ah Germaine, you've done it again
“You all know why you’re here. She’s a great Shelia. Sit down and shut up – I give you Germaine Greer.”So the welcome by Moria Rayner concluded at a belated International Women’s Day Event, “An evening with Germaine Greer”. Like the lecture late last year as part of the Jane Austen and Comedy Conference, it was a sold out affair populated by a high proportion of Women of a Certain Age. The old Athenaeum theatre was literally packed to the rafters right up to the back row of ‘The Gods’.
After a rock star-like reception, Dr Greer graced us with her wit and charm. Remembering some of the challenges of the last talk that I’d attended I came equipped with pen and notebook to jot down all the words I anticipated needing to look up later. But this was a public lecture not attached to a literary conference and subtly she shifted her focus and language. In fact at times she was downright gushy. Towards the end of her lecture about Shakespeare’s wife there were tears in her eyes, with the passion she felt for women who had fallen from the edges of the history books.
Dr Greer recounted that her love of Shakespeare began at a young age, memorising his plays, so that “by twelve I had huge chunks of Shakespeare taking up space in my brain, like icebergs in the Bering Straight”. This set her up well for her doctorate at Cambridge but the frustration of not being able to connect it across the disciplines with a fascination in the ideology of marriage in the 16th century lay the seeds to the future work that became “Shakespeare’s Wife”. Though back in those days
“as a professional woman and academic I presumed all wives were dullards.”
Her comedic recounting of the way history has treated Ann Hathaway as an old hag, at 26, who mysteriously was able to entrap “the boy”, the 18-year-old Shakespeare, into marriage launched her tale. Perhaps in another, more academic forum she would have elucidated more clearly how she made many of her sweeping assumptions, piecing together a new version of the history of their relationship but considering Greer’s track record I am sure the book does this in spades. As an audience member I had lots of questions as to her route to her assumptions, such as her description of Ann struggling to breastfeed her twins, “wet nurse” was a thought that popped into her head.
As always, it is her generosity in the way she opens herself up to questioning at the end of her lectures that holds many of the gems. While there was some routine questioning as to aspects of the book, the personal stuff can be most amusing. A fan asked how she felt about her appalling portrayal in the local press. Her quick response began with:
”Can you imagine how embarrassed I’d be to be the darling of the Australian media? I’d have to slit my wrists if I was”and continued into a rant about the Murdock empire and their perceived power.
She was frank about her personal life and the thorny choice for a woman of her generation between marriage and family or that of a single woman. Despite the fact
“I was too tall to dance backwards…and never had a proposal from someone who wasn’t kidding”she noted that “freedom is sometimes the same as loneliness”.
The night ended with Moria Rainer presenting her with a bottle of wine still in it’s plain brown wrapper. An odd twist to an otherwise top-notch evening. While Dr Greer is not everyone’s cup of tea, it is fantastic to see a 60-something academic still pull such a crowd on a hot, Monday night.