Adventuresses Club Press 2: The Nun Ensign

That’s correct, we have another book out! This time I’ve delved back to the 16-17th centuries, to bring you the impossibly block-busteresque life of Catalina de Erauso, the Nun Ensign. 


Deciding that the life of a nun in Spain was not for her, in 1600 Catalina escaped the nunnery, dressed as a man, and sailed to the New World. There she got into fights, seduced women, enlisted as a soldier, and… murdered a lot of people. Her scrapes with death and escapes from the authorities defy belief, and the events are told with a truly economical approach to words, which is occasionally infuriating, as you wonder what possible subtext could have ignited a given incident. 

Try a sample here:

Australia

United States

 

Advertisements

Adventuresses Club Press 1: The Conquest of Mount Cook, Freda du Faur

Greetings, fellow readers! A brief project update, which I’m sure you will all be as excited about as I am.

Firstly: I have a new website to host my Very Exciting Project: Women on Adventure. I’ve spent the last couple of years researching obscure accounts of women travellers, whose professions run the gamut from soldier, to cartographer, to spy. My limitation is simple: if it was published prior to 1918, I’m interested in it!

As part of this, I’ve been aiming at publishing a number of different accounts by these women each week (and, eventually, I would like to collate these into manuscript form). You can view the updates on Facebook, or go directly to the source of goodness that is my website: http://womenonadventure.net/.

Secondly: Because I quite sincerely can’t get enough of encouraging everyone to read about these fantastic ladies’ exploits, I’ve also started up The Adventuresses’ Club Press, dedicated to popularising them. It also gives me the opportunity to write forewords to analyse their adventures from a historical and contemporary perspective — bring on the intersectionalism, sisters!

The first book published by The Adventuresses’ Club Press is The Conquest of Mount Cook, by Freda Du Faur, Australia’s first female mountaineer. As I come from a family of rock climbers and mountaineers, I was ecstatic to find an edition of her autobiographical work to share online! You can try a sample on Amazon:

Australia

United States


The second book will be out soon–here’s your hint: it involves a nun, conquistadors, and significant amounts of swash-buckling.

Thirdly: I have a (new, first edition) niece, and over the weekend adored the opportunity to read Rebecca Solnit’s essay “The Ocean around the Archipelago” to her while she slept on me. Life goals achieved.

That’s all for now!

Daughters of a Coral Dawn – Katherine .V. Forrest

Daughters of a Coral Da

Entertaining, lesbian-themed escapist science fiction. A few tens of thousand of part-alien, genius-level women  (all descended from the Vernan alien whom they call Mother) steal a spaceship and flee the repressive, 70’s-era patriarchal Earth territories (where a woman using reproductive technology without a husband is a legal crime) to establish their own utopian colony.

Fifteen years later, they respond to the distress call of a crippled Terran ship. But now that their location has been compromised, what will they do with the chauvanistic survivors? And how will Megan, leader of the colony on Maternas, respond to the presence of the bewitching earthling Lieutenant Laurel Meredith?

I loved this humorously cheesy novel, and have been disappointed to find that Amazon.com only sells (currently) the first of this series. Worse still, it isn’t present in any of the local library catalogues. Woe! Daughters of a Coral Dawn works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel, but the presence of a lesbian science fiction novel reminiscent of the webcomic I was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space makes me eager to track down further novels in the genre. That it is unashamedly queer sci-fi, rather than brief lesbianism acting as a aperitif to the actions of a heterosexual hero, make me extremely happy.

“ “Six thousand I’ve spawned,” Mother grumbled, “and I’m the only heterosexual left.” “

The subject of a society of women bereft of men is both intriguing and appealing – witness the women of Whileaway in The Female Man, the civilisation of women in The Sultana’s Dream, the inhabitants of Jeep in Ammonite (review forthcoming), and of course our very own Amazons – and personally, a subject I can’t get enough of. Before you cry foul, cast a glance over many of the adventure stories throughout history, from the older: The Lost World, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Old Man and the Sea to the more recent action novels, such as Ice Station, where women are either entirely absent, or present only as foils for heterosexual conquest. Turn-about is fair play, and long overdue!

“Once we completed our home-based education and ventured out into the world we thought it would be more difficult to hide our gifts, especially when  we all performed spectacularly well scholastically, and later, professionally. But we had one overwhelming advantage: We were women. Scant significance was attached to any of our accomplishments.”

K.L gives Daughters of a Coral Dawn 4 out of 5 winning references to emerald eyes, cantaloupe-sized breasts, and Sapphic passion.

 

And one, final quote:

“Father was furious when he learned of her pregnancy. “Great James Garfield, how could you let that happen!” he bellowed. “We’ve been married only six weeks! You said you’d take ovavoid!”

