British novelist and critic Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) was also known as a writer on history, travel, and many other subjects, as well as a sometime poet. He attended Oxford University where he received a degree in literature. Unable to pursue his two first choices of profession—scientist or Air Force pilot—because of poor eyesight, he turned instead to writing. He spent most of the 1920s and 1930s living in Italy and France, where he wrote his best-known novel Brave New World (1932), before moving in 1937 to America. Huxley was a lifelong pacifist, but in the 1930s he was a particularly active one. His book Ends and Means (1937) explored the causes of war, its consequences, and how although humanity agrees on what it wants, it has failed to agree on how to get there. His Encyclopaedia of Pacifism extended his interest in the subject, looking critically at all historical, social, biological, and psychological aspects of conflict.
From Aldous Huxley, ed., An Encyclopaedia of Pacifism. London: Chatto & Windus, 1937, pp. 7–9, 27–8, 72–5, 104–6, 122.
This is a small sample of the array of painted, scratched, and scribbled graffiti archaeologists have discovered on the walls of the city of Pompeii, which was sealed in ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, eds., Roman Civilization: Selected Readings, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 276–278.
Titus Livy was born in the last century BCE (either 59 or 64 BCE) in northern Italy. Livy was a Roman patriot, and his history reflected his pride in Rome’s accomplishments. Unfortunately, only about a quarter of his original History survives. Nonetheless, it is still the best single source for Roman history, and for the parts of his History that survive, Livy is an irreplaceable primary source.
The incident related in the passage presented here involves an extremely rare instance of public political protest on the part of the women of Rome. The issue was the proposed repeal of the Lex Oppia, or Oppian Law. In 215 BCE during the Second Punic Wars, one of Rome’s three great conflicts with Carthage over dominance in the western Mediterranean, the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal inflicted a devastating defeat on the Romans at the battle of Cannae. In the wake of that defeat, the Oppian Law was passed, prohibiting women from having more than half an ounce of gold, wearing clothes in public adorned with expensive purple dye, or riding in a carriage except on religious holidays. These restrictions were implemented to suppress public displays of wealth at a time when Romans were forced by Hannibal’s successes to undergo enormous sacrifices in order to raise and equip new armies. In 195 BCE a movement arose, supported by public demonstrations by women, to repeal the restrictions. The women appealed to the consuls. One of them, Marcus Porcius Cato, adamantly opposed repeal, and the other consul, Lucius Valerius, supported repeal.
Women were denied political rights in Rome. In fact, Roman law invested the father of the family with extraordinarily broad powers (patria potestas), including even the right to kill unwanted children at birth. During the Republic, women were ordinarily under the control (manus) of their husbands, and other women had guardians who made all major decisions. The protest was a real-life effort by women to make themselves heard.
From Livy in History of Rome, Book XXXIV 1-H, Roland Mellor, ed., The Historians of Ancient Rome, 1998, 332–33, 335–36, 338. Routledge, a division of Taylor & Francis Books, LTD.
Born in 1893 into an upper-class family at a time when society expected neither intellectual nor professional achievement from such women, Vera Brittain obtained a scholarship to Somerville College at Oxford University in 1914. When the war began in August 1914, her brother, Edward, and his best friend, Roland Leighton, enlisted. Brittain left college the following year to study nursing, and she joined a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) unit. Having become engaged to Leighton while he was home on leave in August 1915, Brittain learned in December of that year that he had been killed in action on the Western Front. Continuing her nursing work, Brittain experienced the loss of numerous other friends and relatives, including her brother, over the course of the war. After the war, she returned to Oxford and developed an important literary career in her own right, publishing her beautifully written and compelling wartime memoir Testament of Youth in 1933. Throughout the 1930s, she advocated international peace and women’s rights, insisting that the shattering experiences of her youth should not be reinflicted on contemporary young people.
Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth (New York: Seaview, 1980), 239–241.
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) was one of the foremost British modernist writers. A member of the influential set of writers, artists, and philosophers known as the Bloomsbury Group, her best-known works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, as well as the nonfiction essay, A Room of One’s Own. Woolf was at the height of fame as a novelist when she wrote Three Guineas. Divided into three distinct essays, it takes the form of letters in response to requests for financial support for various admirable causes. The third essay acts both as a statement of radical pacifism and as an attempt to decode the root of all wars, which she sees as a distinctly male desire for aggression. To directly resist Fascism, therefore, is to extend the male need for dominance and not to control or terminate that desire. In this excerpt, she asks her correspondent why he thinks she should be of any use in coming up with a solution to the war. Women, after all, have been shut out of education and public office throughout history, so in what ways can they be expected to solve the muddles made of public life by men? While she recognizes the acute global crisis underway, she explores the even deeper cultural malaise of patriarchy that underlies it.
From Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas. London: Hogarth Press, 1938, Part 3.