Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington

If ever a woman wanted a champion, it is obviously Laetitia Pilkington. --Virginia Woolf

Laetitia Pilkington was my constant companion in Ireland because I packed her memoirs to be my main read on our trip. And how appropriate, because she was Irish. (I know, WHEN am I going to shut up about Ireland?  Right after this post, I promise.)

Laetitia Pilkington (1709-1750)

Mrs. Pilkington's memoirs caught my notice after reading about them in Virginia Woolf's Common Reader.   She was born into a respectable upper middle class Dublin family with aristocratic connections.  In her teens, she caught the eye of Matthew Pilkington, a young clergyman who courted her, although without the support of Laetitia's parents.  Or so she says, but then reports being rushed into a marriage with him.  One wonders if Laetitia is entirely a reliable narrator.  

Anyway, they settled down into what appears to be a charming domestic life.  Laetitia and Matthew were both diminutive in stature and they occupied a little house in Dublin with a sweet little garden and a tiny summerhouse in the back.  (I tried to find it in Dublin, but could find no clue online as to what the address may have been.)  They were friends with Jonathan Swift and Laetitia appears to have been the model wife, as she describes herself as "always breeding."  Five tranquil years passed.

Unfortunately it wasn't a good idea in the 1700s to be smarter than one's husband. Because of her quick wit, talent for verse, and ability to provide a snappy answer, she became a great favorite of Jonathan Swift.  One suspects that Matthew became disgruntled over being outshined by his wife's wit.  And here the marriage breaks down.  Matthew spends some time in London and Laetitia takes it upon herself to visit him there and discovers she isn't wanted.  I won't go into all the details.  It suffices to say that Matthew Pilkington turns out to be a right shit.

Here's another thing about the 1700's:  if you end up divorced because your husband has accused you of infidelity, men will just show up at your house and think you're going to have sex with them on the spot.  You're officially a whore now.  (Her former friend Jonathan Swift called her "the most profligate whore in either kingdom.")

Was Laetitia Pilkington unfaithful to her husband?  Her side of the story is that she wanted to borrow a book from a gentleman, who wouldn't part with it, so she was forced to stay in his bedroom late into the night, reading the book to its end.  At any rate, Matthew was certainly unfaithful to Laetitia.

Anyway, there she was, divorced, penniless, homeless, and in the late stages of pregnancy. All she had were her wits, which she used to her advantage, eventually moving to London and earning a meagre living selling her poems to gentlemen who then passed them off as their own.  This isn't a super stable way to support oneself, and Laetitia becomes more and more distressed, going without food, moving into a progression of cheaper apartments and eventually, prison.

The book reads like a long catalog of all the ways that people suck, but it's not entirely hopeless.  You have to hand it to Laetitia, she had spirit. For a woman in her time and situation, the only available path to survival was prostitution, and she managed to use her brains and hang on, though barely, to respectability.  That was a triumph. 

A note about the book:  It's not particularly easy to find, although UVA's Alderman library has a copy.  When I went to the library, it wasn't on the shelf, which was a huge disappointment.  I almost resorted to google books, but returned to the library to search again. I suspected that it was simply misshelved.  I will often find books that are off by just a few places.  I worked as a library "page" in high school and one of my responsibilities was "reading" the shelves and putting all the books in proper Library of Congress order.  My grandmother was a librarian and my mother was an activist on behalf of public libraries, so I'm really into libraries and rely on them for most of what I read.  Anyway, on this second trip to the library, I searched more thoroughly and found Laetitia!  She was more than a few places away from the correct spot.  She wasn't even on the wrong shelf, but in an entirely wrong bookcase.  Now, when I return it, she'll be shelved correctly and others will be able to find her.  On the OCD satisfaction meter, this scores at about a 10,000 for me.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Ireland wrap up

Our first trip to Ireland was a great introduction, and I'm really grateful that we got a chance to travel there but there's so much we didn't see, I'm already planning what we'll do on our next visit.

