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History Exchange

[A few additional notes since I see this has gone out for pinch hit...

Thanks for considering picking up this pinch hit! I'm sorry my people are so obscure. If you're trying to learn about one of them with no prior knowledge, Virginia Hall might be the easiest to learn enough about, probably followed by Grace Hopper (additionally, those are the two I'm least familiar with, so I'm unlikely to catch any errors you might make). If you have any familiarity with Napoleonic times, Cabarrus was acquainted with Empress Joséphine & was briefly involved with Napoleon (and is the person I'm next least familiar with). If you knit or know someone who does, they're likely to at least have heard of Elizabeth Zimmermann. Orczy...um...probably not your best bet, although maybe if you're interested in early 20th century England (or Hungarian aristocracy).

Since it might help you keep necessary research time to a minimum, I'll reiterate that total realism is not necessary. Space aliens challenge Elizabeth Zimmermann to a knitting duel! Schmoopy spy hijinks of Virginia Hall and Paul Goillot set on a handwavingly vague WWIIish backdrop!

I've hunted down & added to my letter some biographical sources for each of these individuals, which hopefully will help give you a starting point. Good luck and thanks again!]

Dear History Exchange writer,

Thanks so much for writing a story for me! I'm really looking forward to it.

A few preliminaries (if you want more info, you can take a look at my past letters for other exchanges on my Livejournal) and then I'll give a few thoughts on each of the people I requested. I'd prefer if you kept the story PG or below. I'm totally okay with gen, but if you want to write something shippy I'd prefer that you stick with relationships that actually existed (normally I say "canon relationships" but I'm not sure if the terminology for RPF is different). Other than that, pretty much anything goes: I would equally love to receive a totally realistic slice-of-life story for one of these women or a sci-fi crossover where all five of them go battle space aliens. :-)

Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres to read. I had a tough time deciding how to narrow down the playing field to just 5 (I'm requesting the same people I nominated), so I decided to concentrate on people who aren't major characters in any textbook, but whom I would like to read more about. They ended up being all women, which is partly on purpose, partly just how it ended up.

And in chronological order (with Wikipedia links for ease of finding out more about the people you've never heard of):


  • Thérésa Cabarrus (1773-1835)

    I first ran into Cabarrus in Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel, but it turns out the 'Tallien was so in love with this woman that he basically forced the end of the French Revolution just so she would be safe' plot was actually taken from real life (although the Scarlet Pimpernel's intervention was of course added). Cabarrus had a very eventful life and I'd be interested in any part of it, from childhood to motherhood and beyond. Her acquaintanceship with Joséphine de Beauharnais is also of interest.

    Resources: Abstract - Legend and Fact in the Life of Theresia Cabarrus; Detailed blog entry is uncited but looks like the author knows what they're talking about; Part 2; Full etext of 1913 bio (which I haven't read)

  • Emmuska Orczy (1865-1947)

    As you'll quickly figure out if you look at my AO3 or my past Yuletide letters, Scarlet Pimpernel was the first fandom I fell in love with. The stories aren't perfect—there are some plot weaknesses and Orczy is definitely biased towards the aristocracy—but as a preteen I didn't pick up on any of that, and now nostalgia similarly hides their flaws.

    There's a story that a friend of Orczy's had gotten a story published and Orczy thought "I can do better than that, so if she can get published, so can I." I'd enjoy seeing her getting her start as a struggling writer, or trying to get The Scarlet Pimpernel published (they had to adapt it into a play before they could get it published), or her relationship with her husband, or working with Terry & Neilson to bring her story to the stage. Or, y'know, accidentally time-travelling and realizing Thérésa Cabarrus is a real person nothing like her fictional version, or having to solve a mystery and realizing it's not as easy as she made it seem in her books (Orczy's "Old Man in the Corner" and "Lady Molly of Scotland Yard" were not as popular as SP but sold decently), or anything at all.

    Resources: Brief bio (Insufficiently cited, but seems legit); Times obituary; And other resources on Blakeney Manor (links seem to be broken; you may need to replace "www.geocities.com/sirpercy_blakeney/" with "www.blakeneymanor.com/" in each of them)

  • Virginia Hall (1906-1982)

    I'm somewhat interested in World War II, but my sister's read a lot more about it than me, and she's the one who told me about Virginia Hall. Hall sounds epically cool. After losing her leg when she accidentally shot herself while hunting, she named her wooden leg "Cuthbert." I want to see the adventures of Virginia Hall and Cuthbert spying in Europe! I love the story (shows up in multiple sources, so seems likely to be true) that she informed London she was having trouble with Cuthbert and they responded "If Cuthbert troublesome, eliminate him."

    I'd also love to see how she met her husband Paul Goillot, a fellow OSS agent. (Did one of them rescue the other? Did they both rescue each other? Can they have a totally romantic action scene?)

    Resources: NY Times article; also see the "External Links" section of her Wikipedia page

  • Grace Hopper (1906-1992)

    Another woman I'm not as familiar with as I'd like to be. When people talk about women in computing, Ada Lovelace is often mentioned, but the computer she wrote programs for was never even built. I don't know why Grace Hopper isn't better known. She invented the first compiler, which is huge, and also contributed to the creation of the computer language COBOL, which is still used today (though generally not by choice but because it's in legacy code; it's pretty dated by now). I'd like to see something about her experiences leading to these achievements, and/or what it was like for her working in an extremely male-dominated field.

    BTW...stealth Agent Carter references welcome. ;-)

    Resources: MacTutor History of Mathematics Bio (see also the links there under "Additional Material in MacTutor" and "Other Web sites")

  • Elizabeth Zimmermann (1910-1999)

    I don't think knitting would be as popular as it is today without Elizabeth Zimmermann. She pioneered using recipes, like "Elizabeth's Percentage System" and doubling the number of stitches every so often in the Pi Shawl, instead of knitting a bunch of flat pieces and sewing them together. In other words, taking advantage of the things knitting can do instead of trying to make it act like another craft, sewing, which it isn't. EZ is known for being very opinionated, and I definitely don't agree with her on everything, but I respect her as a master of the art.

    By the time I was really old enough to be doing a lot of research on anything in my life, we had internet. It was dial-up and there was no Wikipedia, but it was there. And now of course there's Ravelry and all sorts of things. So I find it hard to imagine being a knitter back in the 60's and 70's waiting impatiently to pore over EZ's 2-page typewritten and photocopied (mimeographed?) newsletter because that's all there was. I'd love to see something involving the newsletter, or an expansion on any of the stories EZ tells in her books: Like reading to her kids "The time taken for the tongue to catch up with eye was usually enough for a stitch to be picked up or new wool joined in. When more complicated difficulties arose, the family just had to wait a few minutes." (Knitter's Almanac p. 45) Or swatching in a park "The man at the other end of the bench must have thought I was out of my fur, making buttonhole after buttonhole on a long skinny strip of knitting." (ditto p. 79) Or the infamous tale of her knitting while riding behind her husband on his motorcycle, and he had no idea until a passing motorist ratted her out. (The Opinionated Knitter, page unknown, quote here)

    [Here is almost everything I've knit that was designed by EZ.]

    Resources: NY Times obituary; EZ retrospective; An undiscovered EZ sweater gets recreated



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