“Difficult” women in this week’s reading

There is a concept in films, TV and books of the heroine who is Too Stupid to Live. These are the women who stroll merrily into dark, abandoned houses or trust suspicious looking men who have evil intentions. You know them. When you come across them you are inclined to shout “Don’t do that” loudly because you know that no good will come of it !

This week I have been reading a romantic suspense novel by Marliss Melton and I came across a prime example of the species. This character is rescued from a South American country at the beginning of the novel by Navy SEALS where she has been doing good work with orphans. She decides that she needs to return and despite every other character in the book, the authorities and this reader telling her not to go, off she trots to a dangerous location, even though one of the characters has found another way to retrieve what she is fetching. Guess what ? She has to be rescued again, not once but twice. Strangely, her rescuer, one of the aforementioned SEALS decides that her complete stupidity is a recipe for a long and happy life and all ends well. As you may be able to tell I found this all deeply irritating.

I do understand that people often need rescuing and that the strong man coming to the aid of the hapless female is a common theme in novels but I didn’t expect to see it in a recent novel written by a woman.

I listened to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure novel “The Lost World” this week. It was written in the early years of the last century and the author dispenses with the two women characters in the first chapter so that he can concentrate on the brave actions of the men. I quite enjoyed it but there were some racist attitudes which made me feel uncomfortable when they occurred. It’s another book set in South America though.

I have also read two biographies this week, both of problematic women. The first was “Josephine” by Carolly Erickson about the life of the French Empress. It’s a cracking read as her life was fascinating. The book shows what few options she had as an impoverished aristocrat and how she used her body, looks and influence to live the life that she wanted. She did make some dubious decisions but it is debatable how much freedom her position gave her to do what she wanted. If you are at all interested in the lives of influential women I would give it a go.

The second book I read was “The Temptress” by Paul Spicer about Alice de Janze who was one of the Happy Valley set of white colonisers living in Kenya between the wars. Alice did not live a happy life and she obviously had a serious mental health condition but it is difficult to see what she did with her time and energy apart from several marriages, lots of pets and plenty of adulterous affairs. Whilst feeling sorry for her I did think that a lot of her issues came from being bored and trying to entertain herself – of course, it was what was expected of rich, society women at the time. I’ve read a few books about the time and place (I recommend “White Mischief” by James Fox, “Child of Happy Valley” by Juanita Carberry and “The Bolter” by Frances Osborne). Many of them centre on the murder of one of the settlers, Lord Erroll, but I found the descriptions of their way of life fascinating and actually quite uncomfortable.

I enjoy biographies of women and novels with strong women characters and, as you can see, I have certainly read quite a variety in the last week. I am now reading a biography of Bonnie Prince Charlie (who I suspect has his own issues) and a few fantasy novels. My current audiobook is “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy which is the story of yet another “difficult” women – it is over thirty hours in length so it will be a week or so before I discover how much her problems are of her own making and how much society takes a hand.

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