These Particular Women
By Kat Meads
Did or didn’t Virginia Woolf carry her walking stick with her into the River Ouse? Did Kitty Oppenheimer get it right on her fourth marital try? Was revenge Agatha Christie’s motive when she disappeared in 1926? Could Estelle Faulkner out-drink husband Bill? Did Mary McCarthy believe her own hype? Was Caroline Blackwood a slob as well as a snob? In These Particular Women, Kat Meads investigates ten famous/infamous women and the exceedingly contradictory biographical and autobiographical portraits that survive them.
“It isn’t immediately obvious what women like Virginia Woolf, Estelle Faulkner, Jean Harris, Kitty Oppenheimer, Margaret Mitchell, Agatha Christie, Mary McCarthy, Caroline Blackwood, Flannery O’Connor, and Sylvia Plath have in common. But when Kat Meads puts These Particular Women under her personal microscope, patterns begin to emerge. As she deftly sifts the historical record, Meads reminds us of the subjective, even suspect, nature of biography by refusing to hide her own motivations and biases. These quirky, exquisitely researched essays are like being on a road trip with a sly and scintillating guide, one who helps you feel the poignant mystery of a literary shrine and takes you out for a drink after.”
—Susan Bono, author of What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home
“What great happiness to find there is more to say about the likes of Virginia Woolf, Mary McCarthy, Agatha Christie, and Margaret Mitchell! In this delightful collection of essays, Kat Meads, assuming the tone of your favorite literary friend, brings these particular women to life all over again, along with the writer-adjacent Estelle Faulkner and the mothers of Flannery O’Connor and Sylvia Plath. A contemporary appraisal of Grace Margaret Morton (The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, 1943) in the age of masks includes a lovely tribute to Meads’s own mother, and rounds out this absolute gem of a book.”
—Liza Wieland, author of Paris, 7 A.M.
“Kat Meads’s new collection of essays examines several famous (or perhaps infamous) women—the kind of women often labeled shrill, pushy, angry, bitchy. The reader who is not intimidated by a strong woman demanding her right to make her own plans for her own life will enjoy the author’s quiet but often sardonic tone as she retells these women’s stories by strategically quoting and skillfully questioning those who wrote about but clearly did not understand (and sometimes didn’t even like) them. Kat Meads likes these women, and so will other women, who recognize how they have so often been misunderstood.”
—Margaret D. Bauer, author of A Study of Scarletts: Scarlett O’Hara and Her Literary Daughters
“Your task—your quite pleasurable task—in reading this collection of essays is to decide which is more enjoyable, Kat Meads’s extensive research applied aptly to each particular woman, or her snide sense of humor, which will afford you many a wry smile.”
—Joe Taylor, author of Back to the Wine Jug
“Kat Meads’s highly readable and astute essay collection These Particular Women is designed to leave you asking why the life arcs of these particular women so caught the fascination of the writer as a writer herself. Writers, mothers of writers, wives of writers and other famous men, they are all in some relationship to the creative life. Meads invites us to think about how differing social perceptions and expectations shaped their lives then and how they still shape our understanding of them—and ourselves—now. Especially how, as women, we are still so shaped by nice, and how this may not serve us well creatively.”
—Heather Tosteson, author of The Philosophical Transactions of Maria van Leeuwenoek, Antoni’s Dochtor
“Built from bits and grains and jots of detail, built impeccably from exhaustive research and in effortless prose, Kat Meads’s portraits of singular, extraordinary women are particulate in the service of telling the story of whole (and wholly unknowable) women. If you love literary pilgrimages, if you yourself are a literary pilgrim, if you love stories (and stories about stories, and stories balanced like excellent hats on the heads of other stories) you will find this exploration of literary women’s lives thrilling and addictive.”
—Elizabeth Cooperman, author of Women Pissing