Guy Windsor: I’m here today with Dr. Eleanor Janega, to whom Dan Snow refers to as “The most awesome medieval historian in the world”. She’s a guest lecturer at LSC in the Department of International History. She has a Ph.D. in history. She has a blog called Going Medieval that you definitely should check out because I look at it routinely. She’s a co-host of the We’re Not So Different podcast. We’ll get into exactly what that covers shortly. She has a Patreon account, at patreon.com/goingmedieval, which you should definitely consider going and throwing some money at her, because money pays for research. And we all like research over here. And she’s the author of The Middle Ages: A Graphic History, which came out last year and of The Once and Future Sex coming out next year. And we will definitely be talking about that. In addition to all of this, she is a presenter of the History Hit TV shows Going Medieval and Exploring the Medieval Afterlife. But of course, regular listeners to the show will know that her main claim to fame is that she appeared on this show in episode 16, which I should say is also one of the top ten most downloaded episodes of the show so far. So without further ado, Eleanor, welcome back.
Eleanor Janega: Thanks so much for having me back. It’s always a pleasure to be here.
Guy Windsor: Well, it’s nice to see you again. Just to orient everyone, whereabouts in the world are you at the moment?
Eleanor Janega: So I am in London like everybody else. I’m very boring.
Guy Windsor: Actually on this show, it’s fairly unusual to get somebody who lives in London.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, that’s good. That’s good to know.
Guy Windsor: I think we’ve had more people from Australia than from London so far, so.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, that’s all right. Okay. I got that out of my system a few years back. So yeah, it’s okay.
Guy Windsor: So living in London, you will have had a ringside seat to this extraordinarily medieval experience this country just went through with the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King Charles III. So I thought, I know I think about it, and I’ve actually read your blog on the subject, so I have a pretty good idea I know what you think about it, but perhaps not everyone who listens to the show has also read your blog.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: So what do you think about this from your perspective as a medieval historian?
Eleanor Janega: It was quite interesting to me because before everything happened, the before times when we were still in the Elizabethan age or what have you. I had always thought, I suppose from the perspective of an immigrant, I had always thought the kind of interest in the queen was sort of like kitsch. I thought it was kind of like a sort of like camp affectation that everyone was sort of doing for fun.
Guy Windsor: Kind of is also not.
Eleanor Janega: But then it turns out I suddenly was in the midst of this, really… You know, people were genuinely upset. A lot of people were genuinely upset, which I found quite interesting, especially from the perspective of someone like me who works specifically on propaganda from varying very, I specialise in the Luxembourg’s, but the Windsors, sure, why not, you know?
Guy Windsor: I mean, we’re all about the Windsors here.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, exactly. And so it was quite interesting to me to sort of watch how effective that propaganda has been, because the number of people who said like, oh, well, she was like my nana. And I’m like, well, I don’t know. My nannies were forced to leave what was then Czechoslovakia when the Nazis rolled in / survived the blitz in London working as nurses in World War Two after moving from a farm. And so forgive me, but she wasn’t exactly like my nanas. And so it was quite interesting to watch this really deft kind of use of propaganda to convince people that they were members of one of the most powerful families on earth. Who own most of the land in this country still. And in the midst of a cost of living crisis. So that was quite interesting to me. But it was also interesting seeing all the old medieval rituals and kind of understanding at the same time, as critical as I am about that sentiment, certainly on a political level, it is quite interesting seeing all the medieval ritual that’s still there and understanding how that would be, I suppose, sort of comforting.
Guy Windsor: Comforting is exactly the word.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, yeah. So here’s this thing that’s always been happening, right? Even if you’ve never experienced it, which let’s be fair, the majority of people who are experiencing this death of a monarch have never seen it happen before. But knowing that there is a way in which things happen, a way in which things are going to unfold, and in a particular order is quite interesting. And I was quite interested in all of that. I’d gone down to see the accession. Things written at the Exchange, the Royal Exchange. And I was quite into it at first when it was all the men in their livery and the giant ceremonial mace went by and people were playing trumpets. And I was like, yes, this is great. It’s happening. You know, this is very, very cool. And then the minute when they were talking about how it was Charles’s right to accede the throne, I was like, oh, okay, I’m getting grumpy. I better get out of here because I didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else. I really want people to be able to sort of enjoy it if this is their thing. I don’t want to be the jerk who’s ruining it for other people.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, don’t yuck their yum.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. But I like it fundamentally, I’m sorry. I like it if somebody wears livery, carries a ceremonial mace nearby, and then some trumpets get played. I like that.
Guy Windsor: Yes, people do. And that’s why we have these rituals. The one thing that I think Britain does better than any other country on earth is pageantry. Because, yes, there are other countries that have their own pageantry things and they can do them fairly well. I mean, they’re even wearing the same clothes that they were wearing 500 years ago.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: And that’s not necessarily a good thing, but it is certainly its own thing.
Eleanor Janega: I suppose, to quote the great George Michael, if you’re going to do it, do it right. And so, if you’re going to do the pageantry, yeah, I better see some 500 year old clothes.
Guy Windsor: I think the one thing that really surprised me about the whole thing. I mean, is that people were surprised. When we watched the Jubilee celebrations and that very touching thing where Queen Elizabeth did a skit or a sketch with Paddington himself. Paddington actual Bear. I mean, it’s funny, actually, like the two most memorable things I I’ve seen the Queen doing are her brief cameo in the 2012 Olympics where she meets James Bond and then parachutes out of a helicopter. Yes, because she really did that. And when she had tea with Paddington. But then I just turned to my wife and said, okay, well, I don’t think she’s going to live out the year. Because it’s obvious she’s very old. 96. Her husband has recently died after a 70 year marriage. And now, I mean, she’s got this massive celebration of the work that she has done. And it’s like this is sort of when. You know, it would just be very surprising to me if she lived to the end of the year.
Eleanor Janega: So what was the point? Unless she was really determined to make it to one hundred or so. But, you know, I think that.
Guy Windsor: But she has done her thing.
Eleanor Janega: You know, once one loses their husband, interest in such things, I think usually take a nosedive. So.
Guy Windsor: So I didn’t understand where the surprise was coming from. Like people were surprised when Prince Philip died at the age of 99. How can you be surprised when a 99 year old person dies?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. I know.
Guy Windsor: You’d be surprised when they wake up in the morning.
Eleanor Janega: That’s the sort of thing I found quite interesting because this is the thing about these really clever and deft turns, as I say, in the propaganda, doing these things that involve pop culture because pop culture has such incredible meaning and hook to us now. Whereas previously, monarchs might do things that were more involved with the church or something like that, now Paddington, that’s what passes for like a universal religion for us. So doing things like this is, is quite clever. But this idea that Elizabeth, as an individual would continue on. I was quite surprised that she made it this far. I was rather worried in the winter, last winter, sort of like, oh, this is not looking good.
Guy Windsor: Well, I thought she’d make it to the 70th Jubilee just because everyone was clearly making such a big thing about it. But I wouldn’t have been surprised if she died the next day. But where is the surprise coming from.
Eleanor Janega: Mhm. That’s the thing. Yeah. Because it’s interesting because the institutions are individuals and individuals aren’t institutions, it’s kind of a queen’s two bodies thing. So know, I suppose the thing is we’re so used to the second interpretation of the body, as in like kind of like the res publica and the way that the monarchy works as being this kind of overarching thing that dominates all of our lives. We’re all quite used to that and sort of forgot that she was also actually an individual at the same time as everyone was pretending that she was their nan. Yes, it’s quite interesting. So it’s like, yeah, but is your nan alive? Which I’m sure some people’s are. Mine are no longer with me unfortunately. But if that’s the way that we’re thinking of it then, then it is entirely within the realm of the possible, that she could be gone at any moment. And indeed, I think that things swung into place so quickly. And it was testament to how ready they were on a personal level for this, even if the public at large wasn’t.
Guy Windsor: I mean, that plan must have been in place for 20 years, at least.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, God, yes. 96. Come on.
Guy Windsor: And actually, I’m not sure how true this is, but I read somewhere that when Princess Diana died, it was a massive surprise to everyone and they had to do a major funeral. They took the plan from the Queen Mother’s funeral and just adapted it slightly. Which makes sense, right?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. It’s quite an interesting one because I remember I was about when Diana died, I was about 15 and I remember that even overseas and I also remember even overseas watching the British tabloids pivot very suddenly from hating her and constantly hounding her, to oh, no, we always loved her. She was always great. And even in the States, you could be like, come on guys, this is getting ridiculous. But I very much remember all of that. But that was a genuine tragedy, whereas, this is actually as good as it could possibly get, really.
