I did manage to pick at a little periodical literature, though I cravenly skipped the articles about Chinese prison tortures and new Dante translations and why-was-Kafka-so-wacky? and instead floated in the melancholy twilight of Enlightenment-era feminine ignorance and lonely little George Balanchine, waif of the Revolution. Here are couple of things I mused over in Susan Dunn's New York Review of Books article about Jane Lepore's biography of Ben Franklin's sister Jane. They seem pertinent to what used to be my present interests, though at the moment my brain is telling me it would rather go on vacation than ponder the sad history of loneliness.
A rudimentary education had indeed imprisoned Jane Franklin in that domestic sphere. Her brother had taught her how to write, but when he left home, those lessons ended. And although the times Jane lived in were intellectually electrifying and politically transformational, her scant education and the burden of her personal hardships overwhelmed what most historians regard as the most consequential landscape in American history. It is striking how little understanding she showed of those revolutionary events and how poorly she grasped the groundbreaking Enlightenment ideas that shaped them. The Stamp Act in 1765 was eclipsed by her husband's death that year. Did she know about Thomas Paine's passionate call for independence ten years later? "She likely read Common Sense," Lepore surmises. "Everyone read it." Perhaps. But as late as 1781 Jane felt unqualified to pronounce an opinion "about publick Affairs," and she admitted knowing "but little about how the world goes Except seeing a Newspaper some times which contains Enough to give Pain but little Satisfaction while we are in Armes against Each other." War and revolution drowned in Jane's sea of desolation. "Something constantly Passes that keeps alive my sorrow," she wrote in 1782.In the same article Dunn quotes a letter from George Washington to his step-granddaughter Nellie Custis. Apparently it was supposed to be cautionary.
The passions of your sex are easier raised than allayed. In the composition of the human frame there is a good deal of inflammable matter . . . [and] when the torch is put to it, that which is within you may burst into a blaze.