Out of stock
6/8, 7/6, 8/3, 8/31 Mondays, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm June 8 to August 31, 2020
6-7:30pm ET / 3-4:30pm PT
In this reading group, we read four early 20th century novels, written by women with strong female characters. Each novel features a woman grappling with how to navigate her own power and the limitations imposed upon her by the world. We will read Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark (1915), which explores the sacrifices one makes to succeed; Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Comedy: American Style (1933) about a black woman who chooses passing for white over her own family; Winifred Holtby’s South Riding (1936) about a radical schoolteacher in a small Yorkshire village, and finally, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them (1948), a historical novel about a small community of nuns during the Black Death in England.
This reading group will be held online via Zoom. Participants will receive instructions for access prior to the first session.
Anne E. Fernald
Anne E. Fernald
Anne E. Fernald is the editor of the Cambridge University Press Mrs. Dalloway (2014) and author of Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader (2006) as well as articles and reviews on Woolf and feminist modernism. An editor of The Norton Reader, a widely used anthology of essays, she teaches English and Women’s Studies at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. She occasionally updates her blog, Fernham, and can be found on twitter @fernham.
The Song of the Lark
By Willa Cather
Published by Vintage
In this powerful portrait of the self-making of an artist, Willa Cather created one of her most extraordinary heroines. Thea Kronborg, a minister’s daughter in a provincial Colorado town, seems destined from childhood for a place in the wider world. But as her path to the world stage leads her ever farther from the humble town she can’t forget and from the man she can’t afford to love, Thea learns that her exceptional musical talent and fierce ambition are not enough.
It is in the solitude of a tiny rock chamber high in the side of an Arizona cliff—”a cleft in the heart of the world”—that Thea comes face to face with her own dreams and desires, stripped clean by the haunting purity of the ruined cliff dwellings and inspired by the whisperings of their ancient dust. Here she finds the courage to seize her future and to use her gifts to catch “the shining, elusive element that is life itself–life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.” In prose as shimmering and piercingly true as the light in a desert canyon, Cather takes us into the heart of a woman coming to know her deepest self.
Comedy: American Style
By Jessie Redmon Fauset
Published by Rutgers University Press
Comedy: American Style, Jessie Redmon Fauset’s fourth and final novel, recounts the tragic tale of a family’s destructionùthe story of a mother who denies her clan its heritage. Originally published in 1933, this intense narrative stands the test of time and continues to raise compelling, disturbing, and still contemporary themes of color prejudice and racial self-hatred. Several of today’s bestselling novelists echo subject matter first visited in Fauset’s commanding work, which overflows with rich, vivid, and complex characters who explore questions of color, passing, and black identity.2 .
By Winifred Holtby
Published by Little, Brown and Company
When Sarah Burton returns to her hometown as headmistress she is full of ambition, determined to create a great school and to inspire her girls to take all they can from life. But in the aftermath of the First World War, the country is in depression and ideals are hard won. Lydia Holly, the scholarship girl from the shacks, is the most brilliant student Sarah has ever taught, but when her mother’s health fails, her education must be sacrificed – there is nobody else to care for the children.
Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall stands for everything Sarah despises: his family has farmed the South Riding for generations, their position uncontested. Yet Sarah cannot help being drawn to this proud, haunted – and almost ruined – man.
South Riding is a rich, panoramic novel, bringing vividly to life a rural community on the brink of change.
The Corner That Held Them
By Sylvia Townsend Warner
Published by New York Review Books
Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them is a historical novel like no other, one that immerses the reader in the dailiness of history, rather than history as the given sequence of events that, in time, it comes to seem. Time ebbs and flows and characters come and go in this novel, set in the era of the Black Death, about a Benedictine convent of no great note. The nuns do their chores, and seek to maintain and improve the fabric of their house and chapel, and struggle with each other and with themselves. The book that emerges is a picture of a world run by women but also a story—stirring, disturbing, witty, utterly entrancing—of a community. What is the life of a community and how does it support, or constrain, a real humanity? How do we live through it and it through us? These are among the deep questions that lie behind this rare triumph of the novelist’s art.4 .
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