Posts Tagged ‘books’

Easy A, The Scarlet Letter, and free love

September 29, 2010


OH WAIT, it was me.

I must say, I was super excited for this movie to come out. A mainstream movie with feminist overtones? Sounds too good to be true, right? I know. Well, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely several steps in the right direction, and I’m definitely purchasing it at some point because it’s a movie I know I’ll want to watch again.

The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)–from whence Easy A draws inspiration–and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy) are two of my favorite books; I see them both as feminist masterpieces ahead of their times, especially considering they were both written by men. Both are primarily concerned with a female protagonist condemned for her sexual activity, and both authors shift the condemnation onto a cruel and unfair society.

And free love? Where does free love come into this, you ask? Allow me to share with you this small snippet of glory, extracted from this book. Two of my favorite feminist heroes are introduced under this title:

Victoria Woodhull & Tennessee Claflin
Virtue: What It Is, and What It Is Not

Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927) and her sister Tennessee Claflin (1846-1923) never had been affiliated with the organized woman’s movement when they burst upon the scene in 1870 with the publication of their radical feminist newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. The editors discussed such topics as prostitution, venereal disease, abortion, and female sexuality, and printed news about workingwomen and their efforts to organize and better their conditions. The Weekly advocated spiritualism, socialism (it was the first American periodical to publish the Communist Manifesto) and free love (a novel by George Sand was published as a serial).

The resourceful Claflin sisters, whose background included dismal poverty and unsavory careers with a “medical” road show and as clairvoyants, had recently earned a considerable fortune in New York as Wall Street’s first female stockbrokers. (Their brokerage firm was controlled by Cornelius Vanderbilt, an ardent admirer of Tennessee Claflin.) Their uninhibited sex lives, which they made no attempt to conceal, was the subject of much gossip.

Thus, when Victoria Woodhull showed up in Washington in early 1871, just as Susan B. Anthony was about to open a convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association, her presence was probably a source of embarrassment for some delegates. Opponents of woman’s rights had long used the charge of “free love” to discredit the movement, and Woodhull frankly avowed her belief in sexual freedom.

In Washington, Woodhull was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee, a privilege never before accorded to a woman. The leaders of the National could not ignore this occasion and came to hear her speak. She made a brilliant presentation, suggesting that female suffrage was already an implied right in the Constitution as a result of the use of the word “person” in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. (This was the same argument Susan B. Anthony later employed at her trial.) The women were impressed and invited Woodhull to repeat her congressional address before the suffrage convention that very day.

To criticisms about Woodhull’s unconventional sexual behavior, Elizabeth Cady Stanton replied: “We have already women enough sacrificed to this sentimental, hypocritical prating about purity. Women have crucified the Mary Wollstonecrafts, the Fanny Wrights and the George Sands of all ages….Let us end this ignoble record and henceforth stand by womanhood. If this present woman [Woodhull] must be crucified, let men drive the spikes.”

For a time Victoria Woodhull became in the press the most talked about figure of the suffrage movement. At a National convention in New York she threatened that unless Congress gave women the vote, they would set up a new government. “We mean treason,” she proclaimed; “we mean secession, and on a thousand times grander scale than was that of the South. We are plotting a revolution; we will overthrow this bogus Republic and plant a government of righteousness in its stead.” Shortly after announcing “I am a free lover!” Woodhull was on the platform at National’s 1872 Washington convention, seated between Elizabeth Stanton and the venerable Lucretia Mott.

Finally, Susan B. Anthony called a halt to Woodhull’s spectacular ascent in the movement. By this time Woodhull had convinced Stanton that the National ought to back her as a candidate for President of the United States in the 1872 election! Anthony vetoed this idea and expelled Woodhull and her followers from the next suffrage convention when they tried to wrest control of a meeting from her. Wrote Susan Anthony in her journal afterward: “Never did Mrs. Stanton do so foolish a thing. All came near being lost.”

