Writing a Woman’s Life

Books and Movies about the Wives of Famous Men

(Read main post on this topic.) Books about and by the wives, ex-wives, and lovers of famous men have become almost a literary genre. But why have they become so popular? These books often show the hidden contributions of women, and they help us understand our lives and our world. We want to read about the women who attracted those famous men, and we want to know what they experienced, and how it worked, and where it went wrong. And we want to know that we will be seen, recognized, [...]

January 15th, 2020|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|

First look at the Emily Hale letters

Note: At Berkshire Bookworld, you'll find my interview with Sara Fitzgerald recorded 10 days after the opening of the collection. Click here to get the podcast. I first heard about the Emily Hale letters from Valerie Eliot herself, in 1986 or 1987. Valerie led me to believe that Hale had been a hanger-on whom T. S. Eliot had had to push away, who had exaggerated her relationship with him and placed the letters Eliot had written to her at Princeton against his wishes. I believed what she said, [...]

January 4th, 2020|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|Tags: , , , |

Telling Our Stories, Writing Our Lives

Originally published on the Berkshire Publishing blog in November 2016, and republished here in January 2020 because it is relevant to the opening of the Eliot letters to Emily Hale. My friend Emma once complimented me on an anecdote I’d told, saying, “I can dine out on that for years.” And there are a few stories about Emma and my days as housemates in London I still tell, especially the one about how we acted out the Lucan murder, on the stairs where it had taken place just a few [...]

January 4th, 2020|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|Tags: , , , , |

Why Villette is Better than Jane Eyre (“Old Book” pick for December 2019)

Probably all of us have read Jane Eyre, about one of what biographer Lyndall Gordon calls Charlotte Bronte’s “searching spirit” heroines. But more passionate, more personal and autobiographical, and more searching is Bronte’s Villette. The three Bronte sisters had many fictional characters who suffered terribly, who were orphaned, impoverished, sick and lonely. But they loved. Oh, how they loved! I think of passages in Villette that are a torrent of desire. Not sexual desire (though we can certainly, and reasonably, read some of that kind of passion into the stories), [...]

December 6th, 2019|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|

Deirdre Bair on Simone de Beauvoir, Sheila Weller on Carrie Fisher: celebrating women writing women’s lives

A year ago I was accepted into a group called “Women Writing Women’s Lives” (WWWL) in New York. I thus became part of a community of biographers and memoirists who write about women, and, for the first time in my life, a member of a women’s group. (That is, if you don’t count Girl Scouts, which I dropped out of after only a week - twice.) November 12th happened to be the official publication date for new books written by two of my friends, both greeted with much acclaim. Parisian [...]

December 6th, 2019|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|Tags: , , |

“Thanks for Typing” in LOGOS, Journal of the World Publishing Community

This is the full text of my article, published in November 2019 in LOGOS, Journal of the World Publishing Community: Abstract In this paper, I review the Thanks for Typing Conference held at Oxford University in March of 2019, which explored the experiences of women who worked as literary helpmeets for famous men. I also give some details from the paper I presented there. In “‘Jumped-up Typists’: Two Secretaries Who Became Guardians of the Flame,” I discussed how two literary wives, Sophia Mumford (1899–1997), wife of the American historian and [...]

November 16th, 2019|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|