Lois Duncan (Steinmetz Arquette) Natalie Babbitt - Essay

Natalie Babbitt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Daughters of Eve] is a savage novel full of troubled, angry characters. At first it appears that the author has identified completely with Irene Stark, advisor to an exclusive high-school girls' club called "Daughters of Eve" and is speaking to us all when Irene urges the club's 10 members toward action against male chauvinism.

Soon, however, as Irene's paranoia reveals itself, the reader begins to see that Lois Duncan has instead chosen the Movement only as a setting, and is detached enough to use it with great effectiveness. I was reminded of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies"—the horror of Lois Duncan's novel erupts just as violently at the end. Still, "Daughters of Eve" seems less real than "Lord of the Flies," for all of that work's phantasmagoria. Perhaps this is because the Golding novel is set on a desert island where anything might happen, whereas "Eve" takes place down the street.

What is vivid, though, is the female rage that Lois Duncan portrays—any open-minded reader is bound to recognize much of it—and the story itself is finely constructed and told. Also—how refreshing!—there are no lessons. Instead, this novel enables us to see ourselves as the barely civilized creatures we truly are, and it is strongly evenhanded, for it lets us see that women can be as bloodthirsty as men ever were. We haven't had much of that since Madame Defarge.

Natalie Babbitt, in her review of "Daughters of Eve," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 27, 1980, p. 24.