Guy Windsor: She’s 96. And get this, she died in her favourite castle. So she had a choice of castle and she died in her favourite one. And just a few days before she died, she was riding a horse.
Eleanor Janega: Like we should all be so lucky. She lived a charmed life.
Guy Windsor: Exactly.
Eleanor Janega: You know, obviously, everyone is entitled to feel how they are going to feel. But let a lady have a day off to just die.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So. I was slightly surprised that Charles seamlessly took over as king. I was hoping he would abdicate in favour of his son.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, I think that everybody was.
Guy Windsor: That was never going to happen. Realistically, that was never going to happen. But there’s something desperately wrong with a system, I think, where a 73 year old man finally gets a job he’s been waiting to do for 50 years because his 96 year old mother dies. It’s like he should be retired.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. 73 is just an absolutely ridiculous age to be starting anything other than, I don’t know, a new hobby.
Guy Windsor: Maybe take up writing books at 73. That’s fine, but suddenly you’re supposed to act as the head of state at the age. It just seems like an odd way of running things today.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, it doesn’t seem particularly, you know, kind.
Guy Windsor: That too.
Eleanor Janega: One of the things that I think that people kind of forget, again, with ignoring people’s humanity. It’s just sort of like, oh, yeah, march the 73 year old out into this like incredibly public facing job. And also, by the way, he can’t do all the things that he used to really care about, like get really involved in climate change activism and things.
Guy Windsor: He can’t express a political opinion anymore. He always had to be careful about it, but now he really can’t do it at all. Like that business with Harry basically abdicating from the royal family, which honestly I think is absolutely outrageous that somebody has to have a particular career just because of the family they were born into. Great that it’s an option. And as a parent, of course, I’ll be opening all the doors for my children that I can possibly yank open for them because that’s what parents do. But, I think it would just make more sense if maybe at the age of 18 or 21 or something like that, they make a formal career decision, like I will do the royal thing or I will go and do something else. Be free to make that choice.
Eleanor Janega: I find it a really interesting one too, the brouhaha about that because it’s like, well, let’s be honest, he was always in line after William and now there’s three other people in line between William and him. Well, like, who cares? You know what is it all for? And, I mean, I find it quite interesting because, to steal a trick off my partner, Justin Hancock, what he says about the royals and the thing that’s quite interesting to think about from a sociological perspective, is the thing about them is that they have immense privilege and incredible amounts of power, but absolutely no agency.
Guy Windsor: Right.
Eleanor Janega: And so it’s really incredible because on the one hand, as we say, the queen died in her favourite castle because she has a choice of castles, which are her favourite, the levels of privilege that you and I could never possibly begin to understand. But at the same time, very little ability to actually express oneself, make any real decisions about one’s life. It’s sort of all laid out before you.
Guy Windsor: Or it was taken away from you. I mean, one of the reasons I believe that Harry quit the army is because he couldn’t be sent into places where the Taliban might capture him, because he was serving in Afghanistan, because that would be too much of giving them too long a lever to work on the British establishment with. Which is completely counter to a proper medieval notion of monarchy, where the king leads from the front. And, you know, what’s his name? The Black Prince charges about the battlefields of France, doing mayhem. That’s proper royal behaviour leading from the front and being the first person to get shot.
Eleanor Janega: And but it’s interesting too, because it just shows how different warfare is now because it’s sort of like, well, there is no leader of the Taliban. And so it would be that you send Prince Harry out there, you send one of the leaders of the Taliban out there. You attempt to kill or kidnap one or the other, and then, hey presto, that’s how you solve the thing. But now, when we’ve come into modern warfare, there is no one individual in other places. Suddenly it’s really interesting because then the monarchy doesn’t make quite the same amount of sense if it’s doing the same thing. Because, we’re sort of the only ones who have a family that means this much. Where it where it would really turn the tide of things if you managed to get hold of one or the other, whereas, in other places, it’s just kind of like you’ve professional armies, you’ve this, you’ve that. There is no one guy that you can get ahold of to take down the Taliban, you know?
Guy Windsor: Although, I wonder what would happen if the Ukrainians could capture Putin. That would be really interesting.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, that’s true. And that’s an interesting one, too, because the Russian idiom is so incredibly different to our own because I think it’s really rather clear that the way that it’s kind of shaken out there is that probably the average individual Russian is not too happy with the circumstances, but there’s nothing they can do about it because it’s kind of like a closed a closed off thing. And I do believe that the other oligarchs, who are now losing money hand over fist as a result of all of this. Now, if they could figure out a way to kind of knife this guy, I think they would. And I would imagine that it might actually be on the cards. But, yeah, there is one place where it’s like, can we send Harry against him?
Guy Windsor: We should have a showdown between Prince Harry and Vladimir Putin? I think Harry would take him.
Eleanor Janega: I think so. You know, I don’t care how many pictures we have of yourself riding a horse without a shirt on. I think Harry’s still got it in terms of certainly reach at the very least.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, true. All right. Okay. Now, we should briefly mention your book, The Middle Ages, A Graphic History, which I have. I mean, I would take it out and wave it, but no one can see what we’re doing. Because the last time we spoke that was on the cards.
Eleanor Janega: It was almost out. It wasn’t out yet.
Guy Windsor: Yeah it was, it was on its way. I think it came out about six months later or something. Okay, so what is it? What is it about? Why should we care?
Eleanor Janega: Okay, so what it is, is it’s very cool because Icon has this series of books that are like graphic guides to whatever, various concepts, a lot. It started out actually doing it on philosophy and I decided that I was going to do a history book because of who I am generally as a person. So they’re illustrated in the sort of graphic novel style. But what the book purports to do is I set it up so that it mimics my first year survey medieval history courses, and it’s kind of what I want people to remember about a year after having taken right one of my courses. So, because it’s short you’re not going to get every single little in-depth thing. But what it tries to do is kind of cover the gamut of medieval history, introduce the varying concepts that spring up over and over again, things like monasticism or the growth of the church or changes in the Holy Roman Empire or things like that. And so it kind of takes adults through all that. Now, having said adults, although it’s kind of aimed for people 14 and up, but there are like references to sex and things like that. Because it is my book. So what are you going to do? Right. Can’t take her anywhere. I think I saw a review somewhere where it was like, this is not appropriate for 11 year olds. And I was like, no, it’s not.
Guy Windsor: Honestly, we have never censored sex stuff from my kids. Because my view is that if you can have like a TV show where somebody stabs somebody else and they die, if you can show that. If you can take an object and stick it into another person for the purpose of killing them, you should be able to see taking something and sticking it into another person for the purposes of giving them a good time.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, this is a really good point. And something that drives me crazy is the way that our society censor sex, but not violence.
Guy Windsor: Violence is bad. Sex is good. Without violence we would all be better off, well, within limits, but without sex we wouldn’t exist. So.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, so it’s quite a funny one. But yeah, that’s the sort of thing that people get het up about. Meanwhile, I am talking about Jani Beg allegedly catapulting a dead corpse with bubonic plague over the walls of a city in order to infect everyone. It’s like, that’s fine.
Guy Windsor: That’s fine. Why not? Yes. Let everyone die with pustulent buboes all over them, in pain and misery. But for God’s sake, don’t show anybody getting off because that’s wrong.
Eleanor Janega: And it’s not even like simulated sex or something. I just kind of like acknowledge the fact that sex exists, but whatever.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Okay. We are definitely going to have a look at medieval sex life in a minute, but before we go there, I do want to know. The problem with any of these survey things, I’m trying to write a book on. Basically, this is what sword fighting is like. Like a general survey of historical martial systems. And I keep basically foundering upon the rock of what do you leave out?
Eleanor Janega: Yes. It’s so hard. It’s so hard.
Guy Windsor: How do you decide what you leave out of a survey like your Middle Ages graphic history?
Eleanor Janega: Well, I’ll tell you one way it happened is somebody, a.k.a. me, somewhere along the line while I was writing it, convinced myself that I had about twice as many words per page. And so when I went to go, kind of I was like, all right, well, now it’s written. Now to just edit it before I send it to my editor really quickly. And then I realised that I’d written twice as much as I was supposed to. I had to start killing my darlings really quickly.
Guy Windsor: Could you not just make the book twice as big?
