Sunday, April 10, 2005

Motherhood under review

The Washington Post reviews a couple books on motherhood and in so doing provides a summary of momoirs and manuals so popular in recent years.

Katherine Ellison in The Mommy Brain
expounds upon her theory of how the experience of conceiving and rearing a child creates neural enhancements in mothers in five areas: perception, efficiency, resiliency, motivation and emotional intelligence. Some of her theses make intuitive sense (you don't need to read about the dissection of rats' cortical areas to know about the greater efficiency of mothers; just ask yourself how many of the working mothers you know actually use their lunch hour to eat lunch); and the scientific research behind some of her other assertions is persuasive (particularly in the sections on perception and resiliency). One of Ellison's great strengths is that she doesn't shrink from acknowledging that many employers aren't going to care how "baby-boosted" a woman's brain is: They're still not going to want to accommodate the flexible, truncated or office-unfriendly hours that many people — women and, increasingly, men — want after they become parents.


Margaret Drabble recently wrote about Amber Reeves, best known (I'd never heard of her) as HG Wells's mistress.
She seems to have taken an active part in the relationship, and her sexually assertive behaviour links her more to the concept of the "New Woman" and to the "Life Force" proposed by Bernard Shaw than to the stereotype of the betrayed maiden. In 1909 she had spoken on women's suffrage in the debating society at Morley College, and a few weeks later on the question of free will, initiating, according to the club's secretary, "the best discussion we ever had". She was more combative than passive in her approach to the world. One of her close friends, who provided her with a hideaway during her pregnancy, was the celebrated feminist actress and writer Elizabeth Robins, author of the influential play Votes for Women! (1907), which shows much sympathy with the plight of the unmarried mother.


Her novels dealt with women's education, domestic finance, patriarchal authority, and a woman's need for a room of her own.

Drabble connects some dots between Reeves and Virginia Woolf and also Doris Lessing (specifically her story "To Room Nineteen").

I am these days very much compelled to read about having a room of my own.

Recently I read Babyville, by Jane Green, and I loved it. Some review of it somewhere a very long time ago must've struck a chord with me for me to have jotted the title down and kept my eyes open for it.

In three parts, it's about three women and their relationships with life, the universe, and everything, but primarily about their relationships to motherhood and how it fits inside the context of a romantic relationship (or lack thereof) and real life (that is, a career). All unique situations, I could relate to aspects of all of them, in intense self-recognizing ways — the weirdness of having found myself months' pregnant and in a completely different life than I'd imagined only weeks earlier, and this situation supplanting all concerns over career direction, identity (and the occasional lapses therein, bespeaking a desire to go find myself), and the nature of love (and how it evidenced itself or not in our daily cohabitation).

(Why is it that all Brit-chicklit heroines work in television?)

I thought I'd been smart and made some notes while I read, at least jotted down some page numbers or dogeared choice leaves. It seems I did not. I suspect that I did in fact bookmark key passages with metro transfer tickets, of which I keep a stash in my purse, and I'm reminded that Helena was exuberant in unpacking from our vacation and likely found the book and let fall (by which I mean "violently shook out") the markers to the floor. Indeed this is corroborated by the missing stash in my purse and my memory of cleaning up a puddle of dirty, bent, ripped transfers a couple days ago.

No enlightenment to be found in this book, but solace in a common experience, lightly told, even if the dialogue toward the end sounds trite in trying to sum it all up. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and might even look up this author next time I need something light and easy to pass the time.

I might add that the novel put me in mind of the world of mommy blogging — the relief in recognizing yourself, knowing you're not alone, and learning that these women are so much more than mere mothers.

3 comments:

GaelicGrl said...

I always pick up that book in the shop, consider and then replace it. I might yet read it. If I ever read again :)

I can definitely relate to the whole surprise of motherhood: there I was going about my married, as-yet-childless life when someone said, "Please raise my baby for me."

Nothing could have prepared me for it. To go from finding yourself to finding yourself with a baby is remarkable and amazing.

My brain is ordered differently now, somehow. If I ever get a chance to figure out in what way, I'll definitely post an entry.

Isabella said...

Coincidentally, Bookslut this morning writes "Babyville is an offensively awful book that took Jane Green probably all of a week to write." It's not Great Literature, but I still think it's fun and found a lot to relate to.

Suzanne said...

I'll take your assessment over Bookslut's any day.