“Maude’s birth was a shock from which I have not recovered. When I came to from the ether and first held her in my arms I felt as if I were nailed to the bed, trapped by her mouth at my breast.” (54)
This statement shocked and amazed me! I would be appalled if I ever heard a new mother say that today but for some reason I sympathized with Kitty for feeling such things. Never the less, I wasn’t content to let this pass so I asked myself a question; what did it mean to be a feminist in first years of the 20th century?
I have always proudly considered myself feminist and, of course, I have learned woman’s history in their right to vote, right to speak their minds, right to marry or not marry who they choose! But I tried to put myself in Kitty’s shoes…This left me feeling even more desperate to find what was so unsettling in her seemingly comfortable and fortunate life that would cause her so much turmoil.
Kitty’s mother-in-law suggests that it is from reading too much, “She won’t be satisfied with her life if she has ideas.” Or possibly just from reading the ‘wrong’ sort of stuff. Its seems to be woven in the history of the human race to be more and more discontent the more you are educated. Apparently the old say, “Ignorance is bliss” is correct.
Kitty felt that she was trapped by her marriage, and even further by her daughter. This results in years of being an outcast of society. It was not acceptable for a mother to have a role other than attentive, nurturing, and loving towards a child. It wasn’t acceptable for well-born woman to be anything but a good housewife and loving mother. I know for a fact that these requirements would drive most women today mad!
“I was twenty years old, and my life had settled into a long, slow course over which I had no control.”
London society had expectations for young woman. They had to be presentable to possible suitors before even turning 20. This meant behaving, learning how to run a household, having hobbies like sewing, and showing a great love for charitable events. A woman having control over their lives was never really an option.
Women barely even have control over their own bodies. Kitty’s mother-in-law believes that having more children will bring Kitty peace of mind. But Kitty thinks quite the opposite and goes as far as seeking knowledge about birth control methods from a doctor in exchange for her own body.
Is this the actions of a mad woman, like her ‘well-to-do’ London society thinks? Or, is Kitty really just a spirited, intelligent, and beautiful woman who is trapped by the etiquette of the world that circles endlessly around her?
I believe Kitty is just trying to get out of a society that doesn’t accept a strong and independent woman who wants to make her own choices. She is often portrayed as an unloving mother but I believe she loves her daughter enough to try to make her life better. She doesn’t want her daughter to go through the turmoil that she has endured so she fights for her rights.
This book was an extraordinary read. It wrapped me up so tightly that I didn’t want it to end! I could write about so many different themes in this book but I think that Kitty deserves a lot of credit.
Tracey Chevalier has created a time capsule that takes the readers back to a place in our history that is far closer than I could ever imagine. My great grandmother was born close to the turn of the 20th century. This is the world that she grew up, married, and had children in. Not only does Chevalier create a beautiful and intricate story, she provides the reader with insight into the history of women that I think most take for granted. I am very glad to have experienced this read and will suggest it to many!
Here is a link to the museum of London’s info page on woman suffragettes and how it affected London in the early 1900’s.
And, one more link! This one is a youtube video with some interesting facts and pictures. The video is accompanied by Sigur Ros which always makes everything better!