Eleanor Janega: I know, right? I was like, Can I have two? And the answer is no. This was a difficult one. So I chose themes. And what I ended up doing was seeing how I could stick to those themes. So I chose like particular themes, like the rise of Islam. Courtly love is in there, as I say, repeating things a lot of the time. So monasticism, so that when a new form of monasticism jumps up, you can do it. I included all the Renaissances, like Carolingian, 12th century, all of it just so that you could kind of see how that works. But I had to be really careful about certain things. Like I basically could only do the first crusade. I didn’t have enough room. I kind of mentioned times when they were happening. But I was like, well, we’re just going to have to talk about this one because you would have an entire book about the Crusades, if you just did the Crusades.
Guy Windsor: You could do an entire book about each crusade. People have.
Eleanor Janega: Easily.
Guy Windsor: So basically what I’m getting from this is write the book twice as big and then cut it down.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, probably don’t do that, though.
Guy Windsor: No, no, no. Not at all. That makes a lot of sense. I’m a woodworker, right? You start with a tree, and then you’re always taking wood away. You never add wood. Occasionally you glue bits together. But fundamentally, the only thing you could do for a piece of wood is make it smaller. So actually, it does make a kind of sense to.
Eleanor Janega: Grow the tree.
Guy Windsor: Grow the tree, and then.
Eleanor Janega: section it out. Yeah. And so I think that if you’ve got the time and you’ve got a lot of things that you don’t want to get rid of right now when they’re in front of you and you know that you have to, that’s sort of when.
Guy Windsor: But then that actually can be farmed out. So you have a publisher whose gave you a deadline and a word limit and that sort of stuff. I do my own publishing, which means I can go as long as I want. So what I do is because constraints are necessary, I find ways of generating constraints.
Eleanor Janega: Right.
Guy Windsor: And one way to do this particular thing would be to make the thing much too big and then send it out to some beta readers and get them to say, okay, you can chop out this bit. You can chop out this bit and see how I feel about the suggestions that they’re making.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. So I did that with my latest book, certainly, because even I managed to go over in that even though I knew what was going on. So again I managed to convince myself that it was 100,000 words, not 80,000 words somewhere along the line. I don’t know. And then yeah, well, even then I wrote much more than that. And so I did send it out to sort of friends and things and say, what do you think can go? Yes, that was good. Because, I think that it is also a specifically academic problem where you go, well, I have to get every single thing on the page or someone’s going to accuse me of not knowing that every single thing happened. And the average reader doesn’t want to know about every single thing. It’s kind of like more of a habit of kind of getting in front of other people.
Guy Windsor: I think the one thing I see when friends of mine who are academics are writing books for the general public, the one thing that they struggle with is being less defensive. It’s like, okay, you can have a sentence which is just declarative. In such and such, this happens like this. You don’t actually have to insert all the footnotes in parentheses in that sentence so that anyone reading it can’t just disagree with it. It’s okay if people read it and go, hmm, I don’t agree with that, because that curiosity will often make them read on, and it’s not even a bad thing. So yeah, getting rid of the defensiveness in the way in the way academics write is like step one in making a useful contribution to like the general field.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. Yeah. Because I think that it’s one thing when we’re writing for each other. You know, when I write for the seven other people who work on Czech history, shout out. I’m making sure that everyone sort of sees where the work has come from and things like that. But it’s often funny for me too, as someone who oftentimes is working in the Czech idiom with English people, I’ve got plenty of footnotes, but no one can read them. So I’m just like, oh, there it is. What are you going to do? And one tries and there is more and more out there, of course, as well, which is great. And you need to kind of keep that in mind. But it’s funny because I’m being quite defensive about these things, but at the same time, the majority of my colleagues are never going to go check on it because they just don’t have the language, you know?
Guy Windsor: They can’t check on the Czech.
Eleanor Janega: That’s right, baby. Some of the things are just in German. But then, and it’s quite funny, I often laugh because the number of times I’m kind of like reviewing a book or something and it’s about Germany and they will talk more about London than they do about Prague or something like that. And I’m like, it’s just next door, guys. The sources are in Latin. Okay, all right. You know, it’ll be like something that’s happening in Vienna or something. And it’s like, “you could compare this to London” and I’m like, why would you? Why wouldn’t you compare it to Prague and the Imperial City? That’s three days travel away. Why would you do that? And the answer is, I don’t want to read Czech and it’s quite funny.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, and these language barriers are one of the biggest problems we have doing any kind of academic work. I mean the reason I do Italian martial arts primarily is because I can read Italian.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Exactly. Obviously, we all have that. There are certainly places where the gaps in my knowledge begin very, very quickly because, for example, I’ve not got a single kind of Scandinavian language. So if you ask me about Vikings, I’m like sure, bro. Granted there is a pretty good historiography in English and I’ve read plenty of that, but I’m never going to be reading the sagas in the original, let’s put it that way.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So let us talk about The Once and Future Sex.
Eleanor Janega: That’s my new book.
Guy Windsor: All right. What is it about? Why should we care?
Eleanor Janega: Okay, so it’s fun because it’s a polemic so that I’m kind of writing about gender roles in medieval society and now. The takeaway to understand from the book is that basically it is a historical argument for the fact that we’re constantly changing the reasons why we explain that women are second class citizens. But the only thing that ever remains the same is that women are second class citizens.
Guy Windsor: Okay, so for instance, like in the 19th century, only men should be in government because they are vigorous and passionate and they have the drive. And in the 20th century, only men should be in government because only men are properly in control of their feelings and they’re cold and rational and women are too. I forget which way round it goes.
Eleanor Janega: Well women are, too. Well, you know. But no, you’re exactly right. So, the point being that you can sit down and you can kind of plot through history the way that people talk about women. And so I do a lot of talking about the ancients, like ancient Greek and Roman ideas about this and then going into the medieval and just showing rather conclusively, I feel that the reasons that women were said to be unfit to take part in society in the medieval period are vastly different to the reasons that we use now. And also a lot of our arguments for why we’re kind of being jerks to women are incredibly new, right. So for example I’ve got a chapter that’s specifically about women and work in the medieval period. And women worked at every single echelon of society the entire time during the medieval. And there’s this very modern idea that women are only now entering the workforce. Which is hilarious, because they were there the whole time. There was this brief, brief period where the middle class specifically didn’t work and everybody else did and we’re somehow saying that all of human history in that quote unquote, “traditionally” women would simply be home in the house. And it’s nonsense.
Guy Windsor: I mean, you just have to just think even briefly about who is making the cheese? Who was brewing the beer? It was generally men running major companies.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, but they were always have women. But they were always helpmeets.
Guy Windsor: Right. Absolutely. And it wasn’t even always the men running these bigger concerns, because women sometimes own things in their own right. But there’s always property laws that get in the way. For many times and places women could not own property.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. You can have property if you’re married to a man and he dies.
Guy Windsor: Exactly.
Eleanor Janega: Then if you’re a widow, you can do it. But it’s also like a lot of the time, only until, for example, your eldest son gains maturity or something like that, and then it automatically goes to him. But it’s quite interesting because it’s instances like that that paint this picture of the idea that women weren’t that involved. When that’s not necessarily true, it’s just coverture. You know, women are working alongside men the entire time. You just don’t talk about that and not talking about them or them being, for example, I give the example of one woman who’s kind of working in the German lands and she’s like changing coinage and she’s really high up in her family’s business. And she keeps the books and she’s in charge of all the money things. And we don’t know her name. We just know her husband’s name. They just say his wife and you’re like, yeah, okay. And so it’s certain things like this where that doesn’t mean that women weren’t doing it. It just means that our records are skewed in this particularised way.
Guy Windsor: Okay, I have a question. So your book kind of makes the case that women have been discriminated against in these various ways for millennia. So the question is why?
Eleanor Janega: You know, that’s a great question. I think to a certain extent, we just like it.
Guy Windsor: We as in people, or we as in women?
Eleanor Janega: I think we as in people. I think it’s a social thing. It’s comforting, I think.
Guy Windsor: Comforting to whom?
Eleanor Janega: I mean, this is an interesting one because the patriarchy hurts us all. Let’s get that out in front. But there’s this kind of patriarchal idea that the world must be ordered in this way, you know? Thanks, Aristotle. Thanks, Plato. Because women simply cannot.
Guy Windsor: But also thanks to the Bible.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, thanks to the Bible, certainly. So it’s like the oldest things that we see, like the Platonian myths about how the world is created, or the ancient Greek one that men are the default, and a man is the normal human. Yeah. And then something else happens in order to get a woman. So for Plato, it’s that first the only people on earth were men. And that if you didn’t do a great job being a man when you died, you came back as a woman.
