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Waiting at the cross-roads...

Yes, having decided to allow myself the luxury of some time off writing my Mary Burns story, I have begun to see more clearly my processes of blocks. The last block I had, to do with an older woman character in the book, to whom I had unwittingly given the star role in order to mediate Mary's story as I had originally thought would be in-credible to give an apparently illiterate character her own direct voice, was cleared up when I pushed her into the background and gave Mary the rightful star role. This block was cleared when I dealt with a similiar situation in my own life. This current block comes as Mary is about to meet Fred! So. I'm not even going to begin to unravel that one just yet, but the main question is how do they meet? Do they flirt or fight? It is said that Mary was 'selling oranges' in the Hall of Science and Fred was a regular visitor to such places. Fred Engels also seemed to like women who sold 'oranges'. I had taken the selling oranges quite literally but then discovered that it meant selling the fruits of one's body. Was she, then, a prostitute in between working at the factory? It seems that it was more than likely, yet, far from it marking her descent, it marked her ascent. Prostitution in the nineteenth century was a topic that sparked obsession amongst reformers and commentators who feared the blatant lack of 'morality', their obsession with it says more about them, and their need to suppress the 'danger', than it does about those who were engaged in it. Look at Dickens, the women who resort to it - Nancy in Oliver Twist and whateverhernameis in Hard Times, both are conveniently killed off, to purgatory/hell with them to beg the Great Patriarchal God the Father for salvation! Dickens was one of these self-labelled reformers (the arrogance of thinking that one can 'reform' anyone else!) - a flaneur who would stop and talk to the girls of the night in order to 'save' them! Likely story! There still remains within nineteenth century studies the notion that once these girls and women 'entered' prostitution they were on a downward spiral. Yet many of these girls and women 'dipped in and out' (pardon the pun) of this convenient, albeit 'unwholesome' way of making money, in between their casual factory employment and, far from it being for many a downward spiral, it no doubt proved for many to be a last resort life-saver that kept them going until their next bit of drudgery. Actually, as I write this, I suddenly feel the block, in my mind at least if not yet on paper, begin to dissolve. The question, 'how to begin', is beginning to be answered. Giving time to brew can be so frustrating for those who just want to 'get on with it', it also involves risk - the issue of trust in one's own process is key. The process of writing is such a rich, internal journey. It reminds me just why I have always been drawn to literature - the psychological potential is immense. Here's an interesting article in the Times Higher Education by George Watson on how some people study literature to 'discover themselves' and that the process can be painful, but the outcome can be 'nebulous'. I have to say that so far my own outcomes with the study of literature, including the study of my own writing practices, (after all one's own works-in-progress are also 'literature') has been anything but nebulous. Jung thought that literature that described itself as psychological were often the least interesting for psychological delineatory purposes, instead opting for the 'dime store' detective paperbacks that were unconsciously going about their stories. It is more interesting to look when something isn't looking for attention.

Today I also received a lovely email out of the blue from a writer friend who said to keep going, which I was so touched by because it was so needed. So. Onwards. Until the next block.

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Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

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