Tag Archives: feminism

Book Review: Nasty Women – 404 ink

Nasty Women is a collection of 21 short essays by women about life in the 21st century. It’s interesting and wide ranging and I really enjoyed reading it.

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There’s so many subjects covered, from being Puerto Rican and living under a Trump presidency, to being a fat person and taking a flight. There is being a black woman in Scotland, brexit, pregnancy, contraception, class, immigration, loving Courtney Love, and much more.

The very first story is from an American, living in America. Combined with the Hillary Clinton reference in the title, I assumed it was a collection from mostly American writers. I was very wrong. A lot of the writers live in Scotland, and this makes a nice change from being London-, or US- centric.

There are several stories about women and punk rock and I particularly loved these because I completely recognised the issues in them. The stories are so wide ranging though, that there will be something for everyone in here. These just happen to be the stories I could identify with the most. From Why I’m No Longer a Punk Rock ‘Cool Girl’ by Kristy Diaz:

Let that shit go. Never deny yourself the music you enjoy. Sing and scream along with every breath. Collaborate with women and other marginalised groups in punk, rally around each other, protect and support each other and invest energy in creating. Never apologise for an inch of space you occupy and answer to no-one. Fuck it up at DIY shows and dance to pop music recklessly, wearing heels and glitter and jeans and cut up T-shirts, Be taught nothing. You know everything.

– Kristy Diaz

I particularly loved the story ‘Touch Me Again and I Will Fucking Kill You’: Cultural Resistance to Gendered Violence in the Punk Rock Community by Ren Aldridge. Ren is the singer in the band The Petrol Girls. I haven’t heard them before so I looked them up and they are BRILLIANT.  Perfect, especially considering I’ve been looking at my own sexist listening habits recently. The gendered violence she describes is something I’m familiar with from being involved in the punk rock community. Her explanation of her use of the term survivor is great, using it rather than victim, and giving permission to use the word with a Destiny’s Child soundtrack, which I’m sure everyone does mostly anyway, right? Understanding that there is a continuum of gendered violence is also important, from everyday harassment to sexual assault and rape. An important observation is

…as one survivor quoted in Salvage points out ‘I think with radical circles, 9 times out of 10, it’s just a microcosm of what already exists, just with different haircuts.’ Activist and punk circles claim to counter mainstream society whilst reproducing the exact same power dynamics, focusing their efforts outside whilst not considering what’s happening inside.

-Ren Aldridge

There’s also the fact that the scene is

completely dominated by white people, despite anti-racism being a core of punk and other radical left groups’ politics.

I love that the essay goes on to detail some action that is being taken to try and address gendered violence in punk rock. The article is so quotable, I’m trying really hard to limit myself to just a few here. Instead, here is the fabulously appropriate and great song, Touch me Again, referenced in the title to this essay in Nasty Women:

What a bonus. Reading a great book, through it discovering a great band, and finding that they are playing a festival I’m going to in 2 weeks! I had already made it my mission to seek out and support female and BAME artists at the punk festival. I now especially can’t wait. 😀

Other highlights in Nasty Women include Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space by Claire L. Heuchan, and Lament: Living With the Consequences of Contraception by Jen McGregor. The contraception story reminded me a lot of the issues in Inferior by Angela Saini:

I didn’t realise, back when I embarked on this journey at the age of 18, just how far contraception and women’s health still have to go. I learned that the hard way. Whether that’s the result of institutional sexism in the medical profession or simply a matter of where we are in the timeline of medical developments may be debatable, but the fact remains that there are plenty of women out there in my situation, with messy and uncontrollable bodies and situations, for whom ‘woman’ feels more like a diagnosis than a sex category.

– Jen McGregor

The Trump election was the trigger for Nasty Women being created. You find out in the afterword that the day the US election result was announced they put the idea together. Within 17 weeks it was published. My only criticism is that some of the stories seemed rushed. Overall it’s a great collection and I really highly recommend reading it, but a few stories fell a little flat. I’m not going to single them out, especially as the ones that didn’t work for me might just be the ones that sing to you. It’s just that when I read at the end that it was put together quickly it gave me an ‘oh, I seeeeee’ moment.

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The overarching message from Nasty Women, is be a ‘nasty women’. Stand up for yourself and look out for each other. *group hug*

p.s I received a review copy of Nasty Women from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks NetGalley – I loved this one.

 

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

It’s not often that I finish a book feeling completely stunned by it. I managed to weep through the last 20 pages and I haven’t read anything that’s made me feel all the emotions, all at once, for a long, long time.

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at Trinity College at Oxford University

Everything I Never Told You is an incredible portrait of a family in small town America around the 1970s – with a white mother, Marilyn, and a chinese father, James. They have three children, Nat, Lydia, and Hannah. We meet them on the morning that Lydia goes missing and turns up drowned, in the lake near their house, shortly after. At the time Lydia is 16, Nat is slightly older and is just about to go to Harvard, Hannah is around 10 or 11.

‘Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.’

– Celeste Ng, opening lines of Everything I Never Told You

We follow them through the aftermath of this tragedy, and revisit their past where we find out about how Marilyn and James met, how a crisis after they had 2 of their children occurred and how the fall out from that event follows them all the way to Lydia’s death.

At so many points in this book I was almost screaming at the characters to just talk to each other, just hug them, tell them what you’re bloody thinking. I could hardly bear it! When I say almost screaming, obviously I mean in my head. The title says it all. Everything I Never Told You.

There is racism that they all have to deal with. Additionally, Marilyn is an aspiring doctor when we meet her. She has fought against her mother and her 1950s housewife ways. She’s fought to be able to take sciences and then she gives it all up when she meets a man and gets pregnant. Marilyn finds this very hard to deal with throughout her life because she essentially does what her mother wants her to, and her dreams are shelved. She decides she can live vicariously through Lydia and heaps so much pressure onto her to fulfil her mother’s dreams herself. It was understandable, in a way, but she just took it all too far. She forgot that her daughter is a different person with her own ideas and ambitions.

As a mother of a daughter, a lot of this hit very close to home. Of course I encourage my daughter to do what she likes and I’m determined that she will know she has opportunities. I buy my kids sciencey things and have books about great, powerful women around the house.  It was also really odd that the mother has the same name as me. This is so rare, I think it’s the first time it’s happened to me! Freaked me out a bit!

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my small girl looking at Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. 

The family set up and their relationships in Everything is such a big mess. It’s gut-wrenchingly heart-breaking at so many moments. And beautifully written. I absolutely loved this book. Poor Hannah is ignored at every turn by both her parents, and Nat suffers scorn from his Father because he reminds him so much of himself. James is obsessed with his children making friends and fitting in where he failed to. He has such good intentions but he carries it out so clumsily and painfully.

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On the train to London. It’s more well travelled than most of my books 🙂

I had to wait to read the last part of this book. I just knew it was going to break me. I’d already welled up at so many other parts of it. In public, I should add! I waited to finish it when I would be at home, and undisturbed, and I glad I did because I just wept for the last 20 pages. Celeste Ng you have written the most amazing, emotional story. I loved it and I think it has also showed me how I must be careful to NOT be with my family as they grow up. I can’t recommend you read it enough.

Final thought, the cover claims it’s is like The Lovely Bones. It isn’t. I disliked that book and this one I utterly loved.

Book Review: Inferior – Angela Saini

Inferior is a stunning book about the science of the difference between the sexes. Where there is scientific evidence for differences, where more evidence is required, and importantly, where scientists have allowed societal beliefs about women to cloud their scientific judgement about sex differences.

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Rubbish picture of my kindle. The paperback is sooooooo pretty as well!

Reading Inferior will probably make you frustrated, annoyed and unfortunately, not surprised. If you are anything like me, you will be highlighting furiously and telling everyone you meet about what you’ve just read.

For centuries, scientists have influenced decision-makers on important issues including abortion rights, granting women the vote, and how schools educate us. They have shaped how we think about our minds and bodies, and our relationships with each other. And of course, we trust scientists to give us the objective facts. We believe that what science offers is a  story free from prejudice. It is the story of us, starting from the very dawn of evolution. Yet when it comes to women, so much of this story is wrong.

Angela Saini

It covers a wide range of topics: where scientists beliefs have clouded their science, the ignoring of women in some entire areas of science (e.g. evolutionary biology), drug testing almost exclusively on men, science used as another way of controlling women, and beliefs about women’s inferiority being used to deny women education and positions of power and responsibility. It also covers how once women were given access to carrying out scientific research, their results were often credited to men. And so much more… I mean, Marie Curie, with her Nobel prize in physics and her Nobel prize in chemistry couldn’t join France’s Academy of Sciences in 1911 because she was a woman. And Harvard Medical School only started admitting women in 1945.

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The best of lines. 

I would say everyone who is a woman, or knows a woman should read this book. Thank you Angela Saini for writing Inferior. I loved it!

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see how gorgeous the paper back looks? pic from the Independent. 

 

P.S. I was provided with a copy of Inferior to review by NetGalley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Power – Naomi Alderman

Oh wow wow wow. I loved The Power. I read it and could not stop thinking about it. I finished it a few days ago, and I’m not sure my brain is done with thinking it all through. It recently won the Bailey’s Prize and I knew from first reading about it a few months ago that I really wanted to read it.

‘She cuppeth the lightning in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.’

The Book of Eve

The Power is about teenage girls developing the ability to create electric charge and shock people with it. Girls in their early teens are developing this power and they can awaken it in older women too. The balance of power between men and women has suddenly shifted.

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stunning cover too

The story is told through a small group of key, interacting characters. There are several teenage girls, an older mum and also mayor in the USA, and a teenage boy. The story is global and while we concentrate on a few key geographic locations, we get a global picture of what is happening as a result of the power awakening in girls. We get global politics, a seedy criminal underworld, globe trotting journalism, religion, family life and relationships. All the big themes.

The main book is presented as a historical novel depicting events in the distant past by a male author, Neil, trying to get some help and advice to publish his story. There is correspondence between this author and Naomi, who he is trying to get to help him. It’s immediately clear that gender roles are reversed in this  future that Neil and Naomi inhabit. There are funny parts of this correspondence – funny because of the gender swap and it wouldn’t be funny at all if we didn’t have such awful, embedded sexism in everyday interactions between men and women. It’s very reminiscent of the The Handmaid’s Tale and how that gives you a historical perspective on the main events.

The main story is set up in chapters titled ’10 years to go’ and counting down to some event. I like how this lets you know something big is coming but you have no idea what.

I’m not going to reveal any plot details in the rest of the review, but I am going to talk about my expectations of the book versus the reality and I think this will be SPOILERIFIC if you are planning to read it, which you should, because it’s completely brilliant. So GO AWAY and read it, then come back. Really, the next bit might ruin it for you. See you in a few days.

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Any excuse to break out the big physics textbooks.

 

Did you love it? I went into The Power thinking I knew what it was going to be like. My expectations are neatly summed up in this picture:

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GIRL POWER RARRRRR!

Girls getting strong and kicking everybody’s arses. Then there’ll be a utopia. Oh. no… that is not what happens at all. The power women get does not make them physically equal to men. It makes them much stronger. There’s dark, dark darkness in this tale. Inky, viscous darkness to drain all the happiness from your soul. These women are human, and humans can be depraved and evil. It really challenged me to think about how dark a turn things could take. I wasn’t expecting it at all and that just tells me I needed to be challenged. Naomi Alderman describes the shift in the power balance and the experience of people, men and women, during this shift really carefully and skillfully.

I was truly shocked by some of the turns taken by The Power. It made me feel sad to my core and that is where it’s so brilliant. It is much more than the fizzy, bottom kicking, girl power story it might have been (which would have been pretty awesome actually, but in a totally different way!). So I expected one thing, and I got this:

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Damn, missed The Road out of this picture!

Ohhhh I loved this book! I’ve been thinking of trying to write a book myself, then I read something like The Power and just, nah. 🙂

Where are the women… in my music.

