on the ‘higher’ friendship between men and women

Streeter_Happiness2Baflr30.2_34cmykGeorge Scialabba at The Baffler:

When Mill was twenty-four and already a rising intellectual star, he met Mrs. Taylor, twenty-three, the wife of a Unitarian businessman and mother of two children. John had recently come through the depression he famously described in his Autobiography, caused, he was convinced, by having starved his feelings. Harriet was brilliant, beautiful, and fearless. Both were smitten, instantly and forever. Except when one or the other was convalescing (they were both tubercular), they rarely went a day without seeing or writing each other until she died twenty-eight years later, in 1858. (For the first nineteen of those years, they met openly at her house, thanks to her remarkably enlightened husband, John Taylor, of whom there is a small commemorative medallion on display in the Harriet Taylor Room.)

Mill insisted that everything he wrote after meeting Taylor was a joint production—she had the flashes of inspiration that he laboriously worked out. Some subsequent critics have doubted that this was true of his Logic and other philosophical writings. But it was surely true of The Subjection of Women, his powerful and influential critique of sexual inequality. Mill was already an advanced feminist when they met (which was, he later wrote, the only reason she gave him the time of day). But she enlarged his vision and kindled his indignation. The latter is perhaps the most striking feature of Mill’s treatise. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication had a conciliatory, occasionally even pleading, tone. But The Subjection of Women gave no quarter, rhetorically. The relentlessness of the prose in the cause of emancipation fits right into today’s sex-war rhetoric.

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