“No I didn’t, you just gave me the pills,” Mother informed him coolly. “I did what all Vernan females do when their males leave it up to them. Each time before we made love I concentrated hard and thought negative thoughts.” ”

 

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here.

The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall

WellofLoneliness

Banned on charges of pornography when it was first published (it depicted a lesbian and her relationships), Radclyffe Hall’s epic tale of courage and despair is an invitation to grief, moving as it does from hardship to ostracism and back again.

Born to a loving pair of country gentry, Stephen Gordon is born a girl, instead of the son they expected. It very quickly becomes apparent that she is in no way like other ‘proper little girls’: she prefers to ride astride than sidesaddle, climb trees, and stamp about the manor pretending to be Lord Nelson.

Her mother does not love her (she feels an instinctive revulsion towards Stephen), the other children tease her, and her only friends are her pony (named after a housemaid she developed a crush on, and who was subsequently dismissed from her post), and her Father, who keeps his daughter’s homosexuality hidden from both his wife and daughter herself, and who raises Stephen as though she were a boy, all the while telling her that she is completely normal. I’m not judging his actions here; his character is that of a truly lovely person, who loves his daughter deeply and who becomes her dearest friend, but his denial, until his deathbed, of anything being abnormal about Stephen does not help to prepare her for the world, nor for self-knowledge.

It is a very sad novel, and never has a title been more appropriate. As Stephen matures, she becomes more obviously odd and isolated in the narrow-minded Worcestershire town of her birth. This is no tale of slowly growing acceptance. It is a striking portrait of the harm done to children through social isolation (she is schooled at home by a succession of governesses of varying competence, visiting only occasionally with the neighbours’ bullying brats) and restrictive cultural norms designed to punish a person for simply being oneself.

It is also a striking depiction of the pre-WW1 era, where the wealthy purchased entire lifetimes of servitude from their social and economic inferiors, able to use and discard them without consideration for their well-being, be it mental, emotional or financial. I felt particularly sorry for Puddle, Stephen’s long-time governess and companion, who spends the better years of her life educating and watching over the young woman, at the cost to any personal life of her own.

The Well of Loneliness describes a litany of misfortunes and suffering one would only usually expect to see in a traditional Blues song – Stephen is the cause of her parents relationship horribly failing; her father dies unexpectedly; her mother grows ever more distant and disapproving; the one friend she makes (a young man) eventually falls in love with her and then leaves when she rejects him in horror; she falls in love with a bored married woman who uses her for relief from the ennui of country life, before throwing her under the bus that is her vindictive husband; her mother, discovering her homosexuality, says she would rather have a dead child at her feet than a living “unnatural” daughter and exiles her from her home; her beloved horse goes lame and she has to shoot it, she becomes a hermit in London, World War One starts…and the trauma does not stop.

Finally completing this wrenchingly sad novel was a pyrrhic victory (I had to wade through it first), and I look forward to never reading it again. I do not mean that it is badly written; rather, it is a incredibly beautifully written shout against the injustices of being a queer person trying to live in that era, burdened with that era’s religiosity, heavy stress upon gender roles (which Stephen internalises in her own life, and describes in those of her queer friends’), and ultimate invalidation of any lifestyle fulfilment which doesn’t involve eventually marrying and having children. Hall intended to write the novel this way; deeming it the most important work she would ever complete, she sought to use her existing literary fame to bring the outcast status of sexual and gender minorities into the public view, and to create conversation about it. The character of Stephen portrays a person who, with all her advantages – strength, intelligence, independence, literary success – is hopelessly doomed to fail, tilting her lance as she does up against a windmill of hatred and intolerance from the entire world of “God’s good people.”

Stephen’s sexuality becomes the sole defining influence upon her life, as it must when people are so swift to polarisation and fanaticism about a single characteristic. At the cost of being herself and being an honourable person, she loses her community, her family, her home, and, eventually, the woman she loves.

It was a narrow squeak between finishing The Well of Loneliness and it finishing me – for the love of puppies, don’t read this novel if you are an unhappy person, because it will make you terribly sad.

K.L gives The Well of Loneliness 2 out of 5 tragic Englishwomen-in-exile. Sorry, Well lovers – it is simply too depressing to give a higher score to!

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

Some noteworthily awful quotes:

“No woman’s complete until she is married. After all, no woman can really stand alone, she always needs a man to protect her.”

“It is you who are unnatural, not I. And this thing that you are is a sin against creation. Above all is this thing a sin against the father who bred you, the father whom you dare to resemble. You dare to look like your father, and your face is a living insult to his memory, Stephen. I will never be able to look at you now without thinking of the deadly insult of your face and your body to the memory of the man who bred you. I can only thank God that your father died before he was asked to endure this great shame. As for you, I would rather see you dead at my feet than standing before me—this unspeakable outrage that you call love in that letter which you don’t deny having written.”

