In the forward, on page vii, Dakin begins by acknowledging that “Popular conceptions of Mrs. Eddy have shown an extraordinary variance.” Yes, one could say that. He continues that the job of the biographer is to weigh the facts and reconcile, recount and omit. This is a fine line to walk. Then Dakin starts in early with references that I need to look up. He notes:
Other observers have portrayed her as a bigger humbug than Barnum and the worst virago since Xantippe.
The word virago has almost always had an association with cultural gender transgression. A virago, of whatever excellence, was still identified by her gender. There are recorded instances of viragos (such as Joan of Arc) fighting battles, wearing men’s clothing, or receiving the tonsure. The word virago could also be used disparagingly, to imply that a virago was not excellent or heroic, but was instead violating cultural norms. Thus virago joined pejoratives such as termagant, ‘mannish’, ‘amazonian’ and shrew to demean women who acted aggressively or like men. (2)
I suppose it is fair to say Ms. Eddy violated cultural norms of the day. In the United States women didn’t get to vote until the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920 (3) and by that time Ms. Eddy had already founded a church — in 1879, and successful newspaper — in 1908 (4).
As to the Xantippe reference, I think Dankin was throwing around his knowledge of ancient Greek, and finding a sufficiently shrewish (and long deceased) woman who would not press charges. (5)
To Dakin, Ms. Eddy is a “woman with an impassioned urge for life and self-expression throbbing in her veins” (p. viii), and this is why she is of significance. Ms. Eddy has a “great inner Will which in every being creates its own fulfillment — compensate how it must — needs no justification” (ix). I look forward to Dakin’s further insights into this.
Writing a biography of Ms. Eddy is no simple task, even by the 1920s, Dakin makes it clear that “great effort has been exerted toward keeping many of the facts regarding Mrs. Eddy from the world” (ix). Dakin notes that all biographers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Georgine Milmine (6), and while he expresses deep regret that her book was withdrawn and the plates were destroyed, all future biographers must acknowledge her contributions.
Dakin closes the Forward by thanking his gratitude to the New York Public Library and the Congressional Library in Washington. This seems fitting, as those are likely some of the only well-known places Milmine’s work may have survived intact.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virago, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthippe