After fleeing her arms-dealing husband and his castle in the Austrian countryside, Hedy Lamarr made her way to Hollywood and the open arms of MGM Studios. She was going to be a star! The only problem: she’d gained a risque reputation for herself in the Czech film Ecstacy. This temptress image is one that would follow Hedy for much of her career, despite the fact that not only was she an extraordinary talent, she was also an extraordinary mind. Because little did most of Hollywood know, Hedy spent her evenings working on an invention that would go on to change the world forever! Join us as we journey through wartime Vienna to the MGMs studio lots, and watch the thrilling and devastating downfall of the bombshell, Hedy Lamarr.
Famous today as the overlooked illustrator of the influential Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck, in her own time Pamela Colman Smith was something of an enigma. Known for her lively and enchanting Jamaican folklore performances, her publishing press and literary magazine, and for her extraordinary miniature theatre, Pamela – Pixie to her friends – wove magical worlds where women had agency and gender was fluid. But she was also a woman cloaked in mystery, and who was often Othered by her contemporaries. Join us, together with PCS scholar Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, as we travel from England to Jamaica, New York and Cornwall, tracing this elusive and enigmatic woman.
Infamous as the ‘Mad Queen of Madagascar’, Queen Ranavalona’s reign is remembered as one of violence and tyranny. But she was also a queen with a noble mission: to protect the sovereignty and traditional practices of her people from the enormous and oppressive colonial forces of the French and English. Her methods, though, were inventive. Come with us to the island of Madagascar to discover a queen unafraid to poison a witch or two (or a few thousand), hang herself some Christians, and lead her nation to its industrial revolution.
From conservative Melbourne to the Bohemian underworld of Paris’ Rive Gauche, and a wild mountain hideaway in Positano, Vali Myers led a life like no other. Heralded as the original hippy and the muse of beatniks and hipsters, Vali Myers was an artist, dancer and environmentalist who left entire movements in her wake. After living on the streets and dancing in jazz clubs to stay alive, she went on to establish a wildlife sanctuary in Italy where she painted profound images of the sacred, nature and the feminine. Join us as we uncover the extraordinary life of the woman dubbed the Witch of Positano.
This week we teamed up with Kendra and Autumn of Reading Women to get spooky and chat all things Shirley Jackson, the queen of horror. From her unhappy childhood as the unwanted daughter of aspiring socialites, to her equally unhappy marriage to the philandering Stanley Hymen, we investigate how the demons of domesticity and anxiety (and a dose of a love for the occult) primed her to become one of the greatest gothic horror writers of all time. We then dive into her masterful short story, ‘The Lottery’, and geek out about the new adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. So grab your favourite dog-eared Jackson paperback, and settle in for Halloween and Day of the Dead with the four of us!
From humble beginnings as the daughter of a blacksmith, little Emy Lyon could never have known she would end up Lady Emma Hamilton: wife of the English ambassador to Naples, lover to the glorified hero Admiral Nelson, and muse to some of the greatest artists of her age. But history has defined Emma by the men she inspired, overlooking the complex and creative woman who developed her own style of performance art, and who was instrumental in the political machinations that would see Nelson defeat the French. Follow us from the seedy “health spas” of London into the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, as we follow a woman whose scandalous and unconventional life made her a celebrity.
Jennet Device was just nine years old when she found herself at the centre of one of history’s most infamous witch trials. On the stand, she denounced her entire family as witches and set up a precedent for child witness testimony that would have ramifications long after she was gone. We trace the fascinating details of this notorious trial – from its canine familiars to clay figures and forbidden sabbats – and investigate just how complicit Jennet may have been in the Device family’s demise!
In the 5th century BCE the Persian Empire stretched from Asia and the Middle East, as far as Africa and Europe. But the Persian King, Xerxes, sought to expand the empire, launching his armies into Greece by land and by sea. Among the commanders of the Persian fleet was Artemisia: Queen of Caria and ruthless naval strategist. Her courage at the Battle of Artemisium set her apart, and her wily recklessness at the Battle of Salamis cemented her place in history, as well as in Xerxes’ esteem. But the historicity of her life is elusive, leading some to fill in the gaps with clichéd tropes. Take your place to witness an epic clash of civilisations, as we consider Artemisia’s place in the fray alongside Hollywood’s representation of this fascinating figure.
Famed as the legendary Nun Lieutenant, Catalina de Erauso, fighter, lover and all round adventurer, was perhaps even more revered for her status as a supreme seducer than her skills with a sword. After escaping the convent where she spent her childhood, Catalina fashioned herself hose and doublet and made her way through Spain and South America under a number of male guises. Her pattern of lawbreaking, finding sanctuary in churches and evading execution eventually got her an audience with the Pope himself. So don your habit, grab your sword and join us for one hell of an adventure.
In October 2017, women across the globe came together under the hashtag MeToo. However, social activist and advocate Tarana Burke had already been campaigning for women of colour under the same banner for eleven long years. In this episode, we talk about her incredibly important work, the pervasiveness of predatory behaviour, and the way women are constantly told that they should somehow take responsibility for a culture of misogyny and sexual entitlement beyond their control. A content warning for listeners that we discuss issues of sexual violence and trauma, getting pretty angry and emotional into the bargain. This is not an episode best suited to your morning commute! At the same time, we also celebrate the influence of this inspiring woman, and the movement that has grown up in the wake of her work.
Towards the close of the 17th century, the opulent hallways of Versailles were swept up with the scandalous ‘Affair of the Poisons’. The Sun King, Louis XIV, ordered an investigation into the dark underworld of the Paris occult, hunting down those who supplied potions and aphrodisiacs alongside more sinister wares. One of those was Catherine Monvoisin, a favoured fortune teller and sorceress among the wealthy elite. Join us as we press our ears to the grand doorways of the palace, abuzz with whispered gossip and treachery, and endeavour to unpick truth from accusation in the life of La Voisin.
Infamous as the last woman tried under the Witchcraft Act of 1735, Helen Duncan caused more than a few stirs in her time. After terrifying her schoolmates her with dire predictions, Helen grew up to become one of wartime Britain’s foremost physical mediums. She soon became the target of a series of scientific investigations and caught the attention of MI5, which resulted in a court-case Winston Churchill himself described as ‘obsolete tomfoolery.’ So grab your cheesecloth and darken the lights as we delve into the scandalous life of Mrs Duncan!