The flamboyance and grandiosity of Victoria Woodhull tend to obscure her and her sister’s real contribution to the ideas of feminism in their relatively brief association withthe American woman’s movement. For publicly challenging the dearly held Victorian belief in purity (that is, asexuality [NOTE FROM THE BLOGGER: Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. While Victorian society demanded that women display no interest in sex, the majority of them would not have actually been asexual. This, my friends, is what we call sexual repression, and it’s a Bad Thing. Don’t do it.]) of women, they were certain to be isolated and silenced. However, there is no doubt that Woodhull and Claflin gave voice to the secret longings and dissatisfactions of great numbers of women. Elizabeth Stanton wrote in her confidential diary, begun at the age of sixty-five, that she had come to the conclusion that “the first great work to be accomplished for woman is to revolutionize the dogma that sex is a crime.” Later she added, “a healthy woman has as much passion as a man.”

The following excerpts from two articles [I’m just including the first one here] printed in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly in 1871 and 1872 were written by Tennessee (sometimes written “Tennie C.”) Claflin, who was a better writer and clearer thinker than her more famous sister. In the first article Claflin urged women to gain their sexual freedom by defying oppressive social customs; in the second, she pointed out that woman’s economic dependence forces her to submerge her own nature and become little more than a sexual snare for men.

Words have different and sometimes contradictory meanings….These different meanings of words…reveal a whole history and a whole philosophy….Notably does this happen in respect to the words free and virtuous as applied to men and to women.

A free man is a noble being; a free woman is a contemptible being. Freedom for a man is emancipation from degrading conditions which prevent the expansion of his soul into godlike grandeur and nobility, which it is assumed is his natural tendency in freedom. Freedom for a woman is, on the contrary, escape from those necessary restraining conditions which prevent the sinking of her soul into degradation and vice, which it is all unconsciously assumed is her natural tendency. In other terms, the use of this one word, in its two-fold application to men and to woman, reveals the unconscious but ever present conviction in the public mind that men tend, of course, heavenward in their natures and development, and that women tend just as naturally hell-ward….freedom is a condition desirable and favorable for men, because men are naturally good, and require only the opportunity to show that fact; but a condition undesirable and unfavorable for women, because women are naturally bad, and require only the opportunity to show their innate tendency to vice or wickedness.

Insulting as this estimate is to our sex, it is the basis on which the whole question of social freedom is argued by the outside world. It is naively and continually assumed that if social restraints were removed, all women, the mothers and sisters and wives and daughters of our virtuous male citizens, would immediately and incontinently go to the bad. Men are every day virtually saying this of their own mothers, and women are thoughtlessly chiming in and pronouncing the ban of reprobation upon the name of their own womanhood….

In the same striking way the two uses of the word virtue tell the same sad tale of the popular estimate of the character of nature of the two sexes.The very word virtue is, I believe, partly derived from the Latin vir,the distinctive name of man, and meant originally “manliness.” It was natural in a crude age that all questions of womanliness should be left out of account. Even in respect to man it was the warlike quality of mere physical strength which was first prized, and which first received the name of virtue. We retain this general idea of strength or efficiency as the first meaning of virtue still, as when we speak of the virtue of a medicine, of a public measure, and the like. But in this more spiritual and cultured age, virtue, as applied to man, has risen to a higher degree of significance, and now means moral goodness, or a general conformity of the whole life to high moral ideas and purposes. But, applied to woman, it is confined to a narrow and insulting specialty. It means that woman has never been approached in a special way by man, and nothing but that. Apart from that special idea of virtue, the woman may have all the nobler qualities of her sex–be a pattern of generosity, inspiration, religious emotionality even–and yet she is not virtuous, and never can become so; but if she is sound in that matter, she may be a virago, a thief, or a fiend, but she is perfectly virtuous–she possesses that which is “prized above rubies.”

