Marilyn French

*** Happy Birthday Marilyn French ***

Marilyn French first gained fame with her debut novel The Women’s Room (1977), which became an international bestseller. French’s readers have said that her books have left them “with things to think about far into the future,” and helped them to understand “why the feminist movement came to be” and “refuse to mindlessly accept any long-standing institution for the sake of tradition.”

Marilyn French was born in New York into a poor family of Polish descent. Her father, E. Charles Edwards, was an engineer, and mother, Isabel Hazz Edwards, a department-store clerk. As a child, French was a voracious reader. She also wrote from a very early age. Though she was interested in philosophy, she studied literature at Hofstra College (now University) in Long Island, taking her a B.A. in 1951. The previous year she had married Robert M. French Jr., a lawyer, whom she supported through law school.

French began to write seriously in 1957, but had only few stories and articles published in nearly twenty years. In 1964 she earned her M.A. and between the years 1964 and 1968 she was an instructor at Hofstra University. After raising two children and divorce, she continued her studies at Harvad University, taught English at Hofstra and received her Ph.D. in 1972. From 1972 to 1976 she was a teacher at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

French’s first book was her thesis on James Joyce (1976). A year later it was followed by The Women’s Room. The biting social commentary became a cultural phenomenon, was translated into some twenty languages, and made into a television movie in 1980. Its central character is Mira Ward, whose life is traced from her childhood to middle age. Mira builds her life after divorce and finds that there is no balance between the sexes. “The school had been planned for men, and there were places, she had been told, where women weree simply not permitted to go. It was odd. Why? she wondered. Women were so unimportant anyway, why would anyone bother to keep them out?” Additional views offer other voices, whom Mira encounters on her voyage of self-discovery. The success of The Women’s Room enabled French to write and publish without doubt and anxiety about money.

The battle between sexes was again the main subject in French’s second novel, The Bleeding Heart (1980). This time the story focused on a middle-aged woman, who has a love affair with a married American man on her sabbatical leave in England. The relationship of a submissive woman and a dominant man is doomed. In her non-fiction scholarly book Shakespeare’s Division of Experience (1981) French examined the polarity between the masculine and feminine principles. She argued that Shakespeare “never abandoned belief in male legitimacy or horror of female sexuality.”

Categories: Woman of the Day

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