Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Dora Russell wrote to me.

Posted in Dora Russell wrote to me by sheelanagigcomedienne on September 2, 2014

Dora russell 2I heard the interview about the radio play entitled “A meeting with Dora” BBC Radio 4 – Afternoon Drama, A Meeting with Dora    which was written by Don Shaw and was inspired by his visit to Dora Russell, in her home Cornwall in 1979 where she lived with her son John.Dora 3

Don Shaw is a scriptwriter and was researching for a film that he had been commissioned to write for the BBC  about the failed marriage between Bertrand Russell and Dora.  The film was not produced but this radio play revisits that encounter.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Eleanor Bron and David Schofield starred in the play and Don Shaw played the brief part of John Russell.Eleanor Bron and David Schofield


There was an interview on Woman’s Hour with Eleanor Bron and Don Shaw.

It immediately reminded me that she had corresponded with me in the mid eighties because I had mentioned her in a letter I had published in The Guardian in response to a series of articles written by journalist Martin Walker about Philosophy. I had written that ‘philosophy along with other disciplines suffer from a great disadvantage. I quote a great philosopher, whose ideas may well outlive those of her deceased husband’s. Dora Russell wrote in The New Humanist 1974 ” the astonishing fact is that religion, philosophy, political, social and economic thought have been reserved as the prerogative of men. Our cultural world is the product of male consciousness” . I also added that the “The powerful, devastating critiques of male scholarship by Mary Daly, Kate Miller, Dale Spender, De Beouvoir etc  will will be more influential  in shaping the 21st century than the arid quibblings of Ayer, Popper, etc”

Dora wrote: I have noticed your letter in The Guardian paying me a compliment as a ‘philosopher’ which I doubt I deserve!

Whatever I wrote in my return letter  elicited “You are a woman after my own heart! What a surprise and pleasure to find philosophy extolled and expanded by a non-academic housewife!

That you are Irish should not surprise me since fellowship and love with Irishmen have played quite a part in my life. My second husband, after Bertrand Russell left me, was an excitable young left wing Irishman, who always said that he belonged to the IRA. I wish to goodness that the humdrum English would learn to understad  the Irish- and also in many ways the Scots – for I have scots blood on both sides of my family. Shall we boast that  and say that we have our ‘visions’  that the humdrum lack or that – as I do often say ‘what is wrong with the left is that it always turns out to be Right!”

Her last letter from Carn Voel, Porthcurno in Penzance in January 1986, a few months before she died,  she mentioned that she had met Charlotte Despard and that she was wonderful and how great that generation of women were. She urged me to read Most Dangerous Women about the start of the women’s peace movement in trying to stop the war in 1915 and also Mary Midgeley’s Evolution and Religion.

She signed off with I did get to Greenham now that I can walk.

At that time I was convenor of the Women’s Section of Battersea Labour Party. Although I have no copies of the letters that I sent to her I am sure that I told her about the topics and meetings that we held and other women’s activities, including Irish women’s conferences that I was involved with and the events and courses I attended at Battersea Arts Centre under the tutelage of Sheila Jeffreys who is now a Professor in Political Science in Melbourne.

Dale Spender Australian author of  Man Made Language –  a feminist classic that I loved and which made me question all male scholarship- also wrote There’s Always Been a Women’s Movement This Century.Man made language was another feminist writer I went to hear and I loved her purple aesthetic which she still celebrates. Dale Spender

There has always been a women's movemntDora Russell was one of the five feminist writers featured. Dora, in a letter to me said: Dale Spender has done a lot in publicising me, I am very grateful to her- the more so as she is a much more of a Women’s Lib feminist, inclined to think me out of date because I don’t believe in ‘role playing’ of our sex, but stick to its biological values and aims’.

There is an erudite and thoughtful appraisal of Dora and her thoughts by Judith Levine in The Boston Review    Women and Children First | Boston Review

Last night 1st September 2014 I attended a packed meeting in Battersea Lower Town Hall to hear Laura Bates speak eloquently and passionately about the Everyday Sexism Project the everyday sexism project  which was part of the Battersea Literary Festival and opened by the Mayor of Wandsworth who introduced her as Laura Bush! The predominantly female audience were young which is heartening to this old feminist as we watch and applaud as they take up the baton in the continuing struggle for women’s equality. Thank you to Charlotte Despard  born in 1845,  Dora born in 1894 to Dale to Laura and all the young feminists fighting back now. Oldie feminists, like me, wish you all success in your campaigning for all women everywhere.Laura-BatesYoung feminists


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