For Women’s History Month, I of course encourage you to learn all you can about the history and struggles of women in the US and internationally. But fiction is my bread and butter, so I’d also like to take the opportunity (as if I need one, really) to shine a spotlight on a few of CADL’s favorite historical novels about women’s lives.
Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women (my review) is as appropriate a book for Women’s History Month as it sounds. Walbert explores the changing expectations and freedoms of the women in a single family, traveling through the lives of five generations in the 20th century, brilliantly illuminating how far we’ve come and how far yet we have to go.
Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone is a fictional depiction of a real historical figure, the revolutionary silent film star Louise Brooks. Sheryl says that this novel about the irreverent Louise and her more conventional chaperone Cora “explores gender issues and the changing social and sexual mores of the [1920s].”
Illuminations: a novel of Hildegard von Bingen is exactly what it sounds like. Novelist Mary Sharratt explores the 12th-century nun’s religious visions and confinement, and her struggle to find respect as a composer in a time that was deeply hostile to women’s ambitions. Sarah says that Illuminations “brings this remarkable nun and the few choices open for medieval women to vivid life.”
I can’t in good conscience make a list of recommendations of historical fiction about women without including one of my all-time-favorite-seriously-you-have-to-read-her authors, Sarah Waters. The Night Watch (my review) is her most daring novel, I think, told in reverse chronology after and during the Second World War in London, tracing the tangled histories of a group of women whose lives were changed by their experiences during the Blitz. It’s an affecting and brilliant depiction of women aching for new freedoms at a turning point in history.
-Sara D., Public Services Librarian, CADL Downtown Lansing