Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: domesticity, elizabeth forsythe hailey, epistolary, feminism, independence, revisited reviews, woman of independent means
The first time I read Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s A Woman of Independent Means I was a sophomore in high school and read it with other members of a book club. At the time I greatly enjoyed the book. Trying to relax my brain from schoolwork I picked it up again the other afternoon but found the book a bit more problematic on the second reading. Hailey wanted to write a book about a woman finding her independence and as her husband assured her that a woman going out to find her independence was a dried up story line, he encouraged her to write a book about a woman finding her independence within a domestic setting. The book is largely based off of her grandmother, in epistolary format, and takes place from 1899 to 1968.
If A Woman of Independent Means is meant to achieve an understanding of a woman in a domestic setting and her independence I fear it fails greatly. The main character Elizabeth has two marriages, which both are largely unhappy and the only money she has is a result of her mother’s death and the fact that another man made financial decisions for her even though they were against her wishes. She does travel abroad a lot, which seems to imply that a woman cannot find independence within a domestic setting. She has three children who in later life reject her for smothering them (though amends are made before she dies) and she never really seems to do anything. An interesting read but quite the damming story of the domestic experience.
I’m still confused at the intentions of this book expressed in the author’s forward and the story produced by the end of the book. Can women find independence in a domestic setting? It’s a great question and Hailey, or at least her husband, believes it can work out. But Elizabeth, the character, only seems to discover dependency on her parents, the men in her life, and her children. An interesting contrast to this is the sister who takes in and raises the main character of Allende’s Daughter of Fortune – a woman who anonymously publishes erotica and leads the social influence of her group.