I’ve been using Last.fm to track my listening habits for almost a year. I love a few stats on my life. My most listened to person is Tim Timebomb, he of Rancid fame. They are number 2. I like my music mostly loud and shouty, but also quite poppy, and a bit indie. Never really dancey, in a dance music way, though I love music you can dance to. And it turns out I like it really male too – well if you look at the stats I do, but this isn’t the full story. I love plenty of female artists, but on a shuffled playlist they lose out to the men on quantity of artists and output volume.

It really hit home when Tweekly.fm started making a visual, of your 16 most listened to tracks over the last seven days, available to any user. When I looked at this last week, it was unsurprising, but also a bit shocking at how male the visual was. There was the Distillers, and Britney Spears just nudging in at number 16 (I love Britney. Get over it quickly!).

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ALL THE MEN – this was actually taken after my experiment. I lost the original pic I took. sad. 

Now, I’m quite sure this sort of statistic reflects the music industry more widely. Most artists and bands are male. Male voices dominate. I’d be happy to be shown this is wrong, but I’m going to take a guess that the music industry isn’t held up as the feminist ideal, with male and female voices getting equal amounts of record deals, and gigs, and support. Am I wrong? I’ve had a look at this years Glastonbury line up as an example.  I count 4 women in bands or as solo artists in the first four lines. 4 out of 16. If I counted how many women there were here versus men it would look a lot worse.  In fact, the BBC just had an article about this very thing.

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Glastonbury festival line up 2017 from the Glastonbury festival website.

So as a good feminist I would like to support more female musicians and singers. As a first step, I’m only listening to female fronted band or female singers for a week to see how it shakes up my statistics.

This isn’t a perfect approach. It’s clear a female solo artist is a female solo artist, but bands are more than a singer. Some are just female fronted, with several other male musicians, others are more balanced, or even entirely female. There are also bands where there are women in the band who are not the singer. For simplicity, I’m restricting this test to female singers – solo or in bands. Just for ease, hope you don’t mind 🙂

Day 1

I listen to a spotify playlist on the way to work called ‘Super Favs’. I line up a few tracks before setting off. Excellent. Then the prepared part of the playlist comes to an end and I have to skip tracks. I’m finding sometimes I’m skipping 20 tracks at a time!  Ridiculous. So for the journey home I make sure I’ve a much longer prepared playlist.

When I get home I create a new playlist and I chuck a copy of all the female fronted bands from the Super Favs list into it. The original playlist is 1236 songs long, the new one is 146 songs long. 11.8% female voices. Ouch.

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most listened to bands over the last 7 days – After experiment day 1.  From tweekly.fm

Day 2

Using my Women playlist. Better. I’m listening to it at home and no one has even noticed there’s anything unusual about it. This is great, and expected, because there’s still my usual mix of angry shouting, poppy dance worthy singalongs, and indie tunes.

I should have known that the Distillers would extremely quickly become my number 1 listened to female fronted band. Because they are awesome and I already have lots of their music! Raarrrr!

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most listened to bands over the last 7 days – After experiment day 2.  From tweekly.fm

Day 3

I’m going to have to expand the playlist because I’m getting too many repeat tracks. This is fine, I have other playlists with more songs I can filter into the Women playlist. Playlist is now at 345 tracks.

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We have reached equity, of a sort. most listened to bands over the last 7 days – After experiment day 3.  From tweekly.fm

Day 4

I need to investigate some new people to listen to. Today is all about listening to artists I’ve been meaning to find out more about. Kate Tempest and Patti Smith are first on my list.

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I clearly listened to A LOT of Kate Tempest today! From Tweekly.fm

Day 5

Why have I never listened to The Lovely Eggs before?!?

Why have I never listened to Patti Smith before?!?

Why have I never listened to Kate Tempest before?!?

Why?!?

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ALL THE WOMEN! from tweekly.fm

Day 6

Today I’m asking my friends to recommend me their favourite female solo artists or female fronted bands. It’s all gone a bit mad. 100+ responses. Mostly sensible.

