Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Short History of Women

I just finished reading A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert, a beautifully written novel chronicling five generations of women. One character is a suffragist who starves herself for women's rights in 1914. I have always been fascinated by the suffragists, and would like to know more about this historical period. As I read this novel I was reminded of Virginia Woolf's writing, especially Mrs. Dalloway. The structure of A Short History of Women is, like women's lives, circuitous. My life story doesn't have much narrative drive -- it is meandering. My story is a story of relationships, a sometimes feverish attachment to my children, marriages (coupling and uncoupling, then coupling again)....with work and life and love intersecting and entangling. For a decade I raised children and worked in a desultory way (writing, painting, teaching) always fitting myself into the margins of the lives of husband and children. Then, for a decade, I was head-of-household, breadwinner, slavishly working and constantly anxious. Now I am in another phase, feeling something happening, perhaps the sense of a self about to expand.

Above my desk I have a framed photograph of my great-grandmother, Belle. She is like me, and though I never met her, I feel we communicate. She raised four daughters alone, and in the photograph she sits surrounded by daughters: Margaret, Katharine, Beatrice and Constance, in white, high-collared dresses, with great, white bows in their hair. In the center sits Granny Belle, still young and beautiful, with dark hair in a pompadour, her serious dark eyes staring steadily into the camera. This dark-eyed woman, surrounded by dark-eyed girls, must have been brave, moving to New York City, living as a divorced woman in an era when divorce caused a scandal. I often look at this picture and wonder about the stories hidden in the dark eyes of Belle and her daughters.

1 comment:

thomascalvocoressi said...

Good one....I like it when you write about your life (I'm artistically blocked these days and so am envious of your ability to treat personal subjects with a certain ease/absence of portentousness *gesundheit*).