Inspired by Helen Rogers’ great recent post for The Voice of the People online symposium, this week I’m going to write about one of my most complex only children: poet and novelist Cecil Day Lewis (1904-1972). As Helen points out, while Big Data certainly has its place in historical study (and it’s something I’m currently learning a lot about in order to widen my employability horizons), there’s also a very important place for intimate, deep reading of texts. In fact, my thesis is basically a bunch of in-depth case studies formed into a vague order, with commentary, and Big Data appeals to me as a way of starting off with a large dataset, but then focussing in on interesting individual details. Day Lewis’ case shows how what might be deemed typical ‘only-child’ behaviour is a lot more complex than it would seem on the surface, and possibly not even the result of being an only child at all.
By following a few PhD accounts on Twitter, you can’t help but see some excessive-seeming advice, endless lists of writing and productivity tips (some of which appear to have been cooked up by the same people who write bizarre sex tips for women’s magazines), and snark from sensible people like myself who don’t feel the need to work on our PhDs all the time. I’ve had a ridiculously productive week this week. I think that trip to Oxford really fired me up for getting an unprecedented amount of writing done. However, some of my working practices would fill some people who make a living from giving PhD advice with horror. I think the message here is: do whatever the hell works for you.
This week, I hardly did any work at all; I had a nice little break in Oxford instead, where I stayed with one of my best friends, who works in the Bodleian (jealous!). I did some cultural things and less-than-cultural things!
Working on my chapter about parent-child relationships, I noticed a small-scale pattern that, given that my thesis constantly debunks stereotypes, I hadn’t expected: that the small number of only (and sibling) children in intact families who found themselves strongly aligning themselves with one parent against the other, favoured the opposite-sex parent. Although I do have some time for Freud, and probably have to mention him in my thesis whether I want to or not, I always found the Oedipus/Electra complex a bit random and out-there, not to mention unproveable. Besides, I suspect there were many other reasons this could happen, and I’m going to examine those in this post.
Just as my work has turned up mostly only children who didn’t fit the only-child stereotypes - particularly that they were loners, socially awkward and didn’t have any friends, or precocious because they were too indulged by their parents - I’ve found a number of non-only children in my control group who actually fitted the stereotype in certain ways. There were various reasons for this: having a sibling was not a guarantee of good company, individual personality influenced by both genes and environment, and, in my opinion very importantly, treatment by parents. I’m going to talk about four people who were particularly only-ish.
I am not good at the summer ‘break’. I have plenty of work to keep me occupied, but everything is so dull, campus is absolutely dead and there are no events to go to. It’s only since I’ve been at university that I’ve hated this time of year. Unlike university, the re-starting of school was nothing to look forward to whatsoever, and as a child I had a higher tolerance of daytime TV (only four-and-a-bit channels as well!), no termtime social life to compare with the dead time of summer (this has everything to do with being a misfit introvert and nothing to do with being an only child, by the way), and the internet could keep me entertained for a lot longer when I couldn’t use it until my mum finished working on the computer. So, to ward off boredom-induced insanity, I’ve been trying to do interesting/new things as an act of self-care.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch 25-minute presentations by potential new staff for my department. I learnt things that would come in handy when/if I’m interviewed for academic jobs, but it also brought home how hard it would be.
Last weekend I had the honour of being invited to speak at a symposium commemorating the life and work of Leonore Davidoff, who died last October. There were moving speeches from scheduled speakers and audience members alike, and I found it a very touching tribute to a sociologist/historian whose substantial body of work broke a lot of new ground, especially in the fields of gender and family history.