Recent Work & Favorites

From 'Emma' to Natalie Portman, a dress can be worth a thousand words

When Greta Gerwig’s widely beloved “Little Women” won its sole Oscar this year for costume design, the victory for Jacqueline Durran was shadowed by frustration from fans, who thought the movie was being recognized only for its stereotypically feminine qualities. For a film that turns on its heroines’ struggles to be treated as artists, not ornaments, it could be seen as an ironic accolade. But that critique itself takes costumes at face value.

Jenny Offill: ‘I no longer felt like it wasn’t my fight’

It’s early January and freezing cold in New York when I meet Jenny Offill to talk about her new novel, Weather – an innocuous title for something that feels less innocuous every day. A couple of weeks earlier, the temperature was warm and spring-like. These fluctuations in the weather, and the warming trends they reveal, are increasingly unsettling reminders of the climate crisis, and they form the backbone of Offill’s latest novel, the follow-up to 2014’s bestselling Dept. of Speculation.

Unearthing London’s history from a muddy riverbank

A mudlark — a person who scavenges for treasure in the muck and rubbish of a riverbank — sounds like a character from a Shakespearean comedy, flitting between the extremes of filth and magic. In her quirky memoir of modern mudlarking, Lara Maik­lem travels from west to east along the Thames, from Teddington to Tilbury, reflecting on London’s long and layered history as revealed in the detritus thrown up by the water.

Feminize Your Canon: Mary Heaton Vorse

Our column Feminize Your Canon explores the lives of underrated and underread female authors. Originally begun by Emma Garman, it will now be written by Joanna Scutts. Mary Heaton Vorse, prolific novelist, journalist, and labor activist, spent most of her long life trying to escape her upper-middle-class origins. The heroine of her 1918 novel ’ calls the inescapability of a bourgeois upbringing life’s “blue serge lining”—a reference to the practical fabric that protected the inside of coats.

The Radical Roots of Emma Watson’s ‘Self-Partnership’

Most reactions to Watson’s “self-partnering” framed it as a slightly silly term for a personal choice. But it’s more than that. In her Vogue interview, Watson pointed to the “bloody influx of subliminal messaging” — in advertising, media, and society at large — telling women they are incomplete by themselves. This messaging is deliberate and well-entrenched: As much as we like to pretend otherwise, we haven’t yet fully exorcised the patriarchal ghosts that peg a woman’s existence to that of her father or husband. To overtly reject this — to, yes, “self-partner” — is, quietly, a radical act.

Team Scott vs Team Zelda (PDF)

“People always believe the best story” wrote Zelda Fitzgerald in her novel Save Me the Waltz in 1932. For a long time, that story of the Fitzgeralds starred a brilliant, self-destructive golden boy tethered to a golden girl, whose glamour eventually dulled into madness. Then in 1970, Nancy Milford’s Zelda: A biography twisted the kaleidoscope and a new story tumbled into view, one in which a brilliant woman was overshadowed, plundered and abandoned by her husband.

The Women Who Showed Us Life

At the entrance to the new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History looms a photograph that is oddly abstract and resolutely concrete, a row of conical towers forming part of the hulking Fort Peck Dam in Montana. The photograph covered the first issue of LIFE in 1936 and was captured by Margaret Bourke-White, the first and best known of the handful of female photojournalists on the magazine’s staff.

What This Journalist Learned About Female Desire by Following Ordinary Women

The description of Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women makes it sound like literary fiction aimed firmly at female readers: a lyrical, intimate exploration of the emotional and sexual lives of ordinary women. But Taddeo isn’t inventing her characters’ stories. They’re the result of a decade of immersive journalism, research and countless interviews in pursuit of what she calls “longing in America.”

Jack the Ripper’s victims are famous in death, but what were their lives like?

Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who terrorized London’s East End in the late 19th century, may be the catalyst for historian Hallie Rubenhold’s fascinating new book, but he is in no way its subject. Readers who wish to linger over the bloody details of the murders or speculate as to the killer’s still-unknown identity will have to look elsewhere, in the rich seam of Ripper lore. This is a story of life, not death.
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