Wenn du geredet hättest, Desdemona (published in English as “Desdemona – If You Had Only Spoken“) by Christine Brückner in 1983 was another book I picked as a side-read to my Will’s World (Shakespeare) project. I started to read it on finishing Othello, whose wife, Desdemona, get to speak her mind in one of Brückner’s pieces collected in this book.
Other notable women who get to tell their side of the story in this collection are Effie Briest, Katharina Luther, Christiane von Goethe, Gudrun Ensslin, and a character from Lysistrata. There are more, of course.
I rather enjoyed this collection. having read a lot of works recently that gave voices to famous women in literature such as Natalie Haynes A Thousand Ships, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, or Madeleine Miller’s Circe, I was both delighted and frustrated to see that Brückner had similar complaints about literature and history ignoring the women in the lives of famous men.
Plus ca change.
My other main read this weekend was Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood, Youth, Dependency (2001 but originally written in three installments between 1967 and 1971). A good friend recommended the book last year and when the Around the World Reading Project came up this book made it to the top of my list to read for Denmark.
Only 5 chapters into the book, I could already tell that this was not going to be a happy read, but I was intrigued by the writing and by Tove’s story. The book is a memoir of the author’s own life. The first part, Childhood, was particularly bleak:
“I know every person has their own truth just as every child has their own childhood. My mother’s truth is completely different from my father’s truth, but it’s just as obvious as the fact that he has brown eyes while hers are blue. Fortunately, things are set up so that you can keep quiet about the truths in your heart; but the cruel, gray facts are written in the school records and in the history of the world and in the law and in the church books. No one can change them and no one dares to try, either – not even the Lord, whose image I can’t separate from Prime Minister Stauning’s, even though my father says that I shouldn’t believe in the Lord since the capitalists have always used Him against the poor.”
You know what this book reminded me of? Angela’s Ashes. Just without the cheerful / hopeful Irish optimism.
It was like all of the people that inhabit Ditlevsen’s childhood were prisoners of their own circumstances and there is no way out.
There was one particular quote that summed up the first part of the book: “No one can change them and no one dares to try, either […]”.
It’s like these people could really do with a bit of joy in their lives but are dead set on denying that to either themselves or others. Or both.
Fortunately, the second and even third parts of the book were less depressing, even tho, Dependency is no easy read either.
I really loved the writing. It’s what kept me glued to the book. It was clear, without any pretensions of literary grandeur, and quite honest, even if that makes the mc/author look quite naive at times.
But then, part of the book, I feel, is about how lack of communication, lack of education, just lack of knowledge of the world just does not equip people to live in the world, and yet life goes on.
Still, the glimpse into Tove’s life and society in Copenhagen at the time (between the late 1920s and up to early 1940s) have been fascinating.
Lastly, I finished Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian (1957).
Russell is one of my authors for the (Mostly) Dead Writers Society’s Literary Bithday Challenge this month. I have long been intrigued by the man but have only ever read snippets and short articles and the occasional essay of his work.
Why I Am Not a Christian was both amusing and insightful but some of the essays could have done with a little more elaboration for my benefit.
Still, I feel I got to know Russell much better already: his style of writing, his thinking, and his outlook on life. And I definitely want to read more by him.
I also started reading another collection of his essays titled What I Believe, which is a complementary work to Why I Am Not a Christian.
Other reviews posted this week:
Annie Haynes: The Abbey Court Murder
What I Believe – Bertrand Russell
Lavinia – Ursula K. LeGuin
Flights – Olga Tokarczuk
Murder in Piccadilly – Charles Kingston
Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson – Laura Beers
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works – William Shakespeare (see The Will’s World Project)