All this is simply execrable. It is degrading, insulting mockery to define female virtue in this way, or in any way different from man’s virtue. And women are constrained to accept these disparaging discriminations by an organized social opinion which is excessively tyrannical. From the mere imputation of impropriety in this one particular women shrink and cower with the most abject terror. This slavery to opinion must be abolished; women must vindicate their right to an absolute freedom in their own conduct, exceptthat they shall have no right to encroach on others. The revolt against any oppression usually goes to an opposite extreme for a time; and that is right and necessary. We cannot render the terms “libertine”and “rake” as opprobrious as men have made “mistress” and “courtesan”….Let us, then, resort to the opposite tactics, and take the sting out of these bad words by having a consciousness of rectitude, and then not shrinking from any imputation whatever. The world enslaves our sex by the mere fear of an epithet; and as long as it can throw any vile term at us, before which we cower, it can maintain our enslavement. It is not “freedom” alone, but every other epithet intended to degrade, that women must grow strong enough to defy before she will be free. I do not mean that she shall be what these words are meant to convey, but merely that she shall let the world know that female virtue means hereafter something different–that it means, in a word, just what would make a man virtuous and good. He or she who would be free must defy the enemy, and must be ultra enough to exhaust the possibilities of the enemy’s assault, and it will not be until women can contemplate and accept unconcernedly whatsoever imputation an ignorant, bitter, lying, and persecuting world may heap on them that they will be really free.

And this in a nutshell is what Easy A is all about. Treat yourself. <3


I suddenly WANT THIS BOOK.

May 27, 2010

When it came to music, Matthew’s church similarly taught him that any pop music was evil, especially if it featured a (GASP) syncopated beat! We in the South, in contrast, were handed sound-alike charts by youth leaders and chapel speakers: “Like Journey? Listen to Petra! They sound just like Journey, only Christian!” (Yes, these sound-alike charts did, and probably still do, exist, as many of my readers will attest.) When he arrived at college to study music, he was a blank slate. The episode he relates of hearing Bob Dylan for the first time in class, and then raising his hand to ask who Dylan is, is heartbreaking, cringe-worthy, and hilarious all at the same time. It reminded me of so many music majors I met in school who dreamed of a career in “Christian music” but who had been sheltered from the vast majority of any kind of music. The only categories of music they knew were “Christian” and “secular” rather than “good” and “bad.”

There are many such “I want to cry and laugh out loud at the same time” moments in Hear No Evil, such as the story of a group of rebels from his church who conspire to arrange a clandestine trip to a (GASP again) Sandi Patty concert, his buying, throwing away, and re-buying (a total of four times) a contraband Amy Grant cassette, his “inspiration” to rewrite George Michael’s “Faith” with Jesus-y lyrics, and many others.  The combination of “this wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t so true” and Matthew’s keen self-awareness and honesty (I found myself repeatedly embarrassed for him) is a winning one.

Read the full review here, aaaaaaand enter to win by June 2.

Short + sweet

January 17, 2010

So a new friend of mine (who claims the only books she’s ever read are The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, and part of Little Women…!!!!!) asked me to draw up a suggested reading list for her. It’s a large task, but also kind of fun in a Dr. Horrible kind of way, because it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting someone who subsequently threw themselves at my feet and begged me to inject them with a literary taste. Think: blank slate. Most interesting. So in the middle of my ginormous list-making mania, I decided to scan a couple of those “books every high school graduate should have read” sort of articles, for inspiration, you know–because apparently she hasn’t read anything she should have read by now, and I don’t want to forget something important and have the weight of the resulting gaps in her patch-up education on me. So anyway, that’s the backup story of how I landed here. I must say, this is one of the most endearing I’ve seen, mainly because of the commentary. Allow me to share the summaries that made me laugh the most…

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Poor and obscure and plain as she is, Mr. Rochester wants to marry her. Illegally.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle: A drug addict chases a ghostly dog across the midnight moors.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: Lily Bart craves luxury too much to marry for love. Scandal and sleeping pills ensue.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells: Bloodsucking Martian invaders are wiped out by a dose of the sniffles.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Out on the winding, windy moors Cathy and Heathcliff become each other’s “souls.” Then he leaves.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Boy meets pawnbroker. Boy kills pawnbroker with an axe. Guilt, breakdown, Siberia, redemption.

“A decidedly bookish, musical, thinking young man”

July 27, 2009

[Exerpted from “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy, first published 1891.]

Some two or three years before Angel’s appearance at the Marlott dance, on a day when he had left school and was pursuing his studies at home, a parcel came to the vicarage from the local bookseller’s, directed to the Reverend James Clare. The vicar, having opened it and found it to contain a book, read a few pages; whereupon he jumped up from his seat and went straight to the shop with the book under his arm.

