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Search tags: great-books-by-women
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review 2019-04-15 16:33
Excellent Women / Barbara Pym
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

 

I felt that I was now old enough to become fussy and spinsterish if I wanted to.


Amen, sister Mildred! I felt so much kinship to this single woman, obviously competent and to whom others turn when they want something done and don’t want to do it themselves. At a tourist site, someone turns to Mildred to ask directions and says, “I hope you didn’t mind me asking, but you looked as if you would know the way.” I’ve had the same thing happen to me frequently. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing, despite the fact that I’m often wondering about my own competence! (One of my coworkers once told me that he figured the world was split into patients and nurses and that I would be a head-nurse. I’m still wondering if this was a compliment or an insult.)

It’s no secret that there are tasks that tend to get heaped on single women. It is assumed that because you don’t have a husband or children, you have oodles of spare time in which to do things for others. So you can be the one to do the emotional labour of keeping up friendships or keeping in touch with family. This can work for you or against you. You can use it to your advantage as Mildred does:

”I began piling cups and saucers on to a tray. I suppose it was cowardly of me, but I felt that I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?”


She can find solitude at the kitchen sink because, as she told us earlier, “I had observed that men did not usually do things unless they liked doing them.” Hence the church-going men who hang around the jumble sales and drink tea, but, like the drones they are, do very little else.

It has always surprised me how much society pushes us toward romantic relationships. Like Mildred, I’m just fine with my single status—I can certainly see the married women around me struggling with challenges that I don’t have to face. It may be a liability someday when I need an advocate when I’m in assisted living, for example, but having a spouse or children doesn’t guarantee that they will show up to do this task. I had to laugh when one relative spent ages agonizing to me about whether to get divorced and then turned around and worried about whether I would get married!

I am just fine being numbered among the excellent women.

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text 2019-04-12 05:19
Reading progress update: I've read 72 out of 256 pages.
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

 

Barbara Pym, why have I never read any of your work until recently?  What a pleasure!

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review 2018-06-19 17:15
Dora Doralina / Rachel de Queiroz
Dora Doralina - Rachel de Queiroz

"What kills you today is forgotten tomorrow. I don't know if this is true or false because all that's real for me is remembrance." In her old age, Dora reflects on the major influences in her life: her mother, her career in the theater, and her one true love. Set in Brazil in the early part of the century, Dora, Doralina is a story about power. Through her fierce resistance to her mother and her later life as a working woman and widow, Doralina attempts to define herself in a time and culture which places formidable obstacles before women. Married off by her mother to a man she does not love, told what to wear and eat, Dora's reclaiming of herself is full of both discovery and rage. For her, independence is the right to protect herself and make her own choices. From a life confined by religion and "respectability," even her passionate attachment to a hard-drinking smuggler contains an act of free will previously unavailable to her. Dora, Doralina is an intimate, realistic, and vivid glimpse of one woman's struggle for independence, for a life in which she owns her actions, her pleasure, and her pain.

 

I read this book to fill the Q position in my quest to read women authors A-Z in 2018. I will honestly tell you that it is not a novel that I would naturally pick up so I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as someone who regularly reads literary fiction.

This is a character driven story which reads very much like an autobiography. It is basically a window into the world of women in Brazil in the first half of the twentieth century. Brazilian society, as in many societies at the time, is extremely macho and women don’t have all that much latitude.

The book is divided into three sections, representing three stages in the life of our narrator, Dora. The first section is Dora growing up and struggling with the control of her domineering mother. Dora refers to her as Senhora, not mother, and seems to be one of the only people in the household who longs for freedom. Dora ends up in a marriage which was more-or-less engineered by Senhora, and while she doesn’t mind her husband, she’s not desperately fond of him either. When he is killed, Dora takes a page from her mother’s playbook and uses her widowhood to give herself more freedom in the world.

The second section is Dora’s adventures in the world outside her mother’s farm. She finds employment and eventually ends up on stage, despite her shyness. She is both fiercely independent and highly reliant on her friends in the acting company, a duality that she freely acknowledges. And it is during her travels with the company that she meets the love of her life.

Part three is her life with The Captain. He reminded me of her first husband in several ways (his drinking, his macho possessiveness) but Dora’s feelings for him make the marriage an altogether different experience from the first.

Documenting women’s lives is an important pursuit, filling in the blanks of previously ignored reality. The novel also shows the particular barriers that many South American women are up against culturally.

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text 2018-06-18 15:18
Reading progress update: I've read 86 out of 281 pages.
Dora Doralina - Rachel de Queiroz

 

And now for something completely different.

 

This Brazilian author gives us a window into women's lives in the early 20th century.  Published in 1975, when the feminist movement in North America was really getting going, it is an exploration of a Brazilian woman's search for independence and the right to run her own life.

 

 

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review 2018-03-25 22:47
500 Great Books By Women - We should update this one!
500 Great Books By Women - Erica Bauermeister,Holly Smith,Jesse Larsen

A nice little resource. Sadly it was only published once, so it's way out of date and ends with a few books published in 1993.

 

Divided by theme, there are blurbs from a panel of contributors (all female) about 500 books: everything from Autobiography/memoir to oral histories, novels and nonfiction.

 

There are cross-referenced indices and lists at the beginning of every theme. Included are lists of books by women of color living in the US and a "list of some books about lesbian and gay people." Clearly time has not been kind to this particular listing, and that's the issue. The areas covered are way too broad, the 1990s overrepresented and marginalized people are just barely creeping into consciousness in 1993-94.

 

I truly wish someone would update this particular reference, but until then it's handy for finding books and authors I may otherwise have missed.

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