American Feminism: A White Heron by Sarah Orne Jewett and The Walking Woman by Mary Austin

Hi Everyone!

I just want to start by telling you all that I’ve changed the frequency of my blog posts so that I’m now uploading every Wednesday. It’s really difficult to find time to blog sometimes but I’m hoping that if I keep a strict routine, I’ll be able to devote more time to it. So look out for posts every Wednesday – they should be up by the evening 🙂
Today I’m writing two reviews in one because they’re both really short stories that I read last week. The first is Sarah Orne Jewett’s A White Heron.


The book follows the story of a small girl called Sylvia (or Sylvy for short) who goes to fetch her cow in the woods one day and comes across a male stranger. Now it does have that fairytale quality of stumbling across the unexpected and then this later becoming something quite beautiful, but I think that was one of the things that I really liked about it. It’s quite an unusual story, particularly when we’re told of Sylvy being vaguely thrilled by a dream of love. She’s clearly a young girl, probably not even in to her teens at the point of the story; yet she has this slight attraction to the stranger that gives the story an unthinkable twist. The clash of the fairytale quality – the whole thing is reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood – with the subtly alluded to mutual attraction between Sylvy and the young sportsman is just really different and by extension, very interesting.
The male/female relations in this text are constantly shifting, with different roles being assumed all the time. Sylvy is at first, the innocent little girl just doing work for her grandmother. But by the time she is pursuing the white heron and clawing her way up the tree, she becomes bird-like, which has closer associations to masculinity than it does to femininity. We’ve also got the male, who speaks of being able to provide for Sylvy and her grandmother, placing him within the role of the quintessential breadwinner. But then when he can’t find the bird and he needs Sylvy’s help, there is a very noticeable shift in dependency – he is now relying on her. 
The white heron itself plays a symbolic role in the text – as I’m sure you could have guessed. I was a little confused as to what it was supposed to stand for at first, but in retrospect, I think I’ve got the idea. But I’m not going to tell you because that would ruin it 😉 Overall I found it to be quite a nice little story and very easy to read.

The second book I’m reviewing is Mary Austin’s The Walking Woman, which follows a kind of search for answers about this famous walking woman. The walking woman is this really enigmatic figure in the text that everybody talks about but nobody really knows a whole lot about. All they know for sure is that she loves to walk and so they call her Mrs. Walker. The story chases the speaker’s conversations with her to try and understand who she is and what she is about.
This idea of the enigmatic woman is particularly feminist in it’s context, because the story was written at a time where the identity of women was under much dispute. People were beginning to challenge the domestic notion of womanhood and women’s suppression by male patriarchy as a defining element of femininity in society. Now I don’t like to call myself a Feminist, because I know that a ton of negative implications can come with that label and also because I’m not a massive advocate or follower of women’s rights. But I do have a certain passion when it comes to women being self-sufficient and I would say that Mrs. Walker definitely showed glimmers of self-sufficiency in this text. Although you can tell that she had been restrained, to some extent, at one point or another by male patriarchy (particularly in relation to Filon’s character), you can also tell that it hadn’t made her weak at all. I definitely appreciated her sense of freedom and self assuredness. She really knew what she was doing and why she was doing it – the mystery of womanhood was not internal, it was external; in the sense that she knew what it meant to be a woman in her own right, it was just those around her that didn’t fully understand.

I’ve given them both a 4/5 rating because they were both enjoyable stories, easy to read and very interesting. For anyone who wants to uncover more abstract ideas about feminism during the turn of women’s right, I would definitely recommend these two books. Other texts can be a lot more abundant – for example The Bloody Chamber just screams feminism at every turn and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women is very overtly feminist. These two texts are a lot more subtle.  

So that’s my feminism in american literature post all over with. My posts recently have been really study-orientated but I am currently reading City of Glass (and lovin it!) so I’ll be getting back to my fantasy/young adult book reviews really soon.
Thanks for reading!

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