Cranky Ladies of History

This is another book that I’ve given my mum recently. She started reading it and rather smugly emailed to say that now she doesn’t feel so bad about being one sometimes. She says:

I particularly loved “A Song for Sacagawea” because it is the story of all those unsung women who were forced to help conquerors take their lands. They were looked on as trade goods, but much of the exploration/exploitation wouldn’t have occurred without them. There is a similar story of a woman who translated for the conquistadors in Central America [she means Malinche]. Much as I admire those women, their treatment really p….d me off, of course. Don’t quote me on that, though.

(Oops. Heh.)

Anyway, I am so totally excited that this book exists. I supported it in its Pozible funding, I did a little bit of supporting in terms of writing a blog post (I had big intentions to do a few but whoosh there went the month), and generally YAY stories about real historical ladies!

!!

So I finally got around to actually reading it. Firstly let me say I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE WITH THE ORDER OF THE STORIES, TEHANI AND TANSY.

Ahem.

The first few stories were the sorts of things I expected. Mary I as a child, Lady Godiva, Mary Wollstonecraft… and then Bathory Erzsebet. Who is someone I had never come across and who was very, very not nice. Very not nice. Like, Deborah Biancotti you had already scarred me with your Ishtar and now my brain is even WORSE. Because this story does not redeem Erszebet. It shows that women are quite capable of being cold and cruel and nasty. And, at a chronological and geographical distance, this is almost something to be pleased about… since after all, we are just human.

Hmm. Getting to Erszebet has meant skipping over Mary (a story showing how difficult her childhood must have been, thanks Liz Barr), and Godiva (thank you, Garth Nix, for making her more than just That Nude Lady) and Wollstonecraft (Kirstyn McDermott, I have always loved her at a remove – that is, knowing only basics of her life, I knew she was wonderful. This fictional take helps just a bit more).

Leaving Europe, Foz Meadows goes to the Asian steppes with “Bright Moon” and a fierce tale of battle and kinship obligation; Joyce Chng to China and silkworms and captivity. Nice Shawl teases with “A Beautiful Stream” by talking about events and people from the 20th century I felt I ought to know and drove me to google find out if I was right (yes); Amanda Pillar pleased me immensely by being all provocative about Hatshepsut, one of my favourite historical women ever.

Sylvia Kelso stunned me by talking about two women from Australia’s history that I had no knowledge of (a doctor? lesbians?? in the early 20th century?!) and Stephanie Lai puts flesh on the bones of Ching Shih, the female Chinese pirate I’ve only encountered in passing. I would like to thank Barbara Robson profusely for writing Theodora so magnificently and by incorporating Procopius, to show just how such historical sources can be used. Lisa L Hannett continues (what I think of as) her Viking trend, while Havva Murat takes on Albania’s medieval past and the trials of being born female when your father wants a son.

I don’t mean this as a negative, but I am so not surprised that Dirk Flinthart wrote of Granuaile, the Irish pirate. I was surprised where he took her; pleasantly so, of course. LM Myles brought in one of my other very favourite and bestest, Eleanor of Aquitaine, this time as an old, old woman – still cranky and sprightly and everything that was great about her. I didn’t love Kaaron Warren’s “Another Week in the Future,” but I have no knowledge of Catherine Helen Spence so I had no  prior experience to hang the story on. Laura Lam brought in a female pirate I’d never even heard of, the French Jeanne de Clisson, while Sandra McDonald writes a complicated narrative of Cora Crane: there are unreliable narrators and then there are unreliable timelines and sources and they get fascinating.

Thoraiya Dyer introduces someone else I’ve never heard of, by way of 19th century Madagascar and a royal family negotiating the introduction/imposition of European ideas. Juliet Marillier brings a compassionate, loving and beloved Hildegard of Bingen, while Faith Mudge caps the whole anthology with Elizabeth I.

Look, it’s just great. A wonderful range of stories, of women, of styles, of close-to-history and far (but still with that element of Truthiness). I think we need a follow-up volume. I’d like to order Jeanne d’Arc, Julia Gillard, the Empress Matilda, Pocahontas, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malinche, and the Trung sisters. Kthxbai.

You can find Cranky Ladies over here.

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