Guy Windsor: Wow. Yet just a very cursory glance at how embryos develop just the other way round.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. Yeah. Which is quite interesting.
Guy Windsor: That the default human embryo is female.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. And then you eventually you eventually turn male if that’s.
Guy Windsor: If you’re exposed to the right chemicals.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. Yeah. But obviously the Bible story does this as well. You know, Adam’s first. Eve is kind of like an afterthought to make him happy. And I think that what is happening here is that it’s tied to the forms of kind of agrarian ownership where there was, post the hunter gathering age when we don’t necessarily, from what I know from historians who work on the prehistoric age, we see less of this like less of a desire to kind of like separate men and women, less of a desire to really differentiate between the genders and say, these people do this, these people do that. And it seems to have some connection to the ways in which we bring together property and pass property down. So it’s to your benefit, in theory, if what you want is a system in which your children and only your children, get the farm or whatever. It’s interesting and helpful to control women. Apparently.
Guy Windsor: I mean, you must have read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez?
Eleanor Janega: Yes. Incredible, incredible book. Yes.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, it was that book which gave me the idea to start this podcast.
Eleanor Janega: Really?
Guy Windsor: Yeah, totally. Which is why we have at least 51% female guests on this show.
Eleanor Janega: Fantastic. I love that.
Guy Windsor: We have got to find some way to kind of counterbalance the general bias towards, particularly with swords. Because only boys have arms.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, exactly. You know, it’s quite funny because, as she would be the first to tell, this is not something that you tend to see in the prehistoric record. It’s people just were people. And that’s kind of how it tends to be.
Guy Windsor: Do you know Caroline?
Eleanor Janega: I don’t. I’m just a big fan of her work, that’s all. I just fangirl.
Guy Windsor: Because if you did, I was going to cadge an introduction out of you so I could try and get on the show. Never mind.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, I wish.
Guy Windsor: Okay. All right. So the book, then, it’s not actually about sex.
Eleanor Janega: Well, so here’s the thing.
Guy Windsor: Is there any shagging in it? I mean, one has to ask.
Eleanor Janega: There is, yeah. So the way that it’s the way that it’s structured is the first chapter is about kind of the ancient influences on medieval thinking and how medieval think it comes to be. Then there is a chapter on beauty standards. A chapter on sexuality. A chapter on work. And then a chapter about modernity and how we still are doing this.
Guy Windsor: Do you have a reference to Aristotle being ridden round the room by a dominatrix?
Eleanor Janega: I don’t have the full story. I really should. I really should. Because I’m like, I think I’ve got some BDSM stuff in there. I’m not sure, but I love that. Yeah. Yeah. I really ought to have because.
Guy Windsor: You can find it in stained glass windows.
Eleanor Janega: I know. It’s so good, isn’t it? And it’s such an interesting kind of way of looking at sexuality from the medieval perspective. Because we’re supposed to understand that women are the horny ones and that women are the ones who can’t be trusted. But in the story.
Guy Windsor: Because they’re too horny all the time.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, they’re too horny all the time. So you have got to like you’ve got to keep an eye on them because who knows who they might be shagging? Right. But in this case, Phyllis isn’t actually really interested in shagging Aristotle. She just doesn’t like him. So she kind of like uses the sexual power over him to get him to want to shag her. And then he’s kind of like brought low and brought to debase himself. So what it does is it shows you that you can’t trust women because they’ll make you horny. And then they didn’t even care about it. It’s like, wait, are they horny or aren’t they?
Guy Windsor: Well, yeah, because, because basically if she’s using Aristotle’s raging horniness to basically get Aristotle to do whatever she wants, who is the person who is actually in control of their desires and who is the person who has completely lost control to that desire?
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. Which is quite funny because it’s modern in that sense as well. Like that would be the sort of story that I would expect to see now, if someone like made up a story about like a woman, then the man would be like, oh yeah, the man was uncontrollably horny and the woman was doing it for some sense of game. So it’s quite interesting because it’s kind of like an outlier to a certain respect. But what it does that I’m quite interested and what I’m kind of like working on over in my academic life still is his idea though, that that sex or sexuality is kind of like a thing that interferes with people. So it’s like when sex is an object which addles your mind and makes you go crazy. It’s an outside influence that ruins your life. And it does sort of that. Which the medieval people very much think. They’re like sex will burn your house down.
Guy Windsor: But honestly, a lot of people think that today.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. Which I find very, very interesting. So when you see, for example, debates from the silly little incels or whatever, they will use these terms to talk about sex that are completely objectifying, where they will say that someone is owed sex or they will say that like women give all their sex to one that. They have all these ideas about how all women are shagging one guy or something like that. And the way that they tend to talk about sex is though it’s somehow been misplaced. Like it’s an asset which has been which has gone to the wrong place and that they should actually be given it. And then you see these arguments for, and I’m not joking, this is what they call it, sexual Marxism, where they essentially say that they should be like issued a girlfriend so that they can have sex. I’m not even making that up. I wish I was.
Guy Windsor: I don’t know why I’m laughing because that is horrific. That’s basically slavery.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Because, well, women can’t be trusted. You see, women can’t be trusted to hand out sex in the correct way. And it’s like, yes. So someone needs to step in and do something about this. And I’m like, what? Yeah, sure, brah. You know. It’s a lot.
Guy Windsor: But the thing is, though, there are plenty of if you want to treat sex as a commodity, there are plenty of people who will sell you some. So why don’t they just do that?
Eleanor Janega: Oh, yeah. No, that none of that. Because the issue there then is that women now suddenly have too much of an idea about what their sex is worth. So it’s supposed to be, there’s always this idealised woman, the idealised woman who has never existed in the entire world, but she should. Which is that she has never had sex with another man. So she has nothing to compare it to. She’s not interested in having sex with anyone for any reason except the man who she will be assigned to, like rightly and correctly. And then the trouble with sex workers is that sex workers are out of the control of men.
Guy Windsor: Ideally they are.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like within these circumstances, they’re aware of what they have as an asset and they’re like, well, that’s going to be this much, right? Whereas what they should do is be under the control of a man within the confines of a relationship. So it needs to be kind of like a private monogamous relationship. And then you can’t ever let women know what sex is, quote unquote “worth.”
Guy Windsor: Well, at least they’re not in favour of sex trafficking.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, that’s the one thing they’ve got right. You know, even broken clocks.
Guy Windsor: Right. Okay. Yeah.
Eleanor Janega: Sorry. That was depressing.
Guy Windsor: No, no. Okay. You’re a fan of T.H. White?
Eleanor Janega: Yes, I am. Yes. Yes.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Because The Once and Future Sex, you borrowed that from The Once and Future King, am I right? You know, I nicked my first book title off a book I liked. My first book’s called The Swordsman’s Companion. Yeah. And it is a reference to Donald McBane’s book from 1728 called The Sword Man’s Companion.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, yeah, that’s nice. That’s really nice.
Guy Windsor: Stealing titles is good.
Eleanor Janega: I just really liked The Once and Future King when I had to read it in high school, which is probably how I ended up here. Right. And so I thought that was quite fun.
Guy Windsor: Although it’s not even really slightly historical.
Eleanor Janega: No, not at all. But I thought that with a title like that, it kind of broadcasts the medievalism of it. Like a non-expert audience sort of go, oh, this is probably medieval. And it also kind of, like, captures what I’m kind of trying to say in the book, which is like, so, if our weird sexist attitudes are just something that we’re constantly doing and constantly updating, we could just stop. They could just stop at any time. It doesn’t have to be like this. This is a choice that we’re continuously making and we’re continuously sort of changing the maths so that we get the answer that we want. But eventually we could stop and it could become something different. And so what I wanted to kind of also broadcast is there’s this idealised kind of like future in which, we could talk about women, but outside of the same kind of parameters.
Guy Windsor: So how would you like women to be talked about?
Eleanor Janega: Just like people, I suppose. It’s a really quite interesting one. Right? So it’s like being raised in the way that I was.
Guy Windsor: How were you raised?
Eleanor Janega: I was raised by two hippies who were excellent. And by a dad is a huge fan of martial arts. And like a mom who was like the primary breadwinner. And my father was a carpenter, but when there were four of us, someone had to stay home for a while and it was dad and we all did a martial art, and we were all running, jumping, climbing, trees, climbing, things of this nature, right? And there was kind of like a real premium in my household on kind of like coming together to a level where everyone was doing sort of the same thing, you know? And obviously, there’s problems within that as well. And I think that there’s a big feminist debate to be had about like, well, is it really necessarily useful to have women doing all the same things that men are doing and is that parity or is it kind of like mixing things up a little bit more? And I suppose what I’m aiming for here is kind of like a jumble. I just want to complicate things. I don’t think that it should be men are like this, women are like this. I think that there should be kind of like a grab bag in which you can kind of like reach in and pull out what it is that you want, like a kind of spectrum of things and general things all over the place that we could kind of like choose what our level is that. So and I think we were getting there, I think that, for example, our ideas of fatherhood have really changed over my lifetime and we’re seeing a lot more dads like mine now.
