As I whittle down my end of the year pile, I'm already contemplating what books I'll be starting out 2010 with. I've already got a interesting-sounding nonfiction book lined up, which should fit in well with the Women Unbound Challenge, Thomas Fleming's The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers. I know the title doesn't sound particularly 'feminist', but the book isn't so much about the founding fathers as the women who were at the center of their lives. Actually I think this will fit in well with the theme of the challenge, plus it's an era that interests me that I've read far too little about.
Although I won't start reading for a bit yet, I was tempted to at least read the introduction. Fleming writes, "I decided to explore the roles of women in the lives of the first group of American politicians to win fame--George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison." Life for women in the 18th century in many ways sounds bleak and dreary. Generally speaking they weren't educated, any property of their own was controlled by their husbands, they were rarely granted a divorce and childbirth was extremely dangerous and the rate of infant mortality was very high. However in some ways their lives might not have been so different than ours.
"Although the women in these famous lives spoke 150 years before feminism entered the American vocabulary, their independent voices will surprise many people. The men and women of 1776 were far more candid and realistic about sexual desire and marital relationships than Americans of the twenty-first century realize. They gave serious thought to the ancient conflict between the sexes and talked and wrote about it in ways that still have relevance today."
"This was evident from the novels they read and the stories that were printed in the newspapers. Samuel Richardson's Pamela was the most popular of the era. This story of a servant girl's rise to wealth and power proved that virtue was rewarded and simultaneously delivered titillating descriptions of a young woman agonizing over sexual desire. When fifteen-year-old Betsy Hanford of Virginia married wealthy fifty-one-year-old John Cam, the local newspaper reported, 'She is to have a chariot and there is to be no padlock put upon her mind'."
So, this is a little taste, and I'm already looking forward to reading it.