‘Why has this been sent to my house?’ he asked peremptorily, holding up the volume.

‘It was ordered, sir.’

‘Not by me, or any one belonging to me, I am happy to say.’

The shopkeeper looked into his order-book.

‘Oh, it has been misdirected, sir,’ he said. ‘It was ordered my Mr. Angel Clare, and should have been sent to him.’

Mr. Clare winced as if he had been struck. He went home pale and dejected, and called Angel into his study.

‘Look into this book, my boy,’ he said. ‘What do you know about it?’

‘I ordered it,’ said Angel simply.

‘What for?’

‘To read.’

‘How can you think of reading it?’

‘How can I? Why–it is a system of philosophy. There is no more moral, or even religious, work published.’

‘Yes–moral enough; I don’t deny that. But religious!–and for you, who intend to be a minister of the Gospel!’

‘Since you have alluded to the matter, father,’ said the son, with anxious thought upon his face, ‘I should like to say, once for all, that I should prefer not to take Orders. I fear I could not conscientiously do so. I love the Church as one loves a parent. I shall always have the warmest affection for her. There is no institution for whose history I have a deeper admiration; but I cannot honestly be ordained her minister, as my brothers are, while she refuses to liberate her mind from an untenable redemptive theolatry.’

It had never occurred to the straightforward and simple-minded Vicar that one of his own flesh and blood could come to this! He was stultified, shocked, paralyzed. And if Angel were not going to enter the Church, what was the use of sending him to Cambridge? The University as a step to anything but ordination seemed, to this man of fixed ideas, a preface without a volume. He was a man not merely religious, but devout; a firm believer–not as the phrase is noe elusively construed by theological thimble-riggers in the Church and out of it, but in the old and ardent sens of the Evangelical school: one who could

Indeed opine
That the Eternal and Divine
Did, eighteen centuries ago
In very truth . . .

Angel’s father tried argument, persuasion, entreaty.

‘No, father; I cannot underwrite Article Four (leave alone the rest), taking it “in the literal and grammatical sense” as required by the Declaration; and, therefore, I can’t be a parson in the present state of affairs,’ said Angel. ‘My whole instinct in matters of religion is towards reconstruction; to quote your favourite Epistle to the Hebrews, “the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”‘

His father grieved so deeply that it made Angel quite ill to see him.

‘What is the good of your mother and me economizing and stinting ourselves to give you a University education, if it is not to be used for the honour and glory of God?’ his father repeated.

‘Why, that it may be used for the honour and glory of man, father.’

. . . .

The effects of this decisive debate were not long in showing themselves. He spent years and years in desultory studies, undertakings, and meditations; he began to evince considerable indifference to social forms and observances. The material distinctions of rank and wealth he increasingly despised. Even the ‘good old family’ (to use a favourite phrase of a late local worthy) had no aroma for him unless there were good new resolutions in its representatives.

. . . .

Unexpectedly he began to like the outdoor life for its own sake, and for what it brought, apart from its bearing on his own proposed career. Considering his position he became wonderfully free from the chronic melancholy which is taking hold of the civilized races with the decline of belief in a beneficent Power. For the first time of late years he could read as his musings inclined him, without any eye to cramming for a profession, since the few farming handbooks which he deemed it desirable to master occupied him but little time.

He grew away from old associations, and saw something new in life and humanity. Secondarily, he made close acquaintance with phenomena which he had before known but darkly–the seasons in their moods, morning and evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, trees, waters, and mists, shades and silence, and the voices of inanimate things.

“She began to dream with her eyes open, lifting her face to the wind.”

June 22, 2009

I’d like to introduce you to Chloe Malone. Aside from the obvious attraction, of course the decadently beautiful cover with golden lettering, Chloe’s a real darling. She comes from a family of past wealth, current “almost poverty”–which means pawning heirloom furniture and jewels for the sake of purchasing Chloe expensive new clothes. For the sake of catching her a millionaire husband, who would of course solve all their problems. She doesn’t mind, really, because she’s determined that at any cost she won’t love her husband. She doesn’t believe in love, certainly not as a foundation of marriage. If you don’t care so much, you won’t be so disappointed. And besides, she likes jewels. And silk. And fur. And feathers. So she dutifully goes hubby-hunting according to the wishes of her destitute mother and her rather intimidating godmother, and she finds the perfect fellow for the job.

