Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September 28th, 2022


This photo is dated 2000 — Barbara Ehrenreich


Hilary Mantel, Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, April 1, 2017, Oxford, England.

Friends and readers,

I want to record the passing of two more important women in our era (Elizabeth Windsor was important for what she was), these two important for themselves as individuals:  Mantel for her masterly writing (fiction, non-fiction, life-writing), her accurate understanding of the nature of history, of social-psychological life, her polemics (especially when she exposed the inhumanity of many medical establishments), her feminism; she was a humane and truthful poet, thinker, creator; Ehrenreich for her political vision, her many books and political activity on behalf of the impoverished, vulnerable, her forays into historical realities, as writer and also as thinker. Both were strong feminists.

I first became aware of Mantel as writer of columns and diary entries for London Review of Books when she told of her agony and mistreatment at the hand of the British National Health, then the most insightful piece of writing I’ve ever come across about anorexia, “Girls Want Out.” These led me to her contemporary novels: I’ve still not forgotten Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, and I was so taken by her autobiography, I wrote my first blog about her, on Giving Up the Ghost. I’ve loved historical fiction since I was in my earliest teens and was bowled over by her Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Mantel was able to write such brilliant historical fiction because she had thought hard and deeply about history: see her The Reith Lectures. She delved the gothic, seances, mediums (Beyond Black). Her Catholic background (and breaking away from it altogether) lies behind some of the themes of her work and also her “take” on Sir Thomas More. She took unusual angles on life (from most people) and made us see earlier eras and movements from the point of view of people central to but before her ignored or misunderstood (e.g. A Place of Greater Safety). I admit that her work can be uneven; she can go over the top in comic highjinks and miss her target; she could write woodenly. But part of this was she dared to ignore conventions, norms of writing and what we are supposed to feel. She was original. I taught Wolf Hall twice. I like Larissa MacFarquar’s essay on her Life with Ghosts. Mary Robertson is the important early modern scholar who began the change in attitudes towards Cromwell; to Robertson Mantel dedicated Wolf Hall; here are her memories of Mantel.

I found Mantel’s tone of mind deeply appealing. I feel sad when I think how young she was and how much more she could have written.

Barbara Ehrenreich I read for the first time as a crucial voice in 2nd wave feminism, I saw her as a socialist feminist. She was active as a journalist in projects to encourage working women to tell their own stories. I found her Nickel and Dimed electrifying — really — and taught it twice.

Her Witches, Midwives and Nurses is an important book about misogynistic exploitative attitudes towards women. Like Mantel was consistently, when Ehrenpreis was interested, she was profound scholar. In her obituary essay on her, Katha Pollitt (The Nation) quotes Rebecca Solnit’s choice of a quotation from Nickel and Dimed, In Memoriam.

As a response to Pollitt’s obituary (published under her name), I confide today every other week at 7:10am in the morning pay for 3 Hispanic women to come to my house and industriously clean for 75 minutes.  Cards on the table.  Right now also I teach for free, and most of my life I worked for a wage (as an adjunct lecturer) that I could not have lived on.  I lived on my husband’s salary and mine made our lives together more comfortable, helped put my daughters through college and (for Izzy) graduate school.  I don’t think of myself as “an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else;” rather most of my life I was badly exploited, angry, and maimed in my self-esteem. I remember being put off now and again wonder if Ehrenpreis was a little too optimistic and assumed other women could be as strong as she was in some of her political rhetoric.

Nevertheless, Ehrenpreis wrote books like Bait and Switch, how the delusions of an American Dream as if this idyllically wealthy way of life were available to all destroyed people; Blood Rites is about (as the subtitle tells you) the origins and history of the passions of war She too (like Mantel) early on exposed the hypocrisy of the medical establishment. I remember somewhere she wrote about the hatred men and some women have towards allowing women access to contraception. There are numerous areas where she and Mantel write from the same perspective.

I find this wikipedia article very good. Here is a tribute from Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow.org/. Listen to Ehrenreich speak. The world needs people like her fighting for other people.

I’ve listed my blogs on Mantel in the comments.

Ellen

Read Full Post »