Sunday, January 12, 2014


I saw Frozen this weekend, and I like that Disney is genuinely showing feminist fairytales nowadays. Between this and Tangled, girls can have role models and stories where heroines actively save themselves or other people. The scene where Elsa becomes the Snow Queen, free to let her powers run wild, felt positive and empowering, as if she were taking control of her life for the first time. I was glad that the "act of true love" was about the sisters' bond, rather than about than a traditional kiss with the hero. It was fun that they made fun of Anna for wanting to get engaged after only one day. Yep, that's why I wrote Helen Stoner complaining about Julia getting engaged to the half-pay major so quickly in my DIM novel.

I've recently begun reading historical mysteries featuring female detectives. I just finished an ebook called A Question of Honor by Charles Todd. The heroine is Bess Crawford, a World War I British army nurse, and it's not the first mystery in the series, but I was attracted to this one because the mystery featured a flashback to Bess's childhood in India. She was kept in India, unlike other British children of the era, who got sent to England to be educated and raised by other people. So I wanted to read more about what Helen Stoner's life would have been like in India, had her father lived. (Instead, of course, he died, and Dr. Roylott became her stepfather.) Rudyard Kipling makes a minor appearance as a character, but it's not too distracting, and serves the story. The mystery involved a few separate crimes--a murder in England, a murder in India, and a mysterious death at the war-front in France. There are also sinister attempts to cover-up the past when Bess and her friend start investigating. The book was readable and had interesting historical details, but I found the resolution of the Indian mystery a little confusing and felt unsatisfied by the lack of closure on the French death. At least the solution of the English murder was creative, and I'm glad none of it involved serial killing. I might go back and read the start of the series later.

For now I have started reading A Deadly Affection by Cuyler Overholt; the mystery features a female psychotherapist in 1907 New York, trying to treat patients who have experienced trauma, but fighting the sexism of male colleagues and the skepticism of her father, who would rather that she work at a hospital. I'm annoyed that Dr. Genevieve Summerford has such a stupid name, but she is a well-drawn character, and has secrets yet to reveal. One of her traumatized patients had an illegitimate daughter when she was fifteen, and when she goes to confront the doctor who took away her child for an illegal adoption, the man is murdered. So the patient is accused of his murder, and Genevieve must clear her name. I have a guess about the solution of the mystery, but I'm only partway through the book and will have to wait and see if I'm right.

Genevieve is also traumatized by her past, because she feels responsible for her brother dying when he was young. When she was a teenager, she had a crush on a stable-hand named Simon Shaw, and describes it as her "disgrace." Her father, who otherwise sounds fairly progressive, disapproves and tells Genevieve to read a pseudo-scientific work which claims that real men do not debase women with sex, and only cherish them purely. Come on, that's going to mess her up about marital love! I hate Victorian mores, but I'm sure that's perfectly realistic for the age. Also, Genevieve's colleagues question the story of Genevieve's patient, claiming that she probably never had a daughter, and just made the whole story up in her unconscious. One guy even suggests that she needs a hysterectomy to cure her. That's typical Victorian psychologists for you. The book reminds me of The Case of Emily V, in which Freud will not believe that Emily was sexually abused; instead he thinks that his female patients are making everything up because they are hysterical. That's how quack theories like penis envy get started, because a male therapist will not trust his female patients' testimony, and would rather explain it as imaginary.

Anyway, I hope that Genevieve will be able to throw their chauvinism in their faces, and overcome the stupid sexual hang-ups that her father saddled her with. I'm also interested in seeing how Simon operates as an adult, because he is a successful businessman and part of the Tammany Hall political machine.

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