Aunt Sally

Bill Bryson, in A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003) Chapter Twenty-Six:

…(Rosalind) Franklin was the most enigmatic character of them all. In a severely unflattering portrait, (James) Watson in The Double Helix depicted Franklin as a woman who was unreasonable, secretive, chronically uncooperative and – this seemed especially to irritate him – almost wilfully unsexy. He allowed that she “was not unattractive and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes”, but in this she disappointed all expectations. She didn’t even use lipstick, he noted in wonder, while her dress sense “showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents “.*

*In 1968, Harvard University Press cancelled publication of The Double Helix after (Francis) Crick and (Maurice) Wilkins complained about its characterisations, which Lisa Jardine has described as “gratuitously hurtful”. The descriptions quoted above are as worded after Watson had softened his comments.

However, she did have the best images in existence of the possible structure of DNA, achieved by means of X-ray crystallography, the technique perfected by Linus Pauling…”

Janet Montefiore wrote in Listening to Minna, printed in the journal Paragraph:

“…(George) Eliot was set up, then, as an Aunt Sally in an Oedipal power game whose stake was the power of definition: deciding what texts are, and what [literary] criticism does. The term “Aunt Sally” is particularly appropriate here. In common parlance, it means a straw target or easy object of aggression, but it is derived from something more specific: in the words of the O.E.D., “a game in which the figure of a woman’s head with a pipe in her mouth is set up, and the player, throwing sticks from a certain distance, tries to break the pipe.” ( The O.E.D. doesn’t mention this, but Aunt Sally is also by tradition black.) In psychoanalytic terms, then, a game in which a woman, representing otherness, is attributed with a breakable phallus in order that she may be shown to be castrated…”

Erin Durkin wrote in The Guardian of 13.1.19:

“A New York laboratory has cut its ties with James Watson, the Nobel prize-winning scientist who helped discover the structure of DNA, over “reprehensible” comments in which he said race and intelligence are connected.

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said it was revoking all titles and honors conferred on Watson, 90, who led the lab for many years.

The lab “unequivocally rejects the unsubstantiated and reckless personal opinions Dr James D Watson expressed on the subject of ethnicity and genetics”, its president, Bruce Stillman, and chair of the board of trustees, Marilyn Simons, said in a statement.

“Dr Watson’s statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of CSHL, its trustees, faculty, staff, or students. The laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice.”

With Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, the scientist was one of the researchers who discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953.

In 2007, the lab removed him as chancellor…”

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