Friday, June 29, 2012

The Hostess and the immaterial labor

third mailing Beth Gilmore
The Hostess and the immaterial labor
I.               The Hostess Defined
Throughout history, the hostess threw parties, put the right people together at the table, arranged accidental meetings, charmed and fed the people they liked and sometimes, more often than not, those they did not like in order to help a husband or politician or both make some gain in society.  There were certain realms in which women could wield power. In the home, especially in a time when they were meant to be “angels of the household,” the creation of an environment of comfort and ease became the starting point. Our environments affect us greatly. To be welcomed and shown hospitality and attention relaxes people no matter who they are or from what walk of life they come. A relaxed group of people can feel close and free to speak their mind, and relationships can be formed and friendships grown.  Hostesses did this in a cultivative way, as though in a greenhouse, leading to the blossoming of social goals being met.
There is great breadth to the idea and functions of the hostess.  The hostess may offer hospitality in the form of safety, shelter, comfort, ease.  The idea of the hostess as performance is not a far stretch, in the hostess’s capacity to be present with and for others, to listen attentively and to arrange fruitful interactions.  A strange amount of control and power is given to the hostess by those in her charge, partially because she has more information about the setting, venue, and the others invited than the guest may have. Knowledge is power.
Smiling and remaining calm and helpful when things go wrong is key to the role of hostess.  She can set the tone for the entire group, as a parent might guide her child by reacting thoughtfully. She can create a world for others to move in and a legacy that extends beyond her years.

