I just read “Anna Kingsford, Clothed in Clouds” by Thalia Field. It’s available here, at Trickhouse.
The essay focuses on (of course) Anna Kingsford, an early English feminist and one of the first women in England to earn a degree in medicine. It moves through a series of short paragraphs/lines that address AK, often asking her a question and beginning with her name. The rhythm and syntax have a heightened lyricism that makes the essay read almost like a nursery rhyme at times. Quotes by AK are also woven in, including a relatively long block of text that ends the piece.
The essay is also interesting for being part of a series of writing inspired by artist Heide Hatry. Hatry makes awesome people-heads out of the skins and body parts of animals (AK was an animal rights advocate). Her book _Heads and Tales_ includes photographs of 27 of these heads, each paired with a story/essay by a female writer. Field decided her head was a historical person, but many of the texts are fiction.
I’m interested in Field’s essay here not just because it’s beautiful, but because it also informs. I didn’t know AK going in, but that didn’t get in the way of appreciating and engaging with the text. In my mind, I often place the highly stylized/lyrical/&c essays in a different place than the informative essays. Like, give it to me straight, Doc. A lot of Field’s earlier work, for example, requires me to do some research before I can fully appreciate what she’s doing and saying. But here, the task of informing (explaining, maybe?) does not confuse the language or prevent the essay from progressing and doing the more-than-explaining that I read for.
In “Anna Kingsford, Clothed in Clouds,” it all fits together so nicely. Like there is nothing to worry about, like all the tasks the essay takes up are effortlessly the same task. It’s nice to see so many of the things an essay can do happening at once, rather than away in their separate compartments, to remember that there’s nothing wrong or un-artsy about giving your reader some information.
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