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Review: A Woman's Place, by Ruth Adam

Pages: 339

Original date of publication: 1975

My edition: 2000 (Persephone)

Why I decided to read: Heard about this through the Persephone catalogue

How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, July 2010

A Woman’s Place: 1910-1975 is a fascinating look at women’s social history between that time period. As the Persephone catalogue says, this book complements many of the other books that they (and Virago) publish because it deals in nonfiction form what the novels deal with fictionally. Organized chronologically, this book explores women’s lives at every level of British society, from the VADs (like Vera Brittain) in WWI up through the women’s lib movement.

There are some absolutely fascinating tidbits in this book, stuff I never knew. Because the book was originally published in the 1970s, it tends to be a bit feminist at times, but I thought for the most part that this was a very smart book, not preachy or pedantic. Sometimes her tone is sarcastic and dry, but never bitter. I enjoyed what Ruth Adam had to say about “superfluous women,” spinsters like me and widows who really didn’t have much of a place in early 20th century England. It’s interesting to see how things have changed, or not, in the hundred years since!

I loved how Ruth Adam managed to incorporate the writings of various female authors into her text to illustrate her points; most of them are Persephone or Virago authors such as: Vera Brittain, Sheila Kaye-Smith, Edith Hull, Vita Sackville-West, Violet Trefusis, Rosamund Lehmann, Radclyffe Hall, and EM Delafield, just to name a few. Some of the subject matter Adam mentions was current topics even at the time she wrote this, so this whole book was very topical. And it still is, in a way. Of note, Ruth Adam mentions the 1968 Dagenham car plant strike, where the female workers went on strike for sexual discrimination; a film was recently made about the strike, so I guess interest in these things are cyclical!

This is Persephone No. 20. Endpaper above


Danielle said…
I've always passed this one up when I browse their catalog, but it sounds really good. I'm adding it to my wish list!
Teddy Rose said…
This one sound right up my alley. Thanks for the thought provoking review. I added it to my TBR.
Kate said…
I too have always passed this one up in favour of what I felt were more cheering reads; how wrong I was. What a rich seam of heroism precedes us. The book adds substance to my previously sketchy grasp of the historical events that have shaped women's place in society today, and lays a seam that relates to everything else I read.

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