Yesterday was International Women’s Day. It reminded me how far we’ve come as women in the west even since I was a girl. But we should not rest on our laurels just yet because if we do, we may so easily slip in to that abyss of oppression. The habits of thousands of lifetimes are hard to break.
That is why I choose to write about the lives of women under oppression. The Pleasure Gardener’s Companion is historical fiction, but it could as easily be a story about a woman in the third world today. Such conditions continue to prevail. You have only to read Half the Sky to know it’s true.
My character Susan Kirke is 16 when she rebels against her parents and marries a man who is foreign to them– a Scottish Presbyterian gardener. In the 18th century, women of her class did not marry for love; their marriages were arranged by their parents. She should have married someone of her own religion, nationality and class. Of course her parents disowned her. They could not acknowledge a son-in-law who had been little better than a servant in their household.
Susan must have been very much in love and very brave to take such a step. One can see her rebellion as part of the revolutionary fervour of her time. During her lifetime, both the American and the French Revolutions took place, and she must have been effected by the spirit of equality that prevailed.
However, it was also a foolhardy act. In her society, women were considered to be property that was transferred from father to husband. So when she married, she may have chosen her owner, but she could not change her condition. She had 8 children and followed her husband wherever he chose to go, which in her case was to the edge of the known world.
Her story could only be a tragedy. Such tragedies continue to be repeated again and again. That is why her story must be told to highlight the stories of all oppressed women everywhere. Lest we forget.