The heroine of The Red Car has an abusive husband and a job she could apparently do in her sleep when an old mentor dies, leaving her the famous red car. So she flies across the country and tries to find herself again, in what I thought were rather cliched northern California moves. Still, her self-talk is well-observed and the first half of the (short) story hangs together quite well.
The Crossing is the portrait of a strong woman who makes her own way, regardless of custom, betrayal, or tragedies. It will eventually put her on a small boat crossing the Atlantic — by herself. This is not a happy-ever-after story, or even a temporarily-happy story, but the heroine is dogged, strong, unforgettable.
A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 is a fascinating, detailed account of women’s lives during the early years of the Mormon Church. The author painstakingly combed through diaries and other original documents, even quilts, to find stories of real women, some famous and others not. The ignorant reader, like me, will learn a lot about the painful start of the church and the violent attacks that inspired the move to Utah. And about the very busy, very hard lives of frontier women.
Then, there is the history of plural marriage, and although the author faithfully transcribes the thoughts of the women, who certainly had a wide variety of opinions on the matter, she often seems to represent that women “in favor” of plural marriage just loved the idea. Methinks that she ought to consider a bit more in-depth the social environment of these women. Sure, they could say they were against plural marriage (they could vote, after all, at a time when most American women could not), but in a society when unmarried women were quite vulnerable, and in a church where it was presented as dogma, opposition must have been hazardous. And while the Mormon Church did have some progressive policies towards divorce that was favorable to women, it’s clear that the wonderful benefits of plural marriage were accorded to men: no women-led, multi-husband family was dreamed of…
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars is supposed to be an uplifting book about women scientists. And indeed, it presents compelling portraits of women who, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, analyzed and organized hundreds of thousands of photographic plates, captured by the male scientists, and discovered many stars while creating a logical classification of stars. How exciting (for someone who cares about astronomy; I think I’m sitting that one out).
Still, these women were paid peanuts and had the hardest time getting formal, funded jobs and university titles, and living off the generosity of the observatory patriarch, who seemed to be unusually open-minded but why did he not see that it was wrong to pay them 40% less than the men? It seems that the book should make a bigger deal of the basic inequity underlying the entire adventure..
In Rise: How a House Built a Family, a thrice-divorced mother of four somehow conceives that building a house (herself, with the help of her two teenage children) is a realistic goal and a good way to escape both schizophrenic husband #2 and memories of abusive husband #3. What follows is the incredible story of how she did it, starting with convincing a bank to lend money to a DIYer with no experience and continuing through injuries bad enough to take her to the emergency room (and, ironically, summon a counselor to probe for partner abuse), a fainting spell after she applies floor polish without a respirator, and disputes with various subcontractors selected for their low rates rather than their competence. And yes, in the end the house is finished. The story is certainly gripping and you will likely find yourself for the builder — but I kept wondering about the wisdom of the whole enterprise.
Prepare to be sad. The stories in Difficult Women range from melancholic to dismal to truly horrifying, with women who let themselves be exploited, who are attacked and raped, whose children die, whose partners treat them atrociously. Perhaps reading in small doses would make it less onerous?
You may have many reasons not to read Gone With The Wind: (1) it’s too long (2) it is more history than plot (3) it’s racist (4) I already saw the movie. Let’s discuss.
(1) Wouldn’t you rather have 1000 (almost 1100!) pages of fun than just 250 pages of fun?
(2) There is a lot of history in this book! I’m no historian but if someone qualified could check that the facts are correct, it would be a great idea to assign it to American History classes. Much more enjoyable than a dry textbook, and a masterful demonstration of the impact of wars on the civilian population, not to mention the after-war, aka Reconstruction period. And of course lessons can be drawn for more modern conflicts, especially the need to allow the losing side to keep some dignity.
(3) Even the saintly Melanie Wilkes never thinks for one moment that slavery may be a problematic institution, and the way African-Americans are addressed, treated, and talked about is often appalling. The book is plenty sexist as well, with what we would now call spouse abuse pretty much tolerated and viewed as normal. Perhaps we can view both racism and sexism as expressions of a time and place rather than a prescription for us today.
(4) Gone With The Wind was the first movie I saw unchaperoned, with my favorite cousin, so I remember it very well, including our great surprise to discover that movies could have intermissions. But the book! It pulled me along, page after page, even though I knew very well Scarlett’s fate (or I thought I knew: I did not remember what happened after that intermission very well at all). It pulled me into another world in which I heard the canons of the Union, I saw the gaudiness of Scarlett’s Atlanta mansion, and I felt the contempt of the old guard for her. It’s much more than a few movies lines. It is an intricate story with characters that are not just complex, but also evolve over time. And it’s an excellent portrait of women and how they adapt to circumscribed roles.
In brief: pick it up and start reading. (Thank you Lyn for suggesting this book to me.)