James VI and I

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James VI and I, who has been described as “the most effective ruler Scotland ever had,” takes his two numerical titles from his reign there and in England, the fusion of which created the kingdom of Great Britain. He was an intellectual who penned several books, lent his name to the King James Version of the Bible, and played the rivalries of Scottish family factions against each other to consolidate power. His ambitions and belief in absolute monarchy justified by divine right made him unpopular in England, culminating in first the gunpowder plot and then the rebellion against his son. Although historians disagree on James’s homosexuality or bisexuality, the favoritism he showed to several male courtiers did nothing to help his case.

 

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Historiography Saturday: Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde

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In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a Victorian parable so integrated into popular culture that its adaptations alone have their own Wikipedia page, the titular Dr. Henry Jekyll devises a drug that allows him to become an alter ego not restricted by expectations of respectability. The two halves coexist until the Hyde personality begins to take over and commits murder; facing discovery, Hyde commits suicide, ending both their lives.

Although the novella is clearly an allegory, Stevenson resisted applying a specific meaning to the Jekyll-Hyde duality. However, scholars have suggested that one possible interpretation might be that Jekyll creates Hyde as an outlet for his homosexuality, an attraction that would be unthinkable for a respectable physician to act upon.It is important to note that while many adaptations add a female love interested (or at least lust interest) for Jekyll, the original only contains two women, neither of which is even given a name. In 1885, the year before Strange Case was published, the Labouchere Amendment was passed, criminalizing sodomy and leaving homosexuals vulnerable to blackmail; the repeated references to a fear of blackmail could be read as references to the Amendment. One critic has gone so far as to suggest that the character is a stand-in for Stevenson’s own attraction to men, though her textual evidence is spotty. Regardless of authorial intent, the tale does take on a different spin when read as a tragedy of the repression of same-sex attraction.

Margaret Todd

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In chemistry the word isotope (Greek for “in the same place”) refers to radioactive elements that can have more than one atomic mass despite their identical chemical properties. Although the phenomenon was discovered by chemist Frederick Soddy, it was his friend the Scottish physician Margaret Todd who suggested its name, leaving a small but important mark on scientific history.

Todd’s medical schooling took double the expected four years due to her secondary career as an author; she published several books over her lifetime (including the semi-autobiographical Mona Maclean, Medical Student), gradually transitioning away from a male pseudonym, and completing the process just in time to publish a biography of the love of her life: Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake, the head of Todd’s university. Jex-Blake also had a hand in Todd’s literary career, working as an intermediary between the author and her publishing company so her secret identity wouldn’t be discovered.