Posts Tagged ‘university’

As the title suggests, this book discusses the first women in Britain to attend university.  Broadly covering from the mid-late 19th century up until the second World War, it describes the opposition faced by prospective students, including doctors who believed that education could cause infertility (!), the belief that men would not want to marry an educated woman, and the widely held belief that women just did not need to be educated, when their sole purpose in life was to marry and have children.

Rather than giving a chronological account of how universities came to accept female students (it’s worth noting that Cambridge University would not award degrees to females until 1948, although females were allowed to study there prior to that date – Oxford beat them by 28 years by finally agreeing to award degrees to women in 1920), it focuses instead on what university life was like for women during the period covered, such as when women could only talk to men when there was a chaperone present, people would be expelled for extremely minor transgressions.

The book is packed with personal anecdotes, and includes many excerpts from the diaries and writings of former students.  As expected, there are some truly inspirational stories included, as well as some more sombre accounts of student life from those who were not happy with university life, and found themselves ill-equipped to cope with their new circumstances.  There are tales of families who struggled against convention and lack of finances, to send their daughter(s) to university to get an education, and stories of others who found help elsewhere.  It also makes the point that for a very long time, having a degree was not considered any advantage in looking for a career, unless you wanted to be a teacher – indeed it was practically expected that if a woman did pursue a career after her degree, it would be in teaching.

The book is inspiring and well written…definitely recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Zadie Smith’s third novel focuses on two rival academics, Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, and their respective families.  While these two men are feuding, their wives are making friends and their children are struggling with adolescence and responsibility.  There are too many threads to cover here, but this is a story of family, race, infidelity, forgiveness, unrequited feelings, and much more.

I really REALLY enjoyed this book.  The characters seemed so completely real, each with their positive and negative, but always very human traits.  They may not always have been likeable (I actually found Howard Belsey to be never likeable), but they were identifiable.

Smith writes so beautifully, with such a wonderful, spot-on turn of phrase.  She also has an incredible eye for observational humour, with sometimes just a few words or one line making me laugh out loud.  At times I was frustrated with the characters, at times angry, and sometimes sympathetic, but whatever my feelings, I always wanted to know what was going to happen to them.

It’s not a story with a neat beginning, middle and ending – things are not necessarily wrapped up neatly; it’s almost like a snapshot of a certain period of these families’ lives.  I thoroughly enjoy it, and definitely recommend it.

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