II.             Historical Look at the Hostess in Society
Mrs. Dalloway is having a party.  With these words an internal film starts to play, illuminating the dialectic. The hostess ideal and the artist ideal are opposites. The hostess must care for and tend to people, and the artist needs time alone to work, uninterrupted. The hostess must give, and the artist must carefully be selfish enough to look inwards, dwelling there to find the path and ideas.  The double character of Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus represents this internal struggle with the external. The documentation in diaries and letters of hostesses, both in fiction and nonfiction give us an excellent birds eye view of the way they shape culture. In many cases, as it may have been years since these events have occurred, we as a public have access to what would have formally been private. This insight allows us to see the inner workings or immaterial labor of all the work that goes into being an effortless hostess.
In reading accounts of women who were hostesses, what you do not often see is personal details, their level of wellness, health issues, etc.  These diaries were almost expected to be read at some point by someone else. One never knows who the assumed reader may be, but the common separation of the author even from herself illustrates the necessary detachment of the hostess in her observations.  “It is only in the abstract, of course. That such structuring devices can be separated from content. A diarist is a recorder, but she is also an observer, a witness, and a memory-keeper, and each of these roles affects the way she will frame her narrative. The word “observer” implies a degree of detachment, and as an observer, the diarist frequently records events, including the personnel involved, very much from the margins, as a person neither physically nor emotionally much engaged” (Cultural Work 30-31).
Considering the cultural icons that a hostess as a group has in her ranks and has made famous throughout history, there are too many to name. However, a few that come to mind are Jenny Churchill, Dolley Madison, Jackie Kennedy, and Adelicia Acklen of Nashville’s Belmont Mansion.  It is safe to say that all of these ladies were playing at some politics. And having a good time doing so. “Even if each woman dresses in conformity with her status, a game is still being played: artifice, like art, belongs to the realm of the imaginary” (Presentation in Everyday Life 57).
The word hospitality goes back a long ways. In the distant past, a traveler’s life might depend on it. The roots of the word go back at least to the crusades and the hospitallers. Following the First Crusade, the monastic hospitaller order was founded to care for pilgrims in Jerusalem. In time, they began to ensure safe passage of pilgrims by offering armed escorts, growing into an increasingly powerful force.  Moving forward in time from the hospitallers, we find a less dramatic application of hospitality: the ability to magically put people at ease.
For a fine example of the hostess creating ease and achieving her own ends through her ability to do so, we look to Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham.  Adelicia was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1817. She would have three husbands and ten children. Only four of her children would live to adulthood. Her first husband Isaac Franklin was 28 years older than her.  Their seven year marriage before his death produced her first four children, and she inherited from him the plantations they owned in Louisiana. This set her up for an independent life, such that while she may have had husbands after that, none of those men where in control of her in the ways typical of the time period. Her second two husbands signed marriage contracts ensuring her of this and of her freewill. In this way, she was something of a historical anomaly and an excellent link between the past and the present, in regards to the changing roles of women in society and the evolution of patriarchy. 
Adelicia was an amazing hostess in the city of Nashville in the 19th century at the largest of her homes, Belmont (originally Bellemonte).  However, it is safe to say that she would have been an amazing hostess anywhere. Her later years were spent in Washington D.C. She also traveled to Europe with her children after the American Civil War, where they were all presented at the French court of Emperor Napoleon the 3rd and his wife empress Eugenie. The French royals were impressed with her and they become friends.  The parties that were held at Belmont under her reign as Nashville’s queen of American society, were such that she was formally listed in a book of the same name.
She would consult the almanac to arrange the biggest parties on nights when there was a full moon to best light the road and passage of her guests, not to mention the extensive gardens. The gazebos and trees were full of brightly colored paper lanterns, musicians wandered about playing for her guests, and the food was always of the best variety served in the most elegant style. She had 6 or 7 sets of dishes each set having 200 to 350 pieces, which is necessary when serving a 12 or 15 course meal to 20 or so of your closest friends, or visitors in town from far away and interesting places with stories to tell. They may have spent time at Belmont, visiting for a month or two, as travel was much more arduous then. The role of the hostess then would extend far beyond the organization of a dinner party.  Attending to the needs, desires, and comforts of her guests was a fully occupying task and one would imagine that she was almost always “on.” Parties small or large would have visited the zoo and greenhouses, art gallery and water tower. Notable people were always dropping in. Her son William said that he had always wished there had been a guest book to record all the illustrious actors, poets, painters, politicians, scientists, doctors, and musicians visiting his mother. However, he also says that the only way to get away from the busy hustle and bustle of these constant unannounced visitors was just to leave for awhile and travel yourself.
Life was, of course, not without gravity and peril, and the Civil War left no Southerner untouched.  Adelicia faced what is likely her most well known battle during this time. Nashville being a newly confederate city was taken back over by the Union.  Many left town to avoid this, including her second husband Joseph Acklen. He went to the plantations and stayed there to presumably amongst other things protect their assets there. He would die in September of 1863 due to unknown causes. This put Adelicia in a particular situation, with the possibility of losing everything and her financial security.  She and her cousin Sarah Gaunt set out for the plantations, traveling by gunboat and through hostile territory. 
It was unusual, to say the least, that these women were traveling alone into more dangerous areas to achieve their mission, and they relied upon their carefully honed skills as hostesses, graciousness and charm, as strongly as their guns. In several examples during the trip, Adelicia and Sarah used to the very best of their ability every charm they had.  After arriving at the plantation of Angola, she paid the confederate solders who had taken it over to guard it for them. She entertained union officers in the area as well, feigning delight at their arrival as now she would feel safer.  She and Sarah saying they were just out for a walk were described as being dressed in short hunting skirts, tall boots, and with pointer dogs and guns heavily armed. Still with the same charming delight of a hostess, she greeted the arriving solders and welcomed them to please stay and shoot any bird they liked as all the land they could see was hers and that the cook would prepare any of their hunting trophies for supper for them all, and that they must stay and be her guests. She would also ask parlez vous francais? Do you speak French? To which they replied no, but as a solder writes his captain they could indeed speak French and could understand what the women were saying to each other when they thought they could not. It was a very different conversation that was going on there, in fear and desperation, of they must help us, we must convince them, etc...
This example like many from the very long story show how by hook and by crook Adelicia and Sarah managed to, at different times over the course of the 8 months this trip took, get 2000 and 800 bales of her cotton that was under constant threat by both sides passed safely through the blockade and to England, where it was sold to the Rothschild family there for 900 and 65 thousand dollars in gold to be deposited for her in the bank of England and kept safe till she and her children would travel there after the war ended for their Grand Tour of Europe. Leaving places in the middle of the night, forging documents, feigning illness, and as her sister Corrine say she could talk a bird out of a tree. These two ladies took care of business and got the job done where the men in their lives that were supposed to be helping them failed miserably. This is the power of a hostess at its most potent. No is not a word that was said to her and taken seriously. The strength and sheer determination shown all throughout her life is astonishing.  When we tell the stories of history, we know their endings and that all will be well.  This is not information that they had. It was frightening and stressful, truly on many occasions a life or death situation, but by necessity they maintained their calm façade and relied upon the skills they had and the outlets for power that were open to them.

