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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Cranky Ladies Of History Anthology


Dear readers,

Yesterday I received the following email from Tehani Wessely, the publisher of Fablecroft Publishing, former colleague at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, teacher-librarian, judge of several book awards, etc, etc, etc.... If you want to know more about er, she has been interviewed on The Great Raven here

But meanwhile, here's her latest project and I do urge you all to support it.

Hi everyone

It's been a very busy few weeks on the Cranky Ladies front! We are VERY excited to have been approved for the Arts Tasmania Crowbar grant, that means if our Pozible campaign is successful, we will receive an extra $2,000 for the project! 

We fire up the campaign on Saturday, and as part of that, I'm emailing to invite you to be part of the Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. 

Participating is easy! Simply blog about your favourite cranky lady of history and let me know the link -- we will add it to the Blog Tour page at FableCroft, and retweet and Facebook all posts we receive. If you are willing to link directly to the Pozible campaign and/or discuss the anthology, that would be really appreciated, but please don't feel obligated to do so -- the links are below, if you would like to. You are also welcome to use our wonderful Cranky Ladies of History logo, designed by the marvellous Amanda Rainey. 

If you would prefer, we're also delighted to host guest posts on the FableCroft site, or submit a guest post of our own to you -- just let us know and we happy to oblige :)

Our blog tour is running from March 1 to 31 March (or a little later, to allow for the rest of the world to catch up!), so please make your post/s during the month -- if you've got multiple favourite ladies, multiple posts are encouraged! 

If you'd like to check out this campaign, the details are below.

As the author of a book about women in science, my main problem is who to choose from a large list! 

I'm currently working on my submission for this anthology, though I hear the competition is fierce, so I may not make it, fingers crossed for me! If I don't make it, I have no idea where else to sell a historical short story; I may have to add fantasy elements so I can submit it to a spec fic market. ;-)

The woman I chose for my story is Dr "James Barry", real name Margaret Bulkley, a woman who only got a paragraph or two in my "Did You Knows?" I had considered Rosalind Franklin, the real discoverer of the double helix, who was beaten to publication by Watson, Crick and Wilkins(only Wilkins mentioned her when thy went to pick up their Nobel Prize) who, at one stage, were working on the idea of a triple helix! She certainly qualified as cranky. 

In the end, I dropped it, as the whole story makes me too angry to write well, and began my research on a woman who was much more colourful and definitely cranky! One man, Josias Cloete, who told the disguised woman that "he" rode "like a girl" was challenged to a duel(nobody was hurt seriously and the two became lifelong friends). He wasn't the only man to face a duel with the cranky, diminutive doctor.

Margaret Bulkley, Dr Barry, has been claimed by the gay community and the transgender community, and who knows? One of them might be right; we're unlikely ever to find out. 

I haven't used either idea; when her body was laid out for burial, the maid, Sophia, said that not only was the deceased a woman, but one who had given birth, sneering at the notion that she might have been a hermaphrodite. So there would have been at least one man in her life, who knew what she was. And given that she had a (Jamaican-born) valet, Dantzen, for over forty years, I would be very surprised if he didn't know. I don't think he was the father of her child(and what happened to it?) but I have had an idea about him, strictly fictional, and the story is told from his viewpoint.

We don't know exactly how old Margaret Bulkley was when she started studying medicine at Edinburgh university. She was probably older than the fourteen year old boy she was posing as, but had to pretend, because she had no face hair, after all. In fact, for some time she had trouble being taken seriously precisely because everyone thought James Barry was so young. 

It is likely that her family supported her; her mother travelled with Margaret, saying "he" was her nephew; the daughter was declared dead.

I'm not going into a huge amount of detail here, but the fact is, she got away with her disguise till the end of her life. And she was only found out then because her request to be buried in the clothes she had died in was ignored. She was buried under her male name and the whole story hushed up by the army for a century, as too embarrassing.  With no Internet in those days, I would imagine that not many people had access to the newspapers in which the story was revealed anyway.

She was short, cranky and brilliant. As an army surgeon, she travelled around a lot and, among other things, performed the first caesarean in South Africa - possibly the first ever - in which mother and baby both survived; the child was named James Barry after the doctor who delivered him. Her hospitals were clean; one reason why "Dr Barry" didn't get a knighthood on retirement may have been "his" public embarrassment of that saint, Florence Nightingale, for keeping a filthy hospital. 

When reading about her, I couldn't help thinking of Agnodike, an Athenian girl who disguised as a man to study medicine. Agnodike was so successful with female patients, in a society enclosed for women(many were dying rather than let a male doctor see them), that jealous husbands claimed "he" was seducing their wives and she had to confess who she was to avoid conviction on that score. Due to the support of her female patients, she was allowed to live and continue her practice, though only women. James Barry flirted a lot with women and faced similar anger, though at one stage, she and the Capetown Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, were accused of having a homosexual affair, which would have meant a death sentence if they were convicted. Fortunately, she didn't have to give away her gender to survive that charge! 

Anyway, I mean to finish the story and re-check my research before submitting. The trouble with writing historical fiction is that you have to get right not only the historical facts, but the social ones and my area of knowledge is the Middle Ages, not the nineteenth century. 

Fingers crossed for me, everyone, and do support the campaign; small press in Australia is doing a wonderful job of producing materials large presses won't risk. Science fiction, for example - any SF published here is likely to be small press because the big ones stick to fat fantasy trilogies. Short historical fiction? Not much.

Wishing Fablecroft all the best!


Satima Flavell said...

What a fascinating story, Sue! Would you believe I had never heard of Dr Barry? Thanks for the enlightenment!

Sue Bursztynski said...

I hadn't heard of her either till I was researching Potions To Pulsars: Women doing science, and there was't much around in that early-Internet era! These days you just need to Google her to get plenty of hits. I also bought an ebook called Wild Women with a chapter about her.

Satima Flavell said...

I'm really looking forward to the anthology!

Sue Bursztynski said...

So am I - especially if I have a story in it! ;-) Unlikely, seeing some of the big, big names on their list and they have enough submissions for four anthologies, but you never know.