I didn't realize that Ireland is such a paradise for hikers.  When we go back, we'll pack hiking gear, drive out to the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula and get a boat out to Skellig Michael and climb its stairs.  I considered doing it for this trip, but we didn't have time, and it turns out they were filming Star Wars on it while we were in Ireland, so I imagine tourists were banned. We could see the island from Dingle and Beara.  So near and yet so far!

After Skellig Michael, we'd drive to Dingle and take the ferry to Great Blasket Island and do the 6.5 km hike around the island and perhaps some of the other Dingle hiking loops.  From Dingle, we'd take the Tarbent ferry across the Shannon into County Clare and see the sites there, particularly the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren.  Then we'd head north to County Mayo, where a big branch of my family comes from.  I love fantasy-planning travel!

And now I give you way more pictures from our visit than you probably want.

Trinity College

This was our neighborhood for our first two-night stay in Dublin.  The other side of the street was the DART embankment. Possibly not the greatest neighborhood, but the house itself was very nice inside and comfortable and there was a convenient Aldi nearby and we were still within walking distance of the city center.

Downtown Cork
The bell tower in Cork that we climbed. (Note the Salmon weathervane.)
Approaching the belfry.  We had to wear protective headphones.
I took this picture from the top of the ladder in the belfry. Not a great pic, but it was scary to take it. I guess the bells are hanging from that mess of supports at the bottom. It was actually too dark to see much.  This is all just blown out with flash. Essentially, you're looking at the ceiling of a belfry.
At Dzogchen Beara
Meditation room at Dzogchen Beara
Village of Allihies, Beara Peninsula
Our hike around Allihies.
Fishing boats in Castletownbere
Driving to Healy Pass
Healy Pass
Looking down from the top of Healy Pass
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park

Dingle town.  The yellow and green bunting are the Kerry colors for Gaelic football.  Luckily, we were in Galway when Kerry lost to Dublin for the All-Ireland SFC title.  We were in Dublin for the celebratory parade down O'Connell St.

Slea Head Drive.  The space between the dashed yellow lines is for two way traffic. That wider bit is a parking lot.  See the bus taking up the entire road?  And the cliff?  Luckily, most people are driving clockwise around the peninsula.  My favorite Irish road sign was, "ONCOMING TRAFFIC IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD."  The speed limit was always 20 kmh faster than what felt safe.

Bee Hive dwellings on Slea Head
The closest we got to Skellig Michael--the pointy island in the distance
Blasket Island Ferry
Slea Head selfie
Lynch Castle, Galway

A pub in Salthill.  Somewhere along the line (in Dingle, I think) I asked a bartender if it were possible to order a beer in a portion smaller than a pint.  He was like, "I can pour a HALF pint," perhaps a tad sarcastically.  Those half pints saved me.  I know it's feeble, but I can't finish an entire pint of beer.

At a roadside overlook.
In case you're wondering why I'm wearing the same outfit in practically every picture--I packed two sweaters and two pairs of similar black pants and alternated them for the duration of the trip. I had an assortment of clean underwear and shirts.  My green down vest, which appears in a lot of my Ireland posts, was the perfect outer layer for Ireland in September.

Dublin Gargoyle--Christ Church Cathedral

Ancient inscribed cross at Glendalough
10th century cathedral ruins, Glendalough
Round Tower, Glendalough.
You might want to reconsider a trip to Ireland if you have a sheep phobia.  There are sheep everywhere.
The hike to the upper ruins at Glendalough
Jon sits in the ruins of St. Kevin's Cell
Rainbow on the Wicklow Mountains
Insouciant James Joyce statue on O'Connell Street

Dublin Castle.  I forgot to mention this in my "last day in Dublin" post. We didn't go inside because we couldn't find the door, although we did blunder into the subdued (though free) Revenue Museum trying to find the door.  I'm not even sure if the castle itself is open to the public.  We were so over sightseeing at this point, we didn't particularly care if we got in or not.  After Dublin Castle, we tried to find a sector that was labeled on my map as an "antiques district," got lost, gave up, and started pub hopping our way back to our hotel.

