Have I got a muse for you!
Adam Gopnik in the latest issue of The New Yorker has written a brilliant piece on Reeves' biography of John Stuart Mill 'Victorian Firebrand'. Halfway through he highlights the role played by his married lover Harriet Taylor who was more than a match for him, despite his celebrated intelligence being of the force-fed variety and hers not. Taylor had married and borne two children to the 'slow-witted' pharmacist John Taylor and one can only imagine how many, too many, women's potentials went to such horrific waste. Those like Taylor were lucky in that they met men from whom they could spark their own abilities. It is something I am thinking a lot about these days because of the next book I have planned - and have been researching in bits and drabs over the past few years. It is a book that will by necessity novelise the life of the long-term partner and 'hidden common-law wife' of a great thinker. This woman, I shall call her 'M' for now, was politically active, socially driven and led her partner to writing much about the issues she had grown up with, issues that he is still remembered for whilst she has remained both unseen and unheard. Some would say that it's only natural that she would remain absent as she could neither read or write. So we are told. Lots of people were illiterate a hundred and fifty years ago, it doesn't mean that they were any the less clever. I had lunch with a friend yesterday, a clever man from whom I have learnt much more than I would openly credit him with, and I told him about this project and he nodded and said 'so she was his muse' and I said 'yes' and silently and immediately resented the automatic labelling of her like that which amounts to nothing more than putting her in a box marked 'tad inspirational' when it is clear, to me, that she was so much more. Then he suddenly said 'why did he not teach her to read and write?' and it threw me. I had been so occupied with every other question that this simple, and embarrassingly obvious question that also sheds light on their entire relationship, had been overlooked. Why would a world renowned thinker and man who claimed to be so much for social equality and justice, fail to teach his partner to read and write and thus propel her innate intelligence and even enable her to find her own public voice? Maybe he did and we simply don't know about it and she chose not to write anything? Yet by all (scant) accounts she didn't because she couldn't. My job will be to prove she was much more than just male appendage of 'muse', even if it means casting him in a less brighter light.