Guy Windsor: My dad was a very good dad in all sorts of respects and organised the best birthday parties, ever. But he’s never changed a nappy in his life.
Eleanor Janega: See, that’s interesting. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: I once calculated, when my youngest was about two, that I have probably changed somewhere around 7000 nappies. I’m pretty good at that sort of thing, since becoming a parent. I didn’t change one ever before becoming a parent. I’ve probably changed nappies on the little children who were having sleepovers while their parents went out and had a night out or something. I don’t actually recall any specifics, but it’s like, as a father, why would you not be a completely competent caregiver to your child? I mean, the only thing I couldn’t do is lactate, but we have technical solutions for that.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. Yeah. And it’s quite interesting to me because I find it infantilizing on everyone’s part. Oh, well, men wouldn’t be capable of this. Like, what are you talking about? Of course they are.
Guy Windsor: Always have been.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. And it’s a very, very strange thing to kind of try to demarcate and kind of move around. And so, yeah, I suppose that I just think that we should have more of a mix where everything is in the bag and you take out what it is and what it isn’t generally. And unfortunately, a lot of the time, the way that gender works and when one works on gender, as I do, we tend to act still as though women are the only one with a gender and granted, I just added to this discourse by writing a whole book about that. But when we begin to deconstruct ideas about there being a basic femininity, then you can also do that with masculinity and say, well, actually, who’s this serving? It isn’t really great for anybody, is it?
Guy Windsor: Right. I mean, all of that sort of personal care for little babies where you’re doing all the things the baby needs. That’s when the baby learns to trust you completely.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, exactly.
Guy Windsor: Right. Although, there was this one time. Well, when my eldest was about six months old, something like that. She just decided Daddy wasn’t necessary. She only really wanted her mother. And that’s fine. Babies are entitled to make these choices. And then when my wife is pregnant with our second child, my sister had her child, I went over to London to see the baby, to see my nephew. And I took my eldest with me. She was my only child at that point. She was about 15 months old, hadn’t quite got the walking thing down yet. And I was going around London with a pushchair for about five days. I’ll tell you something, by the way. A chap pushing a pushchair, absolute babe magnet.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, yeah.
Guy Windsor: So many attractive young women started talking to me. It was extraordinary.
Eleanor Janega: Hey, comrade. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: A: fertile, B: sticks around to look after them. There’s some kind of genetic programming there. Anyway, so after I’d been the only parent around for five days and we went home again after that, she was like, okay, either parent will do. The thing is, if I wasn’t capable of doing all the things, I couldn’t have taken her with me. And we couldn’t have had that time together, just the two of us. And who knows where that relationship would have gone.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, that’s quite interesting. This is why it’s so useful and interesting to kind of talk about these things, because surely people want to have better relationships and more fulfilling relationships with their children. You know, surely, we want to open ourselves up to a rich world where in our friendships are diverse and our families are interconnected in all these kind of interesting ways, and unfortunately, we have a lot of historical baggage to unpick before we get to that level. But I think that most of us could agree that that’s useful and helpful. Other than these kind of like trads who we’re getting now who kind of all pretend they’re all going to go live on a farm. I don’t know, whatever, it’s just nuts to me, but you don’t want to live on a farm. You want to grow like five plants. I assure you, you don’t want to be milking cows on Christmas morning. Come on, come on.
Guy Windsor: My dad’s a vet, and do you know why I’m not a vet? Because Christmas Day, it must be about 1982 or 3. We recently moved to Botswana and my great aunt lived on a dairy farm outside Durban up in the hills. So we got to spend Christmas at my great aunt’s on this dairy farm, and my dad’s a veterinary surgeon. So, yeah, on Christmas morning at about 5:00, a cow goes into labour in a ditch and it’s freezing bloody cold because it is winter and we’re up in the mountains. And so I go out on the back of the truck. I’m a young kid and I was awake and whatnot. So we go out and there I sat on the back of a truck with some of the farmhands and my dad stripped to the waist with his arm up to the shoulder out the back end of a cow on Christmas Day. And I was like, that’s not the job for me.
Eleanor Janega: Probably not for me, probably not the one. I got over that one early as a kid just because I realised that when you’re a vet sometimes the animals are in pain. It’s not like you bring them in and they’re just like fluffy and you give them a little pat and I will just be reduced to tears the moment I saw a single dog having a bad time.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do and you have to put them down.
Eleanor Janega: I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. God bless vets. Great bunch of people. Not for me. I’m too much of a wuss.
Guy Windsor: Okay, now I know we have a time limit, so we have to mention the TV, because the last time I saw you weren’t doing TV yet, and now you are, like, all over the screens.
Eleanor Janega: I know, I know. Isn’t it funny? Like, it’s been a weird lockdown.
Guy Windsor: So you have a TV show on the medieval afterlife and one called Going Medieval. How did they come about and what are they?
Eleanor Janega: It’s all thanks to Dan Snow. Thanks Dan. So basically when I was doing the rounds of all the podcasts and this sort of thing in lockdown, I went on Dan’s as well. And then from there they kind of said to me, well, what would you think about kind of making a television show? And I was like, yes, I love being paid. I’ve always been passionate about being paid for my work. And so the first one that I did was on medieval London, and it’s very cute because it’s like the depths of lockdown and it’s kind of like, here are some things that I know that we can get to that are sort of outside where we can move around, right? So did that one. That did really well and people were really interested in it. So they said, hey, how would you like to do something else? So that’s when I started Going Medieval. So the first series on that is on kind of the organisation of medieval society more generally. So there’s an episode about the peasants, an episode about the church, episode about kind of royals and nobles, and an episode about like merchants and guilds. So just kind of like generalised fabric of medieval society. And then from there, the next series was about pleasure in the medieval period. So there’s one about sex. One about booze and what about sport in the medieval period. Then I just got it in my head and I was like, could I make a show about ghosts? Because I just wanted to. Because I’ve been doing a lot of work on the afterlife and ghosts recently, and I thought it’d be quite interesting.
Guy Windsor: How so?
Eleanor Janega: Well, so because I do a lot of work on apocalypticism, that kind of like lends itself to images of hell and things like that. And then I started kind of getting interested retrospectively in ideas about death and spirits and what happens there, because there’s lots of medieval ghost stories, which sometimes surprises people because, in a Christian universe, where do the ghosts come from? Yeah. And that’s quite interesting because a lot of the time they’re kind of projections who are simultaneously in purgatory and on earth is the answer. So t’s a sort of a two for one. And then I thought that all of this was quite interesting and something that people don’t really talk about because, quite rightly, we often associate kind of ghost with Victoriana because Victorians were so obsessed with that. And I thought it’d be quite interesting to kind of pick out the differences between there and it turns out people liked that as well. So lucky me, which is great. So I got to kind of gallivant around the country and stay in a haunted castle and things of this nature.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So do you actually believe in ghosts?
Eleanor Janega: I am kind of like what I say, ghost agnostic. So the way that I feel about it is that literally we have ghost stories that like date to Babylonia. Mesopotamians were like, oh right, I’ve figured out how to write, guys, here’s a story about a ghost, right? And I feel as though there’s something in the human psyche that that brings up this experience. At the very least, this is a human experience that is real, that keeps happening. And I think there’s something to that. And I kind of look at it in the way that, I don’t know, medieval people think about magic, right? When they’re sort of like, oh, this magnet can attract metal. It’s magic. I’m kind of like weird, unexplained “ghosts”, quote unquote. And maybe it’s something that we’ll figure out how to explain later or not. But on the other hand, I don’t believe everything. So I’m kind of like, eh, I’m like “eh” about it. Like, I had a talk to a very nice man who was like the ghost hunter at the castle and baby, dowsing rods? Come on, now.
Guy Windsor: I mean, if these things really work, someone would have won James Randi’s prize.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, exactly. That’s sort of my thing about it. So I’m kind of like, within reason. And I suppose I just find it quite interesting, I suppose I just like horror movies, and I think that’s okay.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, why not?
