If You Liked x, Read y: Historical Fiction Heroines Edition
May 21, 2019
Heroines after our own hearts: the protagonists in A.J. Pearce’s Dear Mrs. Bird and Hannah Moscovitch's
What a Young Wife Ought to Know (Playwrights Canada Press) are the kind of women we admire, the ones who don't let society dictate their desires. Jessica Lewis at Playwrights Canada Press lays it out for us, telling us why What a Young Wife Ought to Know is the fierce follow-up to A.J. Pearce's novel.
It’s still a recent concept that women can openly ask for help. Just a few decades ago, it was taboo in western culture to admit to wanting a divorce, not wanting any more children, or wanting sexual advice. I wouldn’t say we’ve reached a total comfort zone in 2019, but we’ve at least gone past the common tsk-tsk reaction.
In A.J. Pearce’s Dear Mrs. Bird, a young woman named Emmy is hoping to become a Lady War Correspondent in London, 1940. She responds to a job ad thinking it was for just that, but ends up in typing conservative replies for a women’s magazine’s advice column. Her boss Mrs. Bird declares that any unpleasant letters must go straight to the bin. Turns out there were plenty of letters from lonely women, women who may have gone "too" far with the "wrong" men, or are having trouble with what’s expected of them during the war. Pearce’s novel is poignant, relatable, and heartwarming.
I was reminded of Dear Mrs. Bird when preparing for Hannah Moscovitch’s play What a Young Wife Ought to Know. The play takes place in Ottawa in the 1920s, before birth control is legalized. A young working-class girl named Sophie falls madly in love with her sister’s suitor, and eventually marries him. After two difficult childbirths, doctors tell Sophie she shouldn’t have any more children, but don’t tell her how to prevent it. I also knew that Moscovitch was inspired to write this play after reading two books of real letters—Dear Dr. Stopes: Sex in the 1920s and Maternity: Letters From Working Women edited by Margaret Llewelyn Davis. Reading these stories, we know they’re in the past, and yet the voices still have such a relatable echo. Both Emmy in Dear Mrs. Bird and Sophie in What a Young Wife Ought to Know clearly know what’s really right and wrong, and rise above their society’s conventions. So if you’re looking for another historical fiction heroine to root for, check out What a Young Wife Ought to Know.
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Thanks so much to Jessica at Playwrights Canada Press for sharing What a Young Wife Ought to Know as the perfect follow-up to Dear Mrs. Bird. What a Young Wife Ought to Know is available June 4, but you can
preorder it now.
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