Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Feathers Everywhere...

I'm not sure if you are expecting a post about birds, but the title of this piece actually refers to a sermon delivered in the film Doubt (2008).  Father Brendan Flynn, the subject of some rumours, tells a brilliant story from the pulpit:  A woman has been gossiping with her friends but that night dreams that a great hand points to her and makes her feel guilty.  She goes to her priest who tells her to go up to her roof and cut open a pillow, which she does.  When she returns to him he asks what the result was, and she says 'Feathers, everywhere!'  He then tells her to gather them all back up again and she says she can't, they went everywhere.  'That," says the priest, "is gossip!"

A Bit of Gossip (1903) Charles Wilson
I've done posts previously on sharing secrets and eavesdropping but this is different.  The secrets shared were your own to confide and eavesdropping tended to include people spreading stories or just talking about stuff the over-hearer doesn't want to hear.  I'm talking about 'gossip' today and how it seems quite gender specific and judgmental.  The picture above by Charles Wilson has the two women indulging in 'a bit of gossip', something that is distracting them from their work.  Now, why would I say 'indulging'?  It makes it sound like cake:  Is good gossip as delicious as cake?

The Three Gossips Louis Grosclaude
It's true that gossiping does sometimes coincide with tea and biscuits.  Isn't it funny to think that such a trivial meal accompanies such slander!  I'm not saying that these ladies are saying that so-and-so is having it away with the milkman, or so-and-so wears his wife's bonnet while she's out playing bridge, but think of the things we gossip about, it's rarely something you would say to someone's face.  Yes, I said 'we' because I gossip as much as the next person.  Other people's lives are fascinating...

At the Spring or Gossip John Faed
I rarely gossip in anything this low-cut, really you are just asking for trouble.  All you'd need to do is bend over to whisper one of the juicy details and it'd be all out in the open.

An Evening Gossip Joshua Fisher
I find it interesting that the majority of the images are of women and rural women at that.  I suppose it's a fairly standard stereotype that women gossip: Do women gossip while men speculate?  Is it all down to language?  I know some men who are terrible gossips, and it's an unusual gossip picture that shows a man...

The Gossip Henry Tozer
This had the most unexpected title as there is no sign that the men are gossiping, they just appear to be sitting, companionably, drinking some sort of homemade hooch.  Maybe the hooch has loosened their tongues and they are talking about their friend who wears the bonnet.

So what are the pictures saying about gossip?  It is predominantly a female hobby, sometimes shown over a cup of tea, or during the working day.  I always wondered how much gossip Fishwives knew as they seem famous for it.  I guess it was the glamorous lives they led...

Dolly Peel, Glamorous Fishwife
Gosh, it's just like Made in Chelsea, only with more fish.

The Gossip (1907) Thomas Dewing
This is a very curious picture.  Who is gossiping?  Has the gossiping already taken place?  I think that the woman on the right has been talking about the others and they have found out, hence her isolation from them.  Or possibly the other two have been talking about her, but the title seems to identify one person gossiping.  Possibly it might refer to 'the gossip' that has been spread and is the reason why two of the figures sit slightly apart from the third.  I like this image as potentially it shows the effect of gossip, divisive among friends.

The Gossip Walter Langley
 We are quite far removed from the action here - possibly we are meant to feel like the one who is being talked about? I was once put in a rather embarrassing position of having to admit that I hadn't been talking behind a certain person's back.  .Oh the horror of finding out that you weren't interesting enough to be gossiped about!  Some people have some very odd ideas about what makes them important.

Ladies Gossiping at the Opera Frederick Barnard
On the whole, gossip is not to be indulged in unless you are willing to do it in style. I promise that I only gossip at the opera, and then only behind a fan.  The opera must have been the ideal place for a good old gossip: all people who were worth gossiping about were present, and you and your friend were in a box, nice and secluded, so you could have a right old slander-session.  Probably best that it's just ladies present, because if I get to be alone in an opera box with a gentleman, I can think of better things to do than gossip.  Shame on me.

Indoor Gossip, Cairo (1873) John Frederick Lewis
It does at least seem to be somewhat of a universal.  Women everywhere love to talk about the bonnet-wearing man and the goings on of the milkman.  In someways, this commonality seems heartwarming - no matter how different we seem, how odd Johnny Foreigner seems to be, we all love ripping the characters of our friends to shreds.  Ah, it's a small world after all...

And the Devil Ran Away with Gossip Noel Laura Nisbet
This has to be my favourite, not least because I love Nisbet's work.  Her stuff is not greatly known, but the BBC 'Your Paintings' site has four painting here and the Russell-Cotes has some corking images of hers which you can see on their 'Art on Demand site here (she worked a lot in tempera which isn't included in the 'Your Painting' site).  In case you were feeling at all cosy about gossip, what with all the tea and opera boxes, here is the Devil carrying away both the gossiper and the concept.  If we're honest, we don't gossip about positive things - by its nature gossip is as dark and juicy as a ripe plum.  I suppose the stereotype of women gossiping comes from a time when information was controlled, and men at least could get out into the world to find out the truth.  Plus living in small communities (most 'gossip' scenes seem to revolve around a village) meant that everyone knew each other and any disruption would affect everyone to one degree or another.

Neighbourly Gossip (1889) Carlton Smith
There is an element of living vicariously through other people's problems, hence the popularity of celebrity gossip magazines.  Ever fancied knowing what it feels like to have an affair/be bankrupt/something salacious that doesn't involve money or sex, sorry I can't think of anything else?  I'm sure any number of magazines or newspapers can't wait to tell you in the most judgmental detail who has split up from their husband or who was photographed being choked by her husband at a Mayfair restaurant.  It's all still gossip, it's just we don't personally know the celebrities, but possibly, like all gossip we should think about whether or not it's true and what are our reasons for talking about it.

The Gossips Pierre M Beyle
So, to conclude, gossiping is something the devil will back you up in, so it's best to keep your mouth shut and only take a gentleman into an opera box with you.  Unless he's a terrible gossip.

Oh, what the hell, you'll never guess who's been seen with the milkman!  And he was wearing his wife's bonnet at the time..

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