Anne Summers

Anne Summers the author of Angels and Citizens: British Women as Military Nurses 1854-1914, is a curator in the British Library’s Department of Manuscripts.


Anne Summers, 25 March 1993

The creation of identity, the invention and re-invention of the self, is as emblematic of the modern era as technological invention. Of the many revolutions our species has witnessed in the last two centuries, the one which has probably contributed most to the development of the ‘plastic’ self has been the process by which, in the West, family size has been permanently reduced. This has led to a decline in the mortality and morbidity of women of child-bearing age, and an accompanying, if not necessarily consequent reduction in the restrictions on their economic, affective and intellectual activities which law and custom once justified on physiological as well as theological grounds. Widespread changes in attitudes to marriage, and to the public and private relationship between the sexes, have followed; the cultural purpose and centrality of heterosexuality is being increasingly questioned.

Doctoring the past

Anne Summers, 24 September 1992

Is there such a thing as the history of the body, and, if so, how might we study it? The idea of the body as a constant, a given, whose components and attributes must always be there to be known or discovered, seems self-evident to the medical patient, the medical practitioner, the micro-biologist of the present day. Much writing in medical history takes it for granted that our current approaches to knowing and describing the body correspond exactly to an objective reality which has been unchanging over time, and that matching the medical treatises and descriptions of past eras against this reality is an unproblematic exercise.

Gynaecological Proletarians

Anne Summers, 10 October 1991

Since the rebirth of the feminist movement in the Seventies, the theory and practice of medicine, and the role of women as patients and practitioners, have been strongly contested issues in sexual politics. Much recent feminist writing, especially in the United States, has interpreted the history of the modern medical profession as a succession of male impositions on women. The outlawing of folk (for which read female) medicine, the marginalisation of the traditional midwife, the medicalisation of childbirth, and the introduction of drastic surgical techniques for dealing with real or supposed dysfunctions of the reproductive organs, have all been characterised as examples of oppression and exploitation, inspired by greed, opportunism and, for good measure, possibly sadism and voyeurism.

Paul Flewers and Ian Beckwith write about Anglo-Catholic radicals (Letters, 9 September and 7 October). We should add to the roster the Reverend Stewart Headlam, who founded the Christian Socialist Guild of St Matthew in 1877. Two years later he formed the Church and Stage Guild, which some described as a mission to chorus girls, and he was well known as a campaigner for state education. He joined...

Against Metrics

8 November 2018

Stefan Collini asks of league tables in higher education: ‘Has a single university been willing to repudiate the whole farrago rather than trying to put the most positive spin it can on the figures?’ Birkbeck, University of London, announced on 9 October that it would withdraw from UK university rankings because the methodologies do not fairly recognise Birkbeck’s strengths or represent...

The Servant Crisis

13 July 2016

Rosemary Hill refers to ‘the mass exodus from [domestic] service between the wars’, but census figures show that by 1931 the number of women employed as domestic servants was almost exactly the same as it was in 1911 (LRB, 14 July). This was by far the largest female occupational sector; just over 20 per cent of the ‘occupied’ female population were ‘living-in’ servants....
Michael Wood, referring to Asghar Farhadi’s film A Separation, writes: ‘If Simin had not wanted to leave, Nader would not have had to employ anyone to look after his father’ (LRB, 4 June). But Simin is depicted as a working mother: she would have had homecare in place for her father-in-law for years. Had the director been a woman, I don’t think they would have made that mistake.

Sold Out

23 October 2013

Stefan Collini’s article on higher education in Britain prompts much useful reflection on parallel developments in our children’s schooling and in our increasingly privatised NHS. Just one question: the career of Roger Brown, author of Everything for Sale?: The Marketisation of Higher Education, is given in some detail, but nothing is said of Helen Carasso, with whom he wrote the book....
When graduates wore university gowns in suffrage processions it was not to ‘underline the injustice’ of Oxford and Cambridge’s refusal to grant degrees to women, as Marina Warner has it, but in protest against a system which placed women who did have degrees in the same electoral category as male inmates of prisons and mental asylums.


11 February 2010

Michael Holroyd quotes extensively from Violet Trefusis’s novel Broderie anglaise without acknowledging the work of the translator Barbara Bray (LRB, 11 February). He also refers to Trefusis’s novella Echo, like Broderie published in Britain in the 1980s, which was translated by Sian Miles.
Lara Pawson seems to confuse the statement that ‘First World hospital care’ saved R.W. Johnson – which it did – with the idea that ‘First World hospital care’ always saves people suffering from necrotising fasciitis, which it does not (Letters, 27 August). That which is necessary is not always sufficient, as she must know. As for her statement that ‘he was,...
David Simpson commends the force of Jacqueline Rose’s arguments ‘not only in and for Israel but beyond’ (LRB, 23 June). It might indeed be useful to extend debates around nationalism to the rest of the globe. At the very least, we should be ready to acknowledge that the best efforts of socialists, pacifists and others over the past two centuries have established neither international...
You describe Glen Newey as a reader in politics rather than Reader in Politics (LRB, 23 January). From this, and from his cheerful pee-po-belly-bum-drawers prose style, I infer that he is a first-year undergraduate shaping up for a career as president of the students’ union. it’s not too soon for him to learn some useful lessons.First, to label a columnist more talented than yourself as...
Jeffrey Frankland (Letters, 28 November) is incorrect in stating that the British Library holds neither the Hesperus Press edition of Heart of Darkness nor Elisabeth Jay’s edition of The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant. Both can be found in our automated catalogue – go to and click on ‘search’.
Alison Jolly’s review of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mother Nature (LRB, 10 August) suggests that humanists and others in dispute with sociobiologists misunderstand the sophistication of the latters’ reasoning. But their objections are based on rather more than a crude misconception of the nature/nurture dichotomy. Humanists are, in the first place, sceptical of arguments which make indiscriminate...

Popular Philosophy

27 July 1989

I was interested to read, in your issue of 27 July, Richard Wollheim’s account of ‘popular philosophy’ in Britain during the Fifties (LRB, 27 July). Does he recall, or has he blotted from his memory of broadcast philosophy in this period, the episode of Hancock’s Half Hour in which the hero consoled himself on a solitary Saturday night with Bertrand Russell’s History of...

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