Monday, November 2, 2009

What's a Bluestocking, Anyway?

In case you've been wondering, a bluestocking is "an educated, intellectual woman," according to that fount of all things encyclopedic, Wikipedia. Since I like the way the entry is worded, I'll continue to quote: "Such women are stereotyped as being frumpy and the reference to blue stockings refers to the time when woolen worsted stockings were informal dress, as compared with formal, fashionable black silk stockings. The term originated with the Blue Stockings Society -- a literary society founded by Elizabeth Montagu in the 1750s. This provoked derogatory usage in the late 18th century, specifically in reference to women. . . ." You can read the entire entry, should you so desire, here. Take particular note of William Hazlitt's charming description of a bluestocking that appears in the entry. What a gentleman!'

So what I've been wondering is: if I call myself a bluestocking, why don't I talk about books on my blog? Am I really a bluestocking, or just a mere dilettante (as defined in number 2 of Merriam-Webster's online)? I'd like to think I'm the real deal, except for the frumpy, odious, egg yolk stuff.

If time spent reading is an indicator, then I'm golden. I read all the time. I read instead of doing other things, like watch TV or clean my house. I've been known to shush my children if they interrupt me at a really good part. (Just so you'll know, if it were a real emergency, I would stop reading and attend to my children. But it never is. Someone just wants something. As per usual.)

I'm in a book club. Check! I used to be in two book clubs, but discovered, what with Girl Scout service unit meetings, neighborhood Bible study, and church every Wednesday, that I needed to cut back on my evening meetings. So one book club had to go.

If I'm without a book to read, I get this nervous, twitchy feeling. I prefer to have two or three lined up before I've finished the one I'm reading.

And speaking of "one I'm reading," I'm often reading more than one at a time. Is this a tad excessive? Or is it normal?

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but I'm a book snob. It took me years to read any Harry Potters because if everyone thinks they're fabulous, they can't be. Right? (I've since read all seven. Twice.) But there have been plenty of books I've read upon recommendation that I could hardly tolerate. And that's okay.

All this to say: I don't consider reading a hobby. Reading is truly a huge part of who I am. I'm a Reader (capitalized on purpose). I've been thinking lately about what that means, to be a Reader. I have some ideas, but they are still percolating. More on this to come.


  1. I first encountered this delicious term, aged I should think about 6. My parents were very careful never to argue 'devant les enfants' giving us a somewhat unhealthy formative view of relationships, in which strained silences and gritted teeth featured prominently.
    However, on one memorable occasion, my fathers sang froid was heated a little by mother's continually comparing me to my loathed cousin, 'Judith Darby' and finding me wanting.
    Judith Darby was not in fact my cousin, but the daughter of family friends, Edna, who was thin lipped and withering, and Eric, who was disabled and wore a leg iron, and with whom my mother undoubtedly flirted.
    She was called 'Judith Darby' because my sister is called Judith, not that anyone ever called her that except my mother, she is universally known as Jude, but anyway, it was to distinguish her from the lesser mortal who was my sister.
    Judith Darby, if my mother was to be believed, learned Greek, played the piano wonderfully, was going to go to university, and had, furthermore, made an entire ZOO from origami.
    My own efforts, on the other hand were slow and displeasing. Maybe Judith Darby's acidic mother helped her with her blasted origami rather than criticising her all the time, who knows, but my tongue pinchingly best effort at making a paper Nativity (no one had taught me origami, and I was only six, remember) ended up in a telling off for making a mess.
    'Why, oh why' uttered my mother, through a martyr's teeth 'can you not be more like Judith Darby?'

    In one of his many appearances as my knight in shining armour, my father, breaking all the rules for once, changed sides.

    'Why on earth would you want to be like her?' he twinkled at me, roguishly, and then, to seal the pact, he raised his voice, to reach as far as the flounced into kitchen and boomed 'Judith Darby? Judith Darby is... is a BLUE STOCKING'

    And that settled it.

  2. Since my dear friend Ellen is a self confessed bluestocking, and a delightful person not even slightly like the dreaded Judith Darby, I might add that my next encounter with the word was probably some 12 years later, when my beloved English master, the wonderful BDL Jackson, found me with my nose in 'Testament of Youth' by Vera Brittain - 'Ah' he breathed 'The archetypal bluestocking, heroine and radical. Good stuff'.
    And he was right, and those three books, the Testaments of Youth, Experience and Friendship, were life changing.
    Just thinking about them makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, I have not read them since - I wonder, dare I?

  3. Jackie, this is hysterical! You've got to post this on your blog.

  4. ha! I already did - I rambled on so long on your comments, I thought I might as well use the whole sorry tale on my own blog :0)

  5. I became so entranced with Jackie's story here that I have nearly forgotten what the comment was I wanted to leave. Ah yes...

    Since I learned to read, I have never been without at least one book. I don't go places without a book (and a bottle of water because I used to live in the desert) and I am always reading several books at a time. Always. When we were selling our last house, someone who came to see it commented on their being books in every room. They were dumbfounded. I was, therefore, briefly reminded that other people don't live this way. When I go into the homes of others where there are no books, I am become disoriented.

    And I still haven't read all of Harry Potter and probably won't so I guess I see your "snobbishness" about books and raise you one!

  6. And if I may, I will leave a small book related story. When I was in 9th grade, I figured I might need a book on the last day of school so I left the copy of Moby Dick I was reading in my locker. This volume was one of those leather bound, gold leaf decorated, built in bookmarked beauties that was part of a set of books of my father's.

    Later that afternoon of the second to last day of school, a storm came in. It became Hurricane Agnes. It moved the Chemung River to its old course and then flooded the entire valley. From the hill where we lived, I watched a three story apartment building go under water.

    Well, there never was a last day of school that year and later I came to find out that Moby Dick was lost in the flood. Painful for my father at the time but kind of hilarious at this distance of years.

  7. Hi and thanks for your comments! Although I was sad to hear of the loss of Moby, the method was very apropos. Happy reading!


I love reading comments! And I appreciate the time you take to leave them. Thanks!