Friday, July 9, 2010

In the Company of Women Writers

The other day, I had to take four loads of laundry to the laundromat in town (we have a rust issue we're trying to resolve at home and I'm sick of ruining perfectly good clothes with rust stains, hence the laundromat visit).  While waiting for the clothes to wash, I thumbed through an old issue of Down East magazine (THE magazine of Maine, so they say) and ran across a short article about a writing collection at the University of New England in Portland, the Maine Women Writers Collection.

I was immediately intrigued.  In graduate school, I did quite a bit of research on women's writings (most very early British writers), and I am especially enthralled with their private, unpublished writings.  In fact, I'd like to do more research in that vein.  Whenever I have a few free minutes.

This collection houses more than 6000 volumes of works, but also includes "correspondence, photographs, personal papers, manuscripts, typescripts, artifacts, and audiorecordings that provide insight into the lives and writing of both well-known and obscure authors."  Of particular interest to someone like me are the "unpublished materials (such as) travel journals, diaries, correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, artwork, material culture, memorabilia, artists' books, and children's literature."  That these women over the centuries took the time and effort to record their thoughts, experiences, opinions, and imaginings, most without a thought of publishing amazes me.  And their writings give us a vivid look at life in their times.

Consider Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Pulitzer-prize winning A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, which details Mrs. Ballard's life and work experiences in Maine.  Not merely a presentation of Ballard's diary, the book also includes Dr. Ulrich's exegesis of the manuscript.  Since it's a scholarly work of social history and not a novel, the book reads as such; don't expect a Philippa Gregory-type work set in New England.  I found it fascinating.

It seems to me that we women blogographers (thanks, Jamie, at See Jamie Blog, for that wonderful term!) are following in the footsteps of women who went before us.  Our blogs are our diaries, our thoughts, our opinions, and our imaginings; but we differ in that we are fortunate enough to be able to fling them out in the universe for others to read, comment on, think about, and either accept or reject or mold to fit their own perceptions.  We are not constricted by social mores, nor are we stifled by an overwhelmed and restrictive publishing industry.  Blogging is open to all.  What a blessing and privilege.

Sarah Orne Jewett, one of the women writers highlighted in the Maine Women Writers Collection, penned:  "The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper -- whether little or great, it belongs to Literature."  That is certainly so for women of her generation and earlier; for us, all we need is access to a computer and some thoughts, and not necessarily those thoughts that have "teased our minds for years," either.

The common denominator, then, besides a burning desire to write, between us and our writing forbears is time.  They made time to write, whether for themselves, their families and friends, or a wider audience.  We make time now.

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