I first read Juliet Mitchell in the early 1980s alongside other feminist writers such as Germaine Greer, Kate Millett and Alice Walker. I can still recall the growing sense of entitlement their work gave me: to choose what kind of relationships I wanted to be involved in, what work I wanted to do.
Earlier this month I attended a one-day symposium in Cambridge to mark Juliet’s retirement from academic life. The morning began with a film clip of Juliet from the 1970s, arguing with passionate earnestness for some of the principles we take for granted today (the absurdity of women agreeing to ‘obey’ their husbands in marriage, for example). Juliet’s more recent work has been on siblings – work I drew on for the writing of Vanessa and Virginia. For Juliet, our failure to navigate the frequently fraught relationships we have with our siblings affects the way we live as adults. She suggests it is a primary ingredient in discrimination, violence and war.
At the end of the day, Juliet responded to the different commentaries people had given on her work. Several of the things she said have stuck in my mind. A reminder of our fragility, and how the past continues to play itself out in our lives. As Juliet put it, ‘traumas continue to ghost, double, return in unpredictable but inevitable ways’. She quoted the axioms we’ve all heard: how disaster often strikes twice, or how we make the same mistake three times. All this left me thinking: how far do we co-create what happens in our lives, even apparently gratuitous events like accidents or falling ill?
A profound thank you, Juliet, for setting me on my path all those years ago, and for continuing to challenge my orientation today.