A Short History of Women (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Kate Walbert’s third novel, A Short History of Women, explores “the Woman Question” as it shapes five generations of an Anglo-American family between 1880 and 2007. Walbert has said that her characters repeatedly find themselves with “new freedoms” but continue “spinning their wheels a bit” as they find they “have inherited a world that’s not what they expected at all.” The dramatic event resonating across their lives involves Dorothy Trevor Townsend, whose adolescent daughter Evelyn announces at the start of the novel (in a sentence Walbert has identified as the work’s genesis), “Mum starved herself for suffrage.” While the intervening years have brought markedly greater female opportunity to both sides of the Atlantic, Walbert’s contemporary characters continue to wrestle with the meaning of their individual choices across a century when wars repeatedly defeat the dream of feminist-driven pacifism. What begins as a gendered quandary becomes, in the words of Townsend’s great-granddaughter, “a kind of postmodern, existential question no one bothers to ask anymore.”
Walbert skillfully presents this saga in six distinctive voices across fifteen interlocking segments (some only one page long) that generally follow a forward temporal momentum. For most of the characters, chronological disjunctions occur within chapters and recall Virginia Woolf’s associational suffusion of the narrative present with memory-laden...
(The entire section is 1736 words.)
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