Scholarships and Frankenstein's Granny

The Head's Study

The Year 11 scholarship candidates impressed me in so many ways during their interviews this week but no more so than their response to the historian, David Olusoga’s article on the toppling of Colston’s statue during the BLM marches in the first lockdown. We discussed the portrayal of black figures in History and Literature; we considered how little most knew about Colston until this event and so, in a way, how making history helps us learn more about History; we argued about the nature of protest and where the boundaries lie. There was so much to explore and such uplifting proof, yet again, of the girls’ honed critical thinking skills and informed social and political consciences. It was inspiring.

One of the most fruitful lines of discussion was the role of statues: too many dead white males? Have they had their day and should they now be retired to museums where we can learn about them in context?

How serendipitous then to read about Maggi Hambling’s statue commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft that was unveiled last week at Newington Green where she founded a school in 1785. This statue too is mired in controversy. Hambling is clear that it represents the birth of the feminist movement rather than a representation of Wollstonecraft herself but residents are not so sure about the form of a nude woman that has been created.

What is certain though is the discussion and interest sparked by the controversy: over a million people have now read about Mary Wollstonecraft on BBC news alone. As one of our four Houses, I would hope that all RHS Bath girls are well informed about Wollstonecraft and her role in shaping the feminist movement but I cannot help thinking that this is another good example of controversy being informative for us all.

And the nickname of ‘Frankenstein’s Granny’ that has now been given to the statue is, as a humble English teacher, all for the good too if it helps people make the connection between Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. I shall be putting up an image of the new statue on Wollstonecraft’s noticeboard and look forward to hearing girls continuing to express their opinions and powers of persuasion, two essential skills for our change-makers of the future.