Titillating display of drug paraphernalia at the Revenue Museum.

Jon has a whole collection of pictures of me stranded at crosswalks that he recklessly ran across.

Bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Last Day in Dublin

Our last day was a museum day.  After breakfast, we went to the James Joyce Center and saw the real door from number seven Eccles St, and other exhibits related to James Joyce.  A short walk from the James Joyce Center is the Dublin Writers Museum, which catalogs the history of Irish literature and the lives of a wide variety of Irish writers. This was so interesting to me and I learned some things and discovered a couple of Irish writers I'd like to read, namely Kate O'Brien and Mary Lavin.  I was hoping to see something about Laetitia Pilkington, an 18th century Irish writer whose memoir I was reading all through out trip, but there wasn't anything. I think her position as a true contributor to Irish literature might be somewhat controversial.  Anyway, there will be more about Mrs. Pilkington in an upcoming blog post.

We rested for a bit in the Garden of Remembrance and then walked to the medieval area of Dublin, of which very little survives.  We saw a few medieval walls and looked at Christ Church, St. Audoens, and St. Patrick's Cathedral.  I wanted to walk to the National Museum of Decorative Arts, and maybe wander into Phoenix Park and see Ashtown Castle, but we ran out of time.  We will just have to return to Ireland, which we certainly will do.  One thing everybody asked us was "Is this your first time in Ireland?"  All the Americans we met had been to Ireland many times and the Irish we met seemed to take it for granted that American visitors will keep returning.

Before dinner, I walked from our hotel to Henrietta Street, which was designated on our map as the oldest inhabited Georgian street in Dublin.  Jon stayed back at the hotel to rest.  The walk was longer than I realized and the streets grew progressively shabbier along the way.  When I reached Henrietta St., a large sign announced that "antisocial behavior" was subject to a € 3000 fine.  I realized that I had foolishly blundered into a bad neighborhood, alone, at dusk, in a foreign city.  I was hesitant to take any pictures, but then a respectably-dressed elderly man popped out of one of the houses, talking on a phone and gesturing to people he saw approaching from far down the street, so I thought I might safely take a picture or two and then leave.  Which I did, and no one even said "boo."  The thing to do when you want to safely get out of a dodgy neighborhood is to act like you know exactly where you're going, and walk with purpose.  I got along just fine for a couple of blocks and then saw an interesting church that I thought I could just pop into for a second.  I turned down its street and then realized I was pushing my luck, abruptly changed course, and in doing that, somehow caused a massive charlie horse in my calf.  So now, I was alone at dusk in a bad neighborhood in a foreign city and limping.  I got home safely, but it was a very uncomfortable walk.  I'm sure my personal safety was never at risk, and I only had six euros and a camera on me, so even getting robbed wouldn't have been a catastrophe, but it definitely would have been upsetting.  When I was pickpocketed in Cape Town--even though I was able to get my property back from the pickpocketer--I was really rattled.

We wanted a nice dinner for our last night, so we made reservations at The Winding Stair and our meal was awesome!  The restaurant overlooks the Liffey and the Halfpenny Bridge and we were given a table by the window.  Jon ordered lamb and I had butternut squash, stuffed with kale, cheese, and other yummies.  Overall, the food in Ireland was really good.  Even little towns like Castletownbere and Dingle had fine dining, and there is really good seafood everywhere.  For lunch, we would usually stop in a pub and get the soup of the day with brown bread, which usually cost about five euros and was very satisfying.

The real door to number seven Eccles St.

Approaching St. Audeon's in the medieval part of Dublin

A pub

Henrietta Street--oldest inhabited Georgian street in Dublin