Eleanor Janega: But it’s not going to hurt my feelings if someone is all like, oh, I don’t believe in ghosts. I’m like, sure, I can totally see that. I’m kind of like one foot in each camp, if that makes sense, right?
Guy Windsor: Okay, so where do people find these TV shows?
Eleanor Janega: Okay, so these are all on History Hit television. So it’s all online. So you can watch it anywhere you want. And I believe if you sign up, you can get like the first month free. So that’s cool.
Guy Windsor: Okay, so it’s its own media empire.
Eleanor Janega: It’s its own media empire. So the thing is, they are attempting to be sort of like Netflix, but just for history. I’m filming something coming up this week about the Black Death for Channel Four and things like that. So there’s going to be more and more coming out.
Guy Windsor: But yeah, if they ever need somebody to do the sword stuff.
Eleanor Janega: I will. Yeah, that’s right. I should pitch something about swords.
Guy Windsor: You should. So what would be really kind of fun, I know you don’t practise any kind of swordsmanship?
Eleanor Janega: I’m very, very bad with a scholar sword in the Wing Chun tradition. But you know.
Guy Windsor: All right. So we should do some historical swordsmanship together. I’ll teach you how we get the movement out of the books.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, I would love that. That’d be fun.
Guy Windsor: I think that would sort of hit the sweet spot of history and research, but actual also moving stuff around.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, yeah, I love that. Yeah. Because that’s the thing. Is you always have to have the doing thing angle. I’m going to have to think about this. I love this.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So. All right. Last time I asked you about the best idea you haven’t acted on you were thinking about a guide to medieval art history, teaching people how to read art in the medieval period.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Which I think is a bloody good idea. I got it conflated in my head with the graphic history of the Middle Ages because graphic and art and pictures and stuff. I’m not very bright. What can I say? So any progress on it?
Eleanor Janega: So we tried. So I’ve got a co-author for this, the charming Dr. Sara Öberg Strådal, who is an art historian. And we pitched this. We’re like, hey, here’s what’s up. And the publishers were like, we don’t really know how we’ll get around copyright and stuff with this. And we’re like.
Guy Windsor: Oh, it’s easy.
Eleanor Janega: we were like, it’s literally easy. These things are like hundreds and hundreds of years old and you just have to draw a version. But they didn’t believe us.
Guy Windsor: Or you go to the gallery and you take a photograph and you have copyright of that photograph.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. I don’t think that publishers quite understand. Okay. But God bless them. So we are kind of trying to think about maybe doing something like that as a zine now, although we’ve now got sidetracked into writing a book about the Renaissance, which is sort of like on pause currently because we’re both too busy, but we’re getting into it again next year.
Guy Windsor: Which Renaissance?
Eleanor Janega: But the quote unquote, The.
Guy Windsor: One that started on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. in 1405, was it?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. When a guy went up a mountain. That’s right. So yeah, it’s basically about how that’s not real and calm down. Sort of like that.
Guy Windsor: That’s a difficult book to pitch because a book that tells you that’s not real calm down. That’s a hard sell.
Eleanor Janega: The title we pitched was Everything You Know about the Renaissance is Wrong. And we were told we can’t have that title. So it’s kind of just like a Renaissance book question mark.
Guy Windsor: You seem to have a lot of problem with publishers. So my obvious question is, why don’t you publish your own books?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, well, this is the thing.
Guy Windsor: It’s piss easy.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, we were kind of like, we should just publish our own kind of version of this. So that’s that. That’s sort of like the next thing. We got shot down and now we’re kind of like working round to it again, we’re kind of sidling up to it from another side at this juncture. Yeah, but I want to. Yeah, because I think that people really want it. Every time I kind of like explain the art tropes and things like that everyone is dead interested.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. I mean, I have above the monitor, above my desk I have Good Government from Lorenzetti’s allegory of good and bad government. I actually have the rest of it, they don’t have all of because a lot of the fresco was lost on the effects of bad government. But I’ve got all of the posters that they produce.
Eleanor Janega: Oh that’s so cool.
Guy Windsor: But I couldn’t fit them all and I thought, okay, if I have to pick just one, it should probably be the good government allegory and I should stick it right where I have to see it to remind me to behave myself.
Eleanor Janega: That’s very good. Yes.
Guy Windsor: But there are so many stories built into that one part of that one picture. I mean, there’s books and books and books on just that one painting. So some kind of guide as to how to read medieval art would be really helpful. Particularly medieval art. Renaissance art is a bit more straightforward I think.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, Renaissance art is a little easier to understand. I think that it’s the esotericness of medieval art that makes it so fun and interesting. It’s why people want to know more about it. So yeah, actually, this is a really good point. We should do it ourselves.
Guy Windsor: Why wait for the gatekeepers to open the gate? Why not just do it yourself?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, for real.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, I think with all your TV shows and stuff you have a way of getting people to know about it.
Eleanor Janega: That’s true. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Guy Windsor: Because the hard part is not the publishing. The hard part is the marketing.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, that’s right.
Guy Windsor: Well, the hardest part is the writing in the first place.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, God. I know.
Guy Windsor: Producing it is the challenge.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, God, it’s ridiculous. Now that like with my new book because it’s out on, like, a big press. So there’s, there’s all the stuff to do now, which is great, because they’re marketing it, which is amazing. I’ve never experienced this before, but it’s sort of like the prize for writing a book because you get to write more where they’re like, and now you can write some essays. And I’m like, no. No more essays. I’m so tired, you know, it’s very funny to me that it’s like, write, and then you get to write some more.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So maybe I’ll just plant a little seed that you should publish it yourself.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, you have, actually. So you’re to blame.
Guy Windsor: Honestly, you’ll make more money.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, I know. Well, that’s the thing.
Guy Windsor: So much more money.
Eleanor Janega: Because Lord knows you don’t off of presses.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. No, I mean, unless you’re Stephen King. He does okay.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. That’s what I hear.
Guy Windsor: Lee Child also. You see it a lot in throughout history there are these periods of democratisation of things. But then we go into periods where you have this massive disparity between the many who have paid nothing and the few who are paid much.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Yeah, right. And that’s where we are.
Guy Windsor: That’s where we are with books at the moment. It used to be that pretty much all authors who were publishing with major publishing houses had a living wage, and some of them did really well. Most of them could afford a reasonable middle class income. And that was that. But then it’s gradually gotten to the point where Patricia Cornwell and Lee Child and Stephen King, people like that making absolute metric fucktons of money. I read this brilliant story with Terry Pratchett where he knew he had become really properly rich when he realised he had lost a cheque from his publisher for royalties. And so he phoned them up to ask them to send him another one, a replacement cheque. And that cheque was for half a million quid. He literally lost a cheque for half a million quid. Because you or me, we have a cheque for a half million quid, we hold it like this and we run to the bank and then we start buying cool shit.
Eleanor Janega: Immediately, right. Oh, God. Yeah, yeah.
Guy Windsor: But yeah. Okay, so. So the best idea you haven’t acted on yet is still medieval art history.
Eleanor Janega: It’s still the thing. Yeah. So I guess now that now you can say the best idea that I haven’t acted on yet is like just doing it myself. So that’ll be the next one.
Guy Windsor: It’s been nearly two years.
Eleanor Janega: Look, I wrote another thing. Come on. Give a girl a break.
Guy Windsor: I’m not sorry at all. All right. So my last question is somebody gives you $1,000,000 to spend normally improving historical martial arts worldwide. With you it is improving the understanding of history worldwide. So other than shorts with stuff printed on the back, which I hear very successful.
Eleanor Janega: That’s very successful. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: You mentioned free adult learning classes, the teachers being paid, but people could go and get free classes last time. And you also mentioned digitising manuscripts. How would you spend it?
Eleanor Janega: Okay. So, those are good answers past me, well done. I think that the thing I would also do is I would kind of set up a fund for training teachers especially in high school to teach medieval stuff. So I did a great talk the other night for a fantastic group here in the UK called Be Bold History, which is a group of high school middle, kind of like teaching history. Saying to them, here are some ways that you can kind of integrate medieval history into your class. Here’s some ideas, here’s some resources that sort of thing. And I think that one of the things that is really a problem is that according to some surveys that were just out, I suppose in 2018, something like 80% of high school history teachers said that they’ve never had any medieval history. So it’s like, how are they going to integrate things into a curriculum that doesn’t privilege it? And so it’s sort of like I think kind of getting the training to teachers is.
Guy Windsor: Also the problem is the curriculum as set by the government. My younger daughter knows that there were many, many Chinese soldiers who fought for the British in the First World War. But she didn’t know who Lenin was.