But Chloe meets a man who tells her that women have no right to live on a husband’s money unless they’re contributing something useful to the world. Good looks count for nothing. She’s “pretty but useless.” Decorative, ornamental. What’s more, he likes to work. He challenges everything, every single ideal, that Chloe was raised on. Chloe starts to think, to read, to question. Her maternal figures express a desire to get her “safely married” before she starts thinking too much, but she continues to study entomology out of library books. Her fiance “laughs indulgently” at her when she’s “being cute” by trying to initiate intelligent conversation, but she holds herself apart and continues to seek knowledge.

Both the feminist movement (“What is the feminist movement?” inquired Mrs. Malone, after a polite semblance of mirth. Chloe blew her mother a kiss. “I may be in it, someday, darlingest. Ask me, then.”) and socialism (“What is this,” he inquired lightly, “a socialist meeting?”) are mentioned by name, and both concepts are threaded throughout the story even when left unnamed. Chloe eventually makes her decision, rejecting the “nets,” the “chains” thrown around her by society and the people who love her: the trap of luxury, the exchange of herself for a comfortable life, the ridiculous gender roles too often reinforced even today. The futility and depression that inevitably accompanies a relationship based on hierarchy. The love of money. (That was the core of living. Not money, not position, not ease, not love-in-idleness, but the man and the woman working together, the utter, unspoken comradeship of the fight, fought shoulder to shoulder…) Basically, I’m just very, very excited to own this little gem. It’s like a subversive piece of important information, disguised as a romance novel for girls, whispering to them that they have choices in life and they shouldn’t let others decide their lives for them. I love to imagine girls reading this, and novels like this, under the nose of their unsuspecting fathers, preparing themselves for their own big jump. It was published in 1916, right in the middle of the suffrage movement. A not-so-subtle story of a woman’s empowerment by way of education and independence. Subversive, subversive! I love subverting culture. :) Look at that deceptively innocent cover! And what’s more, the way it looks inside the cover is this: Fannie Heaslip Lea was actually Fannie Heaslip Agee. The book is dedicated to James J. Lea, presumably her husband, but it’s copyrighted under her own name, Agee. Sounds to me like the publishing company felt they needed to change her name on the cover to her husband’s name so it would sell. Rather like the whole “Hey, you wrote this book but I’m a man and you’re a woman so let’s put my name on the cover in front of yours and say we cowrote it, otherwise it will never sell” concept, rather like the culture of women writers (George Eliot, anyone?) forced to work under cover as a man in order to be published, or even to remain completely anonymous. So the cover says Lea. But she was actually Agee. Hmmm, sounds like a Lucy Stoner to me! :)

Anyway, you can read the whole thing here, if you like!

EDIT: Merci, Michael, for the info. :) I’ve been meaning to look her up, haven’t gotten around to it yet. Haha, I like it even better this way, with her own personal name stamped right on the cover..

chloe malone

chloe malone

Social commentary, Hawthorne style.

June 12, 2009

I’m reading The Scarlet Letter again because I treated it unfairly in high school. I don’t know why; I always liked the story, and I always liked Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am going to assume it was because that was the year we homeschooled one of my friends, and we kind of encouraged each other to be more miserable in school than we really were. Or at least that’s how it was for me. Because I really did like school, particularly anything related to art/literature/history. So I just snagged it at the library and this time I’m treating it the way it deserves to be treated.