 

And finally, as a reward for making it so far, here is a portrait of the striking Radclyffe Hall herself.

Radclyffe Hall

 

Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man

A brilliant novel, in the sink-or-swim school of storytelling (a lack of exposition akin to Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series), which I find invigorating. Don’t let that description daunt you: the explanations will come, in time, unfolding organically from the subject matter of character interactions. The Female Man stretches across four parallel worlds, and the lives of four women living within them. When Janet Evason, ambassador of Whileaway, begins crossing between the worlds, comparing the varying gender roles and experiences of the different women cause them each to reevaluate their own lives, and their implicit notions of what it means to be a “woman” (a person, really).

A Quick Primer on the Four J’s:

  1. Joanna – lives in a world similar to that of the 1970’s Western culture.
  2. Jeannine Dadier – lives in a world where the Great Depression never ended.
  3. Janet Evason – lives in Whileaway, a high-tech utopian-agrarian society of the far future, where all men have been dead for nearly a millennia following a devastating plague. The inhabitants have mastered parthenogenesis.
  4. Jael – an employee of the Bureau of Comparative Ethnology, which studies parallel universes and people’s counterparts throughout them.

The novel opens as Janet suddenly arrives in Jeannine Dadier’s world – a grim place where the Second World War never took place, and the Great Depression is still ongoing. Janet takes Jeannine with her to Joanna’s 70’s-era Earth type world; they are all a little in awe of Janet, who is as capable and forthright as the men they have been taught to admire, but not to emulate. She also distresses them, by behaving in outlandish ways, and failing to adhere to the social niceties of their cultures.

Eventually we discover that the three women have been brought together by Jael, who declares that the four J’s are the same woman, but in differing universes. Jael’s world is in the midst of a 40-year-long war between male and female societies; it becomes apparent that she is an assassin, and her chief aim in uniting the women is to create power bases in each of their worlds to continue the fight between genders across the universes.

 

The novel is a confusing mish-mash of the four characters’ stories, some occurring while in company with the other J’s, others taking place in the past, or whilst alone in their worlds. The reader is whirled from one place to another, with the suffocating dysphoria of Jeannine’s Great Depression society a threatening undertone which maintains suspense.

The idyllic life on Whileaway – spent in hard agrarian labour in a high-tech world, pausing for five years after turning thirty in which to give birth and pursue one’s own interests for the first time since childhood – becomes a paradise the reader longs to read more of, if only to escape from Jeannine’s dreariness, Jael’s ruthless cynicism and Joanna’s personal conflict. Whileaway is not only interesting as a vignette: the existence of a successful and highly functional female society addressed Russ’ desire to create a world where the female human being exists as the measure of humanity itself, as opposed to being the exception (as expressed by Simone de Beavoir, the female is often the insufficient and mysterious Other in a masculine-centered universe).

 

Overall, I believe The Female Man to be an examination of how people deal with conflict, and the manipulation that societies and cultures use to force obedience. It is also incredibly entertaining, and an invaluable read for anyone who has been told that they cannot act a certain way, or be a certain person, because of who they are. It is infuriating, invigorating and cathartic, and I cannot recommend it highly enough – just stick to it, through the initial confusion. You will be rewarded.

“If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.

Jack may act upon Jill in many ways. He may make her feel guilty for ‘bringing it up’. He may invalidate her experience. This can be done more or less radically. He can indicate merely that it is unimportant or trivial, whereas it is important and significant to her. Going further, he can shift the modality of her experience from memory to imagination: ‘It’s all in your imagination.’ Further still, he can invalidate the content: ‘It never happened that way.’ Finally, he can invalidate not only the significance, modality, and content, but her very capacity to remember at all, and make her feel guilty for doing so into the bargain.

This is not unusual.”

R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

 

K.L gives The Female Man 5 out of 5 dimension-hopping genius farmers.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“When Laura tried to find out who she was, they told her she was ‘different’ and that’s a hell of a description on which to base your life; it comes down to either ‘Not-me’ or ‘Convenient-for me’ and what is one supposed to do with that?”

I was sitting in the lunchroom at work, reading The Female Man: specifically, the section about Laura’s inexpert seduction of Janet Evason (who sees it coming and really, really tries to be good, the age difference being a taboo on her planet, but not enough of one to stop her), after the running dialogue/recollections of her life, all the social injustice of it, the man-centric, Depression Era rot, where woman is an appendage, not a person…

…And this phrase grew like a soap-bubble and burst, setting my brain spinning while I sat at the table, trying not to stare light-headedly at my coworker Sue, who was by chance sitting opposite and would not understand if I were to try and explain it to her. The phrase was:

We all deserve to be people.

What inspired this soap bubble of thought? In answer, I must paraphrase a character’s declaration in The Female Man, which reads, “When I act like a person, people ask me, ‘Why are you being so emotional?’ ”