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A Woman of Independent Means (1978)

by Elizabeth Forsyth Hailey

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My Mother recommended this book, saying it reminded her of her own Mother. I didn't see the similarity between my grandmother and the protagonist aside from the fact that they were both strong-willed and lived through the same years but the book was good. Written as a series of letters over the years of her life, the book is a realistic, nostalgic view of that life. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
This book was well written and had some interesting insights. I'm sure there are many women who would identify with Bess and her hardships, but I didn't like her all that much. I found her pushy and manipulative. Maybe that is how you had to be to become a success back in the early 1900's.

( )
  DaphneH | Dec 1, 2014 |
It is VERY hard to read this book and not think that you are reading actual letters that the author's grandmother had written. In fact, in the introduction to the edition that I have, Hailey shares an experience with an old firend of her grandmother's during which the friend was SURE that the real "Bess" had catalogued her own correspondence during her life. Exclusively in the form of written correspondence, the plot is advanced at a pace that is neither too fast or too slow. Especially enjoyable are the "clues" the author gives the reader as to future events, events which Bess is apparently unable to foresee; perhaps without the necessary distance, as she is "writing" in real time. We can glean what is around the corner and begin to try anticipate Bess' reaction. Even with this, there are some real surprises, both to the narrator and the reader. ( )
  vasquirrel | Jul 18, 2011 |
delightfully reflective in a wonderful format that drew me in and inspired me on several levels. ( )
  Harrod | Sep 18, 2010 |
So, I am at my friend Heather's house for a Christmas party for all of us who had been in the same Hospice Grief Group this year. It was so much fun laughing and giggling with these girls who have become like a second family to me. We all went through the same thing at the same time- losing a parent- and that brings you together like little else can.

Well, while I knew Heather liked to read and she was writing a book about her mother, I had no idea just how MUCH she liked to read. She had several bookcases of books, plus she told me boxes downstairs. I instantly loved her even more. She picked up a book called A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. I had heard of the book but never read it. When Heather learned this, she put the book in my hands and said read this book. It is my favorite.

So, after I finished reading Thousand Pieces of Gold, I picked up this book to read. And I LOVED it. I seriously, completely, adoringly love this book. I have to go get myself my own copy.

This book, first published in 1978, is based partially off of Hailey's grandmother and partially based off of the feminist movement of the 1970s. The heroine, Elizabeth, called Bess, was born in 1890 and inherited a legacy- of both wealth and of a spirit full of determination, ambition, and a passion for life. The book is written in an epistolary format, as letters from Bess to all of the loved ones in her life. From Bess' letters the reader gathers all the information they need. Bess goes through trials in her life that could knock even a strong woman down- yet Bess is determined to prevail. The reader witnesses Bess go from a simple grade-school girl to a devoted wife and mother to a self-sufficient, courageous woman with an open mind and a willing soul.

I learned so many life lessons from this book. Bess taught me so much about how to love an independent spirit and how to become more of an independent woman myself. What could be a greater gift from a book than to show you a reflection of yourself? The language was charming, classy, and enthralling. I was drawn into the story and always wanted to know what happened to Bess next and what choice she would decide to make. I wanted to see where she would go abroad next, who she would decide to write to next and why, I wanted to see what choices she made at every turn of her life, from her daughter getting hit by a car to her decisions to invest in the stock market and be in control of her finances to how she related to those around her, whether a childhood friend or her mother-in-law.

Bess fascinated me and I had to close the book last night so I wouldn't finish it until today. I didn't want to leave Bess. I loved how completely capable she was, how socially adept, how open-minded she is to others different from herself (she even gets her "colored" housekeeper into her exclusive Dallas Shakespeare Club when she realizes how well-versed in Shakespeare she is and wants to support her in this.) I loved almost everything about Bess. She did have kind of a wondering eye, if nothing else, and she was more than a little stubborn, but she did own her responsibilities and she owned her mistakes.

I really recommend this book to women everywhere. If you haven't read it, run over to your library or bookstore and read this book! I can hardly wait to hear what you think of it, too.

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE QUOTES (although there are many more):

"I am always amazed to hear people say the first weeks or months of marriage are the best and then, 'the honeymoon is over.' Of course I thought I loved you with all my heart when we were married, but it took marriage to teach me the outer limits of my anatomy, both physical and spiritual, and now I know that every moment we share further increases my capacity for love." (to her husband, Rob, in 1917)

"I see now how much of what a man becomes is due to the woman at his side. A life can go in so many different directions and though a man may be the captain of his soul, he needs a good navigator at his side if he dares sail into uncharted seas." (to her father and stepmother, in 1919)

"Our parents- and the older generation they represent- provide a barrier against death, and when both of them are gone, as both of mine are now, there is nothing between us and our own mortality. Now it is my turn to stand as a shield between my children and the enemy." (to her sister-in-law, in 1922)

"Nature as a process provides for no growth past physical maturity. Only the individual, through an effort of will and imagination, can add, enhance, enrich. Life unresisted merely subtracts. I no longer believe an individual can change the fate of other people, no matter how much she loves them, but I will not relinquish the responsibility for my own life until the day I die." (to a friend, in 1942)

" J'ai le coeur gros- a French expression to denote a heart swollen with emotion." (in a letter to friends, in 1967) ( )
1 vote thisismebecca | Feb 9, 2010 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
for my grandmother
whose life inspired these letters
and for my husband
who inspired me
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Preface

Dear reader,
I was born in 1938,
and every twenty-year interval seems to culminate in some kind of watershed experience that propels me into the next chapter of my life.
Dear Rob,
I just asked Miss Appleton to put us on the same team for the spelling bee.
Quotations
Please write again soon. Though my own life is filled with activity, letters encourage momentary escape into others' lives and I come back to my own with greater contentment.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140274367, Paperback)

A bestselling sensation when it was first published by Viking in 1978, A Woman of Independent Means has delighted millions of readers and was the inspiration for the television miniseries starring Sally Field.

At the turn of the century, a time when women had few choices, Bess Steed Garner inherits a legacy—not only of wealth but of determination and desire, making her truly a woman of independent means. From the early 1900s through the 1960s, we accompany Bess as she endures life's trials and triumphs with unfailing courage and indomitable spirit: the sacrifices love sometimes requires of the heart, the flaws and rewards of marriage, the often-tested bond between mother and child, and the will to defy a society that demands conformity. Now, with this beautiful trade paperback edition, Penguin will introduce a new generation of readers to this richly woven story. . .and to Bess Steed Garner, a woman for all ages.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:37 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Traces the life of Bess Steed Garner from 1899, when she was in the fourth grade, to her death in 1977.

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