March is Women’s History Month, so we’re talking women’s novels today. Novels by women, about women, from the viewpoint of real historical figures.
I’m pretty sure we’re living in a Golden Age of amazing autobiographical fiction about women’s lives. So many of the books being written these days are meticulously researched and emotionally authentic.
In recent years, we’ve had…
- the remarkable novels by Melanie Benjamin — The Aviator’s Wife, about Anne Morrow Lindbergh and The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about the women in Truman Capote’s social circle
- Paula McLain’s glorious Circling the Sun, about Berle Markham
- Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, about Mamah Borthwick
And a spate of fictionalized memoirs told from the viewpoint of First Ladies:
- Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, about Laura Bush
- Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon, about Pat Nixon
- Amy Bloom’s White Houses, about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok
The thing I love about these novels is that they allow us to get into the person’s head in a way that feels believable, based on what I know of each of the subjects. (I would’ve bailed if I’d’ve thought the author got it wrong.)
And then a reading map can take us to the actual biographies or autobiographies, and the nonfiction about the times when the person lived. It can really be a lovely thing.
I’m susceptible to this kind of thing: I’m in the midst of the second Berle Markham spree of my young life. I just finished Circling the Sun and am about to embark on a re-read of her memoir West with the Night. If I were super ambitious, I’d also read Mary Lovell’s Markham biography Straight on Till Morning, plus Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa and re-watch the movie. And then this historic aviation line could loop me right back to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and then on to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and then I’d be soaring above the clouds.
This is happiness, my friends.
What great fictional biographies would you add to this list?