The raging and consuming fire of a passionate nature constrained
My goodness I had forgotten just what a shocking, powerful, deeply felt and beautifully written book this is. I had been reading and reviewing the excellent Mrs Lincoln which reminded me of this book, which I read nearly 20 years ago. Both books examine how a passionate, unusual and intelligent woman at the tail end of the 19th or early 20th century could be stultified, pilloried and incarcerated because they couldn’t fit into the prescribed norms for women. The lack of any outlet for passionate engagement in life except marriage and motherhood – and even that, within fairly harsh prescriptions, coupled with a tendency to deep thinking, deep feeling, – created the terrain for huge conflict and probable explosion.
Both books are either about real individuals and their real stories (Mrs Lincoln) or based on a real case, as here.
Schaeffer writes like an angel, and her exploration of ‘dysfunction’ within a family traces back within 3 generations, and is full of insight. Perhaps it is truer to say that she suggests that the ‘dysfunction’ is not purely within the family, more within a society which didn’t allow women expression of their potential. To be feisty, ornery, opinionated, questioning, full of sexual desire just didn’t do.
This is the sort of book it is really hard to read sitting still, for a long period of time. The desire to stay reading the book battles with the palpably dynamic creation of Agnes, (the ‘mad’ seduced woman) and her rich vitality. The power of Schaeffer’s writing seems to demand the book is read whilst performing vigorous exercise, so great is her ability to make Agnes alive and pent up with feeling. Though this is a book about huge issues, and written with great intelligence, Schaeffer is a real, visceral, practical writer, who inhabits and feels the world she describes – so we inhabit and feel it too
The book’s first chapter, describing a deeply graphic account of livestock farming in a rural homestead sets the scene well for the conflicting passions which will power the book forward. Schaeffer has a fabulous ability to turn concepts into powerful and memorable images
Today, some women are beginning to talk of the body as if it were a mousetrap waiting to spring shut on the mind, and I suppose the body is like that, but the mind is there too, waiting to spring on the body. If I ever painted the inside of the human mind, this is how I would paint it : two lions, equally strong, ready to spring at each other’s throats and tear one another apart
I think this book is equal in stature and power to Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace Which no doubt I’m also going to re-read.