Adelicia lived more independently than many women of her epoch. Creating her world on her own terms, only working within the confines of availability. Her role as hostess was a powerful asset in her toolbox full of skills.  There is a legacy to this independence and owning of one’s power.  After her lifetime, Adelicia’s house would become the home of an elite finishing school for young ladies for 61 years, known in its prime as Ward Belmont. Families sent their daughters to the school from all over the country. Both day and boarding students attended, many of which become famous in their own right. You may not have heard of Sarah Cannon, but her alter ego Minnie Pearl I am sure you have, Clare Booth Luce, Ann Ryn, Mary Martian of Peter Pan fame, just to name a few. The suffragette movement was strong here, and in 1920, Tennessee voted in the perfect 36, which gave women the vote in this country for the first time.  A powerful woman, wielding her skills as hostess extraordinaire, can have a lasting impact.
 Moving all throughout history, we see shining examples of women wielding power in the form of being a hostess and throwing a party as a medium for their goals and desires. First ladies of note in this area include Jackie Kennedy and Dolley Madison, who introduced ice cream as fashionable or a la mode, meaning “in the style of the day.” Another example of note is the American Jenny Churchill, who gave birth to Winston Churchill at a party she was determined not to miss at Blenim Palace.
In the book and film The Great Gatsby, parties and hosting is reminiscent of the Count of Monte Cristo, used as weapon of revenge and proving oneself worthy, if not better than all the others.  Going much further back to a clever lady, we must mention Penelope of the Odyssey, keeping all those suitors at bay for years, always weaving and unweaving the shroud as a project that she said must be finished before she could choose, asking the newly returned odysseys to move their bed as a test. She used her power in a subtle way.  The strength is something that is passed down from generation to generation like a great recipe. Patriarchal culture may have had the rule of the day but that did not mean they were invincible. 
Many official hostesses are involved in politics or government in general. This is a role queens, first ladies, and wives of important men have always played. When Dolley Madison’s husband became President, she began hosting parties that anyone could attend. Many came and sometimes they attracted nearly 400 guests. These events became a popular way to meet with others from political society.  She was very popular as a hostess. “Hostesses who entertain much must make up their parties as ministers make up their cabinets, on grounds other than personal liking” (George Eliot). These entertainments required and continue to require a lot of work, behind the scenes, to make it all happen. To be a good hostess could improve the business or political prospects of your husband or whomever you choose to support.
Jackie Kennedy was a representation of the new and modern world and the future.  In her time at the White House, the other Kennedy ladies did not always get along with her so well and called her “the deb,” as in debutante. Meanwhile, she knew a lot more about how to run a house like that than they did.  She also restored the White House and hosted a televised tour of it for the public. She knew the history of those who had come before her and wanted to preserve that as well as throw a good party and keep her kids out of the public glare as much as possible. She famously said, “I want minimum information given with maximum politeness” (Jackie Kennedy).  She used her skill as a hostess to exert control over public opinion, to share no more than she chose, but to do so kindly and smoothly enough that no one noticed the lack of substantive information.

