Sally Campbell

Classic Read: Roxana

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Daniel Defoe

First published in 1724

This lesser known novel by the author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders is the "autobiography" of a professional mistress, set during the Restoration of the late 17th century. But it feels like Defoe's own time - the new world of capitalist London, in which traders are competing with aristocrats and a delicate social etiquette is coming under strain.

Engels revisited

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There has been a recent resurgence in writers about women's oppression looking to Marx and Engels for answers, with some arguing he crudely emphasised class at the expense of oppression. Here, Sally Campbell looks at the claims of those writers and defends Engels from the critics

There is a common assertion that Marxism as a set of ideas does not or cannot account for oppression. Some argue, for example, that Marxism is a form of economic determinism that reduces all the complexity of human interaction down to production; because we see workers' revolution as the solution, we see all other struggles - against racism or gender oppression - as subordinate to the struggle in the workplace.

This comes from the right - they want to attack revolutionary ideas, full stop.

Lore

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Lore begins at the moment the German war effort collapsed in spring 1945 and US, Russian and British forces swept across the land.

Lore, a girl of about 13, must take charge of her four younger siblings after their Nazi parents are imprisoned. They are the privileged children of a top SS officer, born and raised under Hitler's regime and benefiting from it as other children suffered. Now they must travel alone some 500 miles from Bavaria to their grandmother's house near Hamburg.

Hysteria

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Directed by Tanya Wexler, out now

Angela Carter once wrote an essay called "Alison's Giggle", which was about the changing representations of women's sexuality in literature. Alison was the carpenter's wife in Chaucer's The Miller's Tale, written at the end of the 14th century. She finds her husband repulsive and has taken another lover. She humiliates the older and rather ridiculous carpenter by tricking him into kissing her arse. "Tee hee, said she", Chaucer writes, showing Alison's glee as she returns to her lover.

Socialism and women's liberation

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It is 100 years since the first International Women's Day was held in March 1911, yet despite many victories gender inequality still exists today. Sally Campbell argues that only socialism can bring genuine liberation

We live in a time of contradiction. There are more women in positions of power than ever before, yet attitudes to women seem to be going backwards. Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, a country debating imposing a quota for women in the boardrooms. Yet the head of Deutsche Bank, when asked if he supported the proposal, said yes, of course - women would make boardrooms "more colourful and prettier".

Let Me In

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Director: Matt Reeves; Release date: 5 November

Let Me In ticks three boxes which put it firmly at the top of the "current trends" pile.

Firstly, it's a film about young people, one of whom is a vampire. Thankfully these are not the tortured teenagers of the Twilight saga, whose petulant faces give me a whole new insight into why my mum didn't take me seriously when I was 15. Our protagonists are 12 year olds ("or thereabouts", in the case of Abby, the vampire). This is a much less examined age, a precipice between childhood and full-on adolescence.

Positive side-effects

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"These days, nobody seems able to 'keep it in their pants' or honour a commitment! Raising the question, is marriage still a viable option? I'm ashamed to admit that I myself have been married four times, and yet I still feel that it is the cornerstone of civilisation, an essential institution that stabilises society, provides a sanctuary for children and saves us from anarchy."

This was Raquel Welch's response on CNN to this month's fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the pill in the US. Her somewhat internally contradictory argument (she loves marriage so much, she's done it four times!) is that the advent of oral contraception has led to the breakdown of "family values" and rampant promiscuity. She is not alone in putting that case. Tory politicians such as Iain Duncan Smith have argued against making contraception more available to girls, paradoxically claiming it will lead to higher teenage pregnancy rates.

The corporate seduction of feminism

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Socialist feminist and US academic Hester Eisenstein spoke to Sally Campbell and Judith Orr about her book, Feminism Seduced, and the challenges facing the women's movement in the US and worldwide.


What do you think about the first year of Barack Obama's presidency?

I didn't share the excitement and the enthusiasm that a lot of my colleagues on the left had about Obama. I distinguish his actions from the symbolism of his being elected.

Seraphine

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Director Martin Provost; Release date: out now

I can't recall the last film I saw in which the lead character was a middle-aged, ordinary-looking, working class woman with mental health issues. That she is also an artist and a real person makes this story rare indeed.

Yolande Moreau plays Séraphine Louis (known as Séraphine de Senlis - the French town in which she lived and worked), a cleaning woman and an artist "discovered" in 1912 when she was already nearly 50.

The White Ribbon

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Director Michael Haneke; Release date: 13 November

The White Ribbon is an utterly convincing and absorbing portrait of a small north German village in the 15 months running up to the First World War. Nasty incidents begin to occur, and it seems there is an "enemy within" disrupting the harmony of the village. Taking his time and with absolute precision Haneke builds up a set of characters ranged in almost feudal relationships with each other: the baron, the doctor, the pastor, the schoolteacher, the farmer.

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