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Day 7

I have had a marvellous week of listening to a lot of new to me music. I have listened to artists who will be some of my favourite artists now. It’s been great. There are artists I have been meaning to listen to who, for some reason I never got around to. Honestly, I think I have to put it down to internalised misogyny.

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Conclusion

After my week of only listening to female singers or female fronted bands, I have a lot more balance in my main play list. I’ve discovering amazing artists I should have listened to a long time ago. I still have a lot of people to listen to.

I feel great for supporting more female artists and singers. There’s still a big problem though. It has to be clear to anyone looking at these pictures that I have an even bigger problem than the one I’ve tried to address here. I have a ridiculous BAME problem. I’m embarrassed by how white these photos are. I can do better than this and there is a whole world of BAME singers and artists that I’m currently missing out on by virtue of most of the bands and exposure being given to white artists. Next mission set!

Also, the BBC Glastonbury website lets you make your own Glasto poster! Here’s mine! Looking forward to watching from my sofa this weekend.

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Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit

This is a brilliant collection of seven essays on feminism. It sets out succinctly and in a clear, straightforward way, all the shit that we need feminism for. They describe the ways in which women are not equal. Each essay covers something different. We have the title essay – now widely known as mansplaining, but more about that term in a minute. We have violence against women, class war and terrible economic history,  marriage equality, the efforts to make women invisible in society, intellectual freedom, and finally how ideas about feminism can’t be put back in a box and ignored: they are out there and won’t go away! It’s all the things I wish I could memorise and repeat when I meet someone who scoffs and states we don’t need feminism.

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untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

 

Each essay has a cover page with an image by Ana Teresa Fernandez on. I really liked these. Occasionally they are referred to in the essay themselves, but not in most cases. Throughout each essay you get key sentences written out again in bold and large lettering. I think to break up the text. They are a bit annoying. The only negative thing I have to say about the whole book. There are some great phrases in these essays:

part of the same archipelago of arrogance.

I’ll leave you to imagine what this was in reference to.

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Disney store mug featuring Black Widow

The first and title essay is funny, and depressing and so familiar.

It’s about the thin end of a scary wedge. This essay is describing the phenomena now widely known as mansplaining, though Rebecca Solnit doesn’t like that phrase as she explains in an addition to the original essay featured in this collection.

The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conversations as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to be respected, to be a full and free human being.

Rebecca Solnit

The second essay, The Longest War, is about rape and violence against women. It’s stark and depressing and motivating. I needed a bit of a break after the second essay before I could read the third. It was just too much to take in all at once. This isn’t a criticism, it’s powerful reading.

The third, is framed around Dominique Strauss Khan and the hotel maid scandal. It touches on class war, the damaging policies of the IMF and the rich fucking over the poor.

Chapter four is marriage equality. It explores how gay marriage is an affront to people who want to preserve traditional gender roles (i.e. men being the source of power in the marriage) because a marriage between two men or two women is inherently equal.

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untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

Chapter 5, Grandmother Spider, is about the erasure of women. In biblical genealogy, lineage is from father to son. Women are ignored. The entire side of someone’s family on their mothers side is erased. Women’s names are erased on marriage. You used to become Mrs husbands name. I’ve had post arrived addressed to me in this way and it’s infuriating! Veils are a way of disappearing a women. So is confining her to a home and not enabling women to take part in public life. It starts out looking at the bible and ends with examples in the modern world. I really enjoyed this essay, especially because I’m already so familiar with the history of women in science and how often women have been overlooked.

When I was young, women were raped on the campus of a great university and the authorities responded by telling all the women students not to go out alone after dark or not to be out at all. Get in the house. (For women, confinement is always waiting to envelope you.) Some pranksters put up a poster announcing another remedy, that all men be excluded from campus after dark. It was an equally logical solution, but men were shocked at being asked to disappear, to lose their freedom to move and participate, all because of the violence of one man.

Rebecca Solnit

Next we have a chapter starting with a Virginia Woolf quote:

The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think

Virginia Woolf, 1915.