III.           Invisibility
The hostess can be seen as a puppet master or a genuine caregiver or both, the truth is, it is complicated. The joys of society, especially in the days before television and the like, were enormous. People coming to visit from afar had stories to tell that had not yet been heard in the current locale. The excitement of this is difficult to understand from a modern perspective and requires a reorientation to grasp the disproportionate impact.  The hostess facilitated the great joy of society and the interactions therein, with care, intention, and an appearance of calm.  There was work to it, and design.  Like Mark Twain’s duck, calm on the surface and paddling like hell underneath, the hostess let her machinations move beneath her calm façade. Guests are unsuspecting children that interact well when properly arranged. There is of course an element of chaos. Being able to swiftly, and hopefully without outward agitation, defuse any negative interactions is a great skill that seems somewhat underutilized these days.
“The paradox of her position is that although there is no place for her as a person, her function is elaborated within a discourse that concerns and upholds the status of the person” (The Hostess 226). Tending to the person herself, for whom there is still no authentic place, is the task left to the hostess alone. Her role is a complex one, wrought with contradiction. “The combination of these demands made for the hostess’s job description as someone who was both administratively dominant- that is, someone who could demand, coax, and coerce tradesmen, servants, and family members into efficient cooperation and who had the ability to coordinate a myriad of issues simultaneously- and personally self-abnegating, that is, someone willing to foreground the interest, and especially the egos, of others rather than her own. Although she was always visible, the hostess never paraded her own talents; she was a catalyst whose job was to set the scene for her guests to render public their interests, talents, and ideas” (Cultural Work Book 123). 
So she was at once a vital presence and a negated one, creating space and potential for others, but often not asserting her own presence and worth in that space, being a non-person or robot of caregiving almost, creating a space by cleaning, creating a space by being the void; while at the same time, being present attending to detail, listening. “In previous sections of this chapter some general characteristic of performance were suggested: activity oriented towards work-tasks tend to be converted into activity oriented towards communication; the front behind which the routine is presented is also likely to be suitable for other, somewhat different routines and so is likely not to fit completely any particular routine; sufficient self-control is exerted so as to maintain a working consensus; an idealized impression is offered by accentuating certain facts  and  concealing others; expressive coherence is maintained by the performer taking more care to guard against minor disharmonies than the stated purpose of the performance might lead the audience to think was warranted” (Presentation of Self 65).
IV.           Power and Powerlessness
This paper is about women in history and the present who have less areas of power open to them for whatever reason, but find a way to gain it, in unexpected ways.  It hinges on the idea of façade as a tool, or at times, weapon of society.  To pay attention to as many individuals as possible at a party, to be charming and gracious and keep going, these are the skills of the hostess.  Once the crowd is gone; however, repair of self is necessary.
Do not disrupt the Matrix.  Do not shatter the illusion of other people’s expectations.  The rules society has imposed on women in our western culture are strong, the roots are deep and old, and disrupting those rules is something that makes most people uncomfortable, and most people will do anything to stay comfortable. Women were and often still are expected to offer hospitality, to be gracious, selfless, and in the service of others, create comfort, offer social arrangements. None of us are really immune to it, and if you are they say you are crazy. To have a fainting spell or the vapors or a headache was one way of being able to stay out of the role if it did not suit you. We only have to read any number of Jane Austen’s novels to understand the workings of the whole system. Which she wrote while in a room of other people and covered up if anyone unknown or servants came into the room. Her observations are as sharp as they can come however.
Many artists and famous writers were only allowed the indulgence of their craft due to otherwise being ill or at least claiming to be. Before finding her calling and making her escape to be a nurse, breaking through all sorts of rules, Florence Nightingale often fell asleep at dinner parties at her parents home when she was not fending off suitors. “The debate over the meaning or subversive possibilities of identifications so far has left unclear exactly where those identifications are to be found. The interior psychic space in which identifications are said to be preserved makes sense only if we can understand that interior space as a phantasized locale that serves yet another psychic function” (Gender Troubles 67).
The seemingly subservient role of the hostess is actually a powerful one. The hostess can, to a certain extent, control the environment that she has created, and in many cases the reactions of the guests, if all are playing by the same game of etiquette. Being able to compartmentalize oneself is quite handy in the role of playing a hostess. You might be able to do both at the same time if you have enough Tupperware, both physically and mentally.
What is real? What is authentic? The inner life or the performance? The performance done long enough must become a reality at some point.  In a statement of terrifying truth, Kurt Vonnegut said “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” It can be comforting to do what is expected of you. Continuously trying to fight the systems of society is tiring and likely can be more stressful than playing along. All throughout recorded history this rings true, and we read the same meta-narrative again and again. “No one is truly free, they are a slave to wealth, fortune, the law, or other people restraining them from acting according to their will” (Euripides).

V.             Changing Socio-Cultural Roles of Women
In nearly all of these accounts, the hostess involved on this high-end scale of entertaining had large staffs to do the work, with their ladies planning and organizing.  The ladies though knew enough to step in anywhere if needed.  So now, besides all the rich and famous historical people who entertain, there are also regular folks, innkeepers, hotel staffs, and many other private homes that are welcoming and clean, warm and well fed, cozy and comfortable. Of course anywhere with good friends with whom you can be yourself and share a meal together is a wonderful thing indeed.  Society could not run without the hostess, and if people do not realize that, it is evidence of a job well done.

