Suffrage, Loneliness and a Touch of Irony: Reading Note 21 and Observation Note 56

Reading Note 21: Alone. As memoirs on reading are wont to do, Vivian Gornick’s Unfinished Business is sending me down many rabbit holes, seeking her references so I can read deeper, to understand her with more context*. Gornick in her discussion of the trajectory of women’s rights comes across Elizabeth Cady Stanton who had been the President for the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association in the late 19th century. I took a moment tonight to listen to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s non-fiction essay The Solitude of Self, this essay was her last public speech before standing down from her position. Gornick writes that Stanton had become incredibly lonely because the “fight for suffrage had grown steadily more conservative”. This loneliness though gave Stanton clarity and understanding about the human condition and what it means to be alone even if you are in a deep relationship. Alone giving birth, alone in the world, alone when you die. She says that “the solitude of the King on his throne and the prisoner in his cell differs in character and degree but it is solitude nevertheless” and she stresses how necessary it is for women to have the tools and skills and knowledge to manage their lives and not to lean into their husbands so much that if they are alone they cannot move forward. 

Observation Note 56: Suffrage. I take a moment to think about both Gornick and Stanton. Their feminist ideology was echoed to me from a young age by my father who insisted that we (his four daughters) study and work and be completely independent. I remember how he would always size up our male friends and ask them cringe-worthy questions about their life plans (despite our insistence to him that they were friends and not love-interests). One of our friends was training to be a doctor and dad spent a good hour talking to him (whereas we had left the room as we got rather bored by their conversation). The moment our friend left, Dad turned to us and said (I’m paraphrasing) “I certainly hope none of you are interested in that young man. He told me that he wants a university educated wife but once they marry he doesn’t want her to work, she will need to stay at home and clean and cook for him. Keep away from such men”.

Great vetting skills from my dad. I feel like he may have read Elizabeth Cady Stanton in his own reading journeys.

*I am well aware of the irony of seeking depth in light of my Shallowreader moniker. But hey – I grew up singing along to snowy, cold Christmas songs in the midst of stinking hot summers. I embrace my contradictions. 

There is a copy of The Solitude of Self available on Project Gutenberg, however I cheated and listened to the LibriVox Youtube recording while I washed the dishes. Even the staunchest feminist needs to clean up at the end of the night.

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