Eleanor Janega: How interesting.
Guy Windsor: And I was like, really? And this came up because we were watching The Crown. And there’s this bit where in season one, I think, where this African leader has a picture of the queen because it’s a Commonwealth country and they take down the picture of the queen and they hang a picture of Lenin. And of course I recognized it immediately, but he’s not named in the thing. And she was like, Who’s that? And I was like, that’s Lenin. She said, well, who’s Lenin? Oh, right. So it does seem that if you’re studying the history of, shall we say, the second decade of the 20th century, it’s odd to know that there were Chinese soldiers fighting for the British in the First World War. But you don’t know who Lenin is.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, that does seem odd. Yeah. So I think that probably we’re going to need somebody to specifically do lobbying at whoever sets the curricula.
Guy Windsor: I think that may be the place to start.
Eleanor Janega: Uh huh. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Or maybe get actual historians to set the curricula.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Because it’s wild. Like, medieval historians are always talking about this. You ever look at the life in Britain exam, all the medieval history questions are basically wrong.
Guy Windsor: Oh, totally.
Eleanor Janega: Like, yes, completely wrong.
Guy Windsor: I would fail the modern British citizenship test. I would fail it outright.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Mostly because you’d be right about things that are they’re definitively asking you to be wrong about. Yeah. And it’s just like you have to learn the wrong answer to get the right answer. It’s just ridiculous.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, it’s a very sort of strange and arbitrary hoop to get people to jump through to let them in.
Eleanor Janega: It’s not making anyone happy either.
Guy Windsor: So but you have like an external view of Britain being an immigrant to this country and what do you think Britishness is?
Eleanor Janega: God. That’s a huge question, I suppose. And I constantly wonder about this as well, because I think that I’m like rather a Londoner and that sort of like one thing. And it’s not all the things. Britishness. I mean, one of the things that we kind of have that other people don’t have is we do have this sort of like imperial nostalgia malaise thing that other people don’t have.
Guy Windsor: Can I just point out you said “we.”
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, I mean, I do.
Guy Windsor: Do you think of yourself as British?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. I mean, so this is the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my adult life. So I’m 15 years out in London, so.
Guy Windsor: Okay. I lived in Finland for 15 years and I did not understand how Finnish I had become until I left.
Eleanor Janega: See? Yeah, that’s the thing.
Guy Windsor: So many things. I have a really serious question for you. Taps. Should you have two separate taps in a sink, the hot tap and the cold tap, or should you have a mix of tap in the middle?
Eleanor Janega: I guess I’m not British because. Oh my God, you should have a mixer tap. Why is there a hot tap and a cold tap? You’re just going to scald yourself.
Guy Windsor: I remember twenty odd years ago vigorously arguing in favour of the two separate taps as inherently superior. Because I can’t justify it. I don’t know what I was thinking, except there was something culturally right about it. That’s what I was probably trying to articulate. And this notion of a practical tap that actually just works and gives you as much water as the temperature you want when you want it. It’s just somehow it’s just not the done thing.
Eleanor Janega: Yes, in my house I’ve only mixer taps, and I’ve seen to that.
Guy Windsor: As you should.
Eleanor Janega: Over at my partner’s, because he lives in the Barbican and he’s got like the original Barbican sink in his family. And it’s one of the sexiest objects ever known to man. It is an absolutely gorgeous piece of porcelain. And it’s got kind of these raised bumps that look sort of like the top of a Lego or something for you to put soap on on either side. And it’s got a hot and cold tap and that the hot water is so hot as to be scalding. And it’s just sort of like, so you call it get rid of it. There’s no way. I mean. Well, even.
Guy Windsor: To wash your hands in bearable temperature water, you have to put the plug in the mix it together and that takes a while. Whereas you can wash your hands in maybe a 10th of the time if you can just turn the tap on.
Eleanor Janega: It’s incredible. You know, it’s one of these things where we don’t own the place it’s rented. But even if we could, we wouldn’t pull the thing out because it’s too beautiful. Right? But it’s so impractical. And it drives me insane. But there is also there is some kind of like Britishness of the sort of the stick-to-it-iveness. And one of the things that’s really kind of British is A: that’s the way we’ve always done things. And B, also this kind of like glorifying things not being very good to be like, well, you don’t like it? There’s the door. Like hot and cold taps. Well, you don’t like it, like this idea that things kind of should be a little bit impractical and inconvenient.
Guy Windsor: Well, I do know people who don’t mind that their home is freezing fucking cold in winter because you could just put a sweater on. But no!
Eleanor Janega: And it’s like, oh, no, yeah, yeah, yeah. Things like this are it’s a weird one for me, as I’m a mutt and the product of really recent immigration and then an immigrant myself. So I’m like carrying around all of these things, right? So I’ve got these very Czech things where it’s like, I can’t bear to see shoes worn in the house and you can’t sit on beds in your outside clothes. And I’ve got like all these fussy Czech things.
Guy Windsor: That’s more extreme than in Finland. You absolutely take your shoes off when you come in. And I’ve been doing that pretty much since I moved to Finland and anything else is honestly, it’s a bit barbaric.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, it freaks me out, yeah, yeah.
Guy Windsor: But yeah the not sitting on the bed in outside clothes?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Because like your outside clothes are gross and you were outside and you came into contact with question mark, it shouldn’t be, right. And I realise that this is a me thing and that’s fine, I kind of like don’t expect it of others either. It doesn’t really come up very often in my day to day life, but it’s something that I believe strongly in. So I’ve got things like this. But there are certain British things that I definitely have. Like I will get in an argument immediately is someone says that British food is bad. I will begin to wrestle them.
Guy Windsor: I’m sorry, but Yorkshire pudding and toad in the hole and pork pies. Oh, my God.
Eleanor Janega: God’s own food. This is incredible stuff. It’s very, very good and certain things about me, like I’m more British than British people in certain cases, for example, because I will holiday in Britain, right? Because for me it’s quite interesting to go to the Yorkshire Dales or something like that, and I’m very, very interested in those things and I want a pint of bitter and I want a sausage roll. There are these things that I want.
Guy Windsor: Beer does not have to be served cold.
Eleanor Janega: No, no.
Guy Windsor: You can’t taste it if it is cold.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. And so I’ve got all of these things. It’s an interesting one, because at this point in time, who knows what it is that’s going on with me? But I will certainly kind of like instinctively say ‘we’ now a lot of the time when I’m talking about what’s going on here. But I’m certainly a part of it. But every time I go back to Seattle, it’s like I’m more and more foreign and like I’m more and more British about things. Like I went to the coast with my sister when I was home this spring for the first time in ages. And here I was in like my little London clothes. Like I have like my mac. I’m on the Oregon coast in my mac and I wasn’t dressed like anyone else there because they were all in kind of standard issue Northwestern clothes, like a sort of fleece vest and things of this nature. I was going to the coffee shop in the morning to get like a big large coffee. And there was this one morning I went in and there was a British woman who had like clearly been in the Northwest for quite some time, older than me and was like dressed head to toe like a north westerner. But she like took one look at me and like my handbag and my mac going in and like gave me a nod. And I was like, Yeah, there you go. See, that’s what’s up. So British people abroad, if I don’t speak, are like I have encountered a fellow British person, right? Because of the way that I present myself.
Guy Windsor: Here’s a really weird thing, but I’ve moved here from Finland. I mean, I am technically British. I was born in Cambridge. I’m English, right? Yeah. But I absorbed so much Finnishness from living in Finland and quite a bit of Italian from immersing myself in Italian sources a lot. But when I moved here, and I’ve lived as an immigrant most of my life because as a foreigner growing up in Botswana and Peru and places like that because of my dad’s work and then living in Finland, I’m used to being the foreigner and that’s fine. But when, for example, you’re British in Finland, the Finns assume that you don’t know how things work. But coming here, everyone assumes that I know how things work. And honestly, it is all completely perplexing to me. I do not understand most of how British infrastructure is supposed to work. And even after being here for six years, it still doesn’t make sense.
Eleanor Janega: Oh, that’s easy. It doesn’t.
Guy Windsor: But everyone expects me because I’m British and I sound British just to understand that this is done like this and that is done like that. And I don’t. It’s a very odd experience to basically be an immigrant, but being mistaken for a native all the time.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. No I see that. I can completely understand that. I suppose I feel that more and more every time I visit my family where it’s sort of like every time I go back, it looks slightly different. And there’s some new thing that I’m not aware of. And I can just kind of feel it slipping out from under my feet, you know? Yeah. Britishness. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Which is a very odd institution, because I don’t really understand it.
