After Sappho

Liveright: Norton. Jan. 2023. 272p. ISBN 9781324092315. $28.95. F
DEBUTThroughout history, women have struggled to be seen as humans rather than property, to make their own decisions and to love as they chose, and Schwartz’s intricate debut—long-listed for the Booker Prize—chronicles the efforts of real-life women to liberate themselves from male dominance in the mid-1800s to the late 1920s. Born Sibilla Aleramo in 1876 Italy, Rina Faccio had to write under a pseudonym to publish her work. She was raped and then, by both law and custom, forced to marry her rapist. The women whose stories follow strove to break away from this appalling type of codified bondage, with figures from French actress Sarah Bernhardt to U.S. painter Romaine Brooks to British author Virginia Woolf expanding their genres and voices while fighting for their rights. The book ends in 1927, as women in Great Britain are being granted the right to vote. Based on extensive research, with sources provided at the book’s end, Schwartz’s vignettes not only imagine conversations between the women she features and their students, lovers, and/or friends but incorporates numerous direct quotes.
VERDICT Readers interested in a dramatically fleshed-out account of the history of women’s liberation, as well as the arts and literature generally, will find much to appreciate in this book. Recommended.
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