I delved into historical feminism and feminists and was both richly rewarded and quite disappointed (see below). I can’t wait to read more from and about my new feminist-bff, Mary Wollstonecraft, and I am completely over anti-feminist writings that are nothing more than a back-handed slap in the face, telling women to just “stay in your place, already!” (Eric Metaxas, I’m looking at you!)
Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon (5 stars). I absolutely devoured this book! Gordon is engaging and spins a fantastic story about early-adopting feminist mother-daughter duo, Wollstonecraft and Shelley. Even at nearly 600 pages I loved this book so much I wanted to start again as soon as I finished. I knew very little about Mary Wollstonecraft or Mary Shelley prior to picking up this dual-biography, however I quickly fell in love with both of them, with their particular brand of trail-blazing feminism, their politics, and their artistic endeavors. Were they flawed? Deeply so; aren’t we all? Do I agree with everything they did, said, and/or wrote? Of course not. But I loved learning more about these two women, their lives, thinking, intellect, politics, and writings. Recommended.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft (4 stars). I particularly loved the first half of this book, Wollstonecraft talks about the infantilisation of women, their lack of education, and the societal expectations of sweet and nice and generally weak ladies. She talks about how much damage this does to women AND men, and in general, I want to be her when I grow up. Favorite quote (which may be off a word or three because I was listening to this while driving. “If fear and infantilism in women were treated with the same abhorrence as cowardice in men, women would not be the false, simpering flowers they are often assumed to be. […] I do not wish women to control or lord over men, simply to govern over their individual selves.” Spot on, Ms. Wollstonecraft. So, spot on. This book was published during the French Revolution (1790), it’s horrifying how many of her frustrations are still felt by feminists today.
Intellectual Women and Victorian Patriarchy: Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, by Deirdre David (2 stars). I really wish this book was written by Charlotte Gordon (who wrote Romantic Outlaws, the dual-biography of Mary’s Wollstonecraft and Shelley). I had a really hard time with this book, the writing is very dense and if you are not well-versed in the writings of Barrett Browning and Eliot you will miss a lot of this book. Harriet Martineau is a lot less known and the author at least explains her writings for the reader, where for the other two she–professor as always–assumes you already took a grad course in comparative 19th century feminist literature. I found this book when looking for more information on Martineau, who I found kept popping up in the books I read about Charles Darwin. She was a staunch supporter of ending the slave trade and abolishing slavery in the British Empire and America, she also edited many scientific articles for Darwin and his contemporaries and wrote countless reviews on natural history and evolution. I was disappointed that this work was not even mentioned in this book, instead focusing on her political economy writings, travel writings, and (according to the author), her “inability” to write a great novel. I am not well-enough read in 19th century literature to follow all the (very dense and very wordy) arguments and critiques the author makes for/against Barrett Browning and Eliot, comparing fictional characters to real-life authors and delving deep into all sorts of theory.
7 Women And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas (2 stars). The subtitle of this book should be “The Secret of Their Greatness is Christianity and Adhering to Traditional Female Roles.” Not that there is anything wrong with being a Christian woman, but I was disappointed that was the unifying theme Metaxas chose for these women. In his introduction he blatantly states he is anti-feminist, and my heart sank. I suppose there lies my issue with the unifying Christian/supporting the religious and governmental patriarchy theme. Women who break the mold and are pioneers in feminism he dismisses out of the hat as unseemly radicals, while praising those who excel in “womanly” ways. Meh, not my cup of tea. Some of the women Metaxas selected I had never heard of, some I have read biographies or autobiographies of (Joan of Arc, Corrie ten Boom) that were FAR superior to the synopsis Metaxas wrote. Several women I am positive do not fit into the same ranks as Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks, but because they were good Christians and anti-feminists, Metaxas included them (Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris).
Space & Science Fiction:
The Martian, by Any Weir (5 stars). I loved this book so much, Blue Eyes and I listened to it as we were driving back and forth (11 hours each way, 5 trips in the last 6 weeks) and we both laughed and geeked out and brought it up in conversation for weeks afterward. Brilliant, science-y, hilarious, and general perfection.
Additional recommended reading: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (5 stars). While I have seen about a dozen different film adaptions, I had never actually read the story. I loved it, absolutely loved it. I loved the characters and the imagery and the general message. I love the darkness of the Ghost of Christmases Yet To Come, and the imps Fear and Ignorance. Dah, so many wonderful parts of this. Recommended. (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to re-watch my favorite versions with a steamy cup of cocoa.)