Six Degrees of Separation: from Rodham to Hag-Seed

Hello September. You’ve come around quickly, and almost a week old already. That means it’s time for Six Degrees of Separation, in which Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best chooses a book and we all add six more in a chain. The concept is explained here.

We start with Rodham by Curtiss Sittenfeld, which reimagines the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I haven’t read it, but I have read a reimagining of the life of another First Lady.

Eleanor Roosevelt was another politically active woman who sought the light away from her President husband’s shadow. White Houses by Amy Bloom is about the supposed relationship between Eleanor and journalist Lorena Hickok.

A different kind of biographical fiction is Mrs Hemingway, a novel by Naomi Wood about what it meant to be one of a succession of Ernest Hemingway’s wives. In it, mistresses become wives become ex-wives, jealousy abounds, and the man who casts the shadow is of questionable morals.

Not a work of fiction, unless you consider the unreliable recollections of an alcoholic to be embellishment of fact, Double Drink Story is the troublesome and troubling memoir of Caitlin Thomas’s life with poet Dylan Thomas and her jealousy over the way his reputation as a writer overshadowed her ambition as a dancer.

Another woman who links to both Caitlin Thomas and most of the wives in Mrs Hemingway is Mary Shelley. She was poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s mistress before she became his wife, and competed to come out of his shadow through the writing of her novel Frankenstein.

A book I haven’t read yet, but that a friend’s review on Instagram reminded me of, is Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein. The novel mixes an imagining of Shelley writing Frankenstein in Geneva with speculative fiction about artificial intelligence and whether human consciousness could transcend bodies.

Winterson contributed to the Hogarth Shakespeare series of reimagined plays, as did Margaret Atwood with Hag-Seed. I haven’t read Hag-Seed, and I’m using it here as a tool to introduce a female poet (and novellist, of course) whose success has far outshone that of her partner, Graeme Gibson. And she didn’t feel the need to marry him, either.

Six links between women whose lives have had complicated and conflicting relationships with those of the famous men they’re connected to. Where will your chain take you? Why not visit Kate’s blog to find out what books other people have chosen?

12 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Rodham to Hag-Seed

  1. This is such an interesting chain- I’ve only read Hag-Seed from your list, but I much enjoyed those Hogarth Shakespeare re-workings, and need to read them all – it’s a work in progress. We both seem to have focused on women in our chains – not so surprising really, perhaps.

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  2. I’ve been enjoying the common theme in several chains this month – a theme which completely passed me by because I didn’t take the time to read the concept for Rodham. Not that it matters! This is a great chain, Jan. You’ve included several books which had fallen off my radar and are now firmly back on. And we both included Frankenstein, if for very different reasons!

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    1. Me, too, Sandra, I’ve loved this month’s chains.

      I noticed that we both chose Frankenstein, too. It’s such a great book that you can draw multiple meanings from it. Here’s a fact about Frankenstein that I love – we included it in our Electricity exhibition a couple of years ago. Shelley’s book was inspired, we think, by Aldini’s public science shows involving electricity and the reanimation of corpses obtained from Newgate prison. Shelley might have seen one of these events and taken the idea of reanimating the dead a step further. The book was turned into a film – James Whale’s iconic 1931 film was seen by a young boy in New Mexico who became obsessed with the reanimation scene. 22 years later, Dr Jean B Rosenbaum invented the pacemaker as a direct result of Shelley’s idea of how electricity might start a heart, filtered through Colin Clive’s performance of reanimating Boris Karloff. Wonderful!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s amazing! Thanks so much, Jan. The Karloff film is a favourite of my partner’s and we’ve watched it several times. Next time around I’ll be thinking of what that iconic scene led on to 😊

        Liked by 1 person

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