It did, because I had the audacity to display the hat on the head of the bust of Queen Victoria that stands on my desk, along with busts of Jane Austen, Puccini, Shakespeare, Dickens, Empress Sisi of Austria, Bach, and Mozart.
Birdfarm and Jon both made comments, perfectly acceptable comments, which mentioned some of the less humane policies enacted by Victoria when she was on the throne. No problem there.
Then there followed the e-mails - sixteen of them - the likes of which I've never received before. For mere possession and display of 18 inches of plaster statuary, I was called a racist, a sexist, an imperialist, and a bigot. Not mention internally homophobic. Mind you, none of my correspondents had the courage to post comments. No, they chose instead to send e-mail so others would not see what they wrote.
I haven't the time or inclination to respond in person to each. A simple post will suffice. And then I consider the subject closed.
Now Hear This
I am well aware that Queen Victoria was in many ways, by modern standards, a cruel and inept leader. (Hard as it may be to imagine, in her own era she was one of the more equitable. Read a little world history, and see for yourself.)
Particularly after the death of the Prince Consort, Victoria's single-minded devotion to what she believed would be Albert's wishes on everything led to conservative and reactionary policies that caused widespread hardship for some of England's domestic subjects and also some of those who inhabited British colonies and territories.
So, Why Do You Have a Bust of Her?
I do not have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because I naively think she is a candidate for sainthood.
I do not have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because I think she was a model ruler, a model mother, or a model anything else.
I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because, first of all, female rulers - indeed, women in command of any sort of power - are a lifelong source of fascination to me.
Second, I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because she is the ultimate symbol of a period in history that interests me particularly, from a country whose history has always interested me in general.
Third, I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because this particular bust, which came from working-class pub in London and has the nicotine stains to prove it, is a little piece of history and I like looking at it.
Fourth, I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because I need somewhere to put my bunny hats when I photograph them.
History: Good or Bad?
To the writer who feels it is inappropriate to "celebrate" (by which she seems to mean remember) a "bad time in history," I say that history in itself is neither good nor bad. History simply is.
I have no illusions about the British Empire having been a wonderful institution, nor do I wish (as one of you suggests) to see it return. However, why should we pretend it never happened? And why, if we study it, may we only focus on the horrors?
In my considerable reading on this period I've been fascinated by the outpouring of art and literature, by the results of cultures and religions colliding, by technological innovations transforming the world at a breathtaking speed. Victoria reigned during a positively cataclysmic era. Some of what happened was to the betterment of humankind, some of it was dreadful. I want to know about it all.
Victoria vs. Adolf
One of you suggests that for a gay man to display a bust of Victoria is equivalent to a Jewish person hanging up a picture of Adolf Hitler. This is insulting, absurd, and incorrect. Victoria is not generally thought of as a symbol of unadulterated hate. She did not set out to systematically exterminate homosexuals. Victoria's legislation on homosexuality reflected the accepted morals of her day, and was neither especially harsh nor particularly unusual for the time.
We are all in part a product of the time we live in. Had you been alive at the time, the chances you would have been outspokenly "Queer Positive" are pretty slim.
Another fellow's suggestion that Victoria should not even be mentioned or taught about in schools because of her less noble qualities is ridiculous. If we are not to study, or even mention, persons who are less than perfect, we shall have nobody to mention or study. Even St. Francis of Assisi had his moments.
To speak of historical women specifically, I've also got a painting of Empress Maria Theresa up in my kitchen. Consider her illustrious career:
- Waged deadly wars to further her own ambitions.
- Used her own children as pawns in international politics.
- Promoted general education for both boys and girls, including musical studies.
- Instituted training and certification for midwives in order to lower the mortality rates for mothers and infants.
How about Eleanor Roosevelt? She's going up on the wall as soon as I get the proper frame for the photo I bought at the Smithsonian. Amazing woman. One of my idols. A source of endless inspiration. Someone I would give a year off my life to meet. Also largely responsible for beginning welfare programs in rural America that may well have led to a cycle of dependency that continues to this day.
Was she good or bad?
The creation of a list of "unmentionable" topics is stifling to academic freedom and I oppose it vehemently and with all my heart. I am all for reasoned and balanced discourse. I am not for biases that slant in either direction.
You want to live in a world where nobody ever disagrees with you or your views? You shouldn't be at a university. Go found a commune. And good riddance to you.
Feminist, My Ass
And finally, one priceless commentator, who describes herself as an "ardint [sic] feminist," faults Victoria for her flaws as a ruler but doesn't have a problem with Henry VIII because, as a man, his actions were part of his nature. Sorry, honey, but that ain't feminist. Holding women to a higher moral standard was one of the most pernicious aspects of Victorian society, a society in which you would perhaps feel strangely at home. Go lace yourself into a corset and ponder your sins while embroidering "The Lord is My Shepherd" on a cushion. And stop reading my blog.
Discussion's now over on this one, and I mean it.
Back to knitting and photography. Thanks.