Women’s Voices – Their Lives and Loves Through Two Thousand Years of Letters by Olga Kenyon

Last post as part of International Women’s Week – let’s hear it from the ladeez themselves.

This phenomenal book is a collection of letters from women across two thousand years of history (the first being from 2nd century BC Egypt), grouped into themes covering the journey of a woman through her life – childhood and education, courtship, marriage and divorce, periods, pregnancy and motherhood, work, travel and old age. Here is the female experience, as told by women themselves, and not always the famous/rich/western ones – there are poor farmers’ wives complaining about the in-laws, for example. Reading it made me feel closer to womanhood over the walls of history, especially as our preoccupations and problems are sometimes very similar. It’s a bit like those intimate discussions you have with complete strangers whilst waiting in the  ladies’ toilet queue on a night out after a few drinks have loosened your tongue.

I first read this book when I was about 17 and my overriding memory is how it described childbirth in a chapter called ‘The Ordeals of Childbirth’. Suzanne Necker, wife of the prominent pre-Revolution French Minister, describes her feelings after giving birth to her only daughter Germaine de Staël (who would become the indomitable Madame de Staël) in 1766:

I cannot help thinking that the vows most women are made to take are very foolhardy. I doubt whether they would willingly go to the altar to swear that they will allow themselves to be broken on the wheel every nine months

Firstly, I should thank Kenyon for this quote as it served as an effective contraceptive during my younger years. There was little risk of any mini-Turners making an appearance while this horror was whirring around my mind. Secondly, it always makes me marvel at the fact that our ancestresses were being broken on this wheel over the millennia whilst being broken socially, politically and economically. I mean, it’s not exactly a sign of gratitude is it? ‘Oh thank you dear woman for keeping the population going by carrying a small person inside yourself for 9 months, and squeezing it out of a place you can’t believe a small person can actually come out of. Now get back in the kitchen and bake me a pie.’ What a load of old sh*t. Like I said on Monday – stay angry!



One Comment Add yours

  1. This books sounds like a must-read, thanks for putting it out there!

    Liked by 1 person

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