Marilyn French

Renowned feminist author Marilyn French passed away this month at age 79. She is best remembered for her novel The Women’s Room (1977).

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I remember reading The Women’s Room when I was entirely too young (9 or 10!), simply because it was in the enormous family bookcase, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, and some of it was very, very interesting, if ultimately confusing. I first read this book as an adult in my early twenties; I don’t remember much of this reading, although my mother claims that I said it had nothing to do with my life. (Digression: in fairness, I should say that although I believed in feminism at that time, I was afraid of the title of “feminist” with its unfairly embarrassing cultural connotations, and called myself a humanist. Today? Feminist all the way, baby.)

I am now reading The Women’s Room for the third time, as a full-fledged adult sliding quickly toward middle age. I don’t know what I will take away from it this time, but this passage, about the character Mira’s youthful experiences, stands out:

Later, much later, she would remember these years, and realize with astonishment that she had, by fifteen, decided on most of the assumptions she would carry for the rest of her life: that people were essentially not evil, that perfection was death, that life was better than order, and a little chaos good for the soul. Most important, this life was all. Unfortunately, she forgot these things, and had to remember them the hard way.