Here’s an exerpt from The Custom House, the short story preface:

From the loftiest point of its roof, during precisely three and a half hours of each forenoon, floats or droops, in breeze or calm, the banner of the republic; but with the thirteen stripes turned vertically, instead of horizontally, and thus indicating that a civil, and not a military post of Uncle Sam’s government, is here established*. Its front is ornamented with a portico of half a dozen wooden pillars supporting a balcony, beneath which a flight of wide granite steps descends towards the street. Over the entrance  hovers an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl, she appears, by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive community; and especially to warn all citizens, careful of their safety, against intruding on the premises which she overshadows with her wings. Nevertheless, vixenly as she looks, many people are seeking, at this very moment, to shelter themselves under the wing of the federal eagle; imagining, I presume, that her bosom has all the softness and snugness of an eiderdown pillow. But she has no great tenderness, even in her best of moods, and, sooner or later–oftener soon than late–is apt to fling off her nestlings, with a scratch of her claw, a dab of her beak, or a rankling wound from her barbed arrows.

© The Custom House, 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne

*How ironic that we no longer have any “vertical stripes” or any alternate versions of the American flag outside of history books. I guess our only representation in the world is our military presence. How nice.

“Give me your hand, / Turn out your toe, / All lovers know / The way to go…”

May 1, 2009

A few weeks ago I read the book Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and I think you should all go read it. It’s about the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. I mean it’s about three girls, Bella and Yetta and Jane, all from different backgrounds, who become friends because of the Triangle. There’s symbolism all throughout the book, symbolism about fire, tinder, sparks, escape…symbolism about triangles and the triangle of friends the girls become. I’ll tell you right now (because you learn it at the very beginning of the book, so no spoilers here) that two of the girls die in the fire, and one lives to tell the tale. I’ll also tell you that even though I’ve studied this in history and everything, and even though I was warned from page one, I felt like these girls were (or could have been, or I wished they were) my friends, and I was so devastated to lose them that I cried. 

But really, if you have any interest in women’s rights, workers’ rights, labor unions, the history of industrialism, politics, socialism, capitalism, immigration, safety laws, whatever, you should pick this up at your library or friendly neighborhood bookstore. It’s a YA book, it’s easy reading, other than the obviously tragic subject material, educational, provocative, sensitive, yeah, all that stuff. There’s also an afterword that will help your favorite YA connect the concepts and issues in the book to current equivalents. You know what would be really neat? To raise socially conscious kids and young adults who are passionate about education and about solving the world’s problems. So. Go find it. To spur you onward in your little quest, I’m including the following exerpt…

Jane stood on the threshold and looked back and forth–foyer or study, white marble or dark wood…She felt like she was making a momentous decision. The other time she’d felt this way, deciding to bring Bella home, she’d been impulsive, like someone tossing a coin into the air, letting chance determine her fate. That decision could have gone either way. This time, Jane wanted to be sure she knew what she was doing.

She swallowed hard and stepped forward, into her father’s study.

“I have not fallen in with a dangerous, socialist crowd,” she said. “What they say is true. Those girls don’t make enough money. And their bosses have paid off the police and other…other thugs to beat them up. It isn’t right.”

Father blew out a thin stream of smoke.

“Girls shouldn’t bewalking the picket line,” he said. “For that matter, they shouldn’t be working in factories.”

“What would you have them do to survive?” Jane asked.

Father was rifling through papers, lifting them from one stack into another.

“Their fathers or brothers or husbands should take care of them,” he said, without even looking up.

“What if they don’t have fathers or brothers or husbands?” Jane asked. She was thinking of the Italian girl, Bella. But something caught in her throat, a cry twisted. “What if that was me?”

Father slammed his hand down on his stack of papers.

“For heaven’s sake, Jane, this is ridiculous!” he fumed. “You would never be in a situation like those girls. They’re not like you. I’m not sure what stories they’ve told you to get your sympathy, but I can assure you, it’s really none of your business and probably mostly lies, besides. They’re very calculating, those Jews.”

“They’re not all Jewish,” Jane said. “They’re Italian, Irish–”

“Immigrants,” Father said, biting down on his cigar. His lip curled up in disgust.

“Some are Americans!” Jane said. “And anyhow, I’ve seen the police beating them, it’s not just stories I’ve heard–I’ve seen it with my own eyes! The girls are doing nothing more than walk around, and they get punched and kicked…and they’re girls!”

Father smashed his cigar down into the ashtray Mrs. O’Malley slipped onto his desk before tiptoeing back out.

“It’s unfortunate that there are girls involved,” Father said. “But that’s how it is in business. It’s not some polite little game of croquet. Why, I’ve hired strikebreakers myself.

