“It was almost a miracle, her kind of death, because out of all that jam of tonnage, she carried only one bruise, a faint one, near the brow.” – Fannie Hurst
“I love her like a madman, and I would kill myself this instant to rejoin her, if she were not to remain unknown to me for eternity, as she was unknown to me in this world.” – Alexandre Dumas
Volume 7 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories is devoted to women. The ten stories in this collection seem to be efforts to find a theme that explains who women are. The various tales depict women as self-destructive, as self-sacrificing, as helpless victims, as brilliant tacticians. And yes, the collection also gives women the all too familiar Madonna/whore treatment.
At least one reason for this particular set of views of women may come from the authorship of the stories. Of these ten stories about women, only two are written by women. One is by the redoubtable Fannie Hurst, one of the great “women’s authors”of the 20th century (she is the author of great pot boiler melodramas such as Imitation of Life and Back Street, both have which have been filmed multiple times with stars ranging from Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne to Lana Turner and Susan Hayward. The other is an author named Bernice Brown about whom there is scant information, though she seems to have written for magazines such as The Century and, if the example from this collection is an indication, is an interesting proto-feminist.
So, we have a volume of stories that mainly tell us how men saw women in the early 20th century with a couple of women authors trying to tell us how women saw themselves. Continue reading