12 June 2009

Progress?

Last month I finished reading When Gods Die (CS Harris), the second book in the Sebastian St Cyr (historical suspense) series. For those of you who have not read this (IMO amazing) series, it is set in London circa 1811-1812. This is a series that does not pull its punches. The 'hero' (main male character) - Sebastian - may be a nobleman (a Viscount), but his efforts to solve the various crimes he observes/is drawn into takes him from the ballrooms to the back alleys, from the silk and satin to the sewers, and everything...EVERYTHING...is exposed in all its glory and horror - there is no sugarcoating:
The larger houses themselves had long since been broken up into lodgings, their gardens disappearing beneath a warren of shanties and hovels threaded by a narrow byway half-filled with heaps of ashes and steaming rubbish piles.
And then there were the screams.The screams of the despairing, the mad, the sick and the dying, mingled with the plaintive cries of women being taken by force.

I was discussing the book with a friend of mine who has recently read it and one of the things we both commented on was the fate of women in this era.
Sebastian found himself thinking about two other children, one named Huey, the other Tom. And about their mother, a simple but devout widow, out of work and thrown onto the streets with two children to feed. For her as for untold thousands of women in such a situation, the choices were simple but stark: starvation, theft or prostitution. Tom's mother had chosen theft and earned herself a one-way voyage to Botany Bay. Prostitution might have brought her disease and an early death, but it wasn't a capital crime. Stealing to feed your starving children was.
A woman could scrub clothes until her hands bled, and still she wouldn't be able to earn enough to feed a family of ten.

Which in turn reminded me of the scene in Pride & Prejudice (the movie version) in which Chalotte is explaining to Lizzie why she accepted Mr Collins' hand in marriage:
Not all of us can afford to be romantic. I've been offered a comfortable home, and protection. There's a lot to be thankful for...I'm 27 years old; I've no money, no prospects. I'm already a burden to my parents, and I'm frightened.

It is scary to think, regardless of status, how truly dependent women have been, throughout history, on men...and how limited their options were. Last month I read a historical romance - The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount (Julia London) - and what struck me the most was not the actual romance but the off-screen attempt by two heroes from the earlier books in the trilogy to pass a law in the House of Lords allowing women to work...and the response of other characters to their attempt. (I'm sorry, I would have included a quote for completeness, but all the copies are currently out) at my local library, which I guess is the downside of borrowing not buying your books.)

I know I've barely scratched the surface of the topic, but it has made me think about how far women's rights have come...and how lucky I am to be living in the era that I do and the country that I do...

5 comments:

  1. I have the first book in this series in my TBR pile because Anna Campbell recommended it on RomanceNovelTV. It sounds really good.

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  2. It's a fantastic series heidenkind. There is a smiddgen of romance, but it is mainly a historical suspense...and it's gritty! I look forward to hearing what you think of the first book - When Angels Fear - at some point :)

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  3. I skipped your review but had to comment: I'm reading this book right now! I'm about half way through and really enjoying it. When I'm done, I'll come back and read what you have to say about it.

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  4. Thanks Monkey Bear :) It's more of a rambling discussion on a particular theme that cropped up from reading When Gods Die, but I look forward to hearing what you think of the book and of my rmablings ;)

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  5. I'm reading this series as well. I, too, find it thought provoking & inspiring as well. The new one is supposed to come out this fall.
    November I think? Although that's summer for you? Please forgive my ignorance. :0

    Women have indeed come a long way from the days when marriage, any marriage, no matter how awful, was a refuge from homelessness in the street (often with children no less). For heaven's sake, here in the US women have only been able to vote since 1920! And women still don't have pay parity with men. Equal work ought to mean equal pay.

    ~Amanda

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