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  • Writer's picturePatti Callahan Henry

So Much More than “His Wife”

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

NERD DAILY: Elise Dumpleton· Books

Guest post written by The Stockwell Letters author Jacqueline Friedland

Jacqueline Friedland graduated Magna Cum Laude from both the University of Pennsylvania and NYU Law School. She practiced as a commercial litigator at the New York law firms of Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP and Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP. After determining that office life did not suit her, Jacqueline began teaching Legal Writing and Lawyering Skills at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan and working on her first book in her limited spare time. Finally deciding to embrace her passion and pursue writing full time, Jacqueline returned to school to earn her Masters of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, graduating from the program in 2016. When not writing, Jacqueline is an avid reader of all things fiction. She loves to exercise, watch movies with her family, listen to music, make lists, and dream about exotic vacations. She lives in Westchester, New York with her husband, four children and two very bossy canines. The Stockwell Letters is out now.

Recently, as I was walking through my local town center, I passed by a little gift shop that had many of its wares displayed on tables outside. There were motivational posters, candles, and other kitschy knick-knacks. One particular sign that caught my eye read, “Well-behaved women never make history.” I was struck by the simple yet poignant sentiment of the thing. Talk about “spot-on.”

We all know that women are conspicuously absent from the historical record. It’s not because they weren’t participating in the major events of their day, they just had to do it from behind closed doors. As I researched and wrote my most recent novel, The Stockwell Letters, I was able to tell the story of Ann Phillips, who is best described as an ambitious, generous, and influential Boston abolitionist. Unfortunately, during the time in which she lived, she was known only as the wife of Wendell Phillips (also a famous abolitionist). As delighted as I’ve been to bring her story to life, I’ve realized how many accomplished, astonishing women from history are, like Ann, at risk of being lost to obscurity. Luckily, other novelists have found many of them, and by reading the books that tell their stories, we can help ensure that the legacies these women created endure.

How often have you heard the tongue and cheek expression that behind every great man there is a strong woman? For ten great novels about women from history who were so much more than simply a famous man’s wife, check out the below:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan is about Joy Davidman, who was married to famous author C.S. Lewis. A beautiful love story, the book focuses largely on the talent and grit of Joy Davidman.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain tells the story of Hadley Richardson, who was so much more than simply the wife of Ernest Hemmingway. Hadley’s struggle to retain her sense of self in the wake of her husband’s fame is evocative and eye-opening.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin focuses on Anne Morrow Lindbergh who was married to the famous Charles Lindbergh but was a fascinating person in her own right. Anne’s drive for independence was as fierce as her husband’s and makes for a thoroughly engaging read.

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki follows the life of Peggy Shippen who was married to the scandalous Benedict Arnold. Pataki expertly brings to life not just Peggy, but many of the others in her life. Full of intrigue and suspense, this one is not to be missed.

The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester follows Estelle Bissette, the wife of the famous French fashion designer as she and her husband struggle with the difficult events of WW II and afterwards. Spanning generations, the book examines what happens when a strong woman is forced to flee everything she has ever known.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict is a fictionalized retelling of the life of Mileva Maric, the wife of Albert Einstein, who was also a gifted physicist. While it’s difficult to compete with a man as brilliant as Einstein, Mileva seems to have been thoroughly talented in her own right, and she may or may not have helped Einstein to reach some of his most genius conclusions.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler is, as its name implies, about the woman who was married to F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was also the basis for the television drama, Z: The Beginning of Everything. Zelda never imagined the trajectory of her husband’s rise to fame or how it would affect her.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner examines the life of Catherine de Medici, who was married to King Henry II of France in the 16th The novel offers a fresh look at a woman who has many times been cast as a villain, when in fact, the true story might be entirely different.

The Secret Life of Josephine: Napoleon’s Bird of Paradise by Carrolly Erickson tells the tale of Josephine de Baeuharnais, the first wife of Napolean Bonaparte. Glamorous and fashionable, with an exotic past, Josephine had many secrets of her own.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is based loosely on the life of Laura Bush, wife to former president George W. Bush. A story of the not-so-distant past, this book really shows what it means for a woman to stand behind her husband, even at great cost to herself.

Rather than being forgotten, the women who are brought to life through these novels now have the power to live on in perpetuity thanks to the writers and readers who continue to imagine them.

August 28, 2023

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