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Reading Groups

An Untamed Existence: Women Alone and Adrift in the Wild with Naomi Huffman and Julia Ringo

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Four Sessions Tuesdays, 6:30 pm EST - 8:00 pm EST June 20 to September 12, 2023

Online via Zoom

The ‘With Books’ option includes all titles required for this group at a 10% discount from our Bookstore.

Meeting Dates:
6/20, 7/18, 8/15, 9/12
Online via Zoom

In this group, we will read the surprising accounts of three women in various states of isolation, communing with the natural world in search of sustenance, companionship, purpose, and escape. In Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford, the titular woman sails around the world for forty years on a repurposed barge, tending an Eden-like garden and arbor with her brooding husband. After his death, she creates an account of their turbulent marriage and asks herself a terrifyingly prescient question: “What would it be like to live without the presence of the sea?” In Marian Engel’s Bear, a studious librarian named Lou is unsatisfied with her life. After her affair with her boss falls apart, she is sent to inventory a once-prominent family’s estate on an island in remote Canada. The extreme seclusion forces her to consider, “Is a life that can be considered an absence a life?” Eventually she develops an intimate relationship with a semi-domesticated bear—perhaps for solace, or bestiality, or a death wish. In The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, an aging woman survives an unprecedented event: one night, an invisible barrier appears, separating her from the rest of humanity. Stranded in the Austrian countryside with a dog, a cat, and a cow in her care, she must find a reason to keep living.

Notably, these novels share the curious absence of the themes that persist in celebrated survival stories: a desire to dominate nature, instinctual acts of violence, self-mythologizing, and the romanticism of severe isolation. We’ll discuss the feminist implications of these lives lived at sea and within the wilderness, freed from societal mores, unbound from domestic responsibilities, and propelled by the opportunity to craft an untamed existence utterly unlike life among other humans.

  • Session I: Introductory collection of essays (a link will be sent to participants upon registration)
  • Session II: The Wall by Marlen Haushofer
  • Session III: Log of the S. S. The Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford
  • Session IV: Bear by Marian Engel

What to expect from this reading group: This course is propelled by group discussion and features special guests and a biographical presentation about each author.


Led by

  • huffman-ringo

    Naomi Huffman & Julia Ringo

    Naomi Huffman & Julia Ringo

    Naomi Huffman and Julia Ringo are the co-founders of Hagfish, an editorial studio based in Brooklyn.