Eleanor Janega: I’ve got this kind of joke that my partner says that he were doing this thing that he calls Advanced Britishness where he’ll make me watch like shows from the seventies or like so that I can kind of like, understand references. Because there’s things that I lack. So when I first moved here, because I’d been living in Sydney for three years, when I first moved here and when I was in Sydney I had a pub quiz team and we went out every Wednesday night. I was basically hung over every Thursday for most of my early twenties. It was fantastic and we were great. We were a really good pub quiz team. So I moved to London. I was like, That’s it. I’m going to get the pub quiz team going again. And I couldn’t do a British pub quiz. I didn’t know who was famous. I didn’t understand anything about sport. I simply couldn’t do it. And I can kind of do it now. I lack the interest in football. That’s kind of like required. I simply don’t have it. I don’t have it. And I’m very glad that other people like football. I’m not, again, trying to yuck their yum. Have a great time, everybody. I don’t get it. I’m never going to be able to answer those questions. But I now understand esoteric British celebrities and things like that. But someone needs to sit me down and be like, here, this is The Good Life you’ve got to watch The Good Life, you know, things like that.
Guy Windsor: There’s a very good book, by I think her name is Kate Fox, I think is called The English. And it’s basically like a sociological study or an ethnological study of Englishness, all sorts of things she said there in that book I knew, but I didn’t know that I knew. For instance, if you’re ordering in a bar, you will indicate to the barman that you’re ready to order another drink. But under no circumstances does your elbow leaves the bar. You do not lift your elbow off the bar when waving at the barman that you want a drink. And I don’t know why.
Eleanor Janega: That’s interesting. Okay.
Guy Windsor: But you just simply don’t. And I have been in a bar, really crowded, and desperate to get the person’s attention. Literally my shoulder is locking up from the force of keeping my elbow on the bar. But I have never been told don’t take your elbow off the bar. I just know instinctively, intuitively and at a deep cellular level that you don’t do it.
Eleanor Janega: How interesting. Not even sure if I’ve noticed this. I’m wondering if I do this or not.
Guy Windsor: But you’re foreign. You can do what you want.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, I can do what I want. Yeah. Yeah. But I’m also desperate to not be seen. This is a really interesting thing, right? I get quite bent out of shape when people try to explain things to me. Because I don’t want them to. And it’s quite funny because it goes like one way or another because obviously in London, someone with my accent is not interesting. It’s just sort of like “go about your day”. But if I go see my in-laws up in Derby, it’s like a riot breaks out every time I arrive at the bar. But people quite like my foreignness. I was like, oh, well that that’s quite interesting. Or I’ve noticed the same thing if I’m up in Northumberland, places like that, it’s like, oh, that’s like very interesting. Got a lot of stick about it in Liverpool. People were not happy about me.
Guy Windsor: Because you sound American?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Yeah. I think that they must be very tired of people on a Beatles tour or something, is kind of the impression that I got. And I was sort of like, well, this is very unfair because all I want is a pint and to sort of be left to my own devices. And sometimes people ask and sometimes they don’t, but sometimes even when they do ask, and I’ll say, yeah, I’ve been here for 15 years or something like that, when then they say goodbye, they’ll say like, oh yeah, enjoy your holiday. Things like that and that I will get my back up about it. But yeah, there’s nothing I can do about the accent. It is what it is, when you’re in it, you’re stuck with it.
Guy Windsor: I mean, you could train out of it, but it would be very weird and artificial to do so.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, I think it would be doing it on purpose and I think it’s just a bit wanky innit? And it’s trying too hard, so I’m not going to do that.
Eleanor Janega: But yeah.
Guy Windsor: But that “innit” was pure London.
Eleanor Janega: There you go. Right. So I’ve got those things, I’ve got like my slang and things like that. That’s the odd thing about me is that my slang is sort of well, it is rather British.
Guy Windsor: Rather. I would say so.
Eleanor Janega: I would say so, oh, you know what we need to do? We need to bring back that weird transatlantic accent that existed just for movies with like “I say.” That existed in all movies in the sixties. Like early sixties. I love that. That was quite funny.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, yeah. You’re right about that kind of harping back to a nostalgic view of imperial power. Where if you think when Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met at Yalta in the Second World War, they met as peers.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Right.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: That is simply not true anymore.
Eleanor Janega: Nope. Absolutely not. And I think it’s quite a funny one because I think part of what we’re kind of going through here in the weird political nature that we find ourselves in at the moment is that people can’t let that go. And it’s just like, that’s not the world that exists anymore.
Guy Windsor: Every British person should live in Finland for a while because Finland’s never had an empire. And so you kind of stop valuing that sort of thing so much.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. I mean, that’s something that I’ve really liked about living in the Czech Republic was it’s the same thing. It’s like, what are we? Well, we’re the kings of beer.
Guy Windsor: Czech beer is very good. Prosim, pivo!
Eleanor Janega: Great, perfect. All you need to know to get by.
Guy Windsor: And Děkuju.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I always like to teach people, please, thank you, hello, goodbye. You know? And they will like it if you try. But the desire to really rule, doesn’t exist in the same way because it just never did. There’s more of a desire for autonomy.
Guy Windsor: Actually, a complete change of direction. I have a note here. Something I meant to ask you earlier when we’re talking about The Once and Future Sex, do you mention Inanna and Ereshkigal?
Eleanor Janega: No, I don’t. And annoyingly, this is one of the things that got cut.
Guy Windsor: Oh it was in there but it got cut.
Eleanor Janega: It got cut.
Guy Windsor: Isn’t it epic that the earliest written poetry we know of in human history was written by a woman?
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, I think it’s so interesting because there is something here about a privileging of writing and how that works. And in many ways I think now we do see kind of writing as is kind of a feminised labour. I think there’s more and more women writers that seen as kind of like more and more a feminine thing, but who gets through a lot of times doesn’t work that way. But I do think that there is something to be said about a woman’s eye on the world and how things work. I was trying to link between that. And when you look, for example, at what Hildegard of Bingen writes about women as opposed to, you know, what.
Guy Windsor: What does she writes about women?
Eleanor Janega: Very different things to her male peers. It’s like when we’re talking about the nature of the sexes, for example. So if you’re talking about sex itself, it’s quite funny because there’s a lot of emphasis on the fact that like women are poisonous. And to a certain extent those like menses are poisonous and menses are pent up sperm that women haven’t ejaculated. And they are also kind of like all these foul humours that have built up and then they need to be expelled. And so women are kind of like vaguely poisonous. Hildegard doesn’t think so. Hildegard thinks men are poisonous and she’s like, it’s men’s semen that is poisonous. And women are kind of a contrary effusion that can calm all of that down. And when Hildegard writes about women’s sexuality, she writes about it as being kind of like gentle and kind of like nurturing. And, you know, all these very…
Guy Windsor: Honestly, that’s almost as bad.
Eleanor Janega: It is. That’s why I tried to make that point. I don’t like it either. But it’s contrary to what men write, which is that women are stupid, horny, like forest fire is what men say, where a woman’s sexuality is like burns things up and Hildegard is like, no, no. And I try to kind of thread the needle and be like, neither of these things are good. But it’s quite interesting if you ask women because they’re kind of like coming from a completely different perspective at the same time. And I don’t think it’s great to look at women as gentle and nurturing in and of themselves. I think that that’s just kind of like going too hard down the Marian route, if that makes sense. Like just kind of like Mary as a role model for all women, which so yeah, but, you know.
Guy Windsor: Fine if you resonate with that personally. But not as a general role model, that doesn’t make any sense.
Eleanor Janega: Not going to be me.
Guy Windsor: You might as well have Joan of Arc as a role model for women.
Eleanor Janega: Exactly. Which also probably not going to happen.
Guy Windsor: And also probably not good for us because Joan of Arc was not famous for her mothering skills. And mothers are important.
Eleanor Janega: Yeah, exactly. And we like them. They are good. It’s just that there needs to be more than one model, it’s exactly the same, like bringing it right round to looking at the monarchy. It’s like no one’s saying that it’s not good to be king, necessarily. It’s just if that’s your only option, it sucks. No one’s saying that it’s not good to be a mother. It’s just if that’s your only option and the be all and end all, that’s the problem, you know.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So thank you so much for joining me today, Eleanor. It’s been lovely to see you again.
Eleanor Janega: It’s a delight to be back, as always. And hopefully I’ll be back with having got further along in my next project.