In Her Own Words: Women's Memoirs from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States

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Jill Ker Conway, author of one of the most celebrated memoirs of recent decades, is also the premier anthologist of women's autobiographical writing. In Her Own Words is Conway's distillation of women's experience from the British Commonwealth world she came from, compared with major themes in women's lives in the United States, which is now her home.
   In this dazzling collection, we meet twelve remarkable women−from Shirley Chisholm, the West Indian-raised girl who became the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, to Janet Frame, the brilliant New Zealand writer who overcame involuntary treatment in a mental institution to write one of the archetypal analyses of the post-colonial experience. We learn how the world of politics and the private self intersect in the four offshoots of the old British world, and see how these women have made a difference−by their honesty, by the scale of their struggle for self-knowledge and autonomy, and by the power of their writing.

         Patricia Adam-Smith        Lillian Hellman
         Rosemary Brown             Dorothy Hewett
         Kim Chernin                    Robin Hyde
         Shirley Chisholm              Dorothy Livesay
         Lauris Edmond                Sally Morgan
         Janet Frame                    Gabrielle Roy
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About the author

Jill Ker Conway was born in Hillston, New South Wales, Australia, graduated from the University of Sydney in 1958, and received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1969. In 1962 she married John Conway and moved with him to his native Canada. From 1964 to 1975 she taught at the University of Toronto, where she was also Vice President, before going to Smith College. Since 1985 she has been a visiting scholar and professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society. She serves on the boards of Nike, Merrill Lynch, and Colgate-Palmolive, and as Chairman of Lend Lease Corporation. She lives in Boston.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
Jun 29, 2011
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Pages
624
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ISBN
9780307797247
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Women
Social Science / Feminism & Feminist Theory
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.”

So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

This unprecedented demographic shift, Bolick explains, is the logical outcome of hundreds of years of change that has neither been fully understood, nor appreciated. Spinster introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. By animating their unconventional ideas and choices, Bolick shows us that contemporary debates about settling down, and having it all, are timeless—the crucible upon which all thoughtful women have tried for centuries to forge a good life.

Intellectually substantial and deeply personal, Spinster is both an unreservedly inquisitive memoir and a broader cultural exploration that asks us to acknowledge the opportunities within ourselves to live authentically. Bolick offers us a way back into our own lives—a chance to see those splendid years when we were young and unencumbered, or middle-aged and finally left to our own devices, for what they really are: unbounded and our own to savor.
In a memoir that pierces and delights us, Jill Ker Conway tells the story of her astonishing journey into adulthood—a journey that would ultimately span immense distances and encompass worlds, ideas, and ways of life that seem a century apart.

She was seven before she ever saw another girl child. At eight, still too small to mount her horse unaided, she was galloping miles, alone, across Coorain, her parents' thirty thousand windswept, drought-haunted acres in the Australian outback, doing a "man's job" of helping herd the sheep because World War II had taken away the able-bodied men. She loved (and makes us see and feel) the vast unpeopled landscape, beautiful and hostile, whose uncertain weathers tormented the sheep ranchers with conflicting promises of riches and inescapable disaster. She adored (and makes us know) her large-visioned father and her strong, radiant mother, who had gone willingly with him into a pioneering life of loneliness and bone-breaking toil, who seemed miraculously to succeed in creating a warmly sheltering home in the harsh outback, and who, upon her husband's sudden death when Jill was ten, began to slide—bereft of the partnership of work and love that had so utterly fulfilled her—into depression and dependency.

We see Jill, staggered by the loss of her father, catapulted to what seemed another planet—the suburban Sydney of the 1950s and its crowded, noisy, cliquish school life. Then the heady excitement of the University, but with it a yet more demanding course of lessons—Jill embracing new ideas, new possibilities, while at the same time trying to be mother to her mother and resenting it, escaping into drink, pulling herself back, striking a balance. We see her slowly gaining strength, coming into her own emotionally and intellectually and beginning the joyous love affair that gave wings to her newfound self.

Worlds away from Coorain, in America, Jill Conway became a historian and the first woman president of Smith College. Her story of Coorain and the road from Coorain startles by its passion and evocative power, by its understanding of the ways in which a total, deep-rooted commitment to place—or to a dream—can at once liberate and imprison. It is a story of childhood as both Eden and anguish, and of growing up as a journey toward the difficult life of the free.
J ill Ker Conway, one of our most admired  autobiographers--author of The Road from Coorain and True North--looks astutely and with feeling into the modern memoir: the forms and styles it assumes, and the strikingly different ways in which men and women respectively tend to understand and present their lives.
In a narrative rich with evocations of memoirists over the centuries--from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and George Sand to W. E. B. Du Bois, Virginia Woolf, Frank McCourt and Katharine Graham--the author suggests why it is that we are so drawn to the reading of autobiography, and she illuminates the cultural assumptions behind the ways in which we talk about ourselves.
Conway traces the narrative patterns typically found in autobiographies by men to the tale of the classical Greek hero and his epic journey of adventure. She shows how this configuration evolved, in memoirs, into the passionate romantic struggling against the conventions of society, into the frontier hero battling the wilderness, into self-made men overcoming economic obstacles to create an invention or a fortune--or, more recently, into a quest for meaning, for an understandable past, for an ethnic identity.
In contrast, she sees the designs that women commonly employ for their memoirs as evolving from the writings of the mystics--such as Dame Julian of Norwich or St. Teresa of Avila--about their relationship with an all-powerful God. As against the male autobiographer's expectation of power over his fate, we see the woman memoirist again and again believing that she lacks command of her destiny, and tending to censor her own story.
Throughout, Conway underlines the memoir's magic quality of allowing us to enter another human being's life and mind--and how this experience enlarges and instructs our own lives.
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