Martha Ballard, of A Midwife’s Tale likely hand idea that her diary would one day be the object of learned discovery. She wrote it as a cross between a weather almanac, a recitation of the house chores she accomplished every day, the babies she delivered and patients she helped, complete with an accounting of payments, and a list of house guests. And a mass murder or two (really!) But patiently analyzed, the diary also revealed wedding customs (lots of very early babies!), her difficult relationship with her husband, her wayward son, the peril of the frozen river that separated her from half of her patients, the complicated relationships between midwives and doctors, and how overwhelming women’s chores could be, with lots of children and no appliances or read-bought anything. Highly recommended for a glimpse at the lives of everyday women in the late 18th century.
Tag Archives: women
*** A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Eldrick
A Life of My Own is a memoir by a writer who specializes in biographies, so it’s an opportunity to observe a professional at work. She includes plenty of personal commentary on her own life, from her fractured childhood between divorced parents, at a time when it was a matter of shame, and during WWII to boot, to her own difficult marriage, and moving accounts of her children, living and dead, and an especially poignant portrait of a son who was born with spina bifida. Her professional life, although very successful in the end, was tough at first, when she could not find a professional job despite her Cambridge degrees. Society has made some progress since then, it seems.
The Testaments is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, although it stands on its own, and, coming twenty years after it, it further highlights the eerie intuitions of the author about men-led dictatorships, not to mention the MeToo movement. Written cleverly and seamlessly by three women, one with considerable power and two who can only be described as rebels, it describes how the bleakest of oppressive powers can be brought down by apparently powerless agents. Chilling, but inspiring. I almost gave it four stars.
Virginia Hall, the heroin of A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, was a spirited, rich, well-educated woman who dreamt of a career in diplomacy. But barred from it by discrimination against women and the disabled (she had been amputated of a leg after a hunting accident), she instead launched a highly dangerous mission to help the French resistance against the Nazi occupants, and indeed the French government that collaborated with them. Under a flimsy cover as a journalist, she organized networks, befriended everyone, and coordinated shipments of money, weapons, and supplies. The author provides abundant documentation from archives and interviews, with the result a lively, even griping story. (It is a little puzzling that she gets the famous poem used to announce D-day slightly wrong,)
Virginia Hall would be treated callously after the war, as perhaps could be expected of smart women at that time. Shame!
On Division stars a 57-year old Hassidic grandmother who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant with twins, and she is so surprised, and dismayed, that she simply cannot bring herself to mention it to her husband. Over the course of her pregnancy, she reflects on the warmth and strictures of her community, as she nurtures her children and grandchildren, mourns her dead son, and finds a new occupation and dedication as a patient advocate and translator.
I loved this story, and how the author deftly balanced the joys and the painful limitations of living in a tight-knit community.
Susan Straight’s family, considered jointly with her ex-husband’s, contains an astonishing number of remarkable women who fled poverty, violence, slavery, and quite a number of bad men. In The Country of Women recounts their stories, moving from the present to the distant past in chapters that hopscotch across time and the country, and Switzerland as well. There is also a warm description of how her neighborhood sustains her and her daughters, and in turn expects her to help all manners of relatives and friends of the family. Family pictures enliven the lot
The author of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls proposes a fictionalized history of a real institution that took in abused and pregnant women and allowed them to keep their children, unlike most other institutions of the time. It is to be expected that the stories would be heartbreaking, and indeed there are enough rapes, abandonments, and betrayals to keep going for hundreds of pages–and still there’s more, as she overlays the equally sad stories of the fictional contemporary researchers of said institution, both with similarly exploited pasts.
If you like dramatic stories with clearly marked good and bad characters, you will like this book.