In a broader sense, the art of the hostess seems largely overlooked today.  We deny the designs and standards we hold ourselves to socially and artistically. “In spite of our willingness to appreciate the expressive requirements of these several kinds of situations, we tend to see these situations as special cases; we tend to blind ourselves to the fact that everyday secular performances in our own Anglo-American society must often pass a strictest of aptness, fitness, propriety and decorum… perhaps this blindness is partly due to the fact that as performers we are often more conscious of the standards which we might have applied to our activity but have not thought of the standards we unthinkingly apply” (Pres of Self 55).
Removing my own blinders and looking personally at my life as a window into the hostess as she has evolved and exists now in modern times, I see a pervasive pull to perform.  A great deal of my life has been spent as such a performer, whether for tourists in a house museum, pretending I am not out of breath from my corset, which is part of the 1860s style clothing I wear there sometimes. Or listening to one more drunk art gallery “patron” asking for more wine and yet not supporting the event they attend by purchasing anything. Or being the youngest and only single mother in the room at the children’s elementary school open house and so far out of place and scared of the so-called older, wiser professional type parents and condescending teachers. I ask, when am I not acting?
 Before now I did not know the words to adequately describe the situations I was in and the stress they caused me, and sometimes still do cause me.  Fear masked with the very best smile I can muster, like walking amongst monsters, is what it could feel like. Feeling them judge me constantly. I am still recovering, but if all this and my early life can make me feel like I can relate more to women in books and histories from a hundred years ago or more, I can with certainty depend on their strength and what they and especially Adelicia have taught me.  I will try to the very best of my ability to honor them by being clever, successful and brave almost everyday. As a friend once said to me after hearing tales of my travels and my complaints that so many strangers would stop me and ask for directions or where the bathroom or exit was in another city I was in, I myself being a tourist, assuming I worked at any museum I was in. Nina said well isn’t it nice to know that the docent power isn’t just in the hoop skirts but is a presence you carry all the time. 
This presence is the air of authority and graciousness that comes from a women exercising her power in the ways that she feels are open to her, regardless of the year or culture in which she lives.  The invisibility of the woman beneath the façade of the hostess becomes more and more of a choice, as perceived avenues of power open up. Society today allows a woman to bring forth her authentic self, honestly, visibly, much more so than in the past.  The degree to which women fulfill the role of the hostess is a choice that we may make.  Becoming aware of that choice helps to reconcile the internal experience with the external performance.

Belmont Mansion archives, files and letters.

Butler, J. Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York, NY: Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1990. Print.

Goffman, Irving. The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life. Anchor, 1959. Print.

Harris, Susan K. The Cultural Work of the Late Nineteenth-Century Hostess: Annie Adams Fields and Mary Gladstone Drew, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312295294 (0-312-29529-4).

McNulty, Tracy. The Hostess: Hospitality, Femininity, and the
Expropriation of Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,

Wool, Virginia, Francine Prose, et al, and First . The Mrs. Dalloway
Reader. Orlando : Harcourt, Inc., 2004. Print.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012



Sunday, June 24, 2012

Today, cryptic much

Saturday, June 23, 2012


In process Tasha and Mark

Friday, June 22, 2012


bear's name?

Just over here cracking myself up

Not finished, in progress as always. But I love them :)

new Belmont paintings of Doctor Cheatham and Colonel Joseph Acklen
as well as a different painting of Emma, so now there are two of those.

Sketching out painting of Emma Franklin

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Process 2


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Art of uncertainty


Wabi Sabi

Sarah's ceramics

Today's todayness

Monday, June 18, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Recent tarot

Downtown Presbyterian church , art by Beth gilmore
This book is awesome and you should totally read it

The Peach Truck at Crema

Wonder-full Peaches!! Links to follow shortly, however look them up on twitter :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

anne lamott is awesome

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Twist Culture podcast episode 5: Berlin-based artist Danielle de Picci...

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Look it up #awesome and etc

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 203, Ray Bradbury

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 203, Ray Bradbury

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 12, William Faulkner

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 12, William Faulkner

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

There are monsters in there