blame and shame culture is not new, van Gogh’s anniversary, an unconstitutional arrest

Spring by Nicolas Lancret 1738.

Blaming and Shaming in Whores’ Memoirs by Julie Peakman

*Sex, scandals and celebrity were all part of a blame and shame culture that existed in the 18th century, one that often fed off the misfortune of women at the hands of men. Julie Peakman looks at how prostitutes, courtesans and ladies with injured reputations took up the pen in retaliation.

* Early remonstrations of irate deserted wives also contributed to the genre of whore biography. A number of men who accused their wives of sexual philandering had in fact been adulterous themselves. During the 18th century, women whose reputations had been called into question by their spouses or ex-lovers gradually began to write their autobiographies. In telling their stories, not only would women generate much needed income but the memoirs would provide them with a platform to reveal their paramours for what they really were.

One of the earliest of these women was Laetitia Pilkington (c.1709-50)

*Around the same time that Pilkington’s autobiography appeared, the courtesan Constantia Phillips (1709-65) also published a biographical account, An Apology for the Conduct of Mrs Teresia Constantia Phillips. She had begun her life as a kept woman more than quarter of a century before with a man she identified as ‘Thomas Grimes’. He is thought to have been either Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, or (more likely) Thomas Lumley, who would later become 3rd Earl of Scarborough.

History buffs will enjoy the minutiae of all these seemingly small events in history. I tend to think what usually passes for mainstream history are the big events that frequently fail to factor in the scandals, the empty stomachs, the petty vindictiveness, the clash of social and economic classes. How history at anyone one moment could have turned out differently if an affair went undiscovered, if a philanderer had not felt compelled to gossip or his now homeless lover didn’t suddenly need income.

I wish that Peakman had avoided the comparison to modern celebrities. If a a singer or actor has an affair it might be interesting – though most often not, but in the context of modern society there are not large cultural shifts as a consequence.

Wheatfield with Crows July 1890 painting by Vincent van Gogh. July 29 was the anniversary of van Gogh’s death in 1890. He committed suicide the same month as he created this painting, but it was not his last work. The crows are now a classic bit of symbolism for foreboding or death.

The Siesta December 1889 January 1890. Not a completely original work, a fact van Gogh was happy to acknowledge. He admired the French painter Millet and based the painting on one of Millet’s sketches called Four Moments in the Day. Its one of my favorites even though the man’s face and the absence of features is disturbing. Note that the female figure has a mouth, nose and eyes. Van Gogh painted this while he was at a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy de Provence. Just a personal theory, I think that the male is van Gogh and said something about how he perceived himself at the time.

A take on Professor’s Gates arrest mostly from a Constitutional POV, Prof. Gates’ Unconstitutional Arrest by Harvey A. Silverglate Attorney at law.

Indeed, Crowley did not arrest Gates for breaking and entering, for by then he was clearly convinced that the professor did live in the building. (For one thing, Harvard University Police officers had by that time arrived at the scene, and they easily could have checked not only that Gates was on the faculty, but that he lived in the Harvard-owned residential building. Gates is one of the most widely known faces in the Harvard community.) Instead, Crowley arrested the diminutive and disabled professor (he uses a cane to walk and bears a passing resemblance to the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) for disorderly conduct–the charge of choice when a citizen gives lip to a cop.

By longstanding but unfortunate (and, in my view, clearly unconstitutional) practice in Cambridge and across the country, the charge of disorderly conduct is frequently lodged when the citizen restricts his response to the officer to mere verbal unpleasantness.

It is possible for two basically descent people to have a run in. In the glaring light of media attention both parties dig in and stick to their initial framing of events. Gates claiming racism where it was probably more a clash of class animus ( more on that angle here, though it seems a little overstated. Class animus and claims of privilege exists in every American institution from corporate boardrooms to loading docks. Even in 21st century America people are still very concerned with social status. We do not act much different in that regard then 17th century villagers and native tribes). Then Officer Crowley probably over reacted to a little verbal abuse – otherwise why ask the professor to step outside – were the acoustics in the house that bad – related is this excerpt from a a sociologist who has studied the use of disorderly conduct charges as a way to use one’s authority to punish those that have not shown correct deference to a police officer. My interests here is predominately the Constitutional aspect. As groups go I like the police and college professors, and have friends in both professions.

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