It wasn’t really clear what this is about at first. It talks of Sontag and if art is hopeful or dark or something. It’s a bit more abstract that the others and so I struggled with it. It references another of her books Hope In The Dark and is about having hope. How your actions might have unintended, amazing consequences. you can’t know if your actions will have the effect you want, but you should try just in case it does, or in case it has unintended consequences. There are examples to illustrate all this. It gives a great case for wandering about and walking being great for creativity and introspection.

This essay is still great, but it’s also a bit advert for Rebecca Solnit’s other books (which I know I will end up ordering and reading – in fact, Hope in the Dark arrived yesterday!), which I now want to read (Hope in the Dark was already high up on my wishlist because of Josie Long singing it’s praises on Bookshambles). I also now must read some Virginia Woolf and her essay on wandering the streets of London! I love how reading one thing makes me want to read others. Though I really don’t need any more books… says every reader, ever.

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Grace Kelly: rock star

Essay 7: Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force is about the progress feminism has made. About how once an idea has been released it can’t be put back in its box.

Homophobia, like misogyny, is still terrible; just not as terrible as it was in, say, 1970. Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.

Rebecca Solnit

I’m going to need to reread these essays several times, just so the next person who says we don’t need feminism to me, can get a well thought out, intelligent earful about exactly why we definitely do. I struggling to put quotes in this review because I highlighted almost every other sentence. Rebecca Solnit is my new hero.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Awakening – Kate Chopin

A rich, married woman in 1890s New Orleans falls in love with a young man. She realises that she is completely dissatisfied with her life as a mother and housewife, and sets about changing her life so she is happy with it. A really evocative book about a woman’s rejection of society, and her discovery of who she really is.

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Edna Pontellier has what seems to be a pretty nice life. Her husband is a kind man – he doesn’t believe in ordering his wife about, or even worse. Her role is to, well, lounge about entertaining people from what I can gather. But she isn’t passionately in love with her husband. When she spends a summer in the company of Robert Lebrun she slowly realises that she is unfulfilled and desperately unhappy with the mundanity of life. She craves independence and passion.

An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish

As an insight into Edna’s state of mind, it’s really insightful, convincing, and beautifully written. A criticism would be that clearly Edna’s life is actually not that bad. She has an ok husband, who provides for her, is generous, and is supportive of her (so long as she behaves in away that fits in with societal expectations of her). She is expected to care for their children when their maid is not around, but she’s quite free to socialise as she likes. I’m not saying she should just put up with being unhappy, just that she actually has a whole lot of options – especially given that during the story she realises that with her paintings becoming better, she has a means to support herself.

She is quite indifferent to her children. She doesn’t have much to do with their day to day upbringing and she sends them away fairly often to her family.

She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them.

What The Awakening does really well is to describe how a daily life, living up to other peoples expectations of how she should behave, can grind you down and make you miserable. Edna decides to change things in her life…

Mr Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife. But her new and unexpected line of conduct completely bewildered him. It shocked him. Then her absolute disregard for her duties as a wife angered him. When Mr Pontellier became rude, Edna grew insolent. She had resolved to never take another step backward.

Her action so far had been to ditch her usual Tuesday receiving and visiting of other society ladies. Scandalous! It’s admirable how once Edna sets out to free herself she goes for it without giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.

…she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.

You need to be aware that as it was written in the 1890s there is a lot of racist language used in the descriptions of the staff they have serving their lives. There are specific words used to describe people that refer to the colour of their parents. In fact, these terms are used in place of their names. They are just referred to as ‘the …..’ or ‘the ……’ in reference to their skin colour. The lady that brings up Edna’s children is not even given a name.

Given that the whole plot is driven by infidelity, or the idea of it, it is almost devoid of sexual interaction. This is not Jilly Cooper. When an illicit kiss happens it’s description is electric, and it’s a refection of the whole plot that she is the instigator:

She leaned over and kissed him – a soft, cool, delicate kiss, whose voluptuous sting penetrated his whole being – then she moved away from him.

It’s a fleeting glimpse into one character, but this small insight into the douchery of Robert is spectactular:

He looked at Edna’s book, which he had read; and he told her the end, to save her the trouble of wading through it, he said.

Un.be.liev.able. Run away, Edna! He’s a bad ‘un!