Category Archives: Women

Elizabeth Jenkins : Dr. Gully’s Story

Elizabeth Jenkins was probably best known for her 1958 biography of Elizabeth the First, Elizabeth the Great, in which the New York Times said she achieved ‘ a psychological dimension to her portrait that other historians had scanted,’ but I, like most of us, missed it. I only came upon Elizabeth Jenkins through a review of The Tortoise and the Hare on Jacqui’s blog. She gives high praise to this novel which she likens to a modern take on Jane Austen. But I would add, a Jane Austen  who does not shrink from intimate details of life and marriage and with a wonderful sensibility for the workings of deceit and manipulation. Continue reading Elizabeth Jenkins : Dr. Gully’s Story

Women Growing Old

April is my birthday month and as T. S Eliot says

April is the cruellest month,

Breeding lilacs out of the dead land,

Mixing memory and desire….

I can’t add, as he does, ‘stirring dull roots with spring rain’, because April is autumn here and the leaves are falling, but whenever these anniversaries occur, I tend to reflect on my life. How many more birthdays will I see, how long will I remain strong and energetic? It is useful to think upon these matters, for, as Marcus Aurelius said, ‘We are all creatures of a day.’ It was for this reason I took on my self-appointed task for this month; reading inspiring books by or about old women. Could I learn something that would assist me to grow older with wisdom? Continue reading Women Growing Old

Alive, Alive, Oh!: And Other Things That Matter : Diana Athill

I am finding my project of reading books by or about very old women rather dispiriting. Why am I surprised that a major concern seems to be being put away in a nursing home by families who have had enough? I am able to assure you, though, this seems to happen after one reaches the ninety mark; able bodied women in the seventies and eighties seem to be able to be independent for the time being. But so far three of the books I have read have a common thread; the old female protagonist runs away from home in an attempt to remain free. Although this is usually doomed to failure due to their debility. Continue reading Alive, Alive, Oh!: And Other Things That Matter : Diana Athill

Madeleine Bourdouxhe : A Nail, A Rose

In the dreamy summer days of the new year, a year without rules or lists for reading, I pick up what my hand falls upon. And this slender book is a beautiful little hardback published by The Women’s Press in 1989. The author is not known to me. The translation, for she is a Belgian writer, is by an Englishwoman, Faith Evans, and in her introduction she describes how she first read the author in French in 1987, even though her books had been published in the 1940’s and Simone de Beauvoir had praised them in The Second Sex. Continue reading Madeleine Bourdouxhe : A Nail, A Rose

Drusilla Modjeska – Second Half First

Over the holidays I have been browsing through many books, one of which I won’t review here. Helen Garner’s One Day I’ll Remember This is the second excerpt from her journals to be published and covers the years 1987 to 1995. Years in which she had a relationship with the writer Murray Bail, whom she eventually married and divorced.

I won’t be reviewing the Garner book, even though there was much about the writing that appealed to me (being a journal keeper myself). Like many women of my generation, I can’t forgive her book The First Stone, where she (rather dishonestly in my opinion) attacks the young women who made a complaint about inappropriate behaviour of the Master of their university college. And then there was The Spare Room and This House of Grief – The Story of a Murder Trail, both of which, for me, had serious issues. But her journals have some honest observations and show the high value she gives to friendship and family, and the humble beauties of everyday life.

In the latest edition of her journals, she often speaks of a friend E with whom she stays, and who gives her friendship and support during her rather doomed affair with Bail. Later I discovered this friend was Drusilla Modjeska, a writer a little younger than Garner, but moving in the same circles and of the same mind. I worked out this connection because Modjeska had written a book, Stravinsky’s Lunch, about two women painters, Grace Cossington-Smith and Stella Bowen. In her diaries Garner describes a lunch with Murray Bail and a male friend and she and a female friend, now revealed as Modjeska, where the males applauded the story of Stravinsky demanding silence from the women in his household at lunch, so his creativity could flow uninterrupted. The implication seemed to follow that the work of men should have primacy over the work of women. Why Garner was so in love with a misogynistic mansplaining male is hard to understand but Drusilla Modjeska wrote her book to explore this idea.

Her memoir, then, begins with a question. Why do the women of her circle, educated, reasonably well off, with friends and support, all seem to hanker after the perfect relationship with the opposite sex? Garner certainly does, and at the beginning of her memoir, as she is about to turn forty, Modjeska terminates a long-term relationship that is not giving her what she needs.

Men. Oh, they were difficult years, so many of us wounded – them as much as us. But while we had each other and our conversations, our table, the men, many of them it seemed, needed a woman, one particular woman or another, to listen to them, to sympathise. It’s much harder for us, they’d say, with you women wanting to be independent. p 70

In the first section of her memoir, Modjeska explores the writing of two women in particular, Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, and the sculptor, Louise Bourgeois and the way they depict relations between men and women.  She speaks of her own errors of judgement in her relationships with uncommitted men, or men with mental illness. She has not had the freedom to say, as Helen Garner has, that the last twenty years of her life, free of romantic entanglements, have been the happiest of her life.

I liked the exploration of life and books that inspired her, even though I may disagree with some of her opinions. I liked especially the account of her relationship with her father, another man whose career took primacy and who needed the services of women in his life.

Modjeska lost me a little in her accounts of finding herself through psychoanalytic psychotherapy (three times a week is beyond most of us) and I felt she should have kept her New Guinea stories for a second book.

She has written a rather wonderful book, Poppy, about her mother. I would like to see a book, Patrick where she explores her understanding of her father.

She feels some guilt for siding with her father when he left her mother with three children. It was always his approval she wanted. Perhaps that tells us something about the relationships she pursues. Only later she comes to realise how much her mother suffered and what a strong woman she was.

I am late to Drusilla Modjeska’s memoir; it was published in 2015, but I feel others will be led to revisit it after reading Helen Garner’s journals.

I will definitely be reading Stravinsky’s Lunch (published in 1999)

Having said all this, I do wonder whether these are very much the issues of the 1980’s and 1990’s . Are the debates more about gender today?

Mimi by Lucy Ellmann

 

 

As all you literary types know, Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and won the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize.

It is described in various places as, ‘ …1020 pages with 95% of the book made up of eight near endless sentences, ‘(The Guardian) ‘…a torrent of consciousness and intoxicating coziness…’ (Amazon) ‘a brave, unique, ambitious book…’  (Goodreads) Continue reading Mimi by Lucy Ellmann