Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review: Wild Women by Autumn Stephens

If you say "Victorian women," I can probably guess exactly what you mean. We have a stereotype of Victorian women as proper, prudish women who take care of their husbands and children, whose focus is only on the home and the so-called womanly sphere. But this pop culture portrayal certainly doesn't include all women. In fact, the women of the era whom we have most likely heard of, with the possible exception of Queen Victoria herself (although even she apparently wasn't nearly as stiff and unhumorous as the popular picture would imply), are all women who most assuredly did not follow the strictures of the age. Autumn Stephens's Wild Women offers brief biographies of some of the women who fought against this straight-laced and rather uninteresting expectation and lived life on their own terms.

This collection of very short biographical blurbs is organized by the transgressions the women committed against the expectations of their sex. With cheesy alliterative chapters like Dreaded Desperados and Gutsy Gamblers, Holy Terrors and Pope Perturbers, Flamboyant Flirts and Lascivious Libertines, and so forth, the 150 biographies focus on the scandalous aspect of each women that best fits the chapter category. This makes many of the women within each chapter start to sound the same. In fact, even across the chapters the brevity of the biographies make the women sound similar. There are only so many ways to rebel against the "Angel in the House" trope but the sameness is highlighted by featuring so many women in so short a space. Stephens' tone is quite glib as she describes these women and it is difficult to figure out how the author determined which women to include as not all of them are nearly as notable as the others. Some of the women are very well known while others are quite unknown. The women profiled here are primarily American women of European descent and one blurb about a woman who contested her father's will for fifty years, only winning the case six years after her own demise is repeated twice within the pages. Given the nature of the book and the lack of in depth information (both intentional), this is really more a book to dip into and out of rather than to sit and read in one go. It was a decent enough diversion but no more than that.

1 comment:

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