Tag: women’s lives

Books of the Decade – Rebecca Carter

Rebecca CarterRebecca Carter is an editor of fiction and non-fiction at the Random House imprint Harvill Secker, a list that aims to continue the tradition, once announced in an advertisement for Secker, of publishing “international quality literature with a wayward streak”. She has a particular love of unusual narrative history, and novels that explore hidden corners of the past (or present). Of her ‘books of the decade’ only Némirovsky’s Suite Française is published by her.

Other books she has edited include Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Atiq Rahimi’s Earth and Ashes, Gerard Woodward’s August trilogy, Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, Javier Marías’s Your Face Tomorrow, Diana Evans’s 26a, Tom Reiss’s The Orientalist, Faïza Guène’s Just Like Tomorrow, Tim Butcher’s Blood River and Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese–English Dictionary for Lovers.

Saira Shah – The Storyteller’s Daughter: one woman’s return to her lost homeland (2003)

Saira Shah Storyteller's DaughterEarly on in the decade, post 9/11, there was a scramble among publishers to find books that would illuminate for readers the situation in Afghanistan. One of the first, and a book that taught me so much I didn’t know but should have done, was journalist Saira Shah’s intelligent and moving memoir, which intertwined the story of her own adventures in Afghanistan (familial, personal and journalistic) with a heart-felt history of the region.

Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (2006)

Nemirovsky Suite FrancaiseWhen the French publisher of this remarkable, previously undiscovered novel about occupied France sent me a copy, I had no idea that I was about to embark on an extraordinary journey of discovery into the life and work of Irène Némirovsky. Through reading her novels, most of them published in France during the thirties and early forties, I have come to understand so much more about the Russian pogroms of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, and what it was like to sink or swim in the high capitalist society of early twentieth-century Europe. Many lessons for our own era. And such wonderful storytelling too.

Kamila Shamsie – Burnt Shadows (2009)

Shamsie Burnt ShadowsTowards the end of the decade, Kamila Shamsie’s supremely accomplished and gripping fifth novel reveals what a different place the Afghan/Pakistan border is post 9/11 to that crossed by Saira Shah in the eighties and nineties. Through Shamsie’s clever, interlocking narratives, which follow characters from India, just pre-partition, to Nagasaki in 1945 and contemporary New York, she shows how the past is always embroiled in the present.

Georgian Secrets

Cruickshank: Secret History of Georgian LondonClick on the video below to hear Dan Cruickshank talking about his latest book, The Secrets of Georgian London. As Frances Wilson succinctly put it in her Times review:

“Eighteenth-century London contained more prostitutes than anywhere else in Europe. In this fascinating account of sex and the Georgian city, Dan Cruickshank suggests that one woman in five was involved in some way with the sex industry.”

There are many other jaw-dropping secrets of the Georgian underworld uncovered in this highly readable, but clearly meticulously researched book. Yet what stops it becoming a catalogue of humanity’s seemingly endless appetite for exploitation of its own kind is Cruickshank’s unmistakable sympathy for the women who became ensnared in the sex trade. For a lucky few, it could be a passport to a life of luxury, but for the vast majority the trajectory was the downwards one described in Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress.

33. Through the Georgian keyhole

Amanda Vickery on the impression of Georgian life given by National Trust properties today:
Amanda Vickery: Behind Closed Doors

“They’re absolutely empty of life. They’re neat and tidy and they don’t smell and there’s no noise of the household. All of those things are absolutely central to what it was like to live in even quite grand eighteenth-century houses.

“Women’s letters are full of complaints about how awful it is, how freezing, the stiff-backed ceremony, people coming in, a lack of privacy…”

This week’s podcast, sponsored by Blackwell Online, features an in-depth interview with Amanda Vickery, whose Behind Closed Doors has just been published by Yale University Press.

In the interview we talk about what home meant to the Georgians, both physically and psychologically. Amanda is fascinating on what a detail of domestic interiors as apparently insignificant as wallpaper can tell you about the taste, status and outlook of a household.

Amanda VickeryFor those with money, it was a period which saw the dawning of the age of  the commercialization of home and simultaneously the feminization of it. While for those of lesser means, such as the Georgians’ army of domestic servants, “home” could be a precarious affair – a temporary bed and a wooden box containing a few treasured possessions in your master’s house.

Amanda’s book is richly illustrated in both senses – there are many pictures of domestic interiors and furnishings, but she also tells many stories of what home meant to individuals, which brings the history alive.

“We see the Georgians at home as we have never seen them before in this ground-breaking book. Vickery can make a young wife’s arrangement of china into an event of thrilling social and psychological tension. Behind Closed Doors is both scholarly and terrifically good fun. Worth staying at home for.”

Frances Wilson, Sunday Times, 11 October 2009

25. Menopause and medicine

Louise Foxcroft: Hot Flushes, Cold Science

Hot Flushes, Cold Science cover

“There was a physician called John Fothergill in the late eighteenth century who said that it was amazing that women had been taught to dread this natural phenomenon.”

As Louise Foxcroft’s sometimes shocking history of the menopause shows, Fothergill was very much in the minority.

The medical profession in Fothergill’s day was just beginning to cotton on to the idea that the menopause offered a lucrative new subject for treatment.

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10. Fleeing Hitler – the story of the Paris exodus

Hanna Diamond On 14 June 1940 German tanks swept into Paris. That the city would fall to the Nazis was by then a foregone conclusion; it had been declared an ‘open city’ the day before. In other words, it would put up no resistance against the invaders. The government had already packed up and left.

By 14 June, four-fifths of Parisians had also fled the city, leaving it looking as though it had been stricken by some medieval disaster such as a great plague. Little more than a week later Hitler would make a propaganda visit to Paris and have his picture taken beneath the Eiffel Tower.

Yet, despite the magnitude of the exodus in which literally millions of people took to the roads in any form of transport they could find, including push-carts and bicycles, it has been little written about by professional historians, as though it has been crowded out by the attention given to the Vichy regime, the resistance, and the occupation.

Fleeing Hitler jacketHanna Diamond‘s new book, Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 (OUP) sets out to redress the balance by providing a detailed account of those hot June days when Parisians sought to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the advancing German army. Though most set out with little idea of where they were going, and many spoke later of the ‘holiday mood’ of their adventure, 100,000 citizens were to die as they fled.

In my interview with Hanna Diamond we talk about the events on the road, and also the way in which the Vichy regime quickly created its own myths around the exodus.

5. Sofka Zinovieff on the trail of the Red Princess

zinovieff red princessA few years ago Sofka Zinovieff became fascinated by the life of her grandmother and namesake, Sofka Dolgorouky, who was born into a noble family in imperial Russia exactly a century ago. Sofka had known her grandmother when she was already an old woman and, although she knew something of her colourful life, she was to make many discoveries as she researched her book. Her quest was to take her back to her grandmother’s childhood home in St Petersburg and their country estate in the Crimea. It would also lead her to a prison camp in eastern France and the archives of MI5…

You can see some of the great reviews the book has had by clicking here.