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The Education of Harriet Hatfield: A Novel…

The Education of Harriet Hatfield: A Novel (edition 1989)

by May Sarton

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255666,031 (3.41)6
Title:The Education of Harriet Hatfield: A Novel
Authors:May Sarton
Info:W W Norton & Co Inc (1989), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned

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The Education of Harriet Hatfield: A Novel by May Sarton



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i am so disappointed with this. i expected (perhaps unrealistically, or at least without basis since i've only ever read 1 sarton and it was hardly more than 100 pages) much more from sarton. on basically every level. (and maybe that's part of the problem, coming in with expectations. i still would have been sorely disappointed by this, though, but maybe it would have earned an extra half star.)

part of this is simply that the story just doesn't hold up. but it's not just the content that i have a problem with, although that is most of my issue. still, though, i didn't particularly like the writing either. it's virtually all dialogue, and they speak in such a formal and stiff way that is either totally unrealistic or, if true to life, must only be true for a certain class of people (so it still doesn't work for the story). none of the main people felt real, including harriet. they all spoke in a way that didn't feel true to life, and the relationship between harriet and her brothers just seemed especially poorly done. i guess that's not just writing in the end, but also content, isn't it?

i know it's peevish of me, but it bothers me when running a business is written about in such an improbable way. and since i have the same business, it's particularly irritating when it's just so easy to make money (even if she's not quite breaking even). the time period is unclear, but the book came out in 1989 and she talks about aids as if it's still a fairly new thing. it's been a while since i've read and the band played on so don't remember/know as much as i should of aids history but i place this in the early-mid 80's. a bookstore taking in $1000 on opening day (on any day) in that time seems just outrageous. (maybe that's just my jealousy showing, though, causing me to be aggravated. i know new books sell for far more than used ones do, and that i could never approach $1000 selling used books, but it still just feels impossible for her as well.) something else for me to nitpick about is that she opens her store in somerville and walks to someone's house "...only a few blocks but ... near M.I.T." i lived in boston (somerville, actually) and somerville is across town and a decent train ride away from m.i.t.; because i was already annoyed with this book this bothered me more than it normally would have. also that they keep referring to a 60 year old woman as elderly.

my biggest problem with this book, even though it wasn't big for the story, is the following. a woman's husband throws her against the refrigerator and beats her up, tearing her shirt at the neck and harriet's response is that this woman should see a psychiatrist?? and worries about the husband, agreeing with someone who says, "My guess is David is in a pretty bad way himself by now" instead of encouraging her to leave like she wants to do or at least supporting her wanting to leave. even when she says this about her husband, who wants to have a baby when she doesn't: "He says I'm abnormal, not a real woman. He treated me with real contempt." i know this is the 80's and views of domestic violence were not what they should have been then, but the whole point of this book is that this woman was opening a feminist gathering place. not only does she not support this woman's decision to leave her violent and contemptuous husband, but she also doesn't support her decision later to have an abortion when she's said over and over again that she doesn't want a baby.

now that i've written that, i see that it is actually important to the story, because the overarching theme of this book is feminism, and there are so many other examples of things that aren't feminist in harriet's behavior and/or thoughts. to her credit, she often does the feminist thing even if she doesn't think it, but if this is progressiveness, it's shockingly, offensively conservative. maybe it just shows how very different things are now than they were in the 80's, how much more casually we treat each other, talk about sex, are open about our lives and history. i mean, she calls her life partner her friend throughout the book, something i have taken pretty extreme unctuous offense to when my in-laws used to do that with my wife and i. and there is so much judging and classism.

i write that and i think, well, it is called "the education of harriet hatfield" for a reason. so maybe most of that is put to use in exposing how very privileged and protected she's been for so long. she does, after all, say over and over again that she needs to use her position as someone who can be a bridge between the straight world that she lived in (even while living with her female partner of 30 years) and the more "obvious, the exhibitionist, the aggressively role-conscious women" who are out about being lesbians. (a word she hates until the end of the book, because it seems so sexual.) "Whatever it is it is not the sheltered life I led with Vicky. I'm suddenly in a big open space with nowhere to hide. And I'm meeting people who live in that open space and take the risks." and "...I want it known that an elderly woman, as you see I am, can be a lesbian and certainly in the case of Vicky Chilton, my lifelong friend, a distinguished member of society. Isn't it time a whole submerged part of respectable society came out into the open?" so at least there's that. and i do think it's realistic that someone does something progressive but uncomfortable to her in fits and starts; this probably quite mirrors how many of us privileged white folks move to the left in our lives.

i think that there is a lot to talk about in this book, a lot of themes that she brings up. maybe it's just that the feminism of the 80's looks so very different from the feminism of now that it was impossible for me to like this, as much as i wanted and expected to. but also, when she starts the book by saying so beautifully "When Vicky died our friends took it for granted that I would simply go on living...; that i would go on unchanged by her death, as though I were not recovering from an earthquake..." and then doesn't continue with much beauty, it was just disappointing. ( )
1 vote overlycriticalelisa | Oct 1, 2016 |
Sarton is a competent writer, but I am rating this book as one star because I was so appalled that a supposedly feminist writer would write a book that referenced domestic violence and reproductive rights so appallingly. ( )
  banjo123 | Sep 26, 2016 |
Read in 2011, possibly from Rhinelander, WI public library
  Poimeraz | Sep 5, 2015 |
Liked the premise a great deal, but had issues with the execution. The time period was convincingly drawn and I appreciated the inclusion of specific authors and titles, some of which I had not encountered before. I found the style not very literary, which was surprising given the author. The way time flowed did not feel authentic, sometimes too fast and others too slow for the relationships to develop the way they did. And it may be a generational or class difference, but I felt that the main character felt older than her age. ( )
  dwhapax | Jun 10, 2009 |
When Harriet Hatfield loses her companion of thirty years, she starts a bookstore for women. The bookstore is a grand adventure, meant to be a gathering place for women of all ages and interests. Because Harriet is a lesbian, someone in the community is vandalizing her property and threatening to drive her out of business. I found this book interesting because it portrayed an older woman starting a new life and because it gave me a window into a life very different from my own. ( )
1 vote BlonnieMay | Oct 6, 2008 |
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How rarely is it possible for anyone to begin a new life at sixty!
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After her lover of thirty years dies, a Boston woman opens a bookstore for her neighborhood, an endeavor that forces her to confront her past while she rebuilds her future Over the course of their thirty-year relationship, Vicky and Harriet fell into a predictable cadence: Vicky took the lead while Harriet was content to follow. When Vicky dies, Harriet is lost and in search of an identity that was subsumed by that of her partner for three decades. Lying awake in bed one evening, Harriet has an idea-a women's bookstore for the residents of her blue-collar Boston neighborhood, where people can gather, talk, and buy great books. Using her inheritance from Vicky, Harriet begins her next great adventure, opening not only the store but also herself to whatever may come. But while some in the community thrill at the idea of her bookstore, others attack-using graffiti and hate mail to express their prejudice against what they perceive to be an invasion of their neighborhood by "filthy gay men and lesbians." Against this newfound scrutiny and intolerance, Harriet must come to terms not only with the world her privilege had insulated her from, but with what it means to go without fear of labels or discrimination in pursuit of a fuller life. This ebook features an extended biography of May Sarton.… (more)

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