Titles for Women’s History Month

1. Virginia Woolf, the war without, the war within: her final diaries & the diaries she read
Lounsberry, Barbara. University Press of Florida, 2018

Is there a clue to Woolf’s suicide in her reading of others’ diaries and in the writing of her own? Though this is not Lounsberry’s only purview, this volume and the two others in her three-part set on Woolf’s diaries certainly suggest that diaries may be the key to the most important identity decisions of Woolf’s life—and death. In the first two volumes—respectively Becoming Virginia Woolf (CH, Dec’14, 52-1843) and Virginia Woolf’s Modernist Path (CH, Jun’17, 54-4612)—Lounsberry (emer., Univ. of Northern Iowa) argued that reading and writing diaries enabled Woolf first to find her writing voice and then refine it to become a dominant force in modernism. This final volume details a woman at the height of her fame and literary genius reacting to personal and societal chaos by seeking solace via diaries (writing and reading) in a world gone mad, yet finding only varying stories of destruction.

2. Darwinian feminism and early science fiction: angels, Amazons and women
Sharp, Patrick B. University of Wales Press, 2018

Sharp (California State Univ., Los Angeles) presents a historical overview of female science fiction writers’ contributions to the genre, positing that “these women revised and reinterpreted the … ideologies encoded within SF to create exciting adventures and progressive futures that accounted for their own experiences and desires.” This overview reaches back to 17th-century texts, as early female SF writers’ scientific and imperialist themes revealed the limitations of “gendered formulations of scientific identity … [and] narratives of colonial domination.” Subsequent chapters trace feminist SF writers’ adaptation of Darwinian feminism in their Utopian stories; by depicting new social orders of decentralized patriarchal hierarchy, Sharp claims, these writers questioned earlier imperialist models of power.
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3. Spaces of women’s cinema: space, place and genre in contemporary women’s filmmaking
Thornham, Sue. British Films Institute, 2019

On the screen one sees wilderness, seemingly endless, unchanging, undefined—feminine. Entering this scene is a lone rider, the embodiment of Manifest Destiny and the “white man’s burden,” the conqueror, the bringer of order—masculine. Countless films (books, artworks) have ingrained this trope within the viewer/reader; it resounds in male-directed films. What about films directed by women? How do they present space? Thornham (Univ. of Sussex) investigates this question brilliantly. Drawing on the films of women from around the world—Kelly Reichardt, Patricia Rozema, Jane Campion, Marleen Gorris, Coline Serreau, Claire Denis, Andrea Arnold, Samira Makhmalbaf, Julie Dash, et al.—she focuses on five types of space: wilderness, city, interior, border, and what she calls doubled spaces, i.e., spaces created when women filmmakers adapt works by women writers. Thornham looks at the strategies employed by the filmmakers to ignore, obscure, reverse, fracture, or supplant the dominant trope.
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4. Women adapting: bringing three serials of the roaring twenties to stage and screen
Wood, Bethany. Iowa, 2019

A prominent colleague of this reviewer used to declare loftily that there is no such thing as adaptation. (One might equally deny the existence of goldendoodle dogs.) Had she read this book, she would have been thoroughly disabused of that fatuous notion. In a work of prodigious scholarship, Wood describes the complicated and convoluted processes whereby three books by American women—Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, Edna Ferber’s Showboat, and Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes—were adapted in the late 1920s and early 1930s, first for magazine serialization, then into a film followed by a play (Wharton), a film followed by a Broadway musical followed by another film (Ferber), or into a play followed by a film (Loos). In the process, the rather subversive messages central to all three books became sanitized and subverted for purposes of the box office, usually without much objection by their authors, who welcomed the big bucks.
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5. First: Sandra Day O’Connor
Thomas, Evan. Random House, 2019

A professional journalist, Thomas is known in particular for his stints at Newsweek and Time magazines; this is his 10th book. Although one can find many biographies of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, Thomas’s is by far the most comprehensive to date. In addition to interviews with O’Connor, her law clerks, and various close friends of the O’Connors, Thomas was given access to O’Connor’s papers (up through the time when Clarence Thomas joined the Court, since she did not want any sitting justices to be included) and to O’Connor’s husband’s personal diaries.
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