School and then Oxford university. After university, she became the younger ever female Conservative candidate in Dartford, and climbed the political ranks until she became Prime Minister in 1979.
In Top Girls, Marlene comes from a humble background – her father ‘worked in the fields like an animal’ (p84)
Thatcher was clever but not naturally brilliant, or from a privileged background. Instead she was ambitious and worked very hard, and was completely dedicated to the goals she set herself. Young, modestly off, without experience and female, she started out as an underdog and throughout her political career worked doubly hard to prove that she was equal to her colleagues, until at last, being Prime Minister, she was, ostensibly, better than them. She was, literally, the Top Girl.
Similarly, Marlene is clever and driven by her ambition to work hard and climb the career ladder, e.g., she’s ‘appointed managing director instead of Howard’ (p58)
Thatcher especially seemed to feel pressured to compensate for her gender. She was unwavering in her views and notoriously ruthless to those she saw as opposing her, as famously illustrated in the miners’ strike. She was bossy and authoritarian in her leadership of the Cabinet, dominating the (male) MPs. Behaving with so little regard for others’ feelings or opinions is generally unusual for women. Similarly, her aggressive embracing of capitalism and the interests of the individual were more akin to male independence than female social-mindedness. Thatcher definitely denied her gender; further, she could be seen as pretending to be male.
            As well as the extreme example of Pope Joan, Win, Nell and Marlene display traits usually associated with men. Win and Nell take pride in lack of emotion, talking dispassionately about male collegues (‘[your heart’s] tender like old boots’ p47) and relationships/marriage (‘playing house’ p48).
            Marlene especially seems to distance herself from her femininity. She has ‘more balls than Howard’ (p46); she’s a ‘ballbreaker’ (p59). She abandons Angie and family life so she can pursue her career: she ‘doesn’t want to talk about gynacology’ (p81).
How did her leadership affect the lives of British women?
Because the Labour Party’s support was based on the extremely men-dominated unions, at the time, the Conservative Party were actually ahead with women’s issues.
Thatcher did not campaign for women’s issues in any way, but her acts against the unions helped to dismantle the model of men working full-time and women not working at all. Also, her promotion of entrepreneurship over manual labour helped to get women into the workplace because the concerns of their generally lower physical strength and their entering into a macho culture were less pronounced in this sector.
What kind of role model did she provide for British women?
Thatcher provided a template of a woman who made it in a man’s world by being more ‘masculine’ than the men with whom she was in competition.
She is often descried as the pioneer of ‘power dressing’. She took great care in her appearance and used it to express her values. She almost always wore suits with shoulder pads. The suit gave her a sharper, more masculine silhouette.  This, along with her behaviour, implied to women that appearing ‘strong’ (that is, masculine) was one of her most central values, and essential for anyone who wanted to get to the top.
Marlene feels that Thatcher is a leading light who demonstrated what a woman can be. She admires her and feels a sense of camaraderie with her. (‘She’s a tough lady, Maggie. I’d give her a job’ p84)
Thatcher dismissed things like poverty and claimed that they were the problems of individuals, not society. In this way she suggested that sensible women should, like men, take care of themselves first rather than the needs of those around them.
If Marlene represents a woman who has tried to follow Thatcher’s example, Joyce represents one who is skeptical of the model of womanhood that Thatcher stands for.
‘[The working class] doesn’t exist any more’ (p85)
‘[Angie’s] stupid, lazy and frightened. What about her?’ (p86)
Churchill is making the audience question Thatcher’s values and what they will mean for women and for society.

“What Britain needs is an Iron Lady””
How did her leadership affect the lives of ordinary British Women?
  1. A supporter of Gender equality. Although Thatcher didn’t campaign for women’s issues in any way, she felt very passionate about sexual discrimination and complained often.
  2. The Equal Pay Act as we know it may have been passed under her tenure (in 1984), but it was an amendment of the original 1970 act.
  3. Through her acts against the unions she helped to dismantle the model of men working full time and women not working at all.
  4. Her promotion of entrepreneurship over manual labour helped to get women into the workplace because the concerns of their generally lower physical strength and their entering into a macho culture were less pronounced in this sector. 
  5. She expanded other women’s horizons and did much to break down bigotry about women’s work she was able to generate a greater awareness than any previous Prime Minister for gender equality and social justice
How was her leadership characterised at the time?
  • The system of political thought or leadership in which she and her government possessed has been characterised as “Thatcherism”. It involves less state intervention and more marked economy, the privatisation of state owned industries, lower direct taxes with higher indirect taxes that put poorer families at a disadvantage.
  • Thatcherism is the “distinctive ideology, political style and programme of polices of the British Conservative Party after Margaret Thatcher was elected leader in 1975”.

Was Thatcher seen as the end result in the advance in feminism?
  • Thatcher was by no means the end result in the advance in feminism because she sparked a lot of other women to be independent and powerful.
  • Women after and during Thatcher’s stint of prime minister were seen taking risks such as wearing trousers and going for more typically male jobs, such as becoming business women etc.
What kind of a model did she provide for British women?
  • Margaret Thatcher was also known as ‘The iron lady’.
  • She was a strong, independent woman and therefore taught many other women to follow her lead.
  • She represented power, ambition and ruthlessness; many aspired to be just like her. 
Equal Opportunities Legislation
The Equal Pay Act
Equal treatment, in respect of pay, terms of contract and employment, must be given to men and women doing the same or broadly similar work.
A man and woman working for the same employer should receive the same pay and be subject to the same contractual terms if:
  • they are doing similar work; or
  • there has been a job evaluation scheme and the specified work has been rated as equivalent; or
  • they are doing work of equal value;
Unless the employer can prove that the variation in pay is genuinely due to a material factor which is not the difference in sex.
The Sex Discrimination Act
This Act requires that employers do not discriminate, either directly or indirectly, between men and women, or married and unmarried people, in recruitment or in any other way in their treatment of employees.
The Sex Discrimination Act (amendment) also:
  • Granted individuals the right to employment tribunals, which, if successful could result in them receiving compensation.
  • Established the Equal Opportunities Commission to help enforce the legislation, promote equal opportunities and provide information and advice.
  • Enabled women to retire at the same age as men.
  • Lifted the legal restrictions which prevented women from working night shifts in factories.
  • Despite the legislation, throughout the 1980s and up until today, women are still paid significantly less than men for the same work.
  • Women still only earn 80% of average full-time male hourly earnings, while the adult male average income is almost twice that of women.
Women’s Careers in the 1980s
  • In the mid 1980s, the phrase “glass ceiling” was coined and has since become an established part of our vocabulary. The glass ceiling refers to an invisible but impermeable barrier that limits the career advancement of women.
  • Employers were, and still are, reluctant to employ women due to the assumption that single women are subject to harassment and security issues; married women have a husband and family to cope with and those with children present even further obstacles to successful mobility and career development.
  • Women’s jobs mainly included typists and secretaries.
  • During the last two decades, women have made progress: there are now more women in senior-level executive jobs, more female CEOs, and more women on corporate boards of directors.
  • However, real progress has been slow with only small increases.
Legislation alone, it seems, was unable to bridge the gap between men and women in the work place. Employers still saw women as inadequate and unreliable due to family responsibilities, which inhibited their career progress and for this reason, women were still not treated equally to their male colleagues.
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