Strikebreakers, Jane thought dizzily. The people beating up the strikers. In her mind she could see fists hitting faces, heads jerking back, bodies crumbling to the ground. My own father would hire such cretins, arrange such attacks?

“When?” she asked, through lips that felt strangely numb.

Father wave his cigar at her impatiently.

“You were a baby,” he said, in a tone that implied she was a baby still, in terms of what she knew about the world.

“Did…did Mother know?”

“What does it matter?” Father said. “It had to be done. If I’d let the union in, let the workers take control of my factory, I’d have been ruined. It’s a battlefield out there, and only the strong can survive. You better be glad I hired strikebreakers, young lady, because otherwise we wouldn’t have any of this.” His gesture took in the dark wood paneling of his study, the marble floor of the foyer, the servants waiting outside the door. “I can assure you, you wouldn’t have such nice dresses.”

Jane looked down at her frothy dress, a sea of ruffles and frills.

“Then I don’t want them,” Jane said. She tore at the collar of the dress, but that was ridiculous–this dress was so complicated it usually took both a maid and Miss Milhouse to get her in and out of it. And would she really want to be standing there in front of her father in her under-things?

His money paid for my under-things too….

“I don’t want anything your money buys, if that’s how you got it!” Jane yelled. “Hiring strikebreakers, hurting people, probably starving them too–”

“Oh, please, Jane,” Father huffed. “That’s how the world works! Some people are rich and some are poor, and by God, if I can be on the rich side, that’s where I’m going to stand! Would you have us all living in hovels, wearing sackcloth and ashes, eating gruel? That’s what the socialists want. They’d pull everyone down to their level if they could–”

But Jane had already whirled away from him. Blindly, she darted out the study door, out the front door…Mr. Corrigan was standing in the driveway by the car, brushing snow from the windshield.

“Please!” Jane shouted at him, sliding into the backseat. “You have to take me to…” Where could she go? Somehwere away from this house, away from her father.

Mr. Corrigan glanced nervously back at the house, at the huge windows staring out at them, where anyone could be watching.

“I’m sorry, miss,” he said. “I’m not allowed.”

“Fine!” Jane shouted. “Be that way!” Her father’s tainted money had bought the car, too, and Mr. Corrigan’s services. She slipped back out into the snow, slamming the car door behind her. She began stomping off down the snowy driveway.

“Wait!” Mr. Corrigan called. “You don’t have your coat!”

Jane shrugged, and kept going.

“Then”–Mr. Corrigan chased after her and placed one of the lap blankets from the car around her shoulders– “at least wear this!”

Jane knew she should shove it down in the snow, because her father’s money had bought the lap blanket, just like everything else. But it was warm around her shoulders, and it made her feel a solidarity with Bella, who’d also huddled in a blanket in her moment of tragedy: Bella had lost her entire family, and now Jane had to break away from her father, because he was an evil, evil man.

Jane tramped through the snow, past mansions and monstrous estates. Some of them were houses she’d always admired and secretly envied, but now when she glanced toward the twists of wrought-iron gates she thought she saw the twisted faces of workers who’d toiled and starved just so the industrialists could have a fine gate. It was like seeing the grimy enginge beneath the car’s gleaming exterior: Suddenly she could see how all the glitter and elegance, all the excess and opulence, had been built on the backs of workers like Bella and Yetta, workers calling out for justice.

And workers like Mr. Corrigan trying to support seven children on twenty-five dollars a week, because that’s all my father pays him.

So my parents obviously haven’t hired people to beat up union members, and we’re middle, not upper class, but I’ve been having some epiphanies of my own, and I’m coming to the same place, the same realizations as Jane and I feel a really strong connection with her. I know what it’s like to reject that I somehow deserve to be well-off while others starve and die of preventable diseases and work in sweatshops, and I know what it’s like to be ridiculed and insulted for believing something different, namely that other people are as valuable as you and I. If you agree, or if you disagree but are interested just the same, or if you’re coming to realizations of your own, I seriously recommend this book to thee. Ha, I feel like Reading Rainbow. Long live Reading Rainbow! <3