If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Having A Heroine

Growing up I had several role models or people I considered my personal heroines.  I started with Elizabeth I (I had lofty aims as a young child), moved on to Amelia Earhart and then Jane Goodall. Once I realized I would never truly be an adventurer, I found Virginia Woolf.  All of these women had attributes I admired and wanted to emulate but I didn't identify closely with any one of them. These days there are many women I admire (famous or otherwise) but I don't actively search out role models or heroines.

Our next book for BB&B is Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton.  It is a novel with Tamsen Donner (of Donner Party fame) as the protagonist.  I am vacationing at the beach this weekend and plan on consuming it.  Gabrielle Burton has another book out now, part memoir/part history, that I have just finished in preparation for Impatient With Desire.

In Searching for Tamsen Donner, Burton provides details of a family trip she took across the country in 1977 with her husband and five daughters.  Tamsen Donner had five daughters and took them on a journey across the country.  Burton, in order to research the novel she was writing on Tamesen Donner, decided to do the same.  It is an interesting read.  Burton supplies a lot of historical facts about the Donner Party and Tamesen Donner.  She also describes her conflicts as a writer and a mother and a feminist in a time when women weren't all that.  Tamsen Donner not only became a pioneer and took her family on an adventure but in her earlier life she was a teacher and a solo traveler in a time when women just didn't do all that.

Tamsen Donner is Burton's heroine and role model.  Burton identifies with Donner in a way I can't quite imagine.  She spends over 20 years writing a novel that she will never publish.  She, and her family, live with Tamsen Donner throughout the trip and for most of their lives together as a family.  It is a story of admiration, of eras now past, and of family.  The cannibalism was the least of it.

Burton on family:

"The nicest husbands and children will eat you up alive if you offer yourself on the plate, and they will ask for seconds."

At the end of the book she publishes the 15 of Tamsen Donner's letters that have survived.  All were to her sister.

Donner on adventure:

"I do not regret nor shall I the fatigue expense nor embarrassment to which I have subjected myself.  My heart is big with hope and impatient with desire.  And this day needful for rest finds me agitated & restless.  The past & present is swallowed up by the future.  I believe I am not influenced by the love of novelty for passionately fond as I am of scenery I have learned to look almost with disgust upon that which in other circumstances would have delighted me.  Happy am I to be enabled to hide my feelings so successfully as cause many I meet to wish to be in my situation."

The novel Burton was working on during her family travels thad two protagonists, Tamsen Donner in 1846 and a fictional woman in the 1970s, traveling the same road.  Although she never published that novel, this book tells the same tale.

Tamsen Donner kept a journal throughout her travels.  It was never recovered.  The novel Burton did published is her rendition of that journal.  I can't wait to read it.


Annie said...

Hi Brigindo,

I followed the links and read the reviews. I'm interested in hearing what you and your book club thinks of the books, and how the novel compares with the memoir.

When I was a teenager, I read a biography on Joan Baez. I identified with her. I can't really think of too many heroes, though, other than female songwriters and performers. Music was important to me, and I identified with the emotion in the voices and the lyrics. I think it's good I listened to so many women as well as men. I never thought about their influence in terms of feminism, but listening to them was empowering.

Julie said...

Both books sound fascinating. I especially love learning about pioneer women, who are often forgotten in history. Burton also sounds like an interesting person and writer. Thank you for the information.

Drax said...
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