The Invention of Wings…& more

This regulation of duty by the mere circumstances of sex, rather by than the fundamental principle of moral being…has robbed woman of essential rights, the right to think and speak and act on all great moral questions… (321, Rossi).”

At a meeting of the TPBS* I avidly listened to my peers – their book likes and dislikes, as I needed desperately a break from the dark and brooding Scandinavian mysteries which I have come to rely upon for escape.

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, was one title that peaked my interest for two reasons: one, I enjoyed both previous titles, The Mermaid Chair and The Secret Life of Bees; lastly, I was familiar with the Grimké sisters struggles as abolitionists, but more as feminists. So, to the book.

Told in alternating chapters and from the perspectives of Sarah Grimké and her slave, Handful, history is presented with personal and fictional slants. There is no doubt that Kidd has done her research and again, no doubt that she takes an incredibly complex pile of issues to create stories of these women’s lives against the backdrop of their early years as children and young women. As Handful’s mother struggles to create her quilt, one could say that Kidd mimics this here. She pieces history with fiction that lacks the authentic well from which characters actions and words are drawn. She knows what she strives for an the author, but only the surface image is at the forefront. For me, it lacks depth. A depth of story that she has previously imbued into her other characters – in other novels.

I tried to look at my own criticisms fairly, as I am not known to be unbiased, but rather an opinionated soul. I think what most astonished me was her “Author’s Notes.” Here, she states, “How could I have not heard of them?” This one statement. How indeed! How could not a woman of my generation not have heard of these two women who were so far ahead of the 1960-1970 Feminist Movement? Not heard of these women who were so well educated and erudite on slavery and the topic of gender discrimination? How could this woman not know HER herstory?  I was left speechless – which is saying something. I ruminated on these all night to decipher why – why is this that women’s history is STILL not a part of standard American history taught in every curriculum, mandated by every state, tested by every conceivable organization? Do students where I teach know of these women and their importance?

In 1977 I received a graduate degree in the new field of Women’s Studies (noted on my actual paper degree as “Special Studies” signed by two men who were the head of the prestigious institution). I pursued this degree out of sheer obstinacy as the larger world could care less about my story.  Yet, I did it. I was young. I was angry. I became educated about the Grimké sisters and more. I became educated about my self.

So, this is a long-winded way to opine that if you must ask yourself, “Who are Grimke sisters?”  – by all means read this novel. BUT, do not stop there. Read the original words. Read The Feminist Papers: from Adams to de Beauvoir. Know your herstory. Come to know what it is you can own due to other women – their sacrifices, their heartaches, their intellects – and what you have yet to work toward not only for other women, but the larger world.

*Takoma Park Book Share group

Kidd, Sue Monk. The Invention of Wings. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Rossi, Alice S., ed. The Feminist Papers: From Adams to de